Husband-and-wife entrepreneurs Dev Tandon and Ayesha Ahmad, both 36, let customers speak their minds. For that matter, they encourage suppliers to get a word in, too. The co-founders of Trunkt, a New York City company that represents creative entrepreneurs such as designers and artists, have built their website, Trunkt.org, as a community where buyers can customize the selection of products they see based on personal preferences and sellers can switch the wares they display according to the trends of the moment--or not.
What's more, the company has drawn new visitors to its site by placing videos on YouTube and has endeared itself to bloggers by creating a library in its online "reading room," where it features blogs popular with home design customers, such as Bloesemblog, Decor8 and Kristopher Dukes.
Tandon, who manages Trunkt's online strategy and new product development, says these actions have helped establish the company as a trusted facilitator of dialogue rather than a dictator of design dos and don'ts. "The web should be about community, feedback [and] being able to have a voice as to what content looks like," Tandon says. "The visitor needs to think, ‘I am in [control] of what I see.'" Trunkt generated $1 million in 2006 and is on track to double sales this year.
Harish Rao, co-founder and CEO of EchoDitto, an interactive marketing firm and online community that specializes in managing digital reputations, says the worst thing an entrepreneur can do is ignore the people who are discussing their company or products in cyberspace. "You have to listen to those conversations," Rao says. "Then you have to decide: You can participate, or you can host the conversations yourself."
Either way, Rao advises, don't try to explicitly control the conversation. And never overreact: "You have to assume that whatever you say, nothing is private."
Heather Clancy, a freelance journalist and consultant, has been covering the high-tech industry for close to 20 years.
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