The Three Conversations: Online Consumer Behavior 101

Consumer to consumer

In the marketing world, b2b is shorthand for “business to business” and b2c stands for “business to consumer.” These acronyms are helpful when describing types of clients, or what a marketing agency’s area of expertise is.

But what about c2c – “consumer to consumer?” Does this even exist?

Well, if you’re talking about the types of conversations consumers have online, you bet!

Search, Surf & Social

If a local business owner wants to get in front of consumers, it’s important to know what those consumers are doing online. Luckily, pretty much everything done online can fit into three activities:

  • Searching. Since the Internet’s earliest days, search engines have acted as major portals that direct most Web users to the articles, pictures or videos scattered across billions of sites online. And most people use search engines to find local products and services (like yours).
  • Surfing. Users spend hours consuming content online that they used to get from newspapers and magazines. After all, there’s something for everyone when you consider the billions of entertainment, educational, business-oriented or lifestyle websites on the Internet today.
  • Socializing. Today, Americans spend more time engaging one another on social networks than ever before. Whether they’re updating their status, leaving comments on a friend’s wall or retweeting a funny link, consumers from just about every demographic are socializing with one another online.

Each of these activities (or consumer behavior types) are basically different types of conversations. Sound strange? Take a closer look.

When a consumer looks for your product or service on a search engine, they’re starting a conversation with you. It’s like they’re shouting, “Hey – anyone know a good plumber/dentist/vet/etc.?” And whether you have an organic webpage URL or a sponsored text ad, you’re there to answer. This makes search a c2b conversation.

Now, let’s say that consumer is reading an article on a website related to your product or service. You want to get their attention, so you put up a banner ad next to their article. So you’re starting a conversation with the consumer by saying “Hey – I’ve got a great deal for you, so come check me out!” That makes surfing a b2c conversation.

And with social, we’ve come full circle. Let’s say a consumer just moved to your service area, and posts on a social network: “Does anyone have a plumber/dentist/vet they really love here?” The people who respond are their friends and family – other consumers – which makes social a c2c conversation.

Time to Get Fluent

A good conversation is all about knowing your audience. And knowing your audience will help you craft better messages, set expectations appropriately, and identify benchmarks for success.

How might you talk differently to someone looking for you right now versus someone who might not need your services immediately?


The ReachLocal online marketing blog shares practical tips and advice for those who want to reach local customers online. Learn about online marketing from our in-house experts and thought leaders.

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