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The rise of community website software has brought a completely different approach to market research. Whereas before we needed costly marketing firms and tedious surveys, today we can easily use the exciting new technology of community website software to gather market information for us.

Below article will take a look at the key changes community website software has brought and will give you an idea of what you might be missing out on - especially as a small business – if you are not yet using this exciting technology.

In order to understand the key change, let’s briefly take a look at the success of Google.

What we can learn from Google:

The web counts more than 150 million web pages. There are websites about everything. Can we see this as a network? Up to this point, it is just a huge compilation of web pages. When those websites start linking to each other however, that is when they are creating a network. They have understood that by linking to each other, they will have more visitors - even if they haven't consciously understood this. By linking to each other, the quality of all the websites inside the network increases. It is comparable to a shopping outlet - by putting them together in a huge building complex, the value of a single store becomes much higher.

Google understood this and provided a great tool for people to find their way around the net. Rather than providing a portal to websites based on human research (like yahoo did), it created an algorithm with the intention of ranking websites based on (amongst other criteria) the amount and quality of the links to the websites. These links have off course been created by human beings, who decided that something was worth linking to. This ensures the quality of the sites Google is listing, as it assumes that the people who have created the links are rational human beings who won't link to something that is not useful.

So how does this apply to community website software, and how can we learn from this insight? Google discovered that the key ingredient to the quality of something is the value that people give to it. Google decided to soak up what the internet visitors were looking at, and then threw it right back at them, neatly organized in the form of search results. This is a fantastic business insight...It listens to people, and then gives people back what they want. The more popular something gets, the more links it will receive, the higher it goes in the results of Google!

So how can we use this insight using community website software?


Imagine you own a website selling shoes. You could decide to neatly structure your shoes on your site, optimize it for SEO, etc. Every week you could add some shoes and add some promotions. You could create an emailing list, and build up a firm basis of customers. You can look into Google “insights for search” to check out the latest trends to see which products are hot and try to sell them…

Imagine though, if you added social features to that site. You could add the possibility for users to review the items on the site, and have the item with the best reviews of the most people appear on top of the site (just like Google moves the best results on top). Other visitors will see this and you'll end up selling more of it. You'll find out which shoes people don't like so you can easily remove them. You could create polls or  shoutboxes, encouraging people to participate and have fun on your site!

In a nutshell, all of a sudden you will have a dialogue with your market. You'll know what they want & what they don't want. You'll have done it just by allowing visitors to participate and by giving them the opportunity to share with others. You don't need all that expensive and time consuming market research of the past anymore. Have you ever wondered about the success of Amazon? They have a lot of social features on their site, with great marketing potential. If you have ever ordered something from Amazon, just to find yourself buying another book or dvd because they show you that page where they show the stuff that other members are buying who also purchased what you just bought – you’ll know what I mean. Any webshop should have that capacity. This software is actually easy to get your hands on!

By making your site socially interactive for your visitors, you will be applying the insight that has made Google and Amazon successful. You’ll soak up what the visitors want and you’ll be throwing it right back at them. If you listen to them, extract the value from the network that is forming itself around your products, the network will love you for it.

Using community website software for your site can be done in as many ways as there are community website scripts. A great way to start is by giving people a forum, or by setting polls. If you are more ambitious, you could create an entire community with your brand all over it. If you own a website selling shoes, you could build a shoe review site, allowing people to comment shoes. I know a lot of women who would spend a lot of time on such a site!

You could use technology like on the Amazon website to measure the popularity of the products you sell. You can have the script automatically show top user rated items on the front page of your site. If your website is getting a lot of hits, you could give them a small marketplace where they can sell second hand products within your niche! The possibilities are endless.

As the web is becoming more and more polluted by link-builders and e-marketers who are all trying to please the search engines, Google will without a doubt look more and more towards social networking sites to calculate the ranking of the sites. It is already more and more difficult to build a couple of hundred links to a website in order to make Google think you are important. Building a social network with an active user community might seem a little more hard work, but it can not be faked. If you do it right and listen to your community, not only will you have returning visitors and customers - you will be listed all over the Google first page results for your niche. Search for any product nowadays and you'll see that the top organic results are sites which have one thing in common: they are all social networks. They are either user review sites or social bookmarking sites.

Choosing the right social networking software is crucial. Are you looking for a few components to add to your site, or do you want to dominate the entire market by building a separate, single standing social network? If you need inspiration, take look at the website of Amazon to see how they use social networking software for commercial purposes. Another example is the website of the Virgin Group, which is using social community software to enhance their brand an image.

When social website features are used correctly, powered by the correct software, it will not only save you the cost of a considerable amount of marketing research, it will also spread your name in a viral manner and skyrocket your brand as a dynamic and customer oriented company.

Good to know (in dutch):  odt bestand openen in word



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