In the past few posts I’ve focused on the idea of business as conversation, arguing that the Internet is the new transit of that conversation, and therefore, you are now in the Internet media business. So what next? You have a business, and that business has a site on the Web. You know all about SEO (or, more likely, you’ve read a lot about it and possibly even hired someone else to help you know all about SEO). A while back I promised some simple steps you can take to make your site ready for this new conversation.
But as I think about it, I’ve realized that the best advice I can give you has nothing to do with changes to your site, per se. Rather, it has to do with changes to yourself. If you change how you use the Web, your site changes, well, they’ll come by themselves.
Let’s do a quick audit of your own conversation patterns on the web. First off, how are you consuming the web? The fact that you’re here, at a blog, is a good sign. But did you land here by chance, or are you actively looking for resources that might be helping you be better at your business? Do you use an RSS reader? A blog search tool?
Secondly, let’s get social. Are you actively using communications tools like instant messenger, Facebook, Linked In, and Twitter? If your answer is “what’s Twitter,” well, we’ll get back to that shortly.
And thirdly, and most importantly, are you adding value back into the web on a regular basis? The easiest way to do this is blogging, and we’ll get back to that one as well. But let’s take each of these in turn.
The key to being a good conversationalist is having something to say. And you can’t have anything to say if you aren’t well informed. As a business owner, you are a leader in a specific topic. And no matter the field, there are nearly limitless resources to monitor that can keep you smart and well informed. Do you run a retail outlet? Find the best retail blog sites, both national and local. Identify the larger companies in your businesses’ ecosystem and follow them using news alerts. Find the local sites covering your town, and get familiar with the latest happenings there. I find it’s always a good exercise to pretend to be a customer and to pattern that person’s information habits as they intersect with your business. What are they reading? What do they want to know?
If this all sounds like a bit much, it is. That’s why you need tools along the way to help. I’ve found the RSS reader to be incredibly helpful. This is a software tool that aggregates any number of information resources into one easy to scan interface. You tell it what to read for you, and it checks the web for new updates, presenting them in one place for you. Once you get into the habit of adding new feeds to your reader and scanning it for updates, you’ll become a much more well rounded member of your community. And that means you’re ready for step two.
How do you use the web to communicate? Do you use social networks like Facebook or LinkedIn? Do you use an instant messenger service like AOL’s AIM? Have you discovered what I call the “what’s up” services like Twitter? If your answer is “no, no, and no” I’d like to suggest you take the very hard steps of changing your habits. It’s hard to argue with step one (getting better informed) but step two is downright scary: I’m asking you to start acting like your kids. But once you start, you will find that being better connected means you are more engaged in your community. And once you are more engaged in your community, your status as a leader will be more firmly established.
This all leads to the third and most important step in our audit: What are you doing to add value back to the web? Are you blogging? Is your business’s presence on the web conversational? Do you create something new for your customers to find each day? This won’t come as a surprise, but it’s my considered opinion that you should.
You already have a website, after all. But unless you turn that site into a living, organic reflection of yourself and your business, all you’ve really got is a brochure. Instead, your site can become the hub of all the work you’ve done – all that information consumption, all that communication. Recall earlier when I said: “…it’s always a good exercise to pretend to be a customer and to pattern that person’s information habits as they intersect with your business. What are they reading? What do they want to know?” Well, if your site had a blog, you could note interesting tidbits on your site. Each time you update your site with your own voice, you make your site that much more relevant to someone. And your site becomes that much more conversational, and that much more worthy of high rankings in search engines, which brings new customers to your site and your business.
I guess what I’m saying, in short, is that your site needs to be a reflection of you. You’re a great conversationalist, or you wouldn’t be running a business. But are you a great conversationalist in the medium of the Web? If not, it’s time to get talking.
(This post has gotten quite long, but I’m happy to continue the conversation in the comments section, where I’ll happily post links to my favorite RSS readers, blogging platforms, and tutorials on various other tools).