When People Are Seeking Information About Your Industry Are They Finding You?

originally posted on Concept Hub

In 1998 a high school math teacher who considered himself to be supremely intelligent told me that the Internet had no future. He told me that it was created for small communities to share information amongst themselves and that the amount of information was growing too fast to be able to keep it all organized. Therefore the Internet would eventually become cumbersome and useless.

Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google, were possibly thinking the same thing but with a different perspective. Instead of dooming the Internet to oblivion, they figured out how to organize it, giving users the most relevant information quickly and easily.

Because of the rise of tools that make publishing content online easier than ever as well as the ability to interact with such content the Internet has become equivalent to the Wild Wild West. Whereas Google may have once been the sheriff of the Internet maintaining order, it seems the invasion of social media communities has established a new order.

Peer to Peer Networks

When a site has lots of varied content, lots of updates, and lots of links, it will typically rank very high in search engine results. Conversations happening online tend to have lots of varied content, lots of updates, and lots of links. So when someone searches for information on a person, company, or topic of interest often times they will come across an online community. The ongoing dialog and depth of information that is provided tends to be more interesting, helpful, and richer than any static informational website. Trust develops because it is a back and forth dialog with links to supporting information. The user who has stumbled upon such a community may begin to follow the conversation and click on the links provided, all while developing impressions of brands, companies, and individuals based on what this particular community has to say.

Many organizations have spent lots of time and resources developing sites that are authoritative, informative, and ranked well in search engines. However if they lack a community, they lack references to the site from trusted peers, varied ideas and content which means they may not have the ability to earn the trust of their audience in the same way an online community can.

Cross Pollination

Communities and conversations happen in a variety of inter-connected sites. People are embedding photos and videos from the various photo and video sharing communities into other conversations. They are adding widgets and linking to their social bookmarking accounts on their profiles.  The result is a member of one community is drawn to other communities by discovering relevant information and links from different community members. Each person participating in a community has become an influencer, a connector, and a salesperson at varying different levels. As more and more people begin to rely on their community to provide the most relevant information, their attention and time will shift from marketing messages and independent research to the information that is readily available to them by the people they trust the most whether it is through Twitter, Del.icio.us, Digg, RSS feeds or any other social network they are a member of.

Social Editing and Social Helpdesk

So if a person has a question that has not been addressed by one of their various online networks, where do they turn to?

Wikipedia ranks among the 20 most visited Internet domains in the US, according to Hitwise. In spite of the controversy of the accuracy of information, more and more people see Wikipedia as a trusted resource because of the community that supports it. If someone sees inaccurate information or vandalism on the site they have the ability to go in and change it. If there is a question or dispute of what should be considered accurate there are forums for ongoing discussion.

Following along in the same spirit is the latest trend of Social Q&A. Have a question about a city, a service, a product, or an idea? Ask the global community through sites such as Yahoo! Answers or LinkedIn Q&A.

Interestingly enough I found this question on Yahoo! Answers;

Why do so many use Wikipedia as source for their answers?

Wikipedia is an open forum. The sort of people who answer questions on YA can place and edit articles on Wikipedia. Yes all postings are checked by someone but they sure don’t know everything. It’s not an encyclopaedia, it is people just like you and me, claiming that what they are posting is fact. So much on Wiki is incorrect it’s not even funny. So why do you keep using it and claiming it as fact?

It seems even the critics of information found on social media sites are using social media sites to gain insights and information.

Search Engine Participation

Search engines are still the first place most people start when looking for information. Therefore efforts and knowledge of how to be found through such techniques as Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Marketing are very important. However as the Internet evolves from static brochureware to a dynamic, interconnected, global marketplace, organizations need to start considering their participation strategy so that they are part of the conversation when people are seeking answers about their industry or cause.