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Making Connections

Batesville, Arkansas, eBay seller Gary Richardson (eBay User ID: harleyglasses) has found that participating on message boards has helped his business on eBay, which specializes in various types of glasses and goggles, especially for motorcycle enthusiasts. In July 2005, he posted information on eBay's Motorcycle board about a road trip he and his wife were taking to Memphis, Tennessee. Afterward, he posted some photographs from the trip. The thread remained active for more than a year, with motorcycle enthusiasts sharing their own photos and road trip information.

"I didn't intend to make it a profitable post," says Richardson, 41, who projects sales of $300,000 this year. "But then, around the 100th post, I knew that this was really helping us get our name out there. Being active on the boards has brought us a lot of business. People see you, they trust you, they recommend you to other people."

Phil Dunn, co-author of The 7 Essential Steps to Successful eBay Marketing, says that message boards can be a great way to create a reputation in subject-specific communities and get information about your own business. "[People] can be posting and telling people what to look for--how to find great collectibles or [what to look for in listings for designer apparel items], for example," says Dunn. "Those people become trusted resources and gain credibility among people who are doing business on those boards."

Adams adds that eBay has active message boards that are subject-specific. She suggests frequenting boards that relate to the items you sell, as well as the general seller information boards. This will allow you to view other sellers in your categories and see what's working for them. "You just have to keep in mind that you should always be looking for unique ways to bring in customers," she advises. "That means going in new directions from other sellers."

Melinda Longoria (eBay User ID: empyreinc), of Pittsburg, Texas, warns that there is a protocol to participating on message boards, especially on eBay's site. The 25-year-old frequents the Clothing, Shoes and Accessories board, but only posts questions about items that are not yet listed so that her posts are not seen as self-promotional.

Show and Tell
Wendy Updegraff, 28, sells handmade scrapbooks under the eBay User ID updycrafts, from her home in Jacksonville, Florida. She has found that blogging about her products makes it easier to show their features.

"There are a lot of crafty people in the blogging world," she says. "Customers have commented on the blog, and I've had people tell me that they're bidding on an item because they saw it on my blog." She has also been mentioned on InspireCompany.com's highly trafficked blog, which drove traffic to her site.

Dunn says that having a home base online, like a blog, can also be useful for using tools like Twitter.com, a social networking site that allows people with similar interests to share ideas and information. "If you have followers on Twitter, for example, offer a tip of the day," advises Dunn. "Tell them what sites you're reading that are relevant to whatever you're selling. The tighter your niche and the tighter your group is, all of a sudden, you become the one on their minds when they're thinking about your subject."

Longoria's MySpace blog has an RSS feed, which allows people interested in her eBay listings to subscribe. She says it's a low-maintenance substitute for newsletters that helps her keep in touch with customers who are interested in what her business is doing.

Creating small-scale media attention for your items can also help them sell. Richards is looking at taking a cue from her daughter, who sells vintage clothing on eBay. "She'll dress a model in something she's selling, then narrate the video, which she'll shoot in front of some fun vintage things that she has," says Richards. "She'll refer people to the listing to buy the item. She'll end up getting $75 to $150 [for something] that other sellers might not get $25 for. People develop a rapport with her and feel like they have to have the item."

Dunn says that podcasting--creating audio recordings that can be downloaded by listeners--is another way of becoming a valuable resource to your customers. "Whatever you're selling, you need to be the [person] who has the answer," he advises. By creating a podcast that regularly delivers valuable information, you can establish yourself as an expert in the same way that a blog does. Adding video to your blog, he says, can also be an effective way to connect with customers on a more personal level and give them a better sense of your personality and your products.

Gwen Moran is a freelance writer and co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010).

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