How Online Communities Can Help Businesses, Part 2


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Editors Note: This is a multi-part series about using online communities to propel your business to success. Be sure to also read: 

Part 1: Networking and Marketing 

Part 3: Strategic Development and Initiatives 

Last month, I examined the networking and marketing benefits your shop and business can get from online communities.

This month, I want to explore the advantages online communities can provide for your own Web site’s visibility and prominence, resulting in more exposure to motivated prospects and more leads. The easiest way to understand the value of online communities in this regard is if you first understand the term “guanxi” (kwan-CHEE’).

Guanxi is a Chinese concept that describes a person’s network of connections and relationships. One’s guanxi plays a significant role in his overall value and status. In our culture, think about the phrase “it’s who you know” on steroids.

Guanxi is just as important to your Web site’s prominence on the Internet as it is to a person’s social or professional significance. The more high-profile sites around the Web that link to (“know”) your own site, the higher your site’s visibility and prominence to prospects and the higher it will rank in search engines.

Here are online communities that you can leverage today to boost your online guanxi (listed in what I believe is the order of prominence):

• Professional and technical forums: Find online forums that match your business’ technical expertise or markets and participate. Ask and answer questions, and include your company’s URL in the closing or postscript of each post.

• Marketplaces and communities: Creating a company profile within an online manufacturing marketplace (for example, MFG.com) or individual profiles in an online manufacturing community (for example, MFGx.com) not only creates more links to your site, but does so from what are seen by search engines as sites relevant in context to your own.

• LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com): Have employees of your shop join LinkedIn if they haven’t already. When creating their profiles, have them link to the company's Web site. There are two good reasons for doing this, aside from improving your site’s guanxi: First, any fears you have of exposing your employees on a networking site should be offset by exposing your company to high-functioning candidates; and as LinkedIn develops its company profile initiative, once your company gets one, it will deliver even more prominence for your site via the number of employees listed.

• Facebook (www.facebook.com): Not only can your employees create their own profiles and link to your company’s site, you can create a profile for your company right now. Not only will the links on these pages enhance your site, but your business’ page here allows you to propagate your message to a collection of current and future young manufacturing professionals. Check out Facebook’s business solutions page to create your company’s Facebook page and more.

• Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.com): You can create a page for your company on Wikipedia, including as much information as you’d like with links. But be cautious—Wikipedia has a very strict code of conduct that includes excluding any commercial/marketing content, so be careful to describe your business only in direct, factual terms. Still, Wikipedia’s worth the effort since its guanxi on the Web can help your own.

• MySpace (www.myspace.com): Like Facebook, your employees can create profiles for themselves and one for your company, linking from their sites to the company's site.

Not all of these online communities may offer you the most return for your time or may not match your comfort level. But creating links/connections like these can increase your online guanxi, increase traffic to your site and generate new leads and