Are You Blogging or Doing Social Media for SERPs & Links?

linksA lot of companies hear a lot about the social media space. Most of what they hear revolves around Blogs, Digg and Facebook and immediately they think “I have to be there!” Whether its because its the newest fad, their competition is doing it or that they’ve been shown that it can get the SERPs or better yet links, a lot of times companies never stop to look beyond the shiny pretty wrapper of social media to look at what’s really involved when heading down the social media path. At the end of their path, generally it ends in thinking social media has failed them. Why? The major reason is entering into the space for the wrong reason, like acquiring links or getting more footholds in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).

Social Media Requires Resources

Just because a service is free to utilize, as in it costs nothing to sign up for services like WordPress, Blogger, Facebook or Digg, thinking that it is free is a misnomer. Companies need to stop and think about the resources it will cost them in time & effort of their employees to manage a social media strategy. It takes time to grow a powerful account on Digg, if that’s the way you want to go. It takes not only time, but planning, to create a blog that will last. When working on forums, employees need to take time out to respond to messages, threads and pose new questions.

Companies looking to outsource this effort will still have to pay someone to do it, but they could also pay in bigger ways. Having someone, or some company, answer your responses for you, make friends for you, manage your social media profiles for you – can literally turn into a nightmare if it’s found you are not being transparent about it. Anytime you try to automate your social media efforts to be more efficient and less time consuming can also turn you in the direction of facing a Public Relations nightmare with your audience. If an audience feels you aren’t being transparent – upfront about your actions, willing to listen and have a conversation – you’ve lost their trust and its very tough to get it back again.

Social Media Requires Listening

There’s no way around this. In order to understand what your target market wants and how you can provide them value, companies have to take the time, stop and listen to what their audiences are saying and talking about in the social media circles. Coming in and trying to slam marketing or advertising down their throats or just starting to blog about their industry will not get you very much – just a whole lot of crickets chirping. Audiences what to know and feel like they are being heard. That their experiences matter, that what they share with others can some how help even if in a small way. True rewards in the social media spaces aren’t coupons, special discounts or freebies. People feel rewarded when they can help better a product, share a new way to use a service or help create something – feeling like they are part of something is one of the true rewards of social media and in order to give your audience that opportunity, you have to listen to understand what they want to be part of.

Social Media Requires Conversing

Just like with the listening, there’s no way around this either, not if you want to have a successful venture into Social Media. You can’t just lurk in social media. Hiding out in forums, seeing what people are saying about you, then issuing press releases to “correct the wrongs” or launching some other program to “fix what’s misunderstood about our company/product/brand” doesn’t work. A lot of times by just lurking and not getting involved in the conversation, companies can totally misinterpret what the audience is really saying.

By taking the time to speak to the audience and become part of the group, you build a trust that no press release will ever garner you. You build relationships no article in the news media will every let you create. You touch people on a more personal level and they in turn can relate that personal story to all of their friends, and so on. Conversing in the social media realm also puts a more human touch to your message or your marketing efforts. People want to connect to people, not buildings, not marketing pieces of paper or websites, not systems or gadgets (although iPhone users can argue differently) and you connect through holding conversations.

Social Media Requires Providing Value

Just putting up a blog that regurgitates your press releases, articles on your site or some boring piece about another product launch doesn’t provide value to your audience. That’s all about you, and what you perceive value to be. Audience perceive value totally differently. Give them a new or interesting way to use your product or service that they might not have thought about – or better yet, ask one of them to help out with creating the piece about the new way to use the product – now that’s value an audience can relate too. Don’t just write about it either, shoot photos or even a video and create even more value.

If you stop and first think about, “what will my audience find valuable in this content”, rather than “how many Diggs will I get”, your success with your content will turn out a lot better. By focusing on the value you can provide, it puts the focus squarely on your audience and off of you. In social media it’s not at all about you, it’s about the value the customer/audience gets from you that’s the most important factor.

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Social Media Requires Passion

Considering building a blog because it will get you some “link juice”? Want to get posts out there because they’ll rank for certain long tail key word terms? It may seem like a great idea at first, but unless you’ve got someone who’s passionate about the subject that your blog is about and willing to be social in the community beyond the blog posts, your blog will go no where. Blogging is about sharing your passion with a community for something whether its your life, your hobby, what your company does or the industry your company is in, you have to have someone writing who loves to write about it and wants to talk to others about it. It also extends into other forms of social media. Participating in forums? Having a person passionate about helping people understand your company or product or industry goes a long way in building relationships and trust. If you have someone out there that is just doing it because “its their job” or they were “mandated” to do it, will do you more harm than good.

Outsourcing your blogging can also shine right through, too. If the company you choose to “ghost write” your blog isn’t deeply involved in your industry, a lot of your posts will come off flat, probably overly SEO’d and read like a true marketing piece. Look at successful company blogs like Nuts About Southwest, GM’s FastLane or even Bill Marriott’s mix of podcasting and blogging, all of these are wonderful examples of companies not just blogging about the company but their industry, their employees and customers. Asking you to buy their products, announcing a sale or a new pricing structure from their blog is the furthest thing from their minds, unless its something the audience has asked for.

The Reality of Social Media With Links & SERPs

It takes a lot of time and resources to be successful in social media if your only end goal is getting links or SERPs from it. These are natural byproducts of a truly good social media effort. What you never hear about some of these “overnight successes” is that it takes a lot of man hours creating content that is of value for an audience, as well as being truly social (listening and conversing with your audience). Just because you’ve gone out and bookmarked your blog post, or posted a picture in Flickr or a video in YouTube doesn’t mean you’ll be successful. There’s another entire realm of involvement here that companies need to take into account when planning their social media strategies. None of this really works unless you are being social on some level.

Profiles don’t gain “power” unless they are out socializing with the community – making friends, commenting, rating, adding media, etc. Just because you made a profile in MySpace or a page in Facebook, doesn’t necessarily mean it will take a spot up in the SERPs anymore, 2 years ago, yes, now only if you’ve got an obscure name. The search engines are looking to different signals within the profiles to understand if people are finding these profiles relevant. Sure they still look at links, but now also weighted into the mix are ratings, comments and interaction factors. If you create the “optimized” profile and just let it sit there its not going to do you a whole lot of good.

In the end, you need to plan your social media strategies around other success factors, not how many links you gain or SERP spots your take up. If you plan your strategy around other success factors, the links and SERPs will only naturally come because you efforts were successful in other ways. The links, the SERPs – in social media, they are just icing on the cake to a successful venture in social media.

After Thoughts of SES New York Guy Kawasaki Keynote & His Twitter Use

Guy Kawasaki - SES NYC Keynote March 2009At this year’s SES in New York City the opening day keynote was Guy Kawasaki. Guy presented a lot of stuff about Twitter. Being a man who’s rather well connected, a thought leader in the marketing world and someone who has decent sense of humor, I found myself rather intrigued by this keynote. It was by far the funniest keynote I’ve attended in a long time, and I think humor goes a long way with me being more open to what a speaker is trying to convey.

Guy’s connections allot him a lot of “first cracks” at tools, websites and services that most “Non-A-List” people don’t have access to, so he gets intimately familiar with the marketing aspects some of these tools could be used for. Now with that being said, is every tool presented to him, or pitched to him make it to his list to present at keynotes? Likely not. The tools he did present actually can be used for some genuine marketing and measuring purposes.

I heard a lot of “grumbling” at SES that Guy Kawasaki is a spammer. “If one of us SEO’s told people to use these tools that way, we’d be fried at the stake“, was one cry minus a pitch fork or two. I found myself disagreeing with this line of thought. When you physically have the choice to follow or unfollow him and even the option to block him as well by very simply clicking a button to not see the spam, I find it hard to call what he does with his Twitter account spam. He does come close to the line with his use of TwitterHawk, but if he uses it truly as he showed the audience where he reviews the tweets before they are sent, then, I really don’t see how that is spam. This is using a tool to help market your message in a unique way.

Tweeting isn’t like searching. With search results, scheming websites are made by the thousands to spam the search engine results and as searchers we don’t have the control like you do in Twitter to just block the result and not see it every again (however, technically you can now with Google’s Search Wiki). With search spam you don’t have the option to “unfollow” like you do in Twitter. If you don’t like what Guy’s tweeting, simply go to his profile and click “unfollow” or “block” and what you call “spam” will cease – “walla!”

There are over 95,000 people following Guy Kawasaki. Apparently those people are finding something of value from the information he and his staff tweet out. We as SEO’s may label his tactics “unethical” or “gray”, but I have a hard time even doing that. I also asked the question on my own twitter, “Is Guy Kawasaki a Spammer or just a Marketer using tools in a unique way”. To my surprise, the opinions came back overwhelmingly that he was a savvy marketer.

I also heard a lot of people making such a fuss about Guy Kawasaki “ghost tweeting”. I took a step back and had to honestly ask myself if it was ghost tweeting if the person readily admits on stage he has people tweeting with him in his account, if he puts it on his profile and readily tweets about it. It’s not ghost tweeting, he’s being transparent, he’s been up front about it for a while now. Would I recommend a client setting off to do what Guy’s doing? Most likely not the same way, again the value to the audience dictates how to work the social media strategy.

Then this morning, Tim O’Reilly was surprised because of the New York Times article that included 2 paragraphs about Guy’s “ghost tweeting“. This particular tweet has been retweeted over and over again. Shock, Drama, Outrage! But why? The man has stated for a while he’s had help with his tweeting, he says he does it to an audience at both SES and SxSW, he has it stated on his Twitter account (also states names of who helps him) after asked to amend it by Dave Fleet, and readily admits it in his tweets when asked. I guess people would like him to add “TRGK” on his tweets for “The Real Guy Kawasaki” for the one’s he tweets? What’s the sense in that – if you don’t like what he and his team tweets – unfollow him.

Then there were outcries that Guy’s a “broadcaster”. I’ve been watching his tweet stream closely. The man (and Guy states it is him who responds, not his team) does interact with his audience, he doesn’t just send out link after link. If it was link after link that truly delineated a spam account from a ‘real’ account, wouldn’t CNN’s account then be considered a spammy twitter account? It’s about the perceived value of the content to the audience. Apparently Guy’s content is valuable to his audience because not only are his followers growing, but look how often he’s ReTweeted. In social media its about the value the end user perceives they are getting, if Guy’s figured out how to give his audience what they want through using tools like Twitterhawk and Adjix, more power too him.

Might some of his tactics float around the “grey” area of marketing and spamming? Perhaps, but I keep going back to those nearly 100k followers who not just speak to him but retweet not just his links but what he says to say they obviously don’t mind, obviously they are seeing value in Guy’s “Spam”. Ironic, no? I think this goes to prove a point that “spam” in Social Media it truly is about the value the end user is getting, not the tactic by which they receive it.

Company Branding, Employees & Social Media

brandingAs more and more companies start to dip their toes into the world of Social Media they are faced with the increasing dilemma of how do they brand themselves, who speaks for them and what is the message they want to convey to their target audiences in this medium. This isn’t just a Fortune 500 company dilemma either, the smallest of companies that have employees that are venturing into this medium have to address the same questions, although they have less red tape to cut through to get to their answers.

Inevitably when we start a social media strategy for a client we are faced with the question, “Who Speaks For Us?” on these channels. Is it the CEO? Does he have time? Is it the marketing department, are they just going to try to jam a message down the community’s throat? Should the Public Relations Director handle this or are they going to try and control what people say? Maybe the Search Marketing team is better equipped, or is their main focus going to be about the links? Somewhere there has to be a happy balance right? Most definitely.

Paired with the question of “Who Speaks For Us” comes along the worry about it just being one voice. One single solitary person speaking for the whole organization. Companies can become very leery of this, quite fast if the person speaking becomes popular, or even an overnight sensation. For this reason its important that companies set out policies and guidelines as well as expectations of employees and their work in the social media space for the company. Once employees get a taste of the attention that social media brings, sometimes the though of Personal Branding can come into play and their intentions and actions can enter into murky waters while they are suppose to be doing work for the company. Beth Harte addresses the idea of Personal Branding very well and as background information to this post, I highly recommend taking a moment or two to read this if you are thinking of building a personal brand or are concerned about employees who might.

Stepping into social media, guns blazing, on fire and ready to roll isn’t always the wisest strategy, especially when you already have invested money, time and other resources into branding (both offline and online) already. Ensuring that your logo, your marketing and your message stays true two what you have already established is imperative, stepping out into social media with a new logo for every employee working on your social media strategy can be damaging to your established work and confusing to your audience. This is why having a plan mapped out for all scenarios, especially when those people you’ve entrusted to build your social media presence decide to leave the company, is essential. You’ve spent a lot of time an resources on building your brand, letting it walk out the door with a employee could be a huge mistake!

zappos_logoDifferent situations require different strategies. Take for example Zappos and their use of the social media tool, Twitter. Zappos employees are encouraged to use Twitter and other Twitter users can identify a Zappos employee by the “Zappos” in their Twitter name. There’s Zappos who’s Tony the CEO, Zappos_Alfred the COO, Zappos_Tid who’s head of the training & call center and even the Zappos_Lynn who’s “now working and playing at Zappos.com“. For Zappos and their adaption of Twitter into the rank and file employees to help promote the company through this form of social media, it’s become a rather important branding piece for them and they’ve formulated a strategy around it.

So before you set out on your adventure in social media, stop first and grab a map! If there’s not a map handy, then ask for directions. I know a bit metophorical, but this is a strange new world in social media, a lot of mistakes have been made by companies who just “jumped in”. However, there’s a lot of great successes by companies who just took to stop and look at their strategies and how to integrate their company branding into the social media plan when they are engaging their customers.

Twitter Etiquette – Egos verses Community

twitter-logoI was an early adopter of Twitter, back in the early months of 2007 when it was easy to manage friends, followers, conversations and relationships on the medium. A lot has changed in these two years. From constantly seeing the fail whale, to briefly flirting with plurk, to coming back to twitter with a slew of new applications that enhanced its use, I admit, Twitter has won me over.

That being said, somewhere along the line I feel that people have lost site of what Twitter was really about. Community, engagement, conversation, all in 140 characters. At first it seemed silly – ‘I could never use Twitter, it’s stupid’ was heard a thousand times, but as it was became more of a viable communication tool and companies were engaging in unique ways with their audiences on this medium, something has changed — it’s gone main stream. You scoff? I know it’s reached the main stream when my mother has a Twitter account.

As I stated before, somewhere along the way to the jump to mainstream something seems to be lost in Twitter. There seems to be a growing lack of etiquette as this Web 2.0 tool reaches the main stream. As with any tool that becomes popular, eventually someone tries to monetize it for their own gain through spammy techniques. To a degree it dampens the spirit of what Twitter was originally all about. Of course I realize this happens everywhere, no fear, I’m not naive! The other part of the lack of etiquette part on the rise is the “Ego”. It’s all about how many followers you have compared to who you are following, are you contributing to the conversation or just ranting about yourself, or do you just constantly link to your own blog instead of steering others to other great pieces by bloggers your followers never heard about?

Auto DM’s (Direct Messages)

If there’s one thing that will get me to unfollow someone quicker than sending me porn tweets, its an Auto DM (Direct Message) that “promotes” some other site, profile, white paper, affiliate site or anything else people want to try and get me to click through on. This folks, is Spam. Just because I followed you, it does not give you the permission to SPAM me on Twitter, it just pisses me off and makes me hit the unfollow button. I won’t go into a whole debate about Automatic Direct Messages, Christine Cavalier (fellow Philly gal) has an excellent post on Auto DM’s that is well worth the read, as does Chris Brogan.

I find the “click this” mentality in Auto DM’s to be just total, absolute junk. If you’d really like to get me to read something, talk to me first and then ask me to read it, or become your friend on FaceBook. I don’t have as much of an issue with Auto DM’s that just say “Hey thanks for following me!” without the links, still its lacking the “community” feel, but at least you aren’t spamming me with junk links.

“Tweeters” Who’s Tweet Streams are Just Links

Unless your Twitter account is a blog or a newsfeed (like ESPN, etc.) and it’s specifically transparent that that is the sole purpose of the twitter account, tweeting nothing but links just reeks of spam. I check out each follower email I get to see if the person is someone who’s conversation I’d like to follow. If you’re twitter stream is one tweet after another of tinyurl’s and no conversations, I won’t follow you. It’s likely no one else will either if they are serious about using Twitter to communicate and not really a broadcast channel. Now that being said, there are some twitterers who like getting their news updates this way – and they opt into that. But if you are just a person or just a company pimping your affiliate links, the love affair with your followers likely won’t last long. Twitter is about conversing and engaging, how can you have a conversation if all you do is send out links? It looks like what it is, just Spam.

Not Sharing The Love

This is one of the places where “Ego” comes into the picture. Are you out there sharing the love? Twitter is no different than a blog when it comes to this area. Sharing your knowledge, sharing things you come across, retweeting others tweets, that’s all a form of “sharing the love” and other tweeters really do appreciate it. One of the people I admire the most, who does this so well is Connie Reece, at least a few times a day you see retweets, links to other blogs, links to other tweeters you should consider following or information about causes or just neat stuff. Connie doesn’t let her ego get in the way, she’s truly involved in the community and cares about it. It’s not about her, or how many followers she has – evident by her 18k+ tweets (that are not Spam!).

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Are You a Lurker/Stalker?

All too often lately, I come across followers who have nothing on their profiles. No tweets! They follow lots of people, and they actually have some followers back. Why would you follow someone who hasn’t put up one tweet? I find this a little disturbing, almost a little stalkerish, which is why I won’t follow someone unless they’ve at least demonstrated they want to at least try Twitter. Why go through even putting up a bio or a specialized Twitter background if you aren’t going to participate? It just seems a bit bizarre to me. It doesn’t take much to get involved, you just type your 140 character message into the box and press “send”, “Hello World” is just 11, it’s not hard, honest!

Follow, Unfollow, Follow, Unfollow….

Unfortunately I cannot be on Twitter 24/7/365. Work for my clients, family time and even the occasional down time take priority over me getting to follow back those who are following me. I try to be pretty good about following back – usually within 3-5 days. What I found rather unnerving is Twitter folks who use the Follow/Unfollow as an attention getter, or that they unfollow you 24-48 hours after that follow message goes out. I’m not alone here either! At South By South West, that was one of the biggest complaints I heard over and over again. Theses “attention” seekers will follow you, then unfollow you, then follow you again to get on the top of your followers list. Adept Twitter users aren’t stupid and they know what you are doing, and guess what – they likely won’t follow you for doing things like this.

Then there comes the people who unfollow you 24 hours later, so they can add more followers to their list. You come back and add them (you don’t know they’ve unfollowed you) and then you get an email again that they’ve followed you. This was another thing that annoys twitter users at South by South West – the people who are just after the big number of followers. Again, that goes back to ego, and Twitter is about community.

So stop and think about how you are using Twitter. Are you so focused on “you” and your ego that you are forgetting what Twitter is about? Are you guilty of one of the above? It’s not too late to change your ways – the other great thing about the Twitter community is if you say “oops i screwed up”, they are very forgiving! :)

Doctors, Lawyers, Indian Chiefs – Gag Orders in Social Media

doctors-stethescopeI came across an article in USA Today a few days ago about how some doctors are now requiring patients to sign waivers. Waivers are nothing new, but these types of waivers are. These waivers basically are just “Gag Orders” barring patients from posting negative comments online about the doctor or the practice. What’s probably even more appalling is that there’s a man who has made a business of helping doctors monitor and prevent online criticism by implementing and following through on these waivers.

I’m lead to posing this question: “What makes doctors any different from contractors, restaurant owners, hotel owners or plumbers?

All businesses that service individuals have to learn to deal with negative feedback, especially in today’s world of Yelp, Twitter and YouTube. You don’t deal with it by issuing “Gag Orders” before you render services, its just not how businesses operate. Customers have a right to their opinion whether they spread that opinion online or offline, inevitably there will be disagreement, disapproval and negative feedback in some form. How you deal with it speaks volumes to how your business will survive in today’s economic environment.

I believe I’m awestruck by the arrogance and audacity of these doctor’s who are going the route of the “waiver”. I’m sorry, if your bedside manner sucks, I’m going to speak about it. If you’re office always runs perpetually late on its appointments, I’ll warn my friends before giving the recommendation. If you screw up and leave a sponge in me during my operation and never apologized or showed any remorse, guaranteed I’m going to talk about it. If you treat me like the reasonably intelligent human being I am, with respect and professionalism and answer my questions, I’m also going to speak about it and recommend you. It’s no different than if a plumber screws up the hot and cold water pipes for my shower, and refuses to fix it – I’m going to talk about and want to share my experience with others.

I am the consumer. I have a voice. I have power. I have control. And with the power of the internet – I can share.

So what should these doctors’ be doing? Well first off, if you feel the need for a waiver, maybe you should step back and take a look at how your treat your patients. Second, instead of being offended by the negative criticism, perhaps you should listen to these experiences that they are sharing. A great example of this comes from Charlene Li’s book, Groundswell. Memorial Sloan-Keating in New York started listening via social media about what their patients experiences were and what they thought about them (as well as other cancer treatment facilities in the NCCN network). One of the biggest take-aways was that it wasn’t the doctor’s experience or the reputation of Memorial Sloan-Keating that they had assumed brought patients there, it was the recommendation of their primary care physician. By listening they understood, and stopped assuming they knew it all.

No matter what business you are in, you can’t stop the negative. The negative will always be there, its just how you handle and embrace the negative that will make the difference. I’ve spoken before about upset customers as opposed to trolls, the trolls are easy to spot. The upset customer represents the opportunity to create an evangelist for you, the best kind of marketing money cannot buy. If you want to create these evangelists, you don’t do it by forcing them to sign waivers, you first start by listening and then communicating.

Postscript: thanks to Simon Heseltine for this bit about Lawyers trying the same route as the doctors