Over the last month we have been working on building in social networking for our startup, and it is just now beginning to draw some attention. This is a good thing as social networking is a series of processes and systems that people need to keep on top of making them work. Here is what I am doing to incorporate social networking into my startup.
My startup is a physical goods seller using Amazon and Ebay as primary sales venues, but also using our own web site and smaller sites like Alibris to sell comic books. While this is not a high level technology startup, when being a pure ecommerce site, you live and die by the traffic you get to your web site. While leveraging Amazon and Ebay because they are the 900 pound ecommerce systems makes sense, using your own web site under your own domain allows you to build a more personable relationship with people.
The first thing we are doing with our social networking plan is not thinking about people as customers. They are people we want to share information about comics with. Amazon and Ebay allow people to be customers and buy things, but our web site is geared towards building community and sharing information about comics. We do reviews on our Blog, but we also do reviews internal to the web site that is running our shopping cart. We need to make some changes to our shopping cart to incorporate some of the social networking things we want to do, but the social networking part of the blog is pretty much in place.
Because we want to look at our visitors as people who love comics, we are using both in-house reviews on the sales site we are running locally, and blog entries to highlight some of the cooler things we are reading. The store software is just general reviews, while the blog allows us the space to do more in-depth reviews of some of the things we are reading. Both the store and the blog are linked into multiple systems to help share information.
1. Both are linked into a Facebook fan page – RSS via Social RSS helps people get information off the site via Facebook. The fan page is just started and not being advertised via Facebook. We also put our Facebook connect on the blog so that people who hit the blog can also connect to our Facebook page.
2. The Facebook fan page is where we post pictures of comics and do a quick review of each of the comics we are looking at. These reviews are based off of what we are doing around in-house store reviews and not blog entries. The idea is to tease rather than fully inform.
3. Everything is linked into FriendFeed as the hub of all our social communications, we primarily interact with fans (remember not customers) on FriendFeed. We are also active participants in the multiple comic book communities on FriendFeed, especially “Comic Book Goodness”. This is a sharing exercise, but we post everything with our brand and logo. We are interested in connecting with fans and sharing what we know.
4. Twitter – we also interact with twitter, but not on a high level, twitter is more or less a feed for our Facebook and FriendFeed activities.
5. Everything is linked together via two primary RSS feeds – one for the store and one for the blog. RSS is the primary communications and sharing path so we can make “original data once” and then reuse it via RSS across multiple sites. Without RSS the entire social networking structure would simply fall apart, there is no way that a person could truly create data and submit it to multiple sites without RSS.
A month into our social networking for the company we have seen some very good growth in connecting with people. Between all the systems we are interacting with we are reaching about 200 unique subscribers across all platforms. All of this is being done without advertising, and only by word of mouth. People are working out their own reasons for wanting to connect to the information we are making and sharing.
I think that one of the key reasons why we are seeing this kind of growth is that we are treating people as fans rather than customers. Everyone gets sales messages everywhere they go, putting in effort to help share information rather than putting a focus on making money looks like it is being successful in making genuine connections. Our thoughts on this is that genuine connections are better for building brand recognition so that they next time someone thinks they want to purchase a comic book they will think of us first and see if we have what they are looking for.
In all this is ending up being a very interesting way of working with social networking to build interest in the company as a standalone brand independent of our sales channels on Amazon and Ebay. Eventually the pay off should be more people visiting the web site and purchasing, but right now using social networking to build brand recognition and fans is more important than selling off the sites we control. Amazon and Ebay right now make excellent sales channels for our pure play ecommerce site. We are having more fun creating content and then sharing that with others and keeping the hard sell to our sales channels.
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(Cross-posted @ TechWag)