New Local Marketing Dimension: Facebook Places for Businesses

Facebook rolled out their new Places feature this week, allowing individuals to opt into status updates communicating their geolocations — a service that was likely inspired by smaller checkin services such as Foursquare and Gowalla.

If you’re an owner of a local business, you’re probably wondering what this means to you. For those who advertise on Facebook, a notification note was added to the Campaigns administration page to answer questions and tell how to leverage the new Places page that might be associated with your business.

I’m mirroring most of the salient information here so that those who don’t advertise in Facebook might be able to find the info without trying to search/dig around Facebook’s arcane information pages.

Here’s how a typical Facebook Places page will look (this example for the well-known Inwood Theatre in Dallas):

Inwood Theatre's Facebook Places Page

As you can see, Facebook has set up many local business pages based on business directory listings data. Facebook’s Places business data comes from Localeze and the maps on Facebook Places pages are supplied by Bing (although the maps on the Facebook iPhone app are supplied by Google).

As a business owner, you have to claim your Places page via the link (circled in red in the Inwood Theatre screengrab above), and Facebook may verify your claim via a phone call or they may “ask you for a document for verification”.

The potentially confusing/irksome thing about the Places rollout is that this has spawned additional pages for local businesses, many of whom had already set up their Facebook Page and even Group pages. So, this has created yet another page which you’ll now need to claim in order to help control and update/enhance your data.

Here’s what Facebook says about the pages, where businesses are concerned: Continue reading

Facebook SEO Tip: Add Your URL To Your Wall

Here at KeyRelevance we’re researching a number of different avenues for online marketing for our clients, so, along with our bread-and-butter work on Paid Search (PPC) management, and Search Engine Optimization (SEO), we’ve done quite a bit of exploration of ideas on how to leverage the massive audiences found in various Social Media such as in Facebook and Twitter.

Yesterday, I published an article on a somewhat subtle technique which can be used when posting status updates on Facebook in order to increase the numbers of people who might see each updates. However, there are a number of very straight-forward things which businesses and organizations can do to extract marketing advantage from Facebook without getting all tricky. Sometimes the most basic steps can give you the greatest advantage, but it’s not always obvious how to go about it.

So, here’s a ridiculously basic tip which I’ve found many businesses have utterly failed to accomplish in setting up their Facebook presence: add your website link to your Facebook wall page!

There are a great many companies, organizations, and small businesses which haven’t figured out how to do this, and so you can encounter pages all the time which do not sport that most basic element of their online marketing. For instance, the official Facebook page for the University of Texas at Austin, one of the largest universities in the country, has completely missed the boat by leaving their URL off their Facebook page:

University of Texas at Austin on Facebook

By contrast, their rivals at Texas A&M University have implemented their website URL on their Facebook page:

Texas A&M University on Facebook

(Disclosure: Texas A&M was my alma mater, so I did get a grin when I noticed that the TAMU University Relations Department did this most basic element correctly while the "Tea-Sips", as we like to call them, did not.)

Oh, to be certain, I should point out that URLs on Facebook pages are nofollowed (not to mention that they're apparently dynamically written to the pages onload, via Javascript), so they're not precisely as optimal as many search engine marketing experts might like. However, there's much to indicate that Google, if not the other search engines, Continue reading

Texas Stadium Implosion Video – Example of Video Search Optimization

Yesterday, I went down to Dallas’s famous Texas Stadium to film and photograph its widely-publicised demolition. I often film and photograph events near me as practice and example for search engine optimization. In this case, my optimization work was fairly straightforward, and the results were spectacular. Here’s the video I shot of the Texas Stadium Implosion:

(This wasn’t the first Dallas Cowboys Football-related spectacle I’ve covered – I previously photographed the tragedy of the collapse of the Dallas Cowboys practice field roof near where I live.)

My video’s quality actually wasn’t all that hot, I must admit. The demolition was to occur a little after daybreak, at near 7:00 a.m., and it was cloudy. I did try to get a vantage point as close as possible where there was very little jockeying for position from the crowd of thousands who showed to witness the event. I also planned ahead sufficiently to prepare by bringing a folding chair, allowing me to stand above the crowd around me.

But, I was unsure how long the demolition would take – things like this can be unpredictable. So, I set my camera (a Nikon Coolpix S51 that I’ve used all the way around the world) to a little lower resolution, “small size 320”, instead of higher resolution. This gave me more minutes of film time, and allowed me room to shoot some photos as well.

Even considering that my video was not of the highest quality of those posted for the demolition, and even though some others had better vantage points, my video became one of the top two most popular posted on YouTube, ranking in searches there as well as within Google, under Universal Search. So, how did I accomplish it in one day flat?

It starts with the title – I predicted that people would search for both “Texas Stadium Implosion” as well as “Texas Stadium Demolition” to find this content. So, I included BOTH of those terms in the title. I also wanted to include “Dallas Cowboys” in it, and try to describe it compellingly to increase clickthroughs, so I mentioned “Epic”. Here’s the title I engineered to attempt to target many of the most popular search query combinations people might use in trying to find videos of the explosion:

“Texas Stadium Demolition – The Epic Dallas Cowboys’ Texas Stadium Implosion!”

Second, I gave the video a keyword-rich description which further reinforced each of the main keyword phrases I was targeting. I custom-wrote the description, mentioning a small amount of the facts outlined in the Wikipedia article for the Texas Stadium.

One subtlety of the description was my inclusion of a link over to my personal blog, where I’d written a matching blog post about the experience, “Texas Stadium Implosion – Huge Demolition Event“. This allowed people who came across the video to read up my longer description of the whole deal.

In YouTube, I did a few other things as well. I specified which of the three video stills would be used as the thumbnail preview for the vid when it appears in search results (oh, how I wish they’d allow more choices or would allow one to upload a custom image for that).

I also set loosest requirements for user interactions with the video page, allowing people to rapidly interact with the page with instant gratification. Allowing instant gratification in this manner can encourage more and faster user-interactions with the page such as comments, video responses, voting on comments, ratings, embedding and syndication. While setting loose requirements often makes major corporations very nervous, my settings show how enabling rapid interactions can push the success of a video, since many of these YouTube components are signals for user-interest and therefore rankings. Having these interactions appear rapidly is more vital under Google’s RealTime Search algorithms.

Finally, I also set the Date to display “Today”, and associated the video with the map location of the Texas Stadium in Irving, allowing the vid to essentially be geocoded to appear in local search results in Google Maps.

Outside of YouTube, I twittered about the Texas Stadium implosion frequently, and also posted my still photos of it on Flickr at “Texas Stadium Implosion“.

In my blog post about the demolition, I embedded the video. I also linked to the video from the Flickr images and from my Twitter updates. I later blogged again from another blog, posting “Texas Stadium Demolition Case Study – YouTube Still Tops For Video Promotion” on Natural Search Blog.

What were the results? Well, the video has had over 55,000 views yesterday, and over a hundred comments!

My Texas Stadium video appears prominently in various related Google Search results:

Texas Stadium Implosion in Google SERPs

It also appears prominently within various YouTube search results, allowing people seeking it to find it easily and interact with it further:

Texas Stadium Implosion search in YouTube

Google automatically is generating a Google Trends graph now, highlighting how “Texas Stadium implosion video” is now one of the top-five trending phrases today:

Google Trends: Texas Stadium Implosion Video

Google Trends - Texas Stadium Implosion Video - Detail

As further evidence that Google has found the terms to be important, Google’s Real-Time Search Results interface has automatically kicked in, scrolling away Twitter and blog mentions of the event:

Texas Stadium Implosion Video in Google's Real-Time Search

All this to show that achieving top rankings in YouTube and Google search results for video search is not rocket science! There are a few other subtle things that I did in performing the video optimizations, but I’ve outlined many of the most-impactful ones in this article.

To get Google Real-Time Search to sing in harmony with keyword search and YouTube search, it’s vital to post content as rapidly as possible as the related search terms first begin trending. It’s also vital to perform solid video SEO, and to encourage rapid/frequent user-generated content on the video’s main page in YouTube.

I know that many of you reading this who are building video optimization tactics for promoting major corporation websites are probably concerned about whether you are too vulnerable to malicious comments on your video pages – and this is a valid concern! If you read the comments on my video page, you’ll see that people have used foul language, insulted one another, gotten into arguments, posted conspiracy theories, etc.

Cool thing is, YouTube provides robust tools for controlling your video pages. You can delete these comments and also go back to change the setting to require that all comments and “video responses” get moderated and approved by you prior to publishing. So, for corporate work, I’d suggest initially allowing the loose interaction rules until your video really goes hot, then circle back around to delete comments you don’t want to appear and tighten the posting to enable your moderation. In this way, you can achieve popular content, then after your video is established, sanitize any content you dislike and lock it down to keep further from appearing. So, your risk of negativity is very temporary.

Using an interlocking strategy of social media, realtime search tactics, and solid video SEO will allow you to maximize the success of your video content, giving you a significant weapon to use in your online marketing arsenal.

Dlvr.it – Convenient New Social Media Management Service

There are so many social media sites out there that a common problem amongst marketers is coming up with ways to effectively manage many multiple accounts. While individuals involved in social media for personal use may only have a handful of sites they’ve registered with, and only two or three that they really frequent, marketers may desire to interact with dozens of services.

From a marketing standpoint, this poses a significant problem. Marketers desire to promote via as many channels as possible in order to target demographic groups loyal to different ones. As you increase the number of unique social media channels, however, it becomes more labor-intensive, and the Law of Diminishing Returns kicks in at some point. For a small business, the correspondingly lower return on investment hits pretty quickly.

dlvr.itEnter a whiz-bang new service that addresses this need: dlvr.it, currently in beta, brought to us by the people who made Pheedo.

Dlvr.it enables you to take one or more RSS feed sources, and then set them to automatically deliver to some of the most common social media sites out there: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and Identi.ca.

I’ve tried out a few different services for accomplishing this sort of delivery before, including Pingdom and Twitterfeed, but I find dlvr.it to be superior. For example, Twitterfeed has been very klunky to try to configure, and I’ve found to be very, very slow at sending updates out. By contrast, dlvr.it provides a number of fine-tuning settings to allow you to specify frequency of checking feeds for updates, and when set at the most-frequent update checks it will publish status updates within minutes of a feed.

dlvr.it RSS feed settings for SEMClubhouse

The Filters settings are even better – allowing you to make the service distribute posts according to criteria such as if a feed update uses a certain Category or if it contains a certain keyword sequence within the text or title, etc. So, for instance, I contribute to a few different group blogs, such as SEM Clubhouse, and for my Facebook and LinkedIn updates I might only wish to have the blog posts distributed which I’ve personally written. So, I could set a Filter that checks to see if the SEMClubhouse RSS feed update contains the “by Chris Silver Smith” attribution within the post and only deliver if the character string is present.

Now, dlvr.it has only recently been launched into beta service, so it will be interesting to see if it starts having any sorts of lagtime issues as I’ve seen with other services that have been in production for longer, and likely have more users to excuse what may be their growing pains. Also, it’ll be great to see if dlvr.it begins to broaden out to allow more social media sites for you to integrate your feeds into.

But, it seems clear that dlvr.it may be the current best-in-class for social media syndication services, and will be an invaluable tool for marketers to use for social media optimization.

Write once, and automatically deliver many!

Easy Tactics To Leverage Wikipedia For Google Maps

WikipediaI recently wrote an article outlining how Wikipedia was abruptly rocketed into being heavily influential within Google Maps (see New Behemoth Emerges In Google Maps: Wikipedia). For small businesses everywhere, I predict that this change is going to bring Wikipedia to the forefront of SMB’s attention. With just a little bit of review, I think that small business owners are going to be noticing how Wikipedia has become very ubiquitous in Place Pages for Google Maps, and they’ll notice or suspect that those Places which sport a Wikipedia association tend to rank higher than others.

Once a business proprietor notices this, they may think to themselves, “Aha! Easy as pie! I know Wikipedia allows anyone to edit articles and add articles about any and everything, so I’ll have my clever nephew who does the internets add an article about my business!” Unfortunately, it’s not this simple.

The ease with which Wikipedia allows community user edits has been a prime area for criticism of the service over the years, and Wikipedia has responded by tightening review of whether subjects are notable enough to merit their own articles, and dedicated Wikipedia devotees try to scrutinize all edits to insure that they’re factual, backed up by respectable references, and worthy of mention. So, addition of articles in a willy-nilly fashion without good understanding of the service’s rules and practices will almost certainly lead to deletion of the content added. It may not happen immediately, but it almost certainly will happen at some point.

The brutal truth is that most businesses simply are not notable enough to merit having a Wikipedia article dedicated to them. There is some sense of the arbitrary about what characteristics are required to meet notability guidelines, because there is some element of subjectivity about it. Essentially, a subject likely needs to be historically significant, culturally significant, or be widely known. A highly significant, publicly-traded company such as Google would meet the requirements, while a small clock repair shop in Anytown likely will not.

Small stores can make the cut, such as the Gotham Book Mart, for which I researched and authored the Wikipedia article a couple of years back. But, few businesses have had as many newspaper articles about them, mentioned in books as much, or had as many associations with notable individuals.

"Wise Men Fish Here" sign, Gotham Book Mart
The iconic "Wise Men Fish Here"
sign which hung above the door
of the famous Gotham Book Mart
for decades.

So, what’s to be done if you’re a small business looking to increase your promotional game? Is Wikipedia completely off-limits to you?

No! There are a number of acceptable ways by which one may integrate with Wikipedia in valid, non-spammy ways, and I’ll cover two of the easiest here. These two methods are primarily for those small businesses which do not merit articles dedicated to them in Wikipedia.

Method 1: Set up your own User page and begin authoring and editing Wikipedia articles.

The best way to understand Wikipedia is to begin participating. Here’s an article on how to start. You may validly write up a User page with links to your own sites, and the more you help out with Wikipedia articles, the more important your User page becomes. As it becomes important, your business site may benefit.

Now, User pages and other pages in Wikipedia automatically nofollow http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nofollow external links as they are added, meaning that they are flagged for search engines as not being endorsed by Wikipedia. “Nofollowing” a link was intended to halt it from passing PageRank or ranking value in search engines, and was introduced to help fight spam in sites where users are allowed to add links. There’s a debate among marketing circles as to whether Google chooses to count Wikipedia’s external links in ranking algorithms or not. My suspicion is that as other spam-fighting methods have improved in Wikipedia, the links which have been added and have sustained over time likely do have some rank value — and are therefore likely used by Google for ranking purposes.

The User pages of those who add a lot of value to Wikipedia gain PageRank themselves, and, even if they do not pass PageRank, the links do pass traffic which can indirectly help increase a site’s rankings in other ways. (For instance, see MONGO’s User page, which has developed a Google Toolbar PageRank of 4 or Durova’s which has a 6.)

If you’re setting up your User page in part to promote your business, I suggest that you consider naming it beneficially with your business name, or a category/keyword name that refers to your type of business. Describe your business briefly. Link to relevant articles about your city or neighborhood. Link to your company with descriptive link text. And, to provide a chance of enabling this to eventually help your listing in Google Maps, include a Geobox in the profile (this addes geocoordinates to the page, a key element that Google looks for when deciding if a page is about a location).

If you’re a newbie at Wikipedia, I strongly suggest you proceed slowly and learn the environment. To get a good grasp of what people edit on pages, check out the History tab on a number of articles and click to compare revisions. This shows how people make changes, what they change, and many ideally provide a super-brief snippet of text to state what they’ve altered.

It’s very easy to find areas where you can add value: read articles of subjects you’re familiar with and interested-in, and you’ll likely find text needing grammatical correction, badly phrased sentences needing clearer writing, factual errors, and articles needing some additional vital pieces of information. Be sure to find and add credible references if adding or altering facts — you should ideally back up all facts with a reference source, just as if you were writing research papers for college.

Method 2: Donate photos of local scenes to Wikimedia Commons for use in Wikipedia articles.

I’ve written before about how it can be beneficial to employ loose licensing for images so that others may be incented to use them and link back to your site, and this is a variation on that theme (see: Why Free Photos Equal Good SEO).

Chrysler Building - Wikimedia Commons PicFor instance, the photographer who donated this pic of the famous Chrysler Building, David Shankbone, included URLs on the image’s information page which link to his site.

For another example, check out the page for the photo I donated for the Gotham Book Mart of the “Wise Men Fish Here” sign.

Is this allowed? Absolutely. Read Wikipedian Durova’s article on how adding images to Wikipedia is acceptable. Wikipedia desires to have good quality photos donated for use so that they may be used to illustrate articles. This is an area where helping the community can be mutually beneficial for everyone.

This tactic is actually pretty powerful, because releasing images into Wikimedia in return for attribution (a citation when anyone uses your photo, with a link back to you) enables you to achieve a lot of links from other sites as well, depending upon the popularity of and usefulness of your photo and its subject matter.

To figure out what photos to add, I suggest reviewing the Wikipedia articles of famous places in your area, and identifying ones which do not have pics. Then take a Saturday morning with good weather and sunlight, and snap photos to donate. You can also look at Wikipedia’s page for Articles needing images, but many of these may be more specific subjects for which you may not be able to provide photos.

Naturally, there are a number of “don’ts” when adding content to Wikipedia. I won’t expand on all those here, but they probably mostly boil down to “don’t be spammy” and “be polite”. I suggest reading up on Wikipedia Etiquette if you’re just getting started. Wikipedia desires content which is informative, factual, and neutrally presented.

There are a number of more advanced means of optimizing for Google Maps and local search via Wikipedia, for those who are more experienced with the service. I’ll likely be going into more of these tactics in upcoming articles at Search Engine Land and in presentations I make at upcoming conferences. So, stay tuned for more!

Special Characters Are Lucky Charms For Twitter ♥ ☾ ★ ♣

As you surf the flow of Tweets running through the ever-heating-up medium of Twitter, you can frequently see an unusual little character icon or two used to decorate people’s postings. I’ve taken note of these over time, and I suspect that using these little graphic icons can sometimes increase the ability or a particular Tweet to stand out from the crowd. If you use Twitter to promote links to your blog articles and webpages, you might consider adding these special icons to your repertoire. I think these special characters can be Lucky Charms for your Twitter posts, if used carefully.

I recently experimented with adding some special characters to one of my Tweets, and it resulted in quite a number of Re-Tweets as well as clickthroughs. Although it involved an already highly-popular topic (Star Wars), I think the Tweet grabbed more people’s notice because the stars I added to it allowed it to stand out from the crowd more as people scanned the stream of Tweets running through their Twitter accounts:

Happy Star Wars Day Tweet

Special Characters are not hard to add to Tweets, if you’re posting from online. They can be trickier if you’re attempting to Tweet via your wireless devices, since those do not all support extended character sets.

Here’s the classic “Lucky Charms” known to morning cereal afficianados — hearts, moons, stars, and clovers: ♥ ☾ ★ ♣

One of the most frequently used symbols in Tweets is a music notes symbol, when individuals Tweet the current song they’re listening to:

Music Tweet

For those using Blip.fm, it’s very easy to Tweet out little messages indicating what you’re listening to, if you tie the services together, and Blip appears to automatically tack on the music notes symbol.

Special characters are handled in HTML and other markup languages via “entity reference” codes or “character references”, of course, and are nothing new. You may be able to simply copy and paste a special character that you want to use, but I’ve also found that you may need to actually paste in the special character code in order to get the symbol to appear.

Some special characters are really too intricate to adequately convey, unfortunately.

I’ve made a helpful list of special character entity codes which you can easily copy-and-paste into your Tweets. These are not all special characters, since I left out the more boring special punctuation characters, foreign language letters and symbols which I think are unlikely to communicate in the tiny letter size employed by Twitter:


♠ ♠ (solid spade)
♤ ♤ (open spade)
♣ ♣ (solid club / shamrock / clover)
♧ ♧ (open club / shamrock / clover)
♦ ♦ (solid diamond)
◊ ◊ (open diamond / lozenge)
♥ ♥ (solid heart)
❤ ❤ (heavy solid heart)
❥ ❥ (heavy rotated solid heart)
♡ ♡ (open heart)
☻ ☻ (solid happy face)
☺ ☺ (open happy face)
☹ ☹ (open frowny face)
₪ ₪ (arabesque)
♀ ♀ (female symbol)
♂ ♂ (male symbol)
↑ ↑ (up arrow)
↓ ↓ (down arrow)
→ → (right arrow)
← ← (left arrow)
↔ ↔ (right & left arrow)
⇑ ⇑ (double up arrow)
⇓ ⇓ (double down arrow)
⇐ ⇐ (double left arrow)
⇒ ⇒ (double right arrow)
⇔ ⇔ (double right & left arrow)
Δ Δ (triangle / delta)
£ £ (pounds)
¢ ¢ (cents)
€ € (Euros)
¥ ¥ (Yen)
♕ ♕ (White Queen - crown)
♔ ♔ (White King - crown)
♘ ♘ (White Knight - horse)
♚ ♚ (Black King - crown)
♛ ♛ (Black Queen - crown
♞ ♞ (Black Knight - horse)
© © (copyright)
® ® (registered trademark)
™ ™ (trademark)
• • (bullet / solid circle)
∅ ∅ (zero with slash thru)
¿ ¿ (upside down question mark)
‹ ‹ (less-than)
› › (greater-than)
« « (double less-than, quote)
» » (double greater-than, quote)
№ № (Number, numero symbol - "No.")
★ ★ (solid star)
☆ ☆ (open star)
✪ ✪ (circled white star)
✹ ✹ (12 pointed black star)
† † (cross or dagger)
‡ ‡ (double cross)
☠ ☠ (skull & crossbones/ pirates/ Jolly Rodger/ poison symbol)
☽ ☽ (waxing crescent moon)
☾ ☾ (waning crescent moon)
☪ ☪ (Islam - crescent moon & star)
☭ ☭ (Communist - hammer & sickle)
❦ ❦ ( upright - floral heart / hedera / ivy leaf)
❧ ❧ ( sideways,rotated - floral heart / hedera / ivy leaf)
♩ ♩ (single music note - quarter note)
♪ ♪ (single music note - eighth note)
♫ ♫ (double music note - single bar note)
♬ ♬ (double music note - double bar note)
✡ ✡ (Star of David)
☯ ☯ (Yin/Yang)
☮ ☮ (Peace Sign)
☸ ☸ (Dharma wheel, sailing wheel)
¤ ¤ (currency or sun)
☀ ☀ (sunshine - sun)
⊕ ⊕ (circled plus or cross in a circle)
⊗ ⊗ (circled times or exxed circle)
℞ ℞ (RX - prescription symbol)
☁ ☁ (cloud - cloudy)
☂ ☂ (umbrella - rain)
☄ ☄ (comet)
☎ ☎ (solid phone)
☏ ☏ (open phone)
☑ ☑ (check box)
☒ ☒ (exxed box)
☚ ☚ (left-pointing finger)
☛ ☛ (right-pointing finger)
☝ ☝ (up pointing finger)
☞ ☞ (down pointing finger)
☠ ☠ (skull & crossbones)
☥ ☥ (Ankh)
☢ ☢ (radioactive)
☣ ☣ (biohazard)
✓ ✓ (check mark)
✝ ✝ (Latin Roman Cross)
✞ ✞ (Latin Cross 3d shadow)

It appears that the best way to send the special characters may be by simply copying the icon you wish to use and then pasting it into a Tweet. I experimented with copying the character code and with copying the displayed character itself, and both seem to work, though.

Just a note or two of caution: I believe special graphic characters such as these ought to be used to spice up posts occasionally, and should be avoided as a “main ingredient”. Use them sparingly, like exclamation points. If over-used, your audience will get graphic icon fatigue and their familiarity will lessen their ability to grab attention.

Again, these special characters won’t work on all devices! I can see the characters online through my PC browser, but not through my PDA. Via SMS, the character doesn’t go through at all, while surrounding text displays as normal. Via web browser on my PDA, there is just an unknown generic “block” character that appears in place of the special character. So, choose carefully if you wish to use these!

So, I’d also like to hear what you think about this. Have you used such characters to spice up your Tweets? If so, how effective do you think they are? Do they increase CTR when links are included?

Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Your Audience & Customers Define the Value

When it comes to traditional marketing, companies are so entrenched in having to define their value statements, and defining them in their marketing messages they don’t even realize that with today’s new technologies and mediums to communicate in, it’s really the customers who are defining what the value is of their products. While company executives are so focused on “features” providing what they perceive is value, they never stop and think about what the person who is plunking down their hard earned dollars to buy the product or service truly perceives as value.

The same can be said of any type of content you are producing for consumption on the internet. In the end it is the audience who is going to decide the value. While you are thinking these are great tips on how to change a light bulb and that’s the value, the audience perceives something else as more valuable about your content. It could be that the tips save them valuable time and money, something you likely hadn’t considered. While you might be thinking certain points of a video you produced about how your product works is the value, the audience viewing it find more value in how it saved them a ton of time figuring out how to integrate your product in with something they are already using, making both products exceptionally useful to them.

value-of-goldOnce your audience finds value in the content you are providing, when they truly believe this content is worth its weight in gold, that’s when it has the potential to spread like wildfire. It may not hit the front page of Digg, but if one loyal audience member finds true value in your content they are going to spread it out to their friends by sharing their experience with it. People love to relate the experiences and those experiences, if valuable, are powerful marketing agents all on their own. The notion of “look what it did for my friend Suzie” after Suzie has explained the value she found is a very persuasive tool, and then all of Suzie’s friends relate it to their friends. If these friends are in social networks like Facebook, MySpace, or an Ning network out there, the potential for the content going from reaching just a few people to instead touching thousands is great.

This is why marketers both online and offline need to stop thinking of themselves as the “be all end all” decider of what is of value in marketing messages. Instead of consistently trying to push messages on an audience or customer base, they need to start sitting back and listening to the current conversations going on about what they are marketing and how those current messages are being received and interpreted. By listening to the conversations marketers can learn a lot more about their demographics and how they think, instead of just assuming because they are a certain age bracket and sex or race they act a certain way. Things change in the real world and the internet and the social media platforms that have been created offer marketers access to a huge , unself-conscious and very brutally honest, focus group.

Let’s face it the way traditional marketing, that of continually pushing the message that’s been carefully crafted, has changed. Audiences become banner blind, they fast forward through commercials on their Tivos, they channel hop on the radio because they do not find these messages or this type of content of any value. Marketers in today’s world of instant soapboxes (blogs) and the world’s fastest telephone chain (Twitter, Facebook & even email) have to now understand what the customers are deeming as value and create content focused on that value, not the values they crafted in a sterile office space to make CEO’s and senior management feel better about themselves. Whether companies like it or not, customers are now defining a lot of what a brand, product or service means.

There’s a Lot More to Social Media than Just Putting Up a Profile

A lot of companies these days are hopping on the social media bandwagon with the mistaken notion that it’s free, quick & easy. Little do they realize being successful in social media requires a lot more resources, time & hard work than what the media portrays. There’s a lot more to being successful in social media than putting up a profile on every social media platform there is. if-you-build-it-they-will-comeJust because you built it, doesn’t mean “they will come”, far from it.

While it does make sense from a reputation monitoring standpoint to secure your brands identity on every social media platform out there before some “squatter” comes along and scoops up the account in hopes of reaping a huge financial reward, that doesn’t mean instant success. Just because you put that profile up there doesn’t mean it’s going to rank in the search engine results for a certain keyword or even your brand name, either. There are some few instances where just putting the profile up will garner a ranking, and sometimes in the top 10 (especially for non-competitive terms), but usually that’s fleeting, eventually that profile will settle out to much lower in the search engine rankings. Likewise, just because you put the profile up doesn’t mean you are going to automatically acquire 1,000 friends overnight, unless of course you are Oprah. Unfortunately for common folk and businesses it just doesn’t work that way, there’s a lot of hard work involved.

There’s a reason why the word “social” is put in front of media. Having a successful account or profile on any of these platforms requires you (the account holder) to be social. That means getting out there on that platform and having conversations with people, being honest and transparent about who you are and why you are there, promoting your profile on your blog or website to encourage interaction, interacting and sharing with people in that community and most of all listening. These actions are what will bring your profile the power to rank in results or become a power account on a social media site.

In this big internet world there are a lot of social media platforms out there and it certainly is time consuming to be social and active in every one. In fact trying to be active on every social media platform might just be a total waste of time and resources, something no company needs in today’s economic environment. This is where some of the hard work comes in. To get the most out of your efforts in social media and see more success, its wise to be most active where your audience is holding the conversation, not active in a “popular” platform. The key to this is actually knowing who your audience is and where they are holding a conversation. Some companies believe that their audience is the same both offline and online, but they shouldn’t assume. A lot of times companies can see a dramatic shift in audience demographics when switching communication mediums because of the way it is consumed. This is where a lot of research comes into play and strategies need to be planned – not easy work by any means.

So at the end of the day, don’t be lured in by the promise of quick, easy and cheap or that phrase from Field of Dreams – “If You Build It They Will Come“. When it comes to social media and being successful it takes a whole lot more than just slapping up a profile and saying “Hey I’m here!”, most of the time an audience will say “So what?! So am I!”. Remember the most important person in social media is the end user, to be successful in social media that means providing them something they feel is valuable – that even includes your profile on a social media platform.

Making Your Content Portable For Your Audience

At the beginning of the week I wrote a piece for Search Engine Watch entitled, “Do You Know Where Your Audience Is?” Knowing this is a piece of the social media puzzle that can decide whether your strategy is going to be a successful venture or a failure. There are a few other pieces to that puzzle, but generally, knowing where your audience is is foundational to any social media strategy.

moving-menIt affects even how portable you make your content. What I mean by making your content portable is making it easy to share, making it easy for your audience to move it across one social platform to another. If your audience finds your content valuable they are going to want to share it whether its through social bookmarking, social news, email or twittering, people want to share great things they experienced. Content that has value can create buzz and word of mouth without the author really realizing what’s going on. If it’s really valuable to the audience and there’s no way to share it, that content might not take off, however just the opposite can happen. If you believe you are always putting out valuable content and you want it shared and you have too many options to share it, this can be a turn off as well as confusing to your audience.

Lets take for example a blog, there are a few ways a blog can be shared. The blog itself can be found to have a lot of great content, and people who just get to your blog via a twitter link, Stumbleupon or a link through email might not be quite that educated on RSS. So having a dozen or so of ways to subscribe to your blog by RSS can be confusing and a turn off, rather than a turn on to people coming to your blog. If you use Feedburner or other like services to handle your subscriptions, take a look at your audience – what are they using to read your blog and choose those top 3-5 icons to show for RSS subscriptions. While you may think you need every single RSS aggegator listed, your audience is likely telling you differently, listen to them, they understand what’s valuable to them. For the most part, Google Reader has become the giant here, people share blogs and blog posts through the “share” option in Google Reader as well as porting out their list of blogs so their own readers (if they own a blog themselves) can keep up to date on what they view is valuable.

Then there’s blog posts and making them easy to share. Again, just like having too many aggregator icons listed, having too many social bookmarking and social news icons in a drop down or spread across the bottom of your posts can be a real turn off. Look at your analytics, listen to your audience, what are they saying about how they found your content? Is your content the type that would really get traction on Digg? Is your audience even on Digg? You’re audience might be on a very niche site like Boudica, which caters to women and not on Digg. In this case having a sharing option for Boudica or sites like it, just might be the better option. Generally the audiences can cross platforms and if your audiences feels its good enough for Digg, they’ll get it there. The point is make it sharable for where your audience hangs out, not an audience who isn’t interested.

When making your content portable, it’s also important to keep in mind, content doesn’t always equal text. Content that’s valuable to your audience can take the form of pictures, podcasts, videos or even slideshares. Making these types of content easy to share is just as important as making your text content easy to share. Make it easy for your audience to embed things, provide the embed code or the link code and well as the sharing buttons you’ve decided are valuable to your audience. Don’t forget to also provide ways to share through email and social networking sites – if your audience is there.

Don’t stress that you need to have every way to share out there. Yes there are plugins for blogs that can list all the popular sites, and are easy to install, but is your audience on those sites? Are you loosing out on having your content on a site where your audience is because you are focusing on where someone else’s audience is? Before you decide to plaster your content up with a million “submit to” buttons, analyze your audience and listen to where they want to submit your content first.

You Need a Hook to Get Your Press Release Noticed

fish_and_hookThere was a time where announcing that you’ve hired a new employee was enough to get a mention in the newspaper. Announce that you launched a new website, it could get the local news station to your office for an interview. Back in the day, those were hooks that could catch a reporter’s attention enough to bring them in and have them talk to you more about you and your company or organization. “Back in the day” was 2003 when I’d do public relations for my clients and getting the press interested with them was part of what I did with my web design firm. Still I always need a hook, not just “We Launched a New Website”, but something more.

Today, it’s not just the press you need to bring in, its your audience. Clients, fans, evangelists and even detractors are all online all craving for reasons to care (or not care) about what’s going on in your company that matters to them. Just sending out announcements that you’ll be appearing here or there, that your are adding a new product line or you’ve changed the name of something really isn’t enough to get your audience to care ….. unless they were involved or responsible for your actions.

As with creating valuable content for social media, with press releases PR people have to start thinking well beyond “I need to get Buzz”, to “why will our company’s audience care about this information”. It isn’t about that its new, or its got great features, it’s about how the audience finds value in the information you are trying to disseminate. Your audience isn’t just the media or industry “experts” anymore, it’s now your consumer audiences. No longer does your audience see the TV reporter or the newspaper journalist as the preeminent authority. The authorities now are bloggers, forum members, photographers posting their work on Flickr, it’s the people holding a conversation about you & using your brand with a hash tag in front of it on Twitter, and its those people active in a fan group on Facebook. These are the people you need get to care about what your press release is about and they really don’t care if your CEO is a keynote somewhere at an industry conference – unless you are Apple and it’s Steve Jobs at MacWorld.

The hook now becomes “how does this affect my life” or “why should I care”. If you’ve changed something about your company, products or brands after listening to the conversations in social media circles – that’s something your audience will care about. So rather than announces a product launch to the entire media like CNN and the NY Times, look to your audience first. Take the approach “We Listened, We Responded, What Do You Think?” with the bloggers or “community elders”. Give them the scoop first and fashion it in a way that it’s not the “normal spin”, that this is truly about your customers and audience.

At the end of the day, it takes a lot to change the mindset of entrenched PR Agencies, PR Specialists and marketers that there’s been a dramatic change in who people view as authorities. There’s also been a dramatic change in how audiences and consumers consume information and what they care about. Understanding both of those can dramatically increase the exposure of your press release and its success to the right targeted market.

So the next time your PR Agency suggests writing a press release about an internship, a keynote speaking event, or a new website redesign, maybe you should stop and think about your audience. Are they REALLY going to care? Then after you do that, maybe you should rethink who your PR Agency is.