Your market - whether you're in biotech or biotech software development - is deep in conversation online.

Here's what that conversation looks like:

  • Industry journalists documenting your marketspace through interviews with your peers and competitors and news analysis.
  • Industry practitioners, pundits, and your employees and coworkers publishing opinions, questions, advice and analysis in blogs, forums, social networks, podcasts and video.

Here's who observes this conversation:

  • Your investors.
  • Your prospects.
  • Your employees and coworkers.
  • Your industry's journalists.
  • Your colleagues.
  • Your competitors.

And typically these people are themselves participants in your market's conversations. What this article does, and for whom:

This article provides a thorough market conversation strategy outline for the enterprising DIY marketer, with an emphasis at the end on search engine presence.

I sought to estimate the amount of time each step would take so that you fully understand the investment that an effective conversation strategy requires.

I wrote this article with startup B2Bs in mind. The core concepts and practices have B2C applications though, which I will articulate in later articles.

Obviously, the more resources you can put into these efforts the better your overall results will be. I am available for consultation on any aspect of your strategy.

Article Outline:
The article follows the outline below (hours noted indicate approximate time it will take for you to implement these aspects of the project):

  1. Create Media Map and Determine Key Media; Assess Your Organization's Position (6 hours)
  2. Assess Your Current Efforts (2 hours)
  3. Assessing and Harnessing Employees' Current Industry Conversations (2 hours + ongoing)
  4. Establishing "Industry Participant" Responsibilities (2 hours + ongoing)
  5. Search Marketing and Your Conversation Project (tips for optimizing your conversation)

The benefits of implementing a conversation marketing project for your company include but are not limited to increased mentions at all strata of your industry's media, an increase in industry "expert" branding, an increase in your internal knowledge base, and an increase in your search engine presence.

1) Create Media Map, determine Key Media; Assess Your Organization's Position (~6 hours) List out the major industry media you can think of. This includes blogs (possibly of competitors...), news sites, forums, etc. Use your favorite search engine and terms you associate with your industry to build out this "industry media overview" list.

Include in this list the various niches within your industry's media all the news and information sources you find critical to YOUR role in your company.

Now poll others in your company. As many folks as possible, with as diverse a cross section of job roles as manageable. Ask where they go to exchange and learn new ideas for making their jobs easier, to make themselves more efficient in their jobs, or to improve their work lives in some way.

And be sure to ask which sites about your industry they find the most exciting, where they think the newest innovations are discussed. These sites are not likely to be included in your overview list and will serve to illustrate emerging, up-and-coming media in your space.

Once you've gathered all your media sources, organize them by category. These categories will vary depending on your industry, but could include "main stream (relative to your industry of course)," job-function-based categories, and should certainly include a "cutting-edge" media section. This categorization constitutes your industry media map.

Your media map will be quite useful too should you decide to buy online advertising, or when you have launches that you suspect are interesting to only a segment of your industry's media. Next assess your company's presence in these media.

This is done quite simply by checking each site for mentions of your company or the names of people in your company (with a [ keywords] search in your favorite search engine).

Create a list of your current presence in these media and the tenor or nature of each instance of mention.

Your company's "key media" includes the sites from your industry media map:

  • that mention your company or your company's employees by name
  • that ANYONE from your company has personal association with
  • that you've identified as influential
  • that you've identified as emerging influential

Your conversation efforts should focus on these identified key media, and in keeping an eye on emerging media that you should target.

2) Assess Your Current Efforts (~2 hours)
Now that you've created your media map, assessed your presence in this media and determined which are your key media, it's time to align your current presence with your existing efforts and see how these relate to your marketing goals.

Your "official" efforts include any kind of marketing or PR you're currently engaged in. These efforts could include your company's blog, your website itself, any ads you've purchased or participation in industry conferences.

Put your list of these efforts beside your presence in your key media and determine - as precisely as you can manage - how these efforts affect your specific online marketing goals, with special emphasis on key conversions you've identified as goal-reaching conversions.

Some goals/conversions could include:

  • Investor inquiries
  • Prospect inquiries
  • Partnership inquiries
  • Interview requests
  • Mentions in key media
  • Email addresses gathered

Keep your goals and conversions in mind as you develop the rest of your conversation project.

3) Assessing and Harnessing Pre-existing Employees' Industry Conversations (~2 hours + ongoing)
There's a high likelihood that your employees already participate in one or more of your industry's key media. Assess who in your company's participating and where through a poll, informal or otherwise. Clarify upfront that you're identifying who's already leading your company's industry conversation efforts and indicate that you're seeking their advice and guidance on your overall project.

Assert that you - the assessors - think participation of almost any kind is a positive thing for your company and you want to understand how their participation benefits them.

In your assessments find who's giving advice in their respective spaces, from forums to blog commentary to their own personal blogs. Keep a sharp lookout for who's providing useful information to their communities.

Ultimately you'll be building a single hub - in the form of a section on your site or possibly as a part of a blog - that aggregates all your employees' (most positive) industry-related participation. This hub should be organized, and you'll find likely organizational structure from the categories you determined in your initial media map.

This participation hub should be on or near the press clips and press releases on your site, and as your conversation efforts become more crystallized this hub will include blogs and articles of your company's key industry participants.

In this particular piece it's highly important that the only rule of employee media participation be that, "it benefits the company." You will have to assess for yourself what is and isn't material to your competitive advantage, though be sure to embrace transparency as far as you're able.

Despite effects on enthusiasm towards participation you may find it necessary to create an employee guideline for industry conversation.

Make clear your reasons for imposing restrictions, ie, show how not following these restrictions could hurt your company. Most importantly though, be willing to make adjustments through intelligent debate with your internal industry participants.

Tune in for part two in this series for even more tips and advice.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

July 18, 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 One