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Web 2.0 for E-Commerce Merchants

Use social media sites to help drive more people to your listings.

MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Beebo, YouTube—where did all these companies come from, and more importantly, what do they mean to your e-commerce business?

Although the biggest of these, MySpace, is scarcely five years old, social media sites like these have become as important to teens and college-aged kids as ABC, NBC, CBS, and land-line telephones were to previous generations. As e-commerce merchants, they will be important to you, too.

Most people consider companies like MySpace to be “Web 2.0” companies. That’s because they offer social networking capabilities—that is, they use the Web to connect people with things in common, quickly and efficiently. For example, we use LinkedIn to find old friends not only from places we used to work, but from college too. While we haven’t been using the site that long, we already have 40 “connections.” We can also see and learn more about the connections our friends have made. The business-related value is tremendous, and we’ve only scratched the surface. Through these connections you may uncover clients or customers that you wouldn’t have had access to before. Certainly you couldn’t do it as quickly on your own.

Through these connections you may uncover clients or customers that you wouldn’t have had access to before

Web 2.0-like activities such as blogging and posting videos aren’t limited to just a few sites. They’re now a part of many Web sites, including eBay and Amazon. eBay’s My World area, for example, provides social networking, as do Amazon’s blogs, listmania lists, and product reviews. And in a new wrinkle, Amazon is now making it possible for Facebook members to share their Amazon wish lists and product recommendations with each other.

But let’s get to the point: How can you use these Web 2.0 companies and technologies to drive people to your eBay or Amazon listings, or to your own Web store? They can all help to some degree. But as with any set of tools, some are more effective than others. And for now, some deliver many more customers for your time and money.

Content is king

Let’s start with “content,” as it’s a common denominator among lots of different Web 2.0 tools. You can put content on blogs, your Web site, within your Amazon or eBay listings, on eBay’s Reviews and Guides area… the list grows every day.

Web content (say, a blog posting on “Working Well with Drop Shippers”), gets indexed by Google and other engines as they crawl the Web. Once indexed, the blog entry will appear in relevant search results. Of course, if you wrote such an article you would include, as part of your bio, a link to your eBay store, or mention your eBay user name and what you sell, or do whatever such marketing the site allowed. You’re then getting out in front of people who have already shown an interest in what you have to say, by searching for information about it. They’ve found you through an “organic search.” Of course, you can pay for that exposure on Google through its Google AdWords program (“paid search”), but organic search is healthier and less expensive—the only cost is your time.

Steve Weber, Amazon bookselling expert, and Web marketing pioneer, gave us an example of a great use of eBay’s Guides area, where you can post how-to articles tailored to eBay’s audience. eBay seller “to.much.stuf,” who sells fashion accessories wrote a guide on How to Spot a Fake Coach Bag. In just two years, more than 380,000 people viewed it! A link to the items that to.much.stuf has for sale on eBay is right on her guide’s page. The guide only took the writer 20 minutes to create! Not only that, once you create content, as long as you don’t give away the copyright to it, you can post that same content to other sites, like the American Chronicle set of online newspapers, and get thousands of additional hits.

Video is getting cheaper, and video infomercials for your business can also drive customers to you

If creating content isn’t your thing, we understand. Writing isn’t for everyone, and even writers don’t like it all the time (although most like “having written.”) In that case, outsource it cheaply through a site such as Elance or Guru. There are many writers registered on those sites just waiting for the chance to help you out.

Video is getting cheaper, and video infomercials for your business can also drive customers to you. But video is even more challenging than writing, and here again you may need some help. New companies such as The TalkMarket can help you create the kinds of videos that portray you as a competent professional, or as young, cool, and trendy—it all depends on what works best for your market. Video costs more than content; for example The TalkMarket will charge a 5 percent commission on every video click leading to a sale. Another new company, vzaar, specializes in adding existing video to eBay listings. So once you’ve built a base of content and a mechanism for building on that base it’s time to move toward video. It does represent a path to the future and your competitors will be there. You should be too.

Social media sites you must know

Here are the main social media sites from the perspective of e-commerce merchants.

MySpace: The granddaddy of social networking sites and still the most popular with 100 million users. (Yet the Washington Post recently included it in a list of things that are on their way out. We think not so fast). On MySpace you have the chance to create a page that showcases who you are, what your interests are, and how you make your living. Robert Keeley’s page is a good example. Robert sells guitar pedals. He’s a legend in his field and travels extensively, managing to get his picture taken with many well-known guitarists. His site is a feast for fans of these things and with pictures and audio and video clips there’s plenty to keep visitors busy for a long time. Oh, and there are also the links to Robert’s Web store in case you want to buy anything found on the site.

Your customers are now all over the Web, and as a result you must be too

YouTube: This is everyone’s favorite site for browsing videos that people have uploaded. Lots of them are funny, or dull, or have no intended message. That doesn’t mean yours has to be that way, though. Here’s an example of a great video from The Crack Team, a company that fixes cracks in cement and sells franchises to others who want to so the same. This takeoff on the Sopranos is so much fun that for a while we considered giving up the keyboard for a trowel.

Facebook: Primarily for a college-aged crowd or older, this site is growing at a 60 percent-per-year clip. As with MySpace, you have the chance to create a unique profile page, which can be entertaining, yet information-packed, too. Because of its demographics, more people use Facebook for formal networking than they do MySpace.

LinkedIn: We agree with Steve Weber when he suggests this is a good site for business networking. Through LinkedIn you can search for former co-workers, people who went to your college, etc. If they are registered on LinkedIn, you have an instant way to communicate with them and share news about your eBay business, new Web site, etc.

Finally, because this whole area is changing so fast you must keep on top of trends, and news. Why not set up a Google News Alert to have news articles about social networking automatically emailed to you?

Your customers are now all over the Web and, as a result, e-commerce merchants must be too. Just start with that low-hanging fruit (creating content for the sites you already occupy). From there, you can branch out to other social media sites as your time and budget allow.

About the author

Brad & Debra Schepp
Brad and Debra Schepp are the authors of 20 books, including eBay PowerSeller Secrets and The Official Success Guide: Insider Tips and Strategies for Sourcing Products from the World's Largest B2B Marketplace. Their most recent book is How to Find a Job on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Brad is also a literary agent for Waterside Productions. For further information, visit the couple's website, Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

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