While day twenty-two didn't involve a lot of actual work on The Lactivist site, it did keep me hopping with discussions via forums, email and blogs. I'd been trying to stay on top of things for online reputation management purposes, but on day twenty-two, I realized that things might be going a bit further than that.
(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.)
Online Reputation Management
I've written in past articles about how important it is to have a plan for online reputation management. Companies need to be aware of what bloggers, journalists and the public are saying about them so that they can address both positive and negative feelings about their products, services or staff. That may mean issuing a statement to correct a misconception, it may mean participating in a discussion to share their side of the story, or it may mean getting a legal team involved for big issues.
On the other hand, the feedback and comments could be positive, making the task a lot more pleasant. Finding someone that has written a glowing review about your company can be a real morale booster and can serve to help lessen the impact of the critics that show up now and then. Taking the time to get in touch with these folks to say thank you not only serves you well in the good-karma department, it also encourages them to continue to say good things about you.
It's those exact reasons that made me decide early on in the project that I needed to spend a great deal of my time finding out exactly who was talking about the project and then responding to them appropriately. In many cases, that has meant dropping an email or leaving a comment on someone's site to say thank you. In other cases, it has meant addressing a critic or responding to an email from an unhappy reader. Sometimes it simply means joining up at a new forum to take a look at what folks are saying about things and then going on my merry way.
What I didn't expect was how much of a personal impact tracking this information would have on me. I suppose that's why I think it's essential to let people know that once they delve into online reputation management they'll not only find themselves addicted to it, but they'll also find themselves taking to heart what people say about them.
Luckily for me, the 95% of what I was hearing about the project was positive. Bloggers, discussion boards and emails had flooded me with comments about how many people were finding the series to be educational, entertaining and even inspiring. The other 5% was sometimes a little bit draining though. Some critics in discussion forums were repeatedly harping on the idea that the project wasn't' legitimate because I already knew too much about marketing and had too large of a personal network to be able to replicate what someone would really go through. I'd also received an email or two from people that were either offended by the content of the site, or by my sharing information about my personal beliefs.
In fact, on day twenty-two I received a pretty strongly worded email from a Search Engine Guide reader that was extremely upset over the fact that I'd admitted to being "conservative and god-believing". I was a little bummed to get the email because I'd never even dreamed of the fact that my readers might think less of me if I shared my own personal beliefs with them. I sat down to put together an email to send back to her explaining that I was sorry if she was offended by my personal beliefs but that I hoped she would still be able to learn something from the article series.
The amazing thing about the email was that despite the negativity about the project, it made an excellent point. What I really took away from the email was how frustrated the writer was about the trouble they were having promoting their own company. They pointed out that they'd had no help from any "good old boy network" or from companies offering free tools. They made it very clear that I should appreciate all the help that other people were giving me because I clearly wouldn't be where I was without all that help.
In a lot of ways, that reader was right. But in a lot of other ways, they sort of missed the point.Why Networking is Absolutely Essential to Building a Business
There's no arguing that I have an extensive network of contacts within the Search Marketing world. I have great contacts at companies like ClickTracks, Trellian, Wordtracker, Yahoo! and more. I know skilled copywriters, programmers, graphic designers and public relations execs. I can't deny that. But what I think some people fail to realize is that I wasn't born knowing those people. I had to build those relationships.
While I've been in the online marketing world for almost a decade now, I've only been involved in search marketing since about 2001. Like most of the people in this industry, I got started reading message boards and digesting every bit of information I could find. I became a regular poster at SearchEngineForums.com and was eventually asked to be a moderator. In time, I became the forum administrator and ended up applying for, and getting, the job of Web Search Guide at About.com. Because of those two positions, I was able to get press passes to the Search Engine Strategies shows and eventually landed a spot as a speaker.
In 2004, Robert recruited me to be the editor-in-chief of Search Engine Guide and early this past year I left my day job as an online marketing consultant to focus on Search Engine Guide full time.
Why the history? Because I think it's important for people to understand that people that have good networks get them because they put time and effort into developing those networks. Danny Sullivan, Seth Godin and the late Cory Rudl were all once complete unknowns. They got to where they are because they worked hard and they put time and effort into networking with people. They treated people with respect, they shared their knowledge with people that wanted to learn and they built up a reputation in their respective business communities.
I'm no different. I sit here in my living room, hacking away on my laptop while corralling a dog and a 13 month old and I marvel at the fact that people think I know anything, let alone that I somehow have this huge leg up on anyone else looking to start a business. There's no doubt that it takes work and sure, many people will spend years building their business network, but that's no excuse for not trying at all.
The best example of this is the number of new contacts that I've made since this series began. Sure, I knew plenty of folks in the search industry, but it's been the expansion into the world of "mommy-marketing" and small business marketing that has been fascinating.
Before I started The Lactivist, I had never heard of Marc Cowlin. Marc is the PR Director of CafePress and he's a heck of a guy. Marc has a real passion for CafePress and the beautiful thing about him is that he's not just focused on making CafePress successful. Sure, Marc looks for stories that can help get CafePress positive press, but it's very clear within the CafePress shopkeeper community that Marc is interested in helping the shopkeepers succeed. He's known for rallying the troops to help each other out. Marc is networking as he goes and is leaving a wake of people behind him that feel like they are more than just a dollar sign on CafePress's bottom line. Because of this project, I can now count on Marc as part of my network.
Before I started this project, I'd never heard of Dan Mowry. Dan Mowry is a successful CafePress shopkeeper that runs TheTShirtZone. He's also a talented graphic designer. Dan wrote to me because he was interested in the project and wanted to know if he could help out. He offered up both graphic design services and his knowledge of cpshop, the module that let me put my store offerings on my own domain. In exchange, I offered to help him out with search marketing for his site. Because of this project, I can now count on Dan as part of my network.
Before I started this project, I'd never heard of Melinda DiPerna who runs a vacation rental web site. Melinda wrote in because she was interested in the project and really liked my shirts. We emailed back and forth quite a bit to talk about our respective businesses, to share experiences about breastfeeding and parenting and in general, to have some nice conversation. Melinda, as it turns out, takes her children to Dr. Sears, a very well-respected pediatrician and suggested that I contact him to see about his help in promoting the shirts and the milk bank fundraiser. Because of this project, I can now count on Melinda as part of my network.
Before I started this project, I'd never heard of Janell Vasquez of AccuServ, Inc. Janell wrote to me early in the series to share her own experience breastfeeding her two children. As an editor, she also wrote to point out that I had a typo on one of my products. ;) Janell works on web sites at her day job, but is also working on her own business on the side. Janell is now working with a local grief counseling center that serves children to do some fundraising through her own side-business. That first email sparked an ongoing email exchange that continues to this day. Because of this project, I can now count on Janell as part of my network.
Before I started this project, I'd never heard of Lisa Stewart or BigFoot Web Marketing. Lisa sent me a private message on the High Rankings forum to offer to put links to my site on a few of her own parenting related web sites. That sparked dozens of emails back and forth where I learned that Lisa's son was born early and spent time in the NICU and that Lisa was a work at home mom that took on search marketing projects from larger firms that wanted to outsource some of their work. I'm now busy convincing Lisa to become a new guest author for Search Engine Guide and hope to send her to SES Toronto (since she lives there) as a reporter for Search Engine Guide. Because of this project, I can now count on Lisa as part of my network.
Before I started this project, I'd never heard of Cara Schrock, the blogger behind Mama C-Ta. I actually emailed Cara because I found a link coming in to The Lactivist from her site and found that she'd added it to her blog roll. We exchanged a few emails back and forth and Cara became my first Lactivist Store affiliate. Cara and I have now had a couple of chances to cross-link to each other's blogs to share some traffic. Because of this project, I can now count on Cara as part of my network.
The point here isn't that I magically increased my network by writing a new series for Search Engine Guide. The point is that other people also increased their own network by taking the time to write to me and to develop a relationship. I can hope that I'll be able to help Lisa gain a better reputation in the search marketing community by providing her a publishing outlet for her articles. I can hope that I'll be able to help Dan increase his own sales by giving him some tips on search marketing. I can hope that there will come a time that I'll be able to help Janell or Melinda with their own businesses by putting them in touch with someone from my own network. This is how it works.
Don't be afraid to network. Don't be afraid to write an email, make a phone call or go to an event to introduce yourself to folks. Everyone started off not knowing other people. Everyone remembers what that's like and almost everyone is usually just as thrilled to add you to their network as you might be to add them. Treat people with respect, share what you can and take less than you offer in return. Your network will grow and your business will prosper.
Coming up on day twenty-three, I dig out a book on web analytics, play around with ClickTracks and catch up with my email. I also throw my hands up in frustration at Yahoo! and do the dance of joy when someone points me to a certain well-known newspaper.
Jump to Day twenty-three.
(Want to read the entire 30 Day article series at once? Download the free 30 Day ebook!)
December 16, 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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