Online infiltration is posting positive reviews or endorsements of a product or service (or denouncements of rivals) for the purposes of promoting your own product or brand.
You can do this on your own blog, or you can go to stores and blogs that are related to your products, and do it there. Either way, it's one more way for you to make the case for what you're offering to consumers.
So, should you participate in these discussions to help promote your company or brand? And if so, how overtly or covertly should you participate? No one knows your company or your brand better than you do. Is presenting yourself through online infiltration something that will positively affect you company's image? Some people whole-heartedly shun online infiltration and prefer to spend their time and money elsewhere. Other people who don't have a problem with using it have seen a surge in their web traffic and general interest in their products by participating in the online conversation.
The important thing to remember is to tread very carefully. People read and participate in these forums because they provide the opportunity for open, frank discussions -- users cherish this environment as a somewhat sacred trust. Participants are highly sensitive to any messages that they perceive as unsolicited or disingenuous promotion.
If you present your information honestly, openly and with a newsworthy angle, you could make a magical transformation in the eyes of your online audience. By prudently providing quality information, and not abusing the opportunity to talk about yourself, you may begin to earn a reputation for openness and honesty. Following the rules of the online road may allow you to quickly build a good reputation and lift yourself from casual poster to the lauded realm of "industry expert." Once you've achieved this status, you have become an influencer, and that's can be leveraged in a variety of ways.
Here are some other tips to bear in mind:
• Do your homework to see whether people on message boards are okay with promotional messages from legitimate sources as long as they identify themselves. Check out existing content and see if there are similar brands that are openly discussing their offerings. What is the response among users?
• If you sign up to participate in a chat room and immediately post a glowing endorsement of your own company, without otherwise participating in the conversation, your form-poseur status will be apparent (and annoying) to site participants. Start off slowly with thoughtful comments on other topics and work your way gradually to topics close to your company and products.
• Chances are you know who the thought leaders and influencers in your industry are already. Start with these people. Set your sights on the immediate influencers you have access to and go from there.
• If you find yourself in a situation where you're being flamed, don't even try to defend yourself. Some will attack you just because they can get away with it, even if they don't necessarily feel anything negative about you or your company. Just bow out graciously.
Jonathan Margolis and Patrick Garrigan are the authors of 'Guerrilla Marketing for Dummies' (Wiley 2008), from which this commentary is adapted. Both are with New York-based guerrilla marketing firm, the michael alan group.