Yann Motte, CEO of Webjam, discusses how Businesses should approach managing their online presence.

With the emergence of e-commerce in the mid-1990s small businesses saw a dramatic increase in both access to customers and their number of competitors. Initially, merely having a website was enough to put a business ahead of the game, but those days are now long gone.

Modern consumers have very high standards for their online experience. They expect to engage in convenient, simple and safe online transactions. Since the online environment denies consumers face to face contact with the sales team, users often also look for feedback from other customers in the form of social networking, blogs, forums, reviews and other user generated content (UGC).

UGC is an integral part of a successful modern website and the best small businesses must be ready to use these new tools to their advantage, whilst avoiding the pitfalls they present. An active online social presence can attract
more customers, grant greater visibility in the market-place, increase advertising revenue and secure greater consumer confidence and loyalty.

Unfortunately, many BUSINESSESs find the choices for developing their online presence varied and off-putting: How do we construct a website? What use is a blog? What is RSS (really simple syndication)? What if we want to add widgets? How do we protect the privacy of our users?

The needs of your business web-presence: When we think of social networking, our thoughts often jump straight to Facebook and MySpace, but these two networking giants are aimed at the mass market and are not suited to the needs of business networking. However, there are many smaller companies who are developing social networking platforms that target the requirements of SMEs searching for straight-forward, low-maintenance,
complete solutions.

SME’s should be able to work with one social publishing company to construct a social network that is suitable for their needs, rather than hosting different elements with different companies. Here are some points for consideration:

• Your web-presence should feature original content across a spectrum of different media: blogs, photos, videos, pod-casts or presentation files.

• Your website should be able to retrieve content from across the internet: This could include pulling photos from Flickr, videos from YouTube and RSS feed from your industry-specific newspaper.

• You should allow your users interaction with your site, such as discussing developments in forums or message boards, submitting photos or reviewing products.

Time-consumption

One advantage of allowing UGC on your company’s site is that it can reduce the amount of time you need to spend refreshing your own content. It is also worth making sure that you website can be updated and altered by your own staff (after the initial set-up). If non-technical employees can be empowered to upload fresh content and interact with users, costs can be reduced significantly.

Finally, you should also consider whether the platform you are using boasts all the features your business needs. Do you need e-commerce functionalities, high resolution images display and events organization tools?

Wetpaint, Huddle.net, Ning.com and Webjam all offer these services. However, each has a different focus, so you should carefully consider your companies individual needs. For example, Huddle is centered around document-sharing and collaboration, and might be more relevant for businesses that want to exchange and collaborate with suppliers. Webjam might be more appropriate for businesses looking to spread a brand virally, as it allows them to build branded online communities and lets individuals in those communities automatically replicate their own branded splinter social publishing platforms.

Monitoring your efforts

You social web-presence should be supported by other marketing and PR activity, to ensure that the media (and even bloggers) find their way to you site and potentially link to your content.

The impact of your business’ foray into social media should also be carefully monitored. The web itself can be an invaluable tool in assisting this progress.
Online you can monitor blog coverage, web-site hits and registration numbers to gauge the impact of your social media efforts.

www.webjam.com

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