While I didn't have a lot of free time to spend on The Lactivist project on day eighteen, I was still running on some adrenaline from my visit to the milk bank the day before. That seemed to be just what I needed to spark some creativity for new shirt ideas. It also gave me cause to spend some time networking on one of the popular parenting sites. The biggest boon on day eighteen though came from a note from a Search Engine Guide reader.
(If you're just catching up with this series of articles, be sure to swing into the ongoing discussion thread at the Small Business Ideas forum. You'll be able to link to each day's article and participate in the discussion going along with it.)
Day eighteen saw me adding five new shirts to The Lactivist web site. I was still finding myself brainstorming about shirt ideas almost non-stop and it seemed that some of my readers were running into the same problem.
An email came in from Danny Sullivan with some ideas based on Little Britain, a popular sketch comedy show in the UK. Apparently one of the better-known sketches revolves around a man and his girlfriend and the man's relationship with his mother. During the girlfriend's first trip home to meet his family, he ends up asking his mother for "bitty." After awhile, she finally gives in and starts to nurse him right there in the living room. The sketch is hysterical in that odd, British sort of way, and apparently the British get a big kick out of "bitty."
The news that The Lactivist was going to be featured in the Pimp My Site panel at SES also inspired a little creativity, so I added a shirt that reads "Pump Juice" to the pumping moms category. Since my mind was already thinking in that light, I went ahead and threw up a shirt that would let me start targeting moms that tandem nurse as well. Thus, "My Milkshake Feeds All the Kids in the Yard" was added to the mix. Finally, one of the women in a parenting forum that I belong to asked if I'd create a shirt that said "My baby thinks I'm Boobylicious." Who am I to disappoint?Becoming Part of the Community
I've written a lot during this series about the importance of viral marketing when you are trying to market something on a budget. The problem that most companies have is figuring out how to get a viral marketing campaign going. After all, just sitting around waiting for someone to talk about your product, no matter how cool it is, isn't the best marketing plan. Chances are that you'll need to do something to try and spark a viral marketing campaign.
That's where building credibility through community involvement is essential. There are discussion forums out there for almost any topic imaginable. From parenting to search marketing to muscle cars, chances are high that if there's more than a few people interested in it, they've managed to find each other online to spark up a conversation. Getting involved in these communities is a great way to not only keep tabs on the interests of your target audience, but to help them find out that you, and your products exist.
The key here is credibility. That can't be stressed enough. As someone that administrated an enormous discussion forum for several years I can tell you that there is no end of companies seeking to register at every forum on the planet to tout their products. This simply doesn't fly. In fact, it's a great way to generate negative publicity among your target audience. Instead, you need to take the time to read forum rules, familiarize yourself with the tone and conversation styles of the forum and slowly ease in to making posts.
Making use of signature files once you've become a recognized member of a forum is one way to spread the word, but even just plugging your site into your user profile can result in quite a bit of interest if you are making posts that catch people's eye. An example of this is my participation at BabyCenter. I'd spent more than a year participating on a regular basis in their "feeding choices" and "childbirth choices" debate board and most of the regular posters knew me fairly well. They were familiar with my involvement as a milk donor and knew about my experiences exclusively pumping. I'd spent a year helping answer questions from new posters and taking part in conversations and debates about a variety of topics.
In other words, I'd invested a great deal of time and effort into building credibility. That's why I was able to make a post asking for some feedback about my product line without being tagged as a spammer. That first post, which looked for feedback about a potential shirt idea drove quite a bit of traffic to The Lactivist Store. A second thread, just this past week also ended up driving traffic to the site when another poster pointed to my blog.
The beauty of this community was that I wasn't just driving traffic to my site. I was participating in conversation with other forum members because I enjoyed the community and because I enjoyed sharing stories and experiences with them. The traffic and interest in the products was a side benefit. Customers are not stupid...they know when they are being played. Taking advantage of communities as a marketing and public relations move is an important part of any campaign, but you have to devote considerable time and effort to doing it right.
Hoping for a Miracle
The biggest news of day eighteen came when Vacation Mamma, a member of the Small Business Brief forums wrote to tell me that Dr. Sears's son was her children's pediatrician. (For those not into the natural parenting world, Dr. Sears is sort of the Danny Sullivan of pediatrics.) She had told Dr. Sears about the project while in the office with one of her children and he was interested in learning more. He gave her his email address to pass on to me and asked me to get in touch with him with more information about the project. I fired off an email and said a prayer.
Coming up on day nineteen I get a chance to look over the first drafts for the two press releases that we're working on and find out that there's a third party program that lets you integrate CafePress store content directly into your own domain. I also get an email from my favorite public relations guru with offers of help on a couple different levels.
Jump to Day nineteen.
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December 7, 2005
Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.
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