Why Flogging is a Bad Idea for Companies

being-fakeThere’s a lot of definitions that float around about what a “Flog” is. Basically when it comes down to it, Flogs are fake Blogs. How they are fake can be a matter of subjection. However when it comes down to the bottom line, if you are the owner (or being portrayed as the owner by your agency) and you aren’t contributing to the blog itself and the community with which you are trying to speak to with your blog posts, its a Flog. Agencies that set up these types of blogs with or without their client’s knowledge are doing a disservice to their clients and could possibly harm the brands

Take for example the infamous Walmart Flog from 2 1/2 years ago, “Walmarting Across America”. When it was outted it hit the front page of MSNBC back in October of 2006, a firestorm of ethics errupted for both Walmart and for the company who started the Flog, Edelman. A sister of an Edelman employee and her photographer boyfriend were responsible for the posts and photos, problem was they weren’t “real” in terms of the typical person who would RV across America using Walmart as a rest stop.

Granted, it is now over 2 1/2 years later, but people are still pointing to this as the quintessential idea of a flog, but Walmart wasn’t the first to be outted for Flogging. Mazda seems to get that honor for its Flogging attempt back in November of 2004.

Media conglomerate & electronics manufacturer, Sony, has also tried its hand at flogging for retail promotions. Their “All I Want for XMas is a Sony PSP” blog didn’t get more than a few blog posts posted before it was outted for just being a very poor marketing piece put out by fake bloggers. The agency who set this flog up wasn’t even smart enough to put the domain’s registration under Sony or a different name. When this broke, a few weeks after Walmart’s, the ire of the bloggers across the globe who are transparent and truthful was raised.

Agencies that set up blogs without being transparent that it isn’t the real company writing the content, walk a really thin ethical line. Hiring writers to write content exclusively for the blog, that don’t work for the company and having the mindset that “its just content, content will rank”, isn’t the real purpose of a blog. The idea behind a blog is conversation and building communities. If you are just setting up a blog to gain a foothold in the search engine results on Google, Yahoo, or MSN for your client and have no intention of having a discussion about what has been written, essentially this too, is a flog. What agencies and companies who wander down this “fake blog” path tend to forget is that when a flog is outted its just as bad for the Walmart-sized brands as it is for the mom & pop retailer online, it just manifests in different ways.

For Walmart, it was losing the domain “Working Families for Walmart” (because they didn’t register it to start off with), the name under which the RVing Flog was registered to, and it being bought by the union group trying to unionize Walmart workers. For Sony, it was lower sales of the PSP that Christmas. What can it be for other companies? Well readers of blogs, and other bloggers have become increasing savvy over the last 2 years. They can usually spot a fake a mile away. Blogs with no comments, blogs with no readily identifiable authors, blogs with writers who don’t interact, are usually outted in some fashion on another blog. That blog who did the outting, well their audience now has put in their mind “fake”, “untrustworthy” or even a worse label, “Spammer” for the outted blog. Once those labels are applied, usually word of mouth spreads and the once promising “content” blog the agency launched in hopes of gaining a foothold in the search engine results, dies a pretty slow and painful death.

So is building a flog worth the time and effort you might get from a temporary boost in the search engine rankings? Maybe, at first you could be fooled into thinking so. However, once readers and active community participators realize that the blog is consistently about the same topic, the same products and the writers aren’t listening to the community and responding, sure enough, the efforts of the fake blog will be for not.

Google Profiles & Online Reputation Management

A few weeks ago Google launched “Google Profiles“. Looking at how Google Profiles works, its reminiscent of an online dating site ad minus the creepy old guy that could be my grandfather sending me winks. With that said, Google Profiles can be a powerful tool in online marketing, especially when it comes to online reputation management. Already, Google profiles are showing up in the search engine results. They may not be showing up number 1 for all vanity searches, but they definitely have the power to rank in the top 20 and the potential to rank even higher. Why? Well, Google I guess must really trust itself.

I created a Google profile early last week. This morning I decided to test and see how it was affecting searches for “Liana Evans”. While not in the top spot for my name, the Google profile is now ranking in the top ten, along with several other profiles and videos from social media sites. So keep that in mind, its not just your profile on Google that has the potential to rank and usurp static websites, its profiles on just about any social site. Take a look at the screen shot below:

The social media profiles and videos I’ve got highlighted in red boxes are all ranking for “Liana Evans” near the bottom of the rankings on the first page of the search engine results for my name. Accept for the power of Google, the other profiles don’t rank “just because”. They rank because they are my more “social” profiles. What that means, is that it’s not just because it’s “Twitter” or it’s “FriendFeed”, I’m actually social in those platforms – I hold conversations, I have “friends”, I comment, I share, I watch other videos than my own, etc., that’s what gives these profiles their ability to rank. They also rank because I make sure they are properly optimized, for “Liana Li Evans”, incorporating both my real and my nick name. While being social is the primary key, you also need to remember how you want people to relate to you in these social settings, and make sure your profiles reflect that.

Now before anyone screams “Google Conspiracy” about Google having all your information from your profile, there’s one thing to remember. You do not have to fill it out completely. In other words, you choose what you want to provide to share in your profile. I don’t share all my contact information, just general information about myself and what I do, and my Flickr photos which are already visible through my public Flickr stream.

If you or your company is actively pursuing reputation management, establishing a Google profile might be a wise step in that campaign effort. If you are monitoring your CEO, CMO or any other prominent names that matter to your company, you should be encouraging them to fill out a Google profile with the information related to your business. There are some sacrifices, you are giving Google a little bit more information about yourself, however, again you choose what information to give. The individual is the primary owner of that Google profile, and can choose what information to share, but as an online marketer you can guide the person how to make sure they are presenting the information in a manner that positively affects the reputation management efforts you are undertaking.

Siloing Your Marketing Can Be a Killer For a Great Online Strategy

Marketing SilosDo you have a PR Department, a Marketing Department, an SEO Team, a PPC Crew and just kicked off a Social Media Team? For huge companies this is a way of running a business, or they outsources some of these efforts. Medium size companies usually break things out this way too, and smaller businesses tend to lump everything onto 1 or 2 people due to lack of resources to handle it all. While making departments is definitely a great idea, and putting highly specific skill sets together to make a department or team is a wise thing to do, it can be an instant killer to a great online media marketing strategy if each one of these areas are a “silo” that operates in their own vacuum.

So many times I’ve seen this happen with companies. The Public Relations team thinks they own things, the Marketing Team controls some part of a budget and then the online marketing folks really have no control over anything, or have no clue what the PR team has planned event wise. That social media team is too new to even understand they are part of the marketing budget as well. When things like this happen, it only spells one thing – disaster.

By separating out each piece of this marketing puzzle, and putting each into its own silo, a company is doing itself a big disservice. Regardless of how each piece of this puzzle thinks of itself, it’s all part of marketing it doesn’t matter if its offline or online. Each piece understands its particular specialty much better than the others can understand its inner workings. For example you wouldn’t want a PPC person planning your Public Relations events or your PR person bidding on your PPC campaigns. But what you do want is your PR department letting your PPC team know that there’s an event they are planning that they need to get the word out about, or that your PPC team has just found a great niche to work with that they know your PR Team can really use that information to market some events to.

When you start looking at online marketing and what you need to do to be successful in it, you have to pull everyone who has some sort of stake in how your company is perceived into the mix. Marketing and PR Departments need to be part of the planning, not just because “they were there first”, but because they have to be brought into the new media way of thinking about how companies need to reach and converse with audiences. The old way of just “pushing” marketing onto audiences doesn’t work the way it did before the advent of the internet, blogs and social media sites.

Communicating with these areas requires the special talents of a Social Media Champion, having these efforts found requires both a great SEO and PPC team. Knowing what to say and how the company wants to represent itself is part of Marketing’s job but they need to work with Social Media, SEO and PPC that everything is cohesive. Promoting what the company is doing is what PR does best, but these days you can just slap up a press release and think it’s going to go somewhere, that’s where working with the Social Media & SEO teams can come in and make these events shine on the internet.

One of the great keys to creating a successful online strategies is to get all of these teams working together. You need to get each one understanding that they cannot operate in a vacuum anymore. Siloing information in today’s new marketing world isn’t good for your company or the people working on these teams. Each team has to understand that they are very important to one another, that success cannot be obtained unless they understand how each piece of the new marketing puzzle fits together. If you are a company operating in this siloed manner, you might want to stop and rethink your strategy – what’s more important your success online, or feeding the egos of the departments that are siloed? The survival of your company in these tough economic times isn’t going to ride on someone’s ego, its going to ride on successful teamwork!

Can Oprah Sell Twitter to the Mainstream?

Can Oprah sell twitter to the mainstreamOprah can sell cars, she gave away some a few years back, and the maker of the car saw an increase in sales. Oprah can certainly sell books, authors would sell their souls to have the media mogul pick their book for her book club. Oprah also likes Amazon’s Kindle, when she said “my new favorite thing in the world”, sales bumped up. Oprah can even sell an entire nation on the worthiness of one Senator over another to be President of the United States. The woman has influence companies can only dream of having. Now, Twitter doesn’t have to dream any longer.

Tomorrow, according to her Facebook page, Oprah will set foot into a world where most of us marketing, social media and search geeks have called home for the past two years. She’s about to bring with her, an army of loyal and rabid followers who are not exactly technogeeks. Are we ready for this invasion?

Maybe we should be asking Twitter themselves if they are ready for the invasion? After the upgrade two weeks ago, a bounty full of fail whales and missing avatars, I really hope Twitter’s architecture can handle what Oprah’s about to bring them. This is a lot like the “Digg Affect” on unsuspecting sites – your site goes down, and you piss off a lot of loyal customers & lose sales, just for those folks who want to “glance” at it (whatever the it is .. that’s hit the front page of Digg).

It could just be a one day affair. We know most celebrities find these technologies fleeting, and for most celebrities its about the next best thing to be seen doing. So will Oprah keep Tweeting? If she does, it’s likely to have more of an effect on bringing Twitter into mainstream America than anything to date. The woman is a marketing machine, and if her fans see her continuing to Tweet, well then, you can bet within a few months every one of her loyal fans will have a twitter account to connect to her with, and each other. This is probably one of the best examples of how communities can connect, and how Twitter really is about community.

As for Ashton Kutcher being the “King of Twitter”, I have a hard time swallowing that. Oprah’s to have him on the show tomorrow. Of course we all know this is a huge publicity stunt for Ashton Kutcher to beat out CNN to a million followers. I guess Ashton purpose is to show how to use it – how simple it is, to the audience full of women wishing they were Demi Moore.

Twitter is about to hit the mainstream folks, it’s about to become an even bigger topic on marketing agendas because of a one woman marketing machine – Oprah. Are you ready for this change?

Not only that, are you ready to help your Mom understand Twitter? I might have you all beat there, my mom‘s already there and even uses Tweetdeck!

URL Shorteners That Frame Websites Hijack Your Content

By Liana “Li” Evans

hijackinghotspotWith the rise of Twitter and it’s limit of 140 characters (250 if you turn off javascript), when it comes to maximizing space to get your message across, every character counts. With that fact in mind URL shorteners are cropping up all over the place. There are some great URL Shortening services, Tweetburner, Bit.Ly, TinyURL and Cli.gs are some great services and actually will track your click throughs.

Then we have another new crop of URL shorteners appearing. These “frame” your content underneath their own branded bar. Digg of course is the biggest well known implementer of this kind of bar. There are several others that do this as well, Ow.Ly and BurnURL are just two. So what’s the big deal, why all the fuss? What could be wrong with what Digg’s doing, after all they are still sending you traffic, right? Well to start with, some of these services have the potential to play havoc with some analytics code. Then there’s the whole “hijacking” of your URL, which is likely one of the things that surfers on the internet are trained to remember, this is essentially hijacking your content for their own benefit – increasing the number of uses of their service.

What’s the difference between what Cli.gs does and what Digg does? Well Cli.gs does a 301 redirect straight to your content when someone shortens your URL, therefore when people click on a shortened URL done by Cli.gs you end up on the content and see the true URL. What Digg does is puts your content under their bar, with their own URL. The visitor NEVER, EVER sees your full URL. Sure some of these allow people to click out of the bar and show you a truncated URL stream to click on, but it’s certainly not the same as someone looking into the address bar for your site’s URL.

What happens when they want to bookmark your site and then entered through Ow.Ly, BurnURL or Digg’s bar? Their shortened URL is what is bookmarked not your site’s URL, doesn’t matter if they are bookmarking to their browser or to a social bookmarking site like Delicious or even StumbleUpon. Again, they are highjacking your content by keeping the framed bar with their URL in the address bar and not 301 redirecting like the other URL shortening sites are!

Sure, some of these URL shorteners that put the frames around can say “oh we make it easy to share with out pull down menu”. Well here’s the thing, people are already “trained” to bookmark or stumble through the bars they have installed in Firefox or IE, that’s where they are going to go first, not to a pull down on a frame. It’s tough to retrain people who’ve been stumbling or bookmarking for well over two years to use some “framed bar” from a new service that isn’t familiar to them, they are going to go with what they trust.

content-hijackThen lets look at the whole “oh I found this I want to blog about it” piece of the marketing and social media puzzle. Someone who finds some great content via one of these framing URL shortening services and isn’t quite tech savvy, pulls the shortened URL from the address bar. Guess what, your site doesn’t get the credit for that link, the shorten URL does. Again, this is basically like hijacking your content.

These URL shorteners make claims that it makes it easier to get your content to be more viral. Personally, in my honest opinion, that’s a load of bunk. It isn’t this tool that makes the content go viral – it’s the perceived value of the content itself that makes something go viral. Then stop and think, what is the sense of your content going viral if the visitors viewing it can’t even see your URL? What is the sense if they themselves can’t share it properly with their own communities like StumbleUpon, Delicious or Magnolia? Your URL is how people remember you, and a lot of sites don’t put their URL in their graphics or headings, they rely that its always going to be in the address bar.

I’ve been having discussions on Twitter about this, and one person claimed I was afraid of them stealing my “Google Juice”. I had to suppress a laugh at that term. I guess because I came into the industry as an SEO, some people will assume I “want my Google Juice” darnit! It’s not about Google Juice at all, at the end of the day this is about who owns the content. The publisher owns the content – not these framed URL shortening services who are hijacking URLs. It’s about it’s perceived value to the visitor and if the visitor perceives its value to be great, shouldn’t the original publisher get that credit, not these framing URL shorteners?

Here are some other great reads on this subject:

Big vs. Small: Which Companies Have An Advantage in Social Media?

I’ve seen a lot of discussions over the last few months about what kind of companies do well in social media. Is it the small businesses because they are nimble and can turn things around on a dime? Or is it the large companies because they seem to have the unlimited resources – both money and staff – to pull off the dedication needed to implement a successful social media strategy? I don’t believe there is really a “true” correct answer to this question if you are just comparing the “size” of the company based on number of employees or yearly revenue.

What it comes down to is the dedication of the company to the social media strategy being successful. If the company has a social media champion within its walls, someone who understands that its not about direct correlation of click to purchase, but can still identify realistic objectives to measure for obtaining goals, that is a huge advantage no matter what the size of the company.

Having the Resources Isn’t Enough To Create A Social Media Advantage

Dan Leon - Former Philadelphia Eagles EmployeeWhile having a significant budget available for marketing efforts, or having a team that can dedicate the time does help, at the end of the day, that isn’t necessarily an advantage. If your senior management isn’t on board with the efforts you are trying to push forward, if they do not understand that its really tough to measure successful via click correlation, if they think the social media is just “for kids”, all the resources in the world won’t help you be successful because you lack the buy in from the senior management to attain your goals.

Looking at the other end of the ladder, having too many resources can be just as much of a problem, especially if they are not all on the same page when it comes to your strategy in social media. Making sure all of your resources are filled in on what the company’s message is, how to act in the social media space and what affects their efforts could have on the final outcome of the strategy is vital and key to success you wish to attain. It’s also not just the direct team that is involved with implementing your strategy. If you are a huge company, you have to stop and realize that social media touches everyone within your company who has access to a computer, and not just access to a computer on company time.

Take for example Dan Leon, who use to work for the Philadelphia Eagles. Dan was the front gate manager for the home games at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field. Dan has nothing to do with marketing, I doubt the marketing team at the NovaCare Center (home base for Philadelphia Eagles operations) even knew Mr. Leon existed. That is until Dan posted something on his Facebook page. Dan, like every other Eagles fan in the Philadelphia area was extremely upset the team let Brian Dawkins go to the Denver Broncos, and posted as such with an update on his Facebook page, complete with expletives. The Philadelphia Eagles fired Mr. Leon for that update, even though he apologized, and removed the offending update from his Facebook news stream. What ensued was a firestorm of anger towards the Philadelphia Eagles and an outpouring of sympathy for Mr. Leon. ESPN, FoxNews, CNN, MSNBC, the local TV news (CBS, NBC, ABC), the local radio stations, the local sports blogs, the local papers, all took this and ran. In fact they are still running with it.

The Philadelphia Eagles had (and still don’t to my knowledge) no social media policies in place, they have never spoken to its employees about how to conduct themselves on these social media sites and most of all – they never got buy in from its staff on the messaging they are trying to convey to the public. What makes the Eagles look even worse is not only does Mr. Leon have a disability, but he also has shown off his certificates for a job well done with the Eagles. Top that off with Brian Dawkins giving Dan Leon his game day tickets when he comes back this year to play at Philadelphia, the Eagles organization just really looks bad all around, despite the fact that Mr. Leon did something out of line. BTW, the Eagles’ resources are upwards of multi-millions of dollars.

Being Nimble Isn’t Enough to Create a Social Media Advantage Either

While small companies can move a lot quicker and be more nimble because there’s a lot less red tape to cut through, it doesn’t mean it creates an advantage for them when it comes to finding success in social media. Sometimes being able to move so quickly can cause companies to not really be able to see how things in social media play out. Then add in the “Bleeding Edge” of technologies in this space, some companies can fall into the trap of the “shiny object syndrome” by implementing new technologies every month because they are so small and nimble enough to be able too. That’s not only not wise and its also not good for your audience. People need time to adept and accept in the social media realm, changing things out as quickly as a new “Google Killer” appears on the internet can really be a detriment to your social media strategy.

Just because your business is small, you are the owner and you love Digg, doesn’t necessarily mean that Digg is the right choice for your business to utilize when it comes to your marketing efforts. There is something to be said about taking a somewhat methodical approach to your strategy, rather than looking at how easily you can implement something. Taking the time to understand that your audience is in Flickr or on a message board and mapping out the right strategy will make you more successful than small enough to be being able to switch gears each month hopping from efforts in Digg, to Facebook, to Plurk and so on.

What Creates the Social Media Advantage?

There’s a lot of factors that create an advantage in social media and it’s not the size of the company’s work force or the revenue they bring in. It’s not actually one thing either, it’s a combination that can create some significant advantages for your company to utilize social media. These are just a few of those components:

  • Openness to Trying a New Approach
  • Having a Social Media Champion
  • Knowing Who Your Demographic Is
  • Understanding What Your Audience is Doing
  • Giving Your Audience Something Valuable
  • Having Buy in From Senior Management
  • Understanding Everyone In Your Company Has a Stake In Social Media
  • Determining Measurable Objectives Before You Jump In

At the end of the day, the discussion of who’s better in social media – Big or Small Companies – is actually not really a good discussion. It’s more about the openness to changes and the ideas of different types of marketing approaches that is really at the root of this discussion. Big, small, red tape, nimbleness, are really moot points, unless you have the buy in from the right areas of your company to implement your strategy. Without a cohesive strategy, no matter what size your company is, most ventures into social media will fail.

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.


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.

Twitter Uses Microformats

While using Twitter this week, I realized their programmers had incorporated Microformats in the design! I noticed that my Operator Toolbar was responding to the Microformat content in the page, and making it available for me to export.

As you can see from my Twitter profile page, Operator has found Contacts and an Address available in the page. Note the “Contacts” and “Addresses” buttons in the browser toolbar are not grayed out, but are showing as clickable.

The Contacts is returning hCard Microformat info not just for me, but also for all of the 36 twitterers that I follow and whose icons appear on my profile page.

The Address is apparently supposed to be my personal profile’s address data, but it’s not interpreting quite right for me. I think this is because it places the entire Twitterer’s location content in the “adr” value, without breaking the content out into the street address, locality, region and country. Also, the hCard profile attribute isn’t included in the page’s tag.

Still, Twitter’s incorporation of the Microformats in the page code is exciting to me! Why? Well, I’ve written before about how incorporating Microformats can potentially be advantageous for the purposes of Local Search Optimization here and here. Essentially, this can help search engines to more easily interpret the address info on webpages and associate business information with webpages.

Yahoo! has been the fastest at adoption of Microformat content, with Google following close behind. Yahoo’s Search Monkey platform (which allows both Yahoo engineers and all other web developers to create applications which deliver up special webpage listing representations in Yahoo search results) has shown very clearly that Yahoo’s bot has been tooled to particularly harvest Microformat data from webpages in order to make special use of that amongst the various signals they get from sites.

Does Google use Microformats? Yes and no. Google Maps has incorporated Microformats in the display of their search results so that users can access, export and use business and address data easily. However, it’s not yet entirely clear if they spider that same data from local web pages as part of the info they collect in categorizing and ranking pages. Google Maps engineers have told me off the record that they watch all types of data like this, and if there’s a significant number of sites using it, then they will also make use of it in their ranking “secret sauce”. With a high-profile site like Twitter incorporating Microformats, there’s yet more incentive for Google to adjust their data collection algos to incorporate hCard data if they have not already.

In the past week, I wrote an article on how small businesses can and are using Twitter for local marketing. Twitter’s incorporation of Microformats further underscores the value of the service as a component of Local SEO.

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.