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Other Internet Technoloies
Beyond the World Wide Web

Generally we think of the internet as the world wide web - sites of web pages, as discussed here, on this ... web site. But there are many other sides to the internet, most free, that we can't afford to ignore.

Forums

As a woodworker I have learned a LOT from the internet. It may be an opportunity for you, too (but you probably already know that since you are reading this web page).

One of the largest general woodworking forums, including both beginners and pros, is Sawmill Creek. It is owned an managed by an individual; when some of the members disagreed with the management approach they were expelled, and formed a separate forum, Family Woodworking. The newer Family Woodworking is smaller and less active, but includes many of the best experts (best advice) that had previously been on Sawmill Creek. The smaller group of Family Woodworking forum members have come to know each other, so it functions as both a social network as well as a woodworking forum.

Some woodworking forums are oriented to professionals, such as WoodWeb, but the participants include a number of sales people who don't always disclose their affiliation. (Salesmen are often expert, but there is probably a bias in their comments).

Wood Magazine has an active forum. Fine Woodworking Magazine has a series of blogs, as well as the Knots forum.

There are many others, affiliated with each product, woodworking magazine, or person who wants to become the next Norm Abrams. Whatever forums work for you, great, but pick a couple and you will find them to be a great resource. In addition to woodworking techniques, you might get some ideas about selling, pricing, advertising, shows, and other business issues, but the forums probably will not lead directly to many product sales.

Social Networking

I have often heard "Facebook is boring - who cares what my niece is making for dinner?" Then I realized that if I talked to a friend (or niece) every day, I would probably ask what they were having for dinner, or if they liked the latest movie or TV show. I have enjoyed using Facebook to "keep in touch" with friends and relatives more often than the annual Christmas letter, even though I may not spend much (if any) time on their dinner menu. But more important for "business," I post each project I build - pictures and brief description - on Facebook. I have been amazed at the response. I have friends say "That is great - I didn't know you made furniture." (What do you think "custom furnituremaker" means on the side of my car, on every email, on business cards, etc.?) But whatever they thought before, there are lots more people that now know that I make and sell custom furniture.

On your "personal" Facebook page, you control who may see what you post. You probably want to limit most or all of your comments to your friends, or friends of your friends. You must approve anyone who wants to be your friend. You can be open up your page to too many people, including those you wouldn't give your personal information to (for which Facebook gets a bad reputation) but you can also restrict access to your personal data. You are allowed to have up to 5,000 friends.

Facebook supports business pages as well as personal memberships. Users make "friends" of other individuals, but they "like" businesses (and TV shows and politicians, etc.). There is no limit to the number of people who can "like" your business page, nor do you approve (or control) who "likes" your business. You should only put public business information on a business page, absolutely no personal information. (Don't even say "we will be closed from x to y because we are going on vacation" - you might as well add "so feel free to burglarize our home and business because we won't be around.")

A consultant (who had obviously done his homework) wanted to help me build a special business page for saddle stands. That is one of many types of furniture I make, but he argued that there are over 1 million people on Facebook involved in horses, and with a Facebook business page on saddle stands, many might "like" me, and become potential customers. By having a business page focused specifically on horse "furniture" I could develop that market.

There is another way you can use Facebook: If I decided I wanted to advertise, I could spend thousands of dollars placing an ad in a magazine that would reach millions of readers. Or I could advertise on Facebook, and spend much less money for an ad that appears only on Facebook pages of people who had interest in horses, only those located in Central Texas, only between the ages of 40 and 60 (teenagers don't buy saddle stands), and so forth. I could buy hundreds of ads (so I wouldn't get too many responses to handle as a solo woodworker). That ad might direct people to my Facebook business page or to my web site.

I have chosen NOT to make a business page on Facebook, since I already have more business than I can easily handle. If I were not so lucky, to attract people to "like" my Facebook page, I would advertise it - perhaps with links from my web site or by mentioning it on blogs or forums.

My primary marketing tool is my woodworking web site, which has over 20,000 visitors per month. I don't want to take the effort to duplicate it elsewhere, nor direct prospects away from the web site. But if you don't have a busy web site, a business page on Facebook is free, and may be a good investment of time.

For many years, a business would generate a "news release" regularly, and send it to all the local and trade newspapers. These were carefully structured to document what was new in the business. Occasionally it would lead to a news story, but more often it just helped people locally know what was happening in town - maybe someday would lead to a call with a question on some remotely related topic. Lots of effort went into the News Releases, and a strict format evolved. But newspapers are dying. Almost nobody is left on the shrinking staffs to read the releases or write stories, other than obituaries and legal notices. And fewer and fewer people read the paper newspapers. To replace this public "announcement" the company activities are announced on various new platforms - often on social networks. The company pages (that you "like") on Facebook are considered, by many, to be the successor to the news release.

What are the various social networks? I joined Facebook and found many friends there. I joined LinkedIn and found many business associates there - it is business oriented, more than social; you have "contacts" rather than "friends." I joined MySpace, and found it empty - at one point it was the leading social network, but my impression is that it is fading away - I have had absolutely no activity from my membership there. I joined Twitter, and am not really interested in the frequent short (120-160 character) "tweets" that constitute the post. I finally closed my Twitter account.

Blogs

A blog is like a forum - a discussion between the author and readers. However, it is generally led by one author, on a single subject, rather than many authors with many topics, as on a forum.

Some people make a living writing clever stories about a topic - such as what is happening in the social scene in a city. And they respond to reader comments on their writing, and answer reader questions. If their writing is clever enough to attract enough readers, the advertising on each page of the blog pays for their effort. Gee, I can make a living writing on a topic I enjoy. A lot of people have drunk that koolaid and started a blog. But the key to success is frequent updates - new material every time someone visits, and compelling writing - constant new material that people are anxious to come back frequently to hear what you have to say.

I like to build furniture, so I don't have enough time to write an attractive blog. I know people who have added a blog to their web site, and have not written anything for months, and wonder why nobody comes to visit. I realized I shouldn't start, and disappoint my readers.

eMail

Some people work with email constantly (like me). Some other people think it is reasonable to check email once a week. And still other people have an email address that they only check when their grandchildren visit and ask why they haven't answered! If you are going to offer email as a way for your customers to reach you, you MUST answer promptly - at least within the day, although I try to check mail several times per day. If you don't do a good job supporting email for your customers, I think you are better off not offering any email address (I have dropped vendors who claim to support email, but don't do it well). But once a customer contacts you, even by email, you must also realize that they may be the "once a week is fine" type of mail user, so may not have an instant response to your reply.

If you have a domain name for a web site - such as solowoodworker.com - you should certainly use an email address associated with your web site. Remember the old public relations saying, "it doesn't matter what you say about me, as long as you spell my name right." Don't miss the opportunity to advertise your name and the name of your web site in your email address.

An email address through your internet service provider (ISP) - austin.rr.com in my case - may go through fewer layers of servers, but it doesn't advertise your name and address as well, and if you change ISP you lose the address, and more important, have lost all your real and potential customers who put your email address in their computer address book. An email address associated with your domain name (web site) will stay the same even if you switch ISP.

If you only have a "free" email account, gmail.com is currently considered "modern" and therefore "good." Yahoo.com has proven very unreliable for me, and some of my friends with Yahoo mail accounts have found that hackers recently got into their accounts and used their address book. AOL.com, juno.com, and earthlink.net are from dial-up days, and thus seem really old fashioned (I would want to look more "up to date" to a client.) MSN.com or MAC.com shows a vendor bias that isn't evil, but why show any bias if it has nothing to do with the business you are trying to promote?