How to Join the Online Conversation: Part 2

So you’ve nipped your web site corporate-speak in the bud, re-evaluated the reasons people visit your site, and discovered where the conversation is breaking down. Congratulations! You’ve moved to the head of the class, from a one-way monologue into the realm of informative and exciting discourse.

To further engage your customers in conversations with you (and with each other about you), there are a few more things to consider.

Make the conversation and the customer experience a priority. In these days of fizzling dot-coms, the customer experience may be the critical piece in creating online longevity. In a recent article by Rob McEwen of M2K, he suggests that hiring or creating a position for a chief experience officer to focus on that aspect would be wise. If you’ve got someone continually re-examining and adjusting the consumer touchpoints of your brand — product demos, customer service, and sign-up times, for example — your customers will notice and thank you by sticking around.

Honor your visitors’ time. Whether or not you are honoring your visitors’ time could easily form the basis for a thorough web site review. After all, they are busy people just like you and appreciate when their time is valued. So, in addition to the usual web design and navigation/usability concerns, consider these:

  • Ask (only) once, and remember.

  • Tighten up copy, and don’t bury the good stuff.
  • Create easy, short sign-up forms. (Let me join your program in 60 seconds or less.)
  • Test and time all sign-ups, downloads, automated emails, and exits to get the customer’s true experience.
  • Give people a one-click way to send your idea to someone else.
  • Keep looking for ways to take steps out of any online process (for example, registration, e-commerce, or customer service requests).
  • Offer email “coaching series” on topics that can be best digested over a few days.
  • List the top-three reasons people come to your site, and incorporate those priorities into your home page and content presentation.

Continue the conversation. Once you’ve tweaked some of the above, it will be up to you to continue the conversation by staying in touch and giving visitors incentives to return. An opt-in newsletter or email list is a wonderful way to stay in touch and continue interacting with your customers. Give them a good reason to sign up, provide just the information they desire, and show them you’re listening by responding to their questions, thanking them for comments and building their suggestions into future product developments or newsletter topics.

Keep thinking “conversation,” and resist the temptation to self-promote through your follow-up communications. Rather, fill these communications with solid information, hard-to-find tips, timesaving resources, relevant links, and special offers your customers will truly appreciate.

Expand the conversation. Remember that 1970s Fabergi shampoo commercial (“You tell two people, and they’ll tell two people, and so on, and so on…”)? The most powerful conversations and interactions are those that happen between your customers. So get people talking with each other about your brand.

In “EVEolution,” Faith Popcorn notes that “the strongest route to your customer may not be a straight line.” Connecting your customers to each other connects them to your brand, so provide ways for them to converse and form bonds among themselves. One great example of this from the world of author as product is the site for the readers and/or fans of Rebecca Well’s novel, “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.”

Author Seth Godin outlined another way to expand the conversation in his recently published book, “Unleashing the Ideavirus.” The general concept is that you can tap into your customers’ personal network by providing something so provoking, important, profitable, funny, horrible, or beautiful that they are compelled to share it.

One ideavirus that has achieved epidemic proportions is the Vindigo product, a PalmPilot-enabled directory of restaurants, stores, and entertainment venues in major U.S. cities. Palm users have been happily infected with Vindigo, a free and easy-to-spread virus. They can just pull out their Palms on the corner of Amsterdam and Broadway in New York City, for example, and with a quick click, Vindigo guides them to whatever they seek, sorted by distance and including ratings.

Now there’s something to talk about.

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