The Social Contract: Deliver value or die.

Pardon the hyperbole of my title, but it will quickly become apparent to anyone marketing on the web that the flat catalog of services or products approach is simply not enough to build an audience interested in what you do. In the modern web world, sites that don’t deliver value to their visitors, regardless of purchase, will be ignored in favor of sites that do. woot.com built a small empire on delivering their products via hilariously written blog posts, with a strong community interaction component. Google delivers fast, efficient search, with a vast offering of tiered services unintrusively available. Accenture proves their technical consulting expertise by delivering “thought leadership” on a variety of technical and social issues. All of these companies directly engage their target market by delivering value long before any purchase is made.

woot delivers value via humorous blog posts with heavy community interaction.When I’m coaching new clients starting out on the web, I try to encourage this same interactive approach. One of the simplest methods to add value to your user experience is to blog, and to allow comment feedback. Those of you who are experienced with effective social marketing might be having a “Duh” moment right now, but a lot of companies are still resistant to the thought of both personally engaging with their audience in a written form, and providing a place on their site where dissatisfied customers can publicly voice their complaints. ¬†Alexis Ohanian brilliantly addressed this topic in his TED Talk on “How to make a splash in social media”:

“And if you do (put your content online), be genuine about it. Be honest. Be up front. And one of the great lessons is…it’s okay to lose control. It’s okay to take yourself a little less seriously, given that, even though it’s a very serious cause, you could ultimately achieve your final goal. And that’s the final message that I want to share with all of you — that you can do well online. But no longer is the message going to be coming from just the top down. If you want to succeed you’ve got to be okay to just lose control.”

It is more of a personal commitment to put your thoughts, beliefs, and ideas out there directly to the world at large, but the end result is, you’re providing value to your visitors, something which makes their likelihood of purchasing your products or services that much higher.

Craig Atkinson, a criminal defense attorney in Boise, Idaho (and a client), puts this practice to good use in his blog The Idaho Defender. By sharing his educated opinion on various legal questions and concerns, he builds an audience that both respects his legal opinion and competence, but also feels like they personally know him, a seriously beneficial side effect given the apprehension involved in seeking a good defense lawyer. Additionally, because his pieces are genuinely informative, they are able to be spread organically through venues like Facebook and Reddit.

I’m sure it won’t come as a shocker to anyone that I hope my posts here help generate interest in my web services, but I genuinely try to provide information that will be beneficial no matter what. It’s that intent which will come through to your audience, and generate both more sales, and greater social media impact over the long run.