David Tebbutt, SmallBizPod Blog

If you sell weapons, pornography, drugs, products sourced from illegal logging, products derived from endangered species or that exploit the environment and its inhabitants, then you might not be very interested in this blog post.

However if you are interested in connecting with, and selling to, a growing community that prefers to benefit the environment and its inhabitants – people and animals – then ooffoo might be of interest.

‘ooffoo’ – what a weird name. In computer graphics, colours are defined as values of red, green and blue (RGB) elements. The values range from 00 to FF, where 00 is no colour and FF is the maximum. Thus the most intense green would be represented as 00FF00. Hence ooffoo. It’s a techie joke.

But the site itself is no joke. It is a place where like-minded people hang out and share information with each other. It’s a community site, but one which also has a commercial side. And that’s where you come in. You can place free classified advertisements promoting your goods or services to this community or you can pay for more prominent classified advertisements from just £3 per week (actually £150+VAT for twelve months). Paid advertisements appear more frequently than free ones.

People visit for the content and if their eye is caught by one of your ads then you’re in luck. Advertisements are displayed with due regard for their relevance to the reader’s interest. This is determined by what they’re searching for or what they’re reading at that moment.

Although the ooffoo beta site was launched only a few days ago, the initial community is being drawn from the customer base of a company called Natural Collection. This is a catalogue and online sales organisation which specialises in fair trade, organic and eco friendly products. It claims to be the the UK’s leading non-food ecological retailer. It is coy about customer numbers but says that it is in six figures, over half of whom buy online.

These customers are are encouraged to visit ooffoo with promises of blogs, articles, recycling and trading opportunities. There’s even a writing competition (with a £500 prize) to encourage people to contribute articles. (Which, in ooffoo, are the same as blog posts.) And, like all community sites, conversation abounds.

You’d rarely go up to a fellow customer in a physical shop and start discussing the merits of the goods on offer. The risk of embarrassment is too high. And, of course, it’s only one person’s opinion, even if they gave you the time of day. Online, you dodge the embarrassment and have the advantage of multiple sources of advice and feedback from people who are both knowledgeable and willing to engage.

The commercial side is straightforward – if your advertisements are relevant to the reader, you get exposure. No commissions are taken on subsequent business. But, people won’t visit the site unless they consider it valuable in its own right. Like all social computing sites, the primary aim is to share knowledge, not to extract money. Commerce is a side-effect.

If you have information to share, then it’s worth adding your two penn’orth – whether as an original article/blog post or as a comment on something that has already been written. Although the golden rule is not to be pushy, there’s nothing wrong with adding an ‘About the author’ paragraph at the end of a submitted feature.

Why should Natural Collection want to give you the chance to take money off its customers? Simple. It can’t supply everything itself. And, if ooffoo becomes the popular ‘meeting place’ it intends it to be, then more people will be exposed to Natural Collection too.

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