Socializing Online

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I HOPE THOSE OF YOU WHO SELL ONLINE enjoyed a successful holiday season. I'm going to kick off 2008 not by discussing e-commerce directly (the nuts and bolts of building your site), but by showing you how to use the Internet to get the most out of your e-commerce efforts. (Previous "Selling Online" columns may be found at www.dealernews.com — Ed.)

One of the hottest aspects of the Internet is social networking. Jumping on the social Internet bandwagon probably offers the most bang for your buck when it comes to getting people to buy stuff from you. But you have to do it correctly. If you don't understand the lay of the land, you can't envision your strategy; you'll end up spinning your wheels, wasting a lot of time and money.

SOCIAL NETWORKING 101

You'd have to be living under a rock not to have heard of MySpace, Facebook or YouTube, but you may need an explanation of social networking, especially if you don't have kids.

Social networking is referred to by a number of other names, and you will never hear two people give the same definition. This is due to two factors: 1) online networking is relatively new and is still shaking out, and 2) social networking can mean different things to different people or within different contexts. But one central tenant is that it is driven by user-generated content: words, pictures, graphics, videos.

The old way of doing things is called Web 1.0. Somebody creates a site, a staff of writers or other content producers populate the site with stuff (typically static stuff), then people come to read and view the stuff. The new way is Web 2.0, where someone creates a site incorporating tools and technical infrastructure that allow visitors to create their own content, share the content and comment on other people's content.

Social sites usually have three attributes:

  • A way for people to create a home page that represents their identity on that Web site. MySpace and LinkedIn profile pages are examples. There's absolutely no reason that your dealership can't have its own profile.
  • A way for the user either to create content (a text editor to write a blog, for example), or to upload and share content that was created somewhere else (such as the photos found at www.flickr.com and www.smugmug.com, or the videos at www.YouTube.com and www.MetaCafe.com.)
  • Most importantly and universally, the ability to comment on, interact with, alter, or share what's on the site. It provides a way to be social! While the first two attributes may be present in greater or lesser degrees, it's the ability for people to throw in their two cents and share the content that bring these sites alive.

While a lot of people have a hard time saying exactly what Web 2.0 is (even if they're able to create an entire conference about it — go to www.web2summit.com), they all recognize that it's the social aspect that makes up the foundation.

WHAT'S IN IT FOR YOU

There are three main reasons why you as an Internet merchant should become involved in social networking:

  • It drives people to your site. The most basic reason for being in the social Internet ecosystem is that it works great for your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts. Most social sites you create or participate in act as potential inbound links to your Web site. Such links help your rankings on Google and other search engines.
  • It gives people a reason to stay on your site. Hopefully people will eventually buy something even if that's not why they came. Social elements like product reviews, product discussion forums, or video product merchandising all make your site more engaging and can act as sales tools.
  • It extends commerce beyond your site. Social networking can allow people to buy something from you while they are on someone else's Web site. Regardless of how good you're doing in the search engines, only a percentage of potential customers will ever find your Web site, That's why you should go to them by hanging out at the same online places as potential customers. Motorcycle- and powersports-related groupings are on nearly all the major social networking sites. If you are not there too, you're missing out on sales.