Online Communities Can Help Businesses

Online communities have exploded in the past 3 years with membership in the millions, world-wide reach and extraordinary valuation.

But what’s begun to come of age recently is the value of these virtual communities to businesses.

Regardless of where you stand, you should be very interested in these models because, as they evolve, they will not only affect your business in the future, but if you’re creative, they can help your shop or business.

 

Online communities have exploded in the past 3 years with membership in the millions, world-wide reach and extraordinary valuation.

But what’s begun to come of age recently is the value of these virtual communities to businesses.

Maybe you’re a member of an online community like Facebook, MySpace or LinkedIn. Maybe you’re familiar with the trend toward online communities, but don’t participate. Or, maybe you’ve never heard of them.

Many in manufacturing see these sites as social platforms for students, kids and others just looking to “hang out.”

Regardless of where you stand, you should be very interested in these models because, as they evolve, they will not only affect your business in the future, but if you’re creative, they can help your shop or business.

In this series of three articles, I’ll discuss the three important benefits that manufacturers can gain from leveraging online communities today: networking and marketing, Web site visibility and prominence and strategic development. Let's start with networking and marketing in this column.

Many online communities provide you and all small and medium sized manufacturers with powerful options to promote yourself and your business.
LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com): This site was launched as an employment and networking site for individuals. It can still be used for that, but LinkedIn is expanding to include profiles for companies. And its “Answers” application—that allows anyone to ask or answer a question—has grown to become both an impressive repository of technical knowledge (manufacturing, small business advice, and more) and a wonderful opportunity for your business to assert its domain expertise by answering questions. Create a profile for your business, have your management team create profiles and answer questions, and you will create a professional presence that executives and buying influencers are likely to find.

Facebook (www.facebook.com): You’re likely familiar with Facebook as a site targeted primarily to students. But what you might not know is that this site has attracted the attention of some of the world’s largest companies. You may also be surprised to learn what the largest corporate groups on Facebook are: Shell Oil, General Electric, Vondafone, Intel and Apple. Each has well in excess of 7,000 members. These companies are using Facebook to promote their brands and expose themselves to the university and college talent that will be entering the workforce. And so can you. By participating in the community—writing blogs, posting information about your services, and creating groups around your technologies and industries—you build a formidable network to build the reputation of your business and influence tomorrow’s workforce.

MySpace (www.myspace.com): Like Facebook, MySpace is seen as a site for less-than-serious endeavors—where young people create profiles to communicate with their friends. That’s a bit truer here than it is for Facebook. But many companies, artists and professionals have also created profiles here to capitalize on its brand-building strengths. In the same ways and for the same reasons, a MySpace presence for a business makes sense to expand online presence and to help offset a labor shortage that is likely to get worse before it gets better.

I’ve listed these online communities in the order of importance I believe they offer your business. But all three—especially together—still present opportunities strong enough for you to consider. If nothing else, participate in at least one to begin increasing your online marketing message and familiarizing yourself with the value of these models.