Stock investors always say, “Diversify!” Imagine if you had all of your stock in one company and it went bankrupt. This scenario is what happened after the dot com crash.
Putting all your eggs into one basket labeled “email newsletters” can also spell disaster. The eggs might meet the same fate as Humpty Dumpty. But if we split up the eggs into a few baskets and one falls, we still have two to fall back on. Other kinds of baskets such as your Web site, blog, snail mailings and feeds can support your newsletter and help you build better relationships with prospects and clients.
Other online tools
We have a diversity of options available for building relationships through Web sites beyond the static sites that rarely change or get updated. Not all businesses advertise or market on TV, radio, newspapers or billboards. Why not? Because those vehicles may not be the best way to reach their target market.
While we might think, “Online is online. Once you get there, you can do everything.” That’s true, but as with kinds of egg dishes, people have preferences, likes and dislikes. Here are the tools we can use to connect with prospects and clients:
* Bulletin boards/discussion forums
When companies use tools like these to interact with the community, it makes them more accessible, puts a face behind the company. These also help keep the site regularly updated with fresh content, which is always a good thing, especially with search engines.
Blogs invade businesses
Weblogs aren’t just for telling our sob or life stories anymore. Blogs, as Weblogs are better known, can be online articles, essays, entries, diaries and journals. A typical blog contains entries displayed in order from most recent entry on forward to older entries.
When a blogger posts an entry, users can read and comment on them when that feature is available. Most blogging applications come with comments, but the blogger might choose not to use them, monitor them or leave it open for anyone to comment. They can delete comments, especially when they’re offensive or comment spam — comments from spammers who post repeated comments with links to sites to increase their search engine results.
CEOs, CIOs, vice presidents and many others have joined the blogging revolution to give a voice to their companies. Topics range from commentary on the industry, insight into strategies and advice on general business practices, to name a few.
While the decision on whether or not to blog and who should blog for the company is an article of its own, here are the basic requirements to meet when blogging:
* Add a new entry at least three times a week.
* Discuss topics rather than just linking to others.
* Read other blogs.
* Provide valuable information to readers rather than just about your company.
While successful blogs have broken these rules, they’re not common. Whenever you release a new issue of your email newsletter, blog it. It’s an opportunity to reach an audience that might not otherwise find out about the newsletter. You can read more about business blogging in these books:
* Blogging for Business: Everything You Need to Know and Why You Should Care by Shel Holtz and Ted Demopoulos
* The Corporate Blogging Book: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know to Get It Right by Debbie Weil (coming soon)
* Naked Conversations: How Blogs Are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel
* Blog Marketing by Jeremy Wright
Feeding with feeds
Rather than coming to the Web site and reading a blog, some people read the blog through a news reader, feed reader or aggregator application. Such applications can be downloaded and used on your computer, like FeedDemon, or are Web-based, like Bloglines. News readers make it possible to read all of your favorite blogs and online content in one place.
While news feeds were originally associated with blog content, they can be available for any online content. You may have seen the RSS or XML icons, text along the lines of “Syndicate this site” or a button that says you can subscribe with a specific feed reader service or application like Bloglines, MSN Alerts, MyYahoo! and more.
(Note: If you’d like to know more about feeds, here’s an article on feeds.)
Next time you go to a Web site, look for the feed. Any page on a Web site can be a feed, but a feed isn’t appropriate for just any old content. The best kind of content for creating a feed is regularly updated, including newsletters, like this one that has an RSS icon in the upper right-hand corner.
Take advantage of feeds and reference other content. If you have a feed for your newsletter, in its contents, reference something new on the Web site or a new article you’ve written.
The trick to spreading your eggs out is to have all of your content point to each other, business cards included. Business cards can have URLs to the Web site, newsletter and anything else that’s appropriate and fits on the small card. A long URL won’t go over well. Instead, use a URL shortening service, as many don’t cost anything.
Opening the doors with forums
Forums — also known as bulletin boards, discussion boards, discussion groups and message boards — offer an online meeting place where users can discuss topics. They don’t have to be logged into these forums at the same time. Forums typically require registration to avoid abuse, but some let users post anonymously. To use a forum, all a user needs is usually a Web browser, a sign on ID and a password.
To keep things under control, forums might have moderators who have the ability to edit or delete messages and remove user access. Unlike a blog, a forum allows anyone to start a new discussion. Only the bloggers can start a new topic in blogs, but most blogs come with commenting features to involve the readers.
When an interesting discussion occurs on a forum, reference it from within a newsletter or a blog to get others involved. Many businesses use forums so users can help each other with product problems and questions. Experts might also be assigned to track the forums to help when no one else can.
Colleges and universities with online classes might use forums so professors and students can interact and discuss course-related materials and projects. Do a search for “forums” and see the diversity of topics covered including hobbies, business, careers, industries, games and more. Companies also use forums so teams can collaborate or build a community among employees whom might be near and far.
Wikis take collaboration a step further
Wikis, like forums, involve multiple users who can start a discussion or topic. But unlike forums, wikis allow users to edit other people’s content. A person could create a new page, and another person — who has more information — can add onto the original article and make changes.
While anyone having the ability to edit anything sounds like a recipe for disaster, it doesn’t happen often. Wikis can be protected with a password to prevent potential problems. Wikipedia is a giant wiki thanks to its 13,000+ contributors who manage over 1,800,000 articles in 100+ languages. Over 960,000 of those articles are in English.
Pages in a wiki connect to each other through links. Creating a link in a wiki depends on the software used. A link could be created with a simple [This is a link] (brackets around the item to be linked), *This is a link,* or some other way. Working with a wiki resembles using a word processor.
These, like forums, come in handy for team collaboration. A software development team could use a wiki to document features and show how to use them. A marketing team could track its projects and updates with a wiki. The options for collaborating with a wiki are many.
Deciding on which tools to use
Blogs, feeds, forums and wikis have many features that impact your decision on which to use. Also, organizations that develop forum, blog and wiki software list the application’s features on their Web sites. You can check them out to help figure out what you need.
Keep in mind that content management systems (CMS) and communications management systems come with these tools built in. Even if a CMS that best fits your needs doesn’t come with a tool you want, you can always add on with another product.
In any case, you might find one, two or none of these communications tools works for you. No matter which you chose, it’s about seamlessly putting your information into more than one basket and reaching as big an audience as possible.