4) Establishing "Industry Participant" Responsibilities (~2 hours + ongoing)

Create amongst those in your company who are already industry participants a loose affiliation through the information hub on your website. It may be helpful further to identify someone internally who serves as a sort of editor for the hub section of your site and organizes and arranges it.

Encourage these individuals to increase their involvement and give them paid time to engage in these activities to make them more official roles. Encourage them especially to participate with your pre-identified key media - so long as it makes sense in regards to their job function.

Distribute their knowledge internally through your company "editor", and look for opportunities to increase their involvement in product development. Industry participants are often highly ambitious "change seekers" who can contribute positively to your company's development and direction.

Channeling information from your industry participants into an informational email newsletter for investors and clients is another excellent way to emphasize the level of contribution your company has in the industry.

Having these conversations is important, but you will get far more value from them if they are displayed/published/aggregated in an effective and compelling manner.

Work with your key participants to establish general guidelines and best practices for anyone else in your company who participates - or would like to participate - in online media conversations.

5) Search Marketing and Your Conversation Project

I break search marketing down into two loose categories – on-site and off-site.

On-site search marketing includes building search presence through things like adding new pages of content, arranging site architecture and link structure, optimizing page tags and ensuring that your site is as usable as possible.

Off-site search marketing includes building search presence through, in a word, links.

Your industry conversation efforts will deliver the highest search marketing value to your company if you observe the following general rules.

To derive the greatest ON-SITE search marketing value from your industry conversation efforts you must:

a) Create a hub section or page on your site that aggregates your industry conversations.

b) At the top of this section include a blog that's updated daily by your "company editor." The purpose of this blog is to highlight especially interesting or relevant bits of conversation you're having online, and to serve as a more general company news resource for journalists and investors.

c) Link to this section from your home page. Include post titles and links from your company editor's blog. Especially brave companies may consider making the conversation-hub section their home page.

d) Encourage article and white-paper writing and syndication. Include a writing directory in the hub section of your site.

Assuming there are no technical issues barring your site from search engine indexes, these efforts will enhance the likelihood that your site appears when people search on keyterms that relate to your business.

Further, if you've determined the terms that are most likely to lead to conversions on your site then you can encourage your publishers to use them in written conversations.

To derive the greatest OFF-SITE search marketing value from your efforts you must:

a) encourage your participants, when they post anywhere off of your site, to link back to your company's site. What page on your site they link to will depend on your overall search presence goals and the nature of their participation.

Worthy pages for linking include key resource pages on your site, your site's home page, the home page of your info hub.

If you're targeting a specific conversion page on your site then you should make this clear to your participants and ask that, when possible, they use this link.

b) Ask that participants identify that they're from your company when they leave comments on the blogs of others, in industry forums, or in any kind of online participation they're doing (including sites like MySpace). And especially in their personal blogs if they have them. Be specific about how you'd like the company referred to.

c) Arrange to publish your articles in your industry's media - especially if you can get links from key media sites. This builds your company's brand and drives your search presence. Be sure to reserve the right to publish these articles on your site too if they're accepted.

d) Have your participants alert key industry bloggers/participants when you write new articles or have new resource offerings.

e) Involve your key industry participants in spinning big company news to various levels of your industry. How does your new product relate to the various levels of conversation that are happening in your industry?

Get your team together and let them figure out which aspects are the most exciting and let them reach out to people they think would be interested to have them discuss your new product.

Craft and release a press release that includes links, quotes and contact information from your conversation crew plus a more traditional company contact.

This encourages links from all media strata in your industry.

Get Engaged: Start Your Market Conversation Now!

This article is an outline for implementing a strong market conversation strategy at your company.

Your market conversation strategy can drive results similar to traditional PR and marketing efforts at a substantially lower up front cost. They do, however, require an ongoing investment of employee time and effort.

A strong conversation strategy plus strong marketing and PR efforts is best. However, it's ideal that you START with developing your conversation strategy and let your findings and experiences there guide all your other marketing efforts.

That's what makes startups especially good candidates for market conversation strategies.

If you follow this article's core concepts and apply them to your unique industry you'll see an increased presence in the media, an increase in perceived expertise, a growing intra-company knowledge base and an exploding search engine presence.

More importantly – and less measurably – you'll find that your company becomes an increasingly important player in your industry. You'll find that surprising and disruptive opportunities emerge that would never have been there if you hadn't been engaged in the conversation.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

July 19, 2006

Garrett French is the co-founder of Ontolo, Inc., and co-creator of the Ontolo Link Building Toolset, which uses your target keywords to find and grade link prospects. The Link Building Toolset reduces link prospecting and qualification time, letting you focus on the most important part of link building: relationships.

Search Engine Guide > Garrett French > A Market Conversation Strategy Guide for SMBs: Driving Search Presence through Industry Participation - Part Two