Five Ways to Market to the Hyper-Connected Use this guide to leverage the influence of the social media users that drive your brand.

By Susan Gunelius

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The term "prosumer" isn't new. Marketers coined it years ago to refer to what they called a "professional consumer" -- people who purchase products and services for professional purposes.

But in today's world of the social web, it has now come to mean "product and brand advocate." The change reflects an important shift in the way companies market to end-users.

Rather than simply consuming products, people are becoming the voices of those products. These folks can have a significant impact on the success or failure of companies, products and brands, particularly through their involvement on the social web.

In simplest terms, businesses are no longer in complete control of their products, brands and messages. End-users are now in control. The leaders of this shift are the members of the social web -- bloggers, microbloggers, forum posters, social networking participants and so on, who spread messages, influence people around the world and drive demand.

Today's prosumers are the online influencers that businesses must identify, acknowledge, respect and develop relationships with in order for their products and brands to thrive. To stay competitive in this ever-changing environment, businesses must learn how to harness these forces to their advantage. Here are five tips for small companies seeking to leverage the power of their prosumers.

  1. Identify the key online influencers.
    Do some market research and identify the key online influencers for your product, brand, business or industry. These are your target prosumers. They are the people who are interested in your products, brand and business and are likely to talk about you in their online conversations.
  2. Join the online conversation.
    Once you know where your prosumers spend time online, join the conversations that are happening on those sites and online destinations. It takes time and persistence to get on the radar screens of prosumers, so be sure to consistently participate and offer information and insights that add value to the conversation.
  3. Develop relationships.
    Simply joining the conversation is not enough. You need to take the time to develop meaningful relationships, particularly with your key online influencer audience, by interacting with them, providing useful information and being accessible and human. Building relationships is an essential part of social media marketing. The indirect marketing that prosumers are capable of igniting through their own online influence, relationships and discussions can be massive.
  4. Acknowledge the key online influencers.
    Once you identify your target online influencers and develop relationships with them, you need to acknowledge those people in new ways that can lead to indirect promotion of your products through more online conversations. One way you can do this is by sending product samples to them, requesting their opinions.

    The key to successfully acknowledging prosumers is to avoid self-promotion or directly marketing your business and products to them. Instead, focus on indirect marketing tactics that put your name, product, and services in front of them, and show them how your business can benefit them. If they have a relationship with you that is already built on trust and respect, and you don't try to sell to them, but rather offer products, information and insight for their consumption, they're more likely to value what you give to them and share it with their own audiences, particularly if they believe your product or business can benefit their audiences. Allow them to take control of the conversation to let it spread for maximum exposure.
  5. Make sure conversations lead back to you.
    Your online efforts should always lead back to your own core-branded destination, which serves as the central point of your online marketing efforts. Take the time to create branded destinations across the social web using tools such as a blog, YouTube channel, Twitter profile, Facebook group or page, LinkedIn group, podcast and so on. For example, all of your social web participation could link back to your business blog or website where the conversation can continue and visitors can get more information or make a purchase.

The bottom line to connecting with prosumers and to get them talking about and advocating your brand, products and business is to deliver content that adds value to their experience with your brand and take the time to build meaningful relationships with them. Don't be afraid to let them take control and spread your messages. That's where the power of the social web and online influencers to drive word-of-mouth marketing farther than ever comes into the picture, and that's the ultimate goal for businesses of all sizes.

Susan Gunelius

Marketing, Branding, Copywriting, Email and Social Media Expert

Susan Gunelius is CEO of KeySplash Creative Inc., a marketing communications and strategic branding company. She has authored a dozen books about marketing, branding, social media, copywriting and technology and is the founder and editor in chief of, a blog for business women.

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