[This is a 47hats Tip.]

Want to find more customers for your microISV? Go join and contribute to an online community where your customers hang out. Notice I didn’t say “forum”? Today, the range of ways people can share their interests has expanded way past what forums used to be. Wikis, social networking sites and group blogging sites in addition to forums are painting the online landscape with places you should know about.

Here’s how to prepare to implement this tip:

  1. Start a list of online communities by defining (or reusing) the top three keywords relevant to your customers.
  2. Do a Google search on “something” +forum, “something” +community, where “something” = your keywords.
  3. Check Facebook, Yahoo Groups, Google Groups and Ning.com for the keywords that are relevant to your customers.
  4. Lurk – check out your likely communities. Ask yourself:
  • Is it a thriving community?
  • Are there people with questions I can answer?
  • Is spam, flame wars and rude behavior minimized and marginalized?
  • Is there a member profile page where you can legitimately talk about your microISV?

Once you’ve found your one or two communities, it’s time to start building your connection, reputation and brand:

  1. Get to know the community first. Continue to lurk as you get a feeling for what topics, problems,issues and ideas resurface. Watch what people are talking about before jumping into the fray.
  2. Help others. Offer help, advice, links when and where you can – and don’t talk about your product.
  3. Make strategic friends. Every community has it’s elders – even if they’re 15 years old. Figure out who they are and find real ways of interacting with them. I’m not talking about sucking up to the more “important” people in your community; I’m talking about finding good, mutually beneficial ways of interacting with the key players in your new online world.
  4. Talk about your microISV product or service when appropriate. For example someone is looking for an X and you make software or have When and where it’s appropriate, talk about what you do, what you sell and the ways your product might be relevant to the discussion. Don’t push it! Other members of the community will check out your profile page, by and by.
  5. Use a signature line that identifies you and your product in a few words.
  6. Private message others when it makes sense to do so – applying the personal touch will go a long way.
  7. Bring back the news – Find new things that you know will interest other members of the community.

Unlike some of the tips I suggest, this one is going to require some serious time investment. That said, joining today – and perhaps leading tomorrow – a community where your prospective customers congregate can do nothing but good for your microISV.

[tags]microISV, microISV tips, forums, online communities[/tags]