Get your online lexicon in order.
By Richard Ensman
So what exactly is a “vlog” and what does it have to do with you? Can you really use podcasts to promote your products? And just how do you get your business on Facebook without sounding like a friendless geek? Businesses need to go where their customers are—or lead them to the places you want them to be—but it’s also necessary to use these tools correctly, for communication rather than a hard sell.
Electronic marketing is packed with promotional possibilities, but the choices are bewildering and the questions seem endless. One good place to start is with a basic tour of terms and tools, and how you can use them now.
Blogs (Weblogs). A blog is a website focused primarily on commentary, activities or a stream of information about a particular subject. The writing is usually colloquial, and most blogs offer the opportunity for comment. Some use specialty formats, such as video blogs (or vlogs) which feature up-to-date videos. Use a blog when you want to share ideas, opinions and events with your audience, but make sure the content is appropriate for that audience. Check out some of the most popular blogs.
E-zines. Sort of an online periodical, but much shorter. Some may be only a few paragraphs long. E-zines are usually focused on a particular topic or organization, and usually contain links to other resources. Use an e-zine when you want to deliver short, punchy news to an already interested audience.
Folksonomies. These are visitor-defined “bottom up” tags or “descriptors” that define the content of Internet sites or postings. Folksonomies can encompass blogs, albums, social network sites, or virtually any website that gives the opportunity to attach keywords or labels. Use folksonomies when you want to organize or classify content for later retrieval. Find more at http://ontologyonline.org/visualisation/c/Directory/Folksonomy.
Forums. They come in many shapes and sizes, from “threaded” discussions on specific topics to free-ranging posting opportunities. Some forums are moderated and come with rules; others are open-ended. Use a forum when you want to encourage discussion with, and between, customers or constituents.
Micro-messaging. Bursts of short single-topic messages sent in bulk to members or followers. The Twitter™ phenomenon is one good example. Micro-messages provide fast-breaking information and updates. Use micro-messaging when you want to keep passionately interested friends, customers or fans up to date on a moment’s notice.
Podcast. Digital media, usually audio or video, that’s downloaded to users. What’s unique about podcasts is that they’re syndicated and streamed to users shortly after creation. Users “catch” the podcast with a special Web device or application. Use podcasts when you want to deliver lectures, performances, art or other materials to your audience. They’re ideal for users who might listen “on the go.”
RSS: Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary. A Web utility that lets producers distribute content quickly and easily to subscribers, and lets those subscribers collect a number of feeds in one place. Great for bloggers. Use RSS when you want to give customers or visitors the opportunity to receive content automatically whenever you post it.
Social network. A user-driven community permitting members to post interactive comments, photos, audio, video, and even full blogs. Best known social networks: MySpace and Facebook. Businesses and other organizations can create ‘pages’ within existing social networks or use Web-based utilities to create their own custom networks. Use social networks when you want to develop a cohesive user community and foster extensive interaction among members.
Video sharing. Video often captures the interest and imagination of readers (including customers) more effectively than ordinary words. What’s also attractive about today’s emerging video-sharing standards is that informal video is considered more authentic than slick professional video. Use video sharing when you want to display an activity or product visually and dynamically, or when you have something unique or unusual to share.
Virtual worlds. A more elaborate form of the new media, virtual worlds allow customers or prospects to simulate a product’s uses or even play out hypothetical business scenarios with others in a ‘pretend’ environment. Customers or users typically create avatars (characters) to represent themselves. A good example: Second Life, used for both personal and business purposes. Use virtual worlds when a simulated environment will help educate or motivate others.
Wiki. A user-generated body of knowledge. A wiki can cover broad subject matter, such as Wikipedia®, which bills itself as the world’s biggest citizen-written encyclopedia. It can also focus on a specific subject, with content driven by customers or members. Use a wiki when you want to encourage customers or constituents to publicly share data, case studies, experiences and other useful information.
It isn’t difficult for a computer-savvy manager to learn to use these electronic tools, especially with so many good examples available. (Bad examples can be instructive also.) The biggest challenge for businesses, however, using these tools for electronic marketing could be in creating and managing the content. To collect and keep an audience, you need to be having a conversation with them, not just trying to sell them something. The messages should be informational, maybe entertaining, immediately useful, usually brief, and compelling when possible. Of course, content depends to a great extent on the product or service and how clearly defined an audience there is for that product. Even so, audiences have come to expect certain styles from these new media. When you depart from those styles, the reaction you get might not be the one you expect. It’s best to do your homework first.