By Paul Gillin, author, speaker, and writer who advises businesses on online marketing
If you’re like many mid- to large-sized businesses today, you’re probably experimenting with online customer communities. But, smart marketers realize that no single channel should be relied on to reach consumers. So we’ve decided to offer a few tips for those of you looking for fresh ways to mix your mail, digital, and other media to promote an engaging marketing message.
Remember: In these new forums, community is content. By leveraging contributions from your customers and promoting interactive features on your website, you can revitalize direct mail content. Consider, then, these 10 ideas:
1. Make a direct mail piece a membership card to your exclusive community–Mail recipients a unique code they can use to gain access to a members-only area with exclusive offers and information.
2. Surprise them with pertinent mail offerings–Despite what some think, Web-savvy customers do enjoy relevant mail offerings. Drive members from the computer to the mailbox by letting them provide their mailing addresses in exchange for special offers-coupons, product samples, etc.–made exclusively through the mail. 
3. Get members to nominate their friends–Every page on your website should have an option for visitors to share it with a friend. Expand that with the option to key in a mailing address. Members of your community can nominate friends to receive a membership card by mail or kick off a members-only coupon.
4. Create a contest–Invite members to write a slogan, upload a photo, or share a relevant video. Use direct mail to invite prospects to go online, submit their entries, and see what others have contributed. Arouse their curiosity and let members provide the content. 
5. Turn contest entries into direct mail–Have members of your online community vote on content, such as photos submitted by other members. Publish winning entries as a calendar and send it out via direct mail.
6. Create a greeting card promotion–People love to send greeting cards to their friends, so make it part of your ongoing campaign. Give members a palette of creative greetings with images and slogans that relate to your business. Enable them to personalize the greetings and specify a mailing address. You do the mailing.
7. Stage special online-only events–Drive direct-mail recipients to an interactive webcast or chat session with your CEO or a product-line visionary. Only visitors with the special tracking code on the mailer can participate. That makes the event special and gives you a way to track response.
8. Rock the vote–Customers like to learn what other customers are thinking. Launch a survey or poll and promote it to your mailing list. Recipients can vote online and register to see results. You can even distribute results as a mailer.
9. Tease them–Post a “Top Ten Tips” list, and promote some of the items via direct mail. Drive recipients online to see the tips they missed. You can do the same with winning entries to a contest, or even with advice submitted by your members.
10. Take to the airwaves–Start a series of audio or video podcast interviews with thought leaders in your field. Burn the first five recorded programs on CDs and mail them as promotions. Invite recipients to visit your website and register to subscribe to future programs by looking to your growing online community as a source of material, you can unlock treasure troves of new content to feed your direct mail campaigns. 
—Source: DeliverĀ® Magazine July 20, 2010 issue (www.delivermagazine.com). Deliver Magazine is copyrighted by the USPSĀ®. Paul Gillin is an author, speaker, and writer who advises businesses on online marketing. He is the author of The New Influencers: A Marketer’s Guide to Social Media and the newly-published Secrets of Social Media Marketing.