One of the main themes at last week's Online Market World 2008 was how businesses can best use social media. This was oft discussed, but best summed up by Bill Hanekamp, CEO of The Well Inc. Advertising. In discussing strategies for viral marketing, Hanekamp gave a succinct summary of how to “let the customers spread the word about you for free.” I’ve fleshed out his list with some ideas offered by other presenters.

1. Blog, then aggregate your articles using sharethis, delicious, or digg. Blogging is great for SEO, as it puts a lot of content into search engines quickly, which will increase your traffic significantly. Be passionate, be interesting (maybe even a little controversial), but avoid advertising your product too much.

2. Post to Facebook and other like sites, especially fanpages. In a sense, Facebook is like a free landing page. (It’s interesting to note that, although social networks were often talked about, absolutely NO mention of MySpace.  Game over, I guess.)

3. Post to YouTube, or use a site like Tubemogul to mass-distribute your videos to a bunch of popular sites. Just remember, YouTube video is supposed to have a DIY feel, so being too slick and professional can be a negative.

4. Twitter. Comcast and Jet Blue have proven that providing customer service via Twitter is not only efficient, but it boosts your reputation. Providing customer service in front of a hundred followers, in real-time, is about as transparent as you can get. Tweeting can also serve to humanize your company or leaders.

5. Track it. Make sure your strategy is working, and if not, change it. Oft heard at MW 2008 was the mantra “test, test, test.” Use analytic tools like Google analytics, Compete, or Trackur. Use Crazyegg for heat map tracking, or Doubleclick to see what people are doing on your competitors’ sites.

This seems to make sense out here in the Valley (then again, so does Al Davis), but a lot of companies still hesitate to do this, as they fear losing control of their brand as it spins out into the Web.

By Mark Alvarez