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    Well, clearly Amazon believes that they have an important role to play in guiding potential customers to their site. They have just launched a series of widgets that bloggers and online social network users will be able to use, primarily as part of Amazon’s affiliate program.

    And just why is this avenue so important to retail organisations? The reason is that the personal recommendation is a powerful tool for retailers – in fact probably THE most important one they have if used correctly. Quite simply, we all rely very heavily on the opinion of friends or colleagues that we trust when making a buying decision.

    Online word of mouth, as I mentioned in Blogs, Peer Review and the Retail Market, holds enormous sway with customers and is going to be increasingly important. This is primarily down to the massive increase in the levels of online communication via blogs and social networks. But, importantly, this is not only the case with the so called Generation Y but with people of all ages as the increasing average user age of both MySpace and now Facebook is clearly demonstrating.

    So as a small business looking at retailing online, what can you do? Well, we will be looking at this in more detail next week as part of the Small Business Series on Better Business Blogging. But in the meantime, take a leaf out of the “big boys” book and think about making your own widget which you can distribute yourself to help publicise your online shop or products.

    For some ideas on creating widgets yourself, have a look at All about Widgets which is an excellent start point – it will also direct you to places and resources that you really should visit.

    In the meantime, try to keep an eye on what the main players in your own market sector are doing and, where possible, employ similar tactics to raise your own profile!

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    How many times have you been in a position where you are looking to buy something and yet are faced with an enormous choice of seemingly similar products. What’s the first thing that you think of doing? If you’re like me, you’ll either do a search on the internet, get someone else’s opinion ... or do both at once.

    If that’s your chosen route to “product enlightenment” then you’re not alone and it seems that the both at once option is becoming ever more common with customers’ opinions on the internet being a key factor in the decision making process. One recent survey targeting Generation Y (also known as the yoof of today in common parlance) reported that some 67% say that they use online reviews as a way of deciding what to buy, with 21% specifically stating that they have used blogs to help them make buying decisions.

    However, this type of reaction is not restricted to the younger generation. We all trust the opinions of others more than we trust the marketing blurb communicated by companies.

    • On Amazon, people look at the reviews to support the selection they have made;

    • On ebay, the customer review section is important to get a feel for the sellers;

    • On Hotels.com, the opinion of others that have stayed there is as important as the hotel information itself.

    All these opinions have a huge influence on our buying decisions and, in each case, effectively what we are looking at is online Word of Mouth.

    Working with your blog is going to give you a real headstart here. It can be a key element in starting up discussions and giving the opportunity for people to air their thoughts and comments on the products. All of this if course, creates extra content about the product on your blog which in turn will help raise your Search Engine profile and attract more visitors a virtuous circle if ever I saw one!

    There are a number of ways in which you can develop it from there perhaps use the blog as a place to highlight the reviews or write posts which link through (sparingly, please) to the products area of your site giving product details, how people use them, where new developments will be etc. You may also find the blog develops a type of community feel for your products and certainly let people review and talk about them openly.

    Remember that personal recommendation together with both peer review and peer pressure are all key factors in our buying decisions, so let your blog help facilitate this and in the process give potential customers a timely nudge in the right direction!

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    At the end of 2006 and perhaps prompted by Time’s lead article declaring “Person of the Year: You“, there was a lot of talk about user generated content, thats to say information on sites being supplied by those using the site rather than those who set it up and run it.

    There are many good examples of websites which work primarily on content which has been generated by the users themselves. Sites such as YouTube and MySpace are ones which have attracted a great deal of press coverage at the social end of the spectrum.

    Business and Networking Examples

    In business, there are equally impressive examples. Amazon contains a huge amount of product information but arguably more valuable are the reviews written by people who have read the books. Similarly, sites such as TripAdvisor contain lots of information but the dynamic part comes from guests who leave their own opinions on the hotels and holidays mentioned.

    In social and business networking, many sites are primarily online structures or shells which allow their members to post articles, share information and advice or generally interact in forums. Their challenge lies in creating something which is appealing and then attracting users with similar interests who will use them and participate. Many do this very well and it shows in their success and their growth.

    Collaboration on Business Blogs

    But it is not only sites of this size which can benefit from this trend towards online collaboration and sharing of information. Your company blog offers the ideal place for exactly this type of cooperation and community building after all, it is targeted at a specific group

    So, for your own business, look at the benefit that you can accrue by getting some of the stakeholders in your company working with you:

    • Sales & Partner Networks: companies with non competing sales or distribution networks can use their blogs as a central source of information that their partners can use to increase their sales and coverage, as well as share their own experiences

    • Internal Communications: from a company perspective, tap into the collective ideas that bounce around inside of a company with nowhere to go. Give them an outlet and a chance to be expressed. Using an internal blog, you allow them not only to be put forward but also developed as others add to the initial idea

    • Market Research: tap into the combined ideas of your most valuable assets your customers. Give them a place (open or private) where they can suggest new ideas or show how they are using your products and services already. It may be quite eye opening

    • Product Development: in certain industries, particularly in hi-tech, allowing developers and customers to put forward new ideas extends the type of research and product marketing that you can achieve 100 fold. You also increase the chances of developing a group of product evangelists into the bargain

    As you can see, you don’t need a site the size of Amazon to enjoy the benefits that collaboration can bring – your business blog has all the elements that you need provided that you focus it correctly.

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