In reality, there is no such thing as online marketing. There is just marketing. Being successful promoting your firm online is pretty much the same as doing it offline. But it is useful to think of online marketing as a collection of tools with unique characteristics that require some special consideration.
Online marketing tools encompass everything from websites to social networking to chat rooms. Even if these tools feel different than the Yellow Pages and happy hours, they are actually pretty similar.
And whatever your comfort level–both with privacy and with technology–you can find a way to market your practice online. In this series of three posts, I will talk about privacy issues, the necessary technical know-how, and the major ways to market yourself and your practice online: websites, paid advertising, blogs, and social networks.
First, privacy and technical know-how.
There is a delicate tension between online privacy and online marketing. If you market yourself online, you are voluntarily putting a lot of information out on the web. But that does not have to mean that you will put personal information out on the web. In fact, one of the best ways to bury personal information that may be available already is to cover it up with the information you decide to put out there.
So safeguarding privacy boils down to this: don’t reveal anything you don’t want anyone to know. If you publish your home address, there is no getting it back. (Since most of us probably enter our home address only when shopping online, this should not be a big problem. Shopping sites are mostly well-secured, although it never hurts to check their credentials.)
Instead, publish–far and wide–the information you want potential clients to know: your office address, phone number, website(s), and e-mail address. While you can probably find my home address with a public records search, you can find my business contact information just about anywhere. Hopefully, that makes potential clients more likely to contact me.
You can hide behind an alias online, but if you do, you defeat the purpose of using the internet to market your practice.
The geek stuff: technological know-how
Computers are no longer a geek’s domain. Thanks to the internet, they are now primarily entertainment and communication devices, not just overpowered word processors (although they still do that). The days of needing to know rudimentary programming skills just to get a computer working are long gone. Open it up and head into the Wild, Wild, Web.
That said, if you want to engage in online marketing, a basic level of comfort with your computer is necessary. For example, you will want to be able to turn on your computer, type, and browse the internet. Seriously, there is not much more to it than that. If you do not know how to turn on your computer, type, or browse the internet, look into beginning computer classes through a local community education program, or try nearby libraries. It does not take long to get up and running.
In order to move beyond a static website, however, you will need to get familiar with some other common features of the online landscape. But if you can handle getting and using an e-mail account like Hotmail or Gmail, you can start a blog or join a forum or social network. It is nearly the same process. Piece of cake. So start a “dummy” blog on Blogger or WordPress just to get the feel for it. Do the same on MySpace or Facebook–or better yet, the MSBA’s mypractice–and make a profile on a social network. You can use Plaxo or LinkedIn, instead, if you want to try a more “highbrow” social network.
A level of familiarity with things like RSS feeds, blogs, internet forums, and some other things is very helpful. Those are the backbone of Web 2.0, the online world in which we now move. Know what they are, and start exploring a few.
Finally, as you interact on forums, blogs, and social networks, you may want to learn some basic HTML like making a hyperlink.
(Here’s how: <a href=”http://website.com“>text you want to link</a>
This sort of thing is a bit more advanced, and therefore optional, and you can get along just fine without it. But it will make your online interaction a bit more fluid if you do decide to learn just a bit. If you do start blogging (or commenting on blogs) regularly, you will probably just pick it up gradually as you go along.
The good news is that once you have this basic level of comfort and familiarity, you are ready to think about how you want to market online, and to do it!
Stay tuned for part 2: websites and advertising . . .