Your market—whatever it might be—is deep in conversation online. And here's what that conversation looks like:

Industry journalists document your market space through interviews with your peers and competitors and news analysis.

Industry practitioners, pundits, and your employees and coworkers publish opinions, questions, advice, and analysis in blogs, forums, social networks, podcasts, and video.

Here's who observes this conversation:

  • Your investors
  • Your prospects
  • Your employees and coworkers
  • Your industry's journalists
  • Your colleagues
  • Your competitors

And, typically, these people are themselves participants in your market's conversations.

What This Article Does, and for Whom

This article provides a thorough market conversation strategy outline for the enterprising do-it-yourself marketer, with an emphasis—at the end—on search engine presence.

I sought to estimate the amount of time each step would take so that you fully understand the investment that an effective conversation strategy requires. I wrote this article with startup B2Bs in mind. The core concepts and practices have B2C applications, though, which I will articulate in later articles.

Obviously, the more resources you can put into these efforts, the better your overall results will be. Feel free to contact me on any aspect of your strategy.

Article Outline

The following five items constitute the outline of this article—and your conversation project; the number of hours noted indicate the approximate time to implement these various aspects of the project:

  • Create media map and determine key media; assess your organization's position (6 hours)

  • Assess your current efforts (2 hours)

  • Assess and harness employees' previous industry conversations (2 hours + ongoing)

  • Establish "industry-participant" responsibilities (2 hours + ongoing)

  • Search marketing and your conversation project (tips for optimizing your conversation)

The benefits of implementing a conversation marketing project for your company include, but are not limited to, increased mentions at all strata of your industry's media, an increase in industry "expert" branding, an increase in your internal knowledge base, and an increase in your search engine presence.

1. Create media map, determine key media; assess your organization's position (~6 hours)

List the major industry media you can think of, including blogs (possibly of competitors), news sites, forums, etc. Use your favorite search engine and terms that you associate with your industry to build this "industry media overview" list. Include in this list the various niches within your industry's media—all the news and information sources you find critical to your role in your company.

Now poll others in your company—as many folks as possible, with as diverse a cross-section of job roles as manageable. Ask where they go to exchange ideas and learn about new ones to make their jobs easier, to make themselves more efficient in their jobs, or to improve their work lives in some way.

And be sure to ask which sites about your industry they find the most exciting, where they think the newest innovations are discussed. These sites are not likely to be included in your overview list and will serve to illustrate emerging, up-and-coming media in your space.

Now, analyze these media in both Alexa and PubSub. These two services will enable you to judge the level of influence, rising or falling, that these media outlets have in your market space.

Once you've gathered all your media sources, organize them by category. These categories will vary depending on your industry, but could include the following:

  • Mainstream (relative to your industry, of course)
  • Job-function-based categories
  • Rising/falling/steady influence in your space
  • Red-hot emerging media (All market spaces have these—it's best if you buddy-buddy with them while they're just starting out. Become a useful resource to them.)

The categorization you devise constitutes your industry media map.

Your media map will also be useful should you decide to buy online advertising, or when you have launches that you suspect are interesting to only a segment of your industry's media.

Next, assess your company's presence in these media.

This is done quite simply by checking each site for mentions of your company or the names of people in your company (use a [ keywords] search in your favorite search engine).

Create a list of your current presence in these media and the tenor or nature of each instance of mention.

Your company's "key media" includes the sites from your industry media map that...

  • Mention your company or your company's employees by name
  • Anyone from your company has personal association with
  • You've identified as influential
  • You've identified as emerging influential

Your conversation efforts should focus on these identified key media; you should also keep an eye on emerging media that you might eventually target.

2. Assess your current efforts (~2 hours)

Now that you've created your media map, assessed your presence among those media, and determined which are the key media for you, it's time to align your current presence with your existing efforts and determine how those efforts relate to your marketing goals.

Your "official" efforts include any kind of marketing or PR you're currently engaged in. These efforts could include your company's blog, your Web site itself, any ads you've purchased, or participation in industry conferences.

Compare this list of efforts with the outline of your presence in key media and determine—as precisely as you can—how these efforts affect your specific online marketing goals, with special emphasis on key conversions you've identified as goal-reaching conversions.

Some goals/conversions could include...

  • Investor inquiries
  • Prospect inquiries
  • Partnership inquiries
  • Interview requests
  • Mentions in key media
  • Email addresses gathered

Keep your goals and conversions in mind as you develop the rest of your conversation project.

3. Assess and harness employees' previous industry conversations (~2 hours + ongoing)

There's a high likelihood that your employees already participate in one or more of your industry's key media. Assess who in your company's participating and where through a poll, informal or otherwise.

Clarify upfront that you're identifying who's already leading your company's industry conversation efforts and indicate that you're seeking their advice and guidance on your overall project.

Assert that you—the assessors—think participation of almost any kind is a positive thing for your company and you want to understand how their participation benefits them.

In your assessments, find those who are giving advice in their respective spaces, from forums to blog commentary to their personal blogs. Keep a sharp lookout for those who are providing useful information to their communities.

Ultimately you'll be building a single hub—in the form of a section on your site or possibly as a part of a blog—that aggregates all your employees' (most positive) industry-related participation. This hub should be organized, and you'll find a likely organizational structure from the categories you determined in your initial media map.

This participation hub should be on or near the press clips and press releases on your site, and as your conversation efforts become more crystallized this hub will include blogs and articles of your company's key industry participants.

Here, it's highly important that the only rule of employee media participation be that "it benefits the company." You will have to assess for yourself what is and isn't material to your competitive advantage, though be sure to embrace transparency as far as you're able.

You may find it necessary to create an employee guideline for industry conversation, despite any negative effect doing so may have on employees' enthusiasm to participate.

Make clear your reasons for imposing restrictions; show how not following these restrictions could hurt your company. Most importantly, though, be willing to make adjustments through intelligent debate with your internal industry participants.

4. Establish "industry participant" responsibilities (~2 hours + ongoing)

Create among those in your company who are already industry participants a loose affiliation through the information hub on your Web site. (It may also be helpful to identify someone internally who serves an editor of sorts to organize and arrange the hub section of your site.) Encourage these individuals to increase their involvement and give them paid time to engage in these activities, making them part of their official roles.

Encourage them especially to participate with your pre-identified key media—so long as doing so makes sense in the context of their job functions.

Distribute their knowledge internally through your company "editor" and look for opportunities to increase their involvement in product development. Industry participants are often highly ambitious "change seekers" who can contribute positively to your company's development and direction.

Channeling information from your industry participants into an informational email newsletter for investors and clients is another excellent way to emphasize the level of contribution your company has in the industry.

Having these conversations is important, but you will get far more value from them if they are displayed, published, and aggregated in an effective and compelling manner.

Work with your key participants to establish general guidelines and best practices for anyone else in your company who participates—or would like to participate—in online media conversations.

5. Search Marketing and Your Conversation Project

As a non-techie SEM content strategist, I divide search marketing into two general categories: on-site and off-site.

On-site search marketing includes building search presence through things like adding new pages of content, arranging site architecture and link structure, optimizing page tags, and ensuring that your site is as usable as possible.

Off-site search marketing includes building search presence through links back to your site.

Your industry conversation efforts will deliver the highest search marketing value to your company if you observe the following general rules.

To derive the greatest ON-SITE search marketing value from your industry conversation efforts you must...

  • Create a hub section or page on your site that aggregates your industry conversations.

  • At the top of this section include a blog that's updated daily by your "company editor." The purpose of this blog is to highlight especially interesting or relevant bits of conversation that you're having online, and to serve as a more general company news resource for journalists and investors.

  • Link to this section from your homepage. Include post titles and links from your company editor's blog. Especially brave companies may consider making the conversation-hub section their home age.

  • Encourage article and whitepaper writing and syndication. Include a writing directory in the hub section of your site.

Assuming there are no technical issues barring your site from search engine indexes, these efforts will enhance the likelihood that your site appears when people search on keyterms that relate to your business.

Furthermore, if you've determined the terms that are most likely to lead to conversions on your site, then you can encourage your conversation participants to use them.

To derive the greatest OFF-SITE search marketing value from your efforts you must...

  • Encourage your participants, when they post anywhere off of your site, to link back to your company's site. What page on your site they link to will depend on your overall search presence goals and the nature of their participation.

    Worthy pages for linking include key resource pages on your site, your site's homepage, the homepage of your info hub. If you're targeting a specific conversion page on your site, then you should make this clear to your participants and ask that, when possible, they use that link.

  • Ask that participants identify that they're from your company when they leave comments on the blogs of others, in industry forums, or in any kind of online participation they're engaging in (including sites like MySpace). And especially in their personal blogs if they have them. Be specific about how you'd like the company referred to.

  • Arrange to publish your articles in your industry's media—especially if you can get links from key media sites. This builds your company's brand and drives your search presence. Be sure to reserve the right to publish these articles on your site, too.

  • Have your participants alert key industry bloggers/participants when you write new articles or have new resource offerings.

  • Involve your key industry participants in spinning big company news to various levels of your industry. How does your new product relate to the various levels of conversation that are happening in your industry?

Get your team together and let them figure out which aspects are the most exciting and let them reach out to people they think would be interested to have them discuss your new product.

Craft and release a press release that includes links, quotes, and contact information from your conversation crew in addition to a more traditional company contact.

Doing so encourages links from all media strata in your industry.

Get engaged: Start your market conversation now!

This article is an outline for implementing a strong market conversation strategy at your company.

Your market conversation strategy can drive results similar to traditional PR and marketing efforts at a substantially lower upfront cost. That effort, however, requires an ongoing investment of employee time and effort.

A strong conversation strategy combined with strong marketing and PR efforts is best. However, it's ideal that you start with developing your conversation strategy and let your findings and experiences there guide your other marketing efforts.

That's what makes startups especially good candidates for market conversation strategies.

If you follow this article's core concepts and apply them to your industry, you'll see an increased presence in the media, an increase in perceived expertise, a growing intra-company knowledge base, and an exploding search engine presence.

More importantly, you'll find that your company becomes an increasingly important player in your industry. You'll find that surprising and disruptive opportunities emerge that would not have if you hadn't engaged in conversation.

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Garrett French drives market conversation strategy for MarketSmart Interactive as the managing editor of Search Engine Lowdown, a leading resource for search industry trends. For his help in developing your company's market conversation strategy and integrating it into your organic search marketing efforts, please contact Garrett at or call 919-433-3139.