Rich Brooks’ article, “What Every Small Business Owner Needs to Know About a Web Presence”, posted on D. Allison Lee’s “Organize to Revitalize” blog, offers solid advice not only for entrepreneurs, but for those who own or manage larger companies as well.

However, there were also several points I was surprised that the article did not make (it’s a wide-open topic, after all), so I thought I’d share these:

1) The primary job of your web site, company-branded social media, and other communications is to build trust: that is, to convince your prospects and customers that you understand their needs and concerns, and can meet those needs (in that order).

Why? Because people buy from those they trust. This is nothing new, but it’s becoming truer all the time, as the Web becomes more social, and the number of your competitors grows.

2) Conversation, participation, and interactivity are now essential to any company’s web presence.  Why?  Because they are how you build trust (see #1).  With those three words I’m referring to three different forms of web presence:

  • Conversation is any dialog your company has with customers and prospects on its own web site, blog, or a third-party social-media page that it controls. On these properties you are more able to “lead” the discussion by choosing a topic, educating your audience about it, and moderating an ongoing discussion of the topic.
  • Participation means getting your company’s voice and image into discussions you didn’t initiate.  These are almost always on sites your company doesn’t directly control.  Guest blogging, participating in industry-forum or consumer-forum discussions, and sponsoring online events, are just a few examples of this type of web presence.
  • Interactivity is any feature on your web site, blog, or social-media page that allows the visitor to give feedback, customize their experience on your site, or otherwise do more than simply read.  Games, videos, and audio are the most familiar examples, but the exploding world of apps and widgets is taking interactivity to a whole new level.

3) Identify and Reach Influencers: Of course you have to know your target audience and tell them what you can do for them.  But it can be even more valuable to know which members of your audience are most influential, and get them to share your story with their followers.

Think of the 80/20 rule: If a community tends to follow the recommendations of one or a few key members, it makes sense to invest more time and resources “winning over” those influencer(s). Again, this is not a new idea, but Twitter and other social-networking sites are amplifying the effect of it.

4)  Make Appropriate Offers based on Segment, Lifestage: However you choose to segment your audience (for example, by industry, by job title, by level of spending with you), just do it in a way that’s simple enough that you’ll actually use those segments to speak intelligently to their members.

At the same time, understand that each prospect or customer is at a particular stage in their relationship with your company.  An example of these stages is:

  • Awareness: they know your company’s name and basic offerings
  • Consideration: they’re willing to try your company
  • Trial: they have made an initial purchase from your company
  • Habit: they are buying from you habitually (not necessarily loyally)
  • Loyalty: they prefer to buy from you rather than other companies
  • Advocacy: they not only are loyal to you, but willing to recommend you
  • Former customer: alas, we all have some of these–don’t ignore ’em!

Based on the segments you use to view your prospects and customers, and the fact that they are spread across various “relationship stages” with you, use your web site or other web presence to make appropriate offers.  And as Rich notes in his article, be diligent about measuring the results of those offers.

Let’s keep this conversation going: What else should growing-business owners keep in mind about building a strong web presence for their businesses?