There’s a lot of talk about how to leverage the internet to grow your business.  Different people have different strategies and they all seem like tricks you have to do just right to see results.  And while some of that may be true, there’s value in understanding the concepts behind Internet Marketing, allowing you to apply the same concepts to dozens of different strategies.  Besides, I always like knowing what it is I’m trying to accomplish rather than just knowing a sequence of steps to follow.

Before jumping into the meat of this post, I also want to address the fact that the internet has changed a lot over the past decade and the concepts behind Internet Marketing have changed as well.  Although the modern realities all have roots in those early years, the dynamic was very different in the mid to late 90s.  Today, the internet is starting to mature with people using it in predictable ways.  And perhaps more importantly, the internet has become more social; hence the new buzz words like social media tools, social networks and social bookmarking.

The driving force behind modern Internet Marketing boils down to one simple phrase: conversations are markets.  If you want to access a particular market, you have to find that conversation and participate in it.  Let me say that again.  If you want to access a market, you have to participate in the conversation.  Simple.  But let’s dig a little deeper and see how we might accomplish this.

MySpace is a huge conversation.  In fact, there are thousands or even millions of individual conversations taking place on MySpace.  Same with Facebook.  The blogosphere is one massive conversation.  Forums are conversations.  Bulletin boards are conversations.  Twitter is a conversation, as is Utterz.  All the social bookmarking platforms like DIGG, delicious and StumbleUpon are all conversations.  People are interacting.  And if you want to sell a product or service to those people, you have to participate in that conversation and establish credibility within those circles.

If you’ve spent any time on the platforms just mentioned, you’ll know that within each certain users stand out as authorities.  Perhaps they have more posts or more friends or more content or more bookmarks.  In general, those who are active are quickly recognized as authorities.  So what does that actually mean?  It means you can be an authority yourself by just selecting the conversation that best matches your business and becoming an active user.

For most people, there are two problems.  First, people are fickle.  Second, they have no discipline.  Go to a gym in January and it will be packed.  Go in March and it will be quiet.  Why?  Because everyone had a New Year’s resolution they soon abandoned in favor of other healthy activies like watching TV or drinking beer.  Bottom line; those who stand the test of time will win in the end.

Never before has the formula for success been so clear cut.  It’s a simple formula.  Participate.  Be active.  Establish yourself within a community and you’re almost guaranteed to succeed, or at least make progress.

Let’s move on to fickle.  Every single day, new platforms are launching on the internet and they all allow and even promote interaction within their users.  Every day, there’s a new fad.  The problem is that if you constantly follow these new fads, you never become established anywhere.  At some point, you have to pick a particular conversation and focus on that.  Even if something flashier comes along, there’s value in sticking to your plan.

Now, am I saying that you have to limit yourself to all the old-school platforms that are no longer attracting fresh visitors?  No.  All I’m saying is that you shouldn’t be too quick to jump from one to the other.  Put some time into the initial selection process.  Find the conversations that apply to your business.  Find the best forums.  Find the best blogs.  Find the best groups on social networks.  Look at them all and decide which ones you want to focus on.  Then stick to it for a while and see how your efforts pay off.

There’s another level to this discussion.  There’s something even more powerful than participating in conversations and that is facilitating conversations.  This might include becoming an organizer for an online group.  It might include adding a forum to your website.  It might include creating a wiki and then opening it up to your audience.  It might include using Ning to create your own social network around your particular business.

The possibilities are endless but you have to ensure you have an enthusiastic audience before you pull the trigger.  There’s nothing worse than a forum with no posts, a wiki with no contributions or a social network with no members.  But let’s look at an example of someone who has truly capitalized on the axiom: Barack Obama.  Now, I am not referring to his politics at all.  That is not my concern here.  But in terms of participating and facilitating conversations, he’s done more than any other politician in history … by orders of magnitude!

If you go to his website, you can create a profile and accumulate friends just like any other social network.  You can create a neighborhood and stay updated on events or even organize your own events.  You can obviously donate to his campaign or you can offer to match someone else’s donation, and even stay in touch with that other person.  But most interestingly of all, you can create your own blog within his web platform.

As of this writing, the Barack Obama website has over 40,000 active blogs, all written by individual supporters.  All these people are thoroughly engaged in his campaign and are contributing buckets of unique relevant content to his website.  They’re interacting with each other and getting more and more intertwined with the Barack Obama “change” movement every single day.  There’s no question he has capitalized on the “conversations are markets” moniker and I personally expect his dominance in this area will carry him through the November election.

Take some time and think about the conversations taking place in your field, in your business.  Do some searches on Google and Technorati and Big-Boards.  Find the conversations and begin participating in them.  You might be surprised how quickly you become a known quantity and how quickly you can start promoting your own products or services to the people you meet.

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