Virtual Communities 3.0. Techniques for Small Consulting Practices to Benefit from the Next Wave of the Internet
One of the major advancements of the Internet has been the ability to build virtual communities, or communities in which individuals do not have to be in close physical proximity to interact meaningfully with each other. To date we have seen two fundamental generations of virtual communities.
- Virtual Communities 1.0: In the first generation, or Virtual Communities 1.0, any individual could self-publish to the world, and consumers of information could find this content with the search engines. With this innovation:
- The power to publish and build virtual communities was no longer limited to "publishers," but instead was available to everyone.
- Communities could form around subject matter areas without the limitation of physical proximity.
Many small consulting practice firms successfully built their websites with the above model, and they were able to build competitive differentiation in the process.
- Virtual Communities 2.0: With mass publications on the Internet, the next natural question became one of quality control and trust:
- Branded sources of information (New York Times, Time Magazine, etc) could be trusted, but if anyone could publish, how could the consumer trust information provided by a non-branded source? In addition, with a large number of publishers, how can a small publisher gain visibility/mindshare?
- The second stage of the Internet (Virtual Communities 2.0) offered solution to these issues with the invention of social networking and crowd-sourced reputation tools.
- With social networking (Facebook, Linkedin, etc), a small small consulting practice firm could gain both visibility and trust by propagating its content through trusted relationships.
- With crowd-sourced reputation tools (Yelp, Google, etc), a small small consulting practice firm could gain (or lose) reputation with the support of presumably unbiased customers.
While this second stage works well for reasonably large, branded players, most smaller entities face significant challenges. These include:
- Visibility: For any particular small consulting practice firm, its web presence is like an individual grass blade in a huge field. To the casual observer, one blade of grass looks very like the next, and one small consulting practice firm might look very like another. Many small consulting practice firms have wasted money on SEO promises that have had little real impact.
- Reputation: Crowd-sourced reputation systems have proven valuable where the participation of the crowd is high. However, in situations of light feedback (not many responses), a firm’s reputation is highly susceptible to manipulation. Small small consulting practice firms are especially vulnerable to the impact of one bad experience.
- Barriers for Cooperation: As explained in an earlier article in the series, the mass customization of websites, driven by toolkits such as WordPress, has created larger barriers for cooperation and has also generated a massive maintenance burden for the small small consulting practice firms.
State-of-the-art Internet platforms such as Ocoos are creating solutions to these existing problems and building the next generation of the Internet’s virtual communities (Virtual Communities 3.0). With these platforms:
- A small consulting practice, a local bank, and several small businesses can engage with websites on the platform. In each of the websites, each entity comprehensively is able to market its respective business.
- Within the platform, businesses can recommend each other as complementary services, and the Ocoos platform will display that information as a part of the recommended member’s website.
- Articles published in the system can be similarly connected to businesses and associated commerce.
The impact of the above capability is profound. Why ?
- Crowdsourcing of Marketing Effort: All the parties benefit from each other’s marketing efforts. For example, if a bank puts a great deal of energy behind a particular event, all its partners would naturally benefit, and the converse is true for the bank when others drive marketing energy.
- Broader Value for Consumer: The recommendations of complementary businesses organically build broader value statements, which are useful to the customer. For example, a customer can travel from a bank to an insurance agent and finally to a small consulting practice.
- Trusted Recommendations: Because of business-to-business recommendations, the consumer is more confident when engaging with a particular business.
Overall, this structure builds an Internet spiderweb that raises the profiles of entire groups of small companies and allows these group to compete effectively against their competition, both big and small.
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