Twitter Etiquette – Egos verses Community

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

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

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

Auto DM’s (Direct Messages)

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

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

“Tweeters” Who’s Tweet Streams are Just Links

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

Not Sharing The Love

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


Are You a Lurker/Stalker?

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

Follow, Unfollow, Follow, Unfollow….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Online Video Marketing

Did you know that the 2nd largest search engine is no longer Yahoo? That’s right, people are using YouTube to conduct searches more than Yahoo. That being said, do you have an online video marketing strategy?

Gone are the days where making commercials cost millions of dollars, not just in production costs but in air time as well. Welcome to the revolution of social media and web 2.0 technologies. You don’t need a high end camera anymore, you don’t need uber expensive software either. What you do need is a strategy and some congruent follow through. Without those, just throwing up a video will allow you to flounder or even fail.

Online video is now becoming more about strategic marketing than ever before. Without first thinking about “what’s in it for the audience” first, anything you set off to do will likely get a chilly reception, because you are thinking about it from your own perspective. As with anything these days, understanding that people really hate marketing being shoved down their throats, making your video piece be more about what the end user wants is more important now than ever.

While the subject of your video may be the most important thing, there are other aspects companies need to take into consideration when they look at an online video marketing strategy. Making sure your identity, your marketing measures and your branding are congruent with not just on your print media or on your website, but across all your marketing channels is imperative. What I’m talking about here is avatars, colors, skins and graphics. Companies pour thousands if not millions into these efforts, its their identity, its how people recognize them. A lot of times companies forget to carry this over into all the aspects of online marketing, especially video, and they miss out on big opportunities when they do. In the video below I talk to Greg Jarboe about this at SES London this year.

YouTube by all means is the giant in this space, but its got such a broad user base. Reaching that target market you are really trying to get to engage with your company or brand, can be a pretty tall task when you are dealing with millions of searchers a day. This is where knowing where your audience hangs out becomes vitally important because of all the niche video sharing site out there. Research into this area can really pay off. Sometimes if a video goes hot on one of these sites, it can have a ripple effect into other video sharing sites, even YouTube.

Big companies do not corner the market on this online video marketing world either. Small business with just a flip camera and some simple video editing software can create compelling and engaging videos that can be marketing boons for their businesses. Small business can that produce commercials that can cost less than $100 can hit very targeted markets can be extremely effective. Think about a weekly “specials” video for a restaurant, seeing the food being prepared and then served hot & fresh is more compelling than just a staged photo of a plate with food on it. Attach that to your local profiles and you give people more reason to come to your establishment!

So if you haven’t thought about online video marketing yet, perhaps you should take a second look. This is becoming one of the fastest growing marketing mediums out there, and if you don’t have a strategy to plan and track it right you could loose out!

Markting Via Twitter Is All About Community Engagement

My new article on some ideas on how to “Harness the Power of Twitter for Local Marketing” just pubbed this morning at Search Engine Land. In it, I describe how a number of small and large local businesses are using Twitter, and I provide a small handful of ideas as to how to do it.

Make no mistake, though – the basic foundation of marketing through Twitter is all about “audience engagement” or “community engagement”. Twitter is a communication medium, a micro-blogging platform, a community forum. Micro-communities and macro-communities are grouping up on it rapidly so that people with common interests can easily ask each other brief questions and get back quick answers. Also, people are using it to keep up-to-date with one another in something far closer to real-time as well.

From my perspective, the most effective business uses of Twitter are where companies are providing snippet information of direct interest to their communities, and responding to questions from their stakeholders and customers. Whole Foods and Marriott International are two of these companies which are demonstrating that they “get it”, and are providing compelling interaction through their Tweets.

For many locally-oriented businesses, Twitter is a really good opportunity to gather together a community of interested current and future customers. To do this, one must respect the time and patience of the audience — don’t waste people’s time by too much inane chatter. Also, to build an audience rapidly, consider giving away some really great rebates or freebies. For instance, my coworker Li Evans just “retweeted” (“forwarded”) this offer from Maggiano’s Restaurants to her list of followers this morning:

Li Evans retweets a Maggianos Offer

This sort of discount offer is highly compelling. I took the offer, began following Maggianos, and forwarded the offer to my list of Twitter followers as well. This sort of Twitter use is very powerful! Notice how it’s viral: it encourages people to distribute the offer out to their friends, who send it to their friends, who… you get the picture!

The Twitter phenomenon is growing very rapidly since the service launched only a couple of years back. Savvy marketers will learn how to leverage the potential, but only if they understand the basic foundation of community engagement.

Experimenting in Social Media Can Be Dangerous to Your Brand

Experimenting in social media and web 2.0 can be a really fun thing to do. That is if you are an individual working on testing out some theories, or a small company that is nimble enough to adjust, make quick changes and adapt. Where experimenting with social media crosses the line of fun into dangerous territory is with brands who think that it’s the newest, hippest, greatest “thing” they should be doing, “just because”.

That “Just Because” reasoning is probably the most dangerous reason out there.

  • Just because the competition is out there doing it
  • Just because there’s lots of people on twitter
  • Just because my kids have a MySpace page
  • Just because CNN or Time Magazine mentions it

Those are just a few of the “Just Because” reasons you hear. These are really dangerous reasons to start “playing” with social media, especially if you have never ventured into the area before. There are key things you need to be prepared for if you enter into this space, one thing is that it takes time. So many companies are coming into this space thinking if they slap up a Twitter stream, or a Facebook page, that’s social media. Sorry to burst the bubble here, that’s as far from social media as a company can get. That’s just more of the same old advertising consumers are sick of.

Skittle's Facebook HomepageI wrote about Skittles not “getting it” with their Twitter Stream & social media when it launched on Monday. Word comes from Media Post that they pulled their Twitter campaign. Now Skittles is showing a facebook page. Again, this isn’t social media. These are just flashy billboards, ones that after a while can even hurt the Skittles brand.

update: @CharleneLi has said that Skittles was going to change out their homepage all along. Regardless of that I’m still standing by the fact that this isn’t “real social media”

Why aren’t these social media? Skittles is using social media aren’t they? The word here is using. In social media, you need to actively engage, not utilize it as an outlet like Skittles is. Did Skittles engage in conversation on Twitter? No, heck they don’t even own the @Skittle twitter account that people were trying to talk to them through. Are they engaging on Facebook? Nope, it’s other people starting conversations (see screen capture to the right, click for larger view). Skittles uploaded pictures, but isn’t starting discussions, or engaging in them, not even the good ones. Someone had commented on my post about Skittles on Monday that “did I see they were doing Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and Wikipedia?“. Yes, I did know, but here again, they aren’t engaging the community. For example at the time I write this post, the YouTube channel as 24 subscribers, and they’ve only watched 19 videos, favorited 1, not responded to any comments, and it doesn’t look like they’ve made any friends. How is that being social? (please also note: their “use” of Flickr is just a stream of photos on flickr tagged “skittles”, like Twitter, prime for spamming)

Experimenting with Social Media can come at a cost, too, especially when you are dabbling with something that is totally out of the spectrum of your target market. Lets take for example Skittles again. Skittles is a candy. Who is candy marketed too? Kids and perhaps teens. Now with that in mind, what do you think is on all the packaging for Skittles? Their URL (see the photos below I took of a Halloween style candy handout and the bag those came in)! What do you think kids are going to type into their computer if they are eating Skittles as they surf the internet? Do you think is going to be stopped by parental filters? Not before Monday it wouldn’t have been. Now, let me pose this question – are these kids and teens using Twitter by the droves? No, they aren’t – you find them on Bebo.

skittles-back-for-fun-sizes  skittles-fun-pack-halloween

So your major demographic is kids, but you are using a social media piece of technology not used by your target demographic, why? Ummm “just because“, it’s cool and it will get us buzz! Will it get more kids or parents to buy your candy. Nope.

What it will do, is insight the spammers, the jokesters, the rather rude people to make a mockery of your brand. It then causes those kids who read your packaging who come to your site because you displayed your URL to see messages like this tweet (please be informed that link is rather offensive), and those kids to ask their parents, “mommy what kind of flavor of Skittles is that?”

See the danger of experimenting with social media, now?

Are You an Online Marketer or Just an SEO?

At SES London, Mike Grehan headed up an Orion Panel with Jill Whalen, Brett Tabke, Chris Sherman, Kevin Ryan and Rand Fishkin. The panel was taking a look at “SEO Where To Next”. I’m not going to rehash what went on at the panel, if you’d like a run down Paul Madden did a good summation of it. What I am looking to discuss is our roles, are we just SEO’s, PPC practitioners or affiliate marketers, or, are we online marketers?

What prompts me in asking this, is how in the past 2 years the rise of “Web 2.0” (I really hate that term) has begun to affect how people consume content, media or anything on the web. Focusing on just SEO, PCC or even Affiliate Marketing, we tend to rely very heavily on the search engines. Heck, we live, die and cry by what Google does. Take a look at the announcement by Matt Cutts about the canonical tag, the search marketing world went nutz!

But what happens when more and more surfers on the internet stop using the typical search engines to find what they need? Confused? Let me explain.

With the advent of the iPhone and its open application system, you no longer need to go to Google to find a nearby restaurant. That’s right, iPhone users have a bevvy of applications that connect them to the internet without a browser and without going to Google and getting a map with a list of restaurants. OpenTable will tell you which restaurants near you have available seating, Urban Spoon does just about the same thing.

It’s not just the iPhone either, AccuWeather just launched a nice little widget much better than than the dreaded desktop “WeatherBug” app(that adds those dreaded tracking cookies that Norton catches). Through the slick Adobe Air backend, AccuWeather tells me my weather without opening a browser and typing in “Weather 19468”. There’s also a nice AdobeAir Application called Tweetdeck to help you manage Twitter, never having to connect to a browser to hold a relevant conversation.

Facebook and Myspace both have phone applications for iPhone, Blackberry or just about any smart phone out there. It’s becoming easier and easier to connect to the internet and the sites you want, and to find the things you want without using a browser or even a search engine.

So with that in mind, I posed this question to the panel. With the ability to connect to the internet w/o a browser, is it the SEO’s job to still work with these types of applications? Only one panel member answered, bravely, Rand Fishkin said he didn’t believe this was the SEO’s job.

I agree, to a point. If you define yourself as an SEO who just optimizes web pages or websites, then yes, he’s right.

But if you have an eye on the future of marketing and are seeing what new technologies are emerging and being embraced in our world, I have to disagree with Rand, in that, that view is really limiting. Businesses are going to have to embrace moving even beyond just the typical web page for an online presence. Search Engines aren’t just browser based anymore, the OpenTable application demonstrates that to a “T”. As responsible online marketers, we have to look beyond just websites and Google, we have to look at the entire online presence, and move beyond the thought that SEO means web based search engines because it doesn’t. So are we SEO’s or Online Marketers, or perhaps both? I guess in the end its how you define “SEO”.

That leads me to wonder this question, is the holy grail of search – the “Google Killer”, just going to be the inevitable change of end user habits? Interesting thought isn’t it? 🙂

Social Media Optimisation – SES London 2009

being socialAnother panel I presented on at SES London 2009 which took place this past week was Social Media Optimization. I had the fine pleasure of presenting with Jennifer Laycock of Search Engine Guide, Lisa Ditlefsen who’s recently launched her own company Verve Search, and Krista Neher of Marketess. I think it was the only panel at SES that was completely female dominated! Besides that, our panel seemed to flow rather nicely with each of us covering different aspects of social media.

I took the lead in presenting the basics that build social media. From how it rose to be a power that consumers now have, to defining your goals before you start, I covered a basic foundational structure of what social media is. The two main points I really wanted to stress is that 1) it’s all about the end user and 2) social media is a source of new signals about relevancy for the search engines. Beyond covering the basics of strategy and goal setting when it comes to social media, I demonstrated how someone used these aspects with phenomenal success, that person being the new president of the United States, Barack Obama.

Next to the podium was Jennifer Laycock who reinforced my presentation that it’s about the conversations with the end users. From there Jennifer talked about a few social media sites that could be part of any social media strategy. These sites, aren’t bleeding edge, but have been proven performers of where people are having successful conversations with companies. Jennifer started off with Flickr, showing how she effectively utilized it to promote her BentoYum blog. From there Jenn went on to discuss the objectives of successfully using Twitter in your social media marketing strategy. Moving on next Jenn discussed and then rounded it out with an overview of Facebook and LinkedIn with some.

Lisa Ditlefsen then took the approach of “how do you do this” with a look of how you need to do this with your in house team – whether you are an agency or a company. The first thing is that everyone needs to be on the same page, if you aren’t the strategy is going to fail. The idea you are working with also needs to be creative, otherwise its just going to whither away. Resources need to be planned out as well, because if you don’t have enough resources allocated to handle a successful strategy, or you need to switch gears to retool a strategy, your efforts can be for nothing. Lisa then highlighted two social media pieces, SEO Wars – a YouTube video her team put together, and a social media “Fun” piece put together for Rackspace. Some great takeaways were given for both of these.

To round out the panel, Krista Neher presented several different social media pieces that have been widly successful. The main point of her presentation that she drove home is that end users don’t care about your company. Something I couldn’t agree more with. For end users it is about the conversation, the sharing of the exprience. Krista highlighted the Blendtech videos, the Dove campaign for Real Beauty, and a few other very successful social media strategies that took into account the end user first.

Overall I think the panel gave a great overview of what social media is truly about, having been on the panel lasty year, a lot has changed and this was a really good well rounded view of how it has truly become a very strong online marketing channel to be strategized for.

Online Video Update – The Next Wave – SES London 2009

At Search Engine Strategies London this past week I got to speak on a few panels, one of them being the Online Video Update – The Next Wave panel with Greg Jarboe and Shari Thurow. Each of us presented different views or approaches to Video, how to use it, why to use it and what happens when you use it.

Shari started the panel off with a look into the mechanics of optimizing videos, primarily the video files and if you are hosting the videos yourself. Just like image optimization, a lot of things cross over. Naming your videos is very important, something descriptive, using hyphens. Directory naming is important as well, as it gives another clue to the search engines that the files in there are videos. Adding the meta information to the video is vital as well as video search engine crawlers do read this information. Title, author, description, etc. are all read by these engines and help them to understand what the relevancy of the video is.

Content on the page that surrounds the video is very important as well. Titles, captions help to point to reference just as much as the paragraphs that surround the video. Even though search engines no longer have the issues with frames or iframes, having your video inside one of them, or the content about the video in one, isn’t good for relevancy either. On that track, pop up windows for the videos really detract as well. Lastly Shari really points out that the “related” videos or articles that appear on the page play a major role in sending signals to the search engines about videos so ensure that links to other articles on your site or videos on your site, relate to what you are currently showing.

I was up next showing the approach of why companies who have an site online need to really consider video as a serious strategy for their online marketing efforts. YouTube has even surpassed Yahoo has a search engine. When people are searching, they aren’t just looking for links to websites, they are looking for media to consume. I pointed out a post on Google’s blog that Marissa Meyer wrote back in October about how people are searching differently, she demonstrates this by mentioning the learning to do the Charleston, more people would rather see a video of how to do the dance steps than read text about it.

Blendtech has become a master as marketing with video. According to their CMO, the videos have helped increased their bottom line 5 fold. That first video cost less than $100 to produce and launch. They are very market savvy too, they keep their message and marketing congruent across the channels, logos are all the same, message is consistent. Blendtech has moved beyond YouTube as well, they now have their videos out on revenue generating video shares, such as Revver to take advantage of the videos popularity. They even have companies paying them to blend their products in their blenders.

When it comes to utilizing videos shares, of course utilizing YouTube is a no-brainer, but what about other sites? There are a lot of other videos shares out on the internet and a lot of them cater to very specific audiences. From travel and hospitality industry to educational and reality based video share sites, you can find some really powerful niches video shares that speak to a very targeted audience than a big general audience, so do limit yourself to YouTube. Lastly, don’t forget about Local Search too. Some of the search engines allow you to link your videos to your local listings.

Greg Jarboe then rounded out our panel showing us the popularity of video in the UK. When it comes down to it, the UK consumes the most videos per day, over 100 a day on average. Video is a huge way to get your audience engaged, interested and talking about you. There’s a lot to optimizing the video, titles, descriptions, tags, links into the videos and embeds all help to give signals to the video shares what the video’s really about. What makes them popular is an entirely different story. All the optimization in the world, can’t make a bad video popular. It takes understanding what the end user wants to get the views up.

Greg did a video interview for SES with Google’s Matt Cutts. The did all the normal optimization, plus when the extra mile in keyword research for the video, looking even at the suggested terms that YouTube displays when it suggested “Matt Cutts Google SEO”. They got some views when they posted it, but as they watched their traffic to the video climb, they saw a huge spike one day, did the video go really popular on the main page of YouTube? Nope! Not at all. Matt posted the video in his blog, and the embedded video produced the spike in views. How did they get Matt to post it? Simple, very simple, they emailed him a link to the video that it was now out in YouTube.

All in all the goal of our panel was to show the audience that video is the next big wave, understanding it’s intricacies take a bit more than just optimizing a title tags.

Photo above by Mike Baird (Flickr: MikeBaird)

Relationship Building Is At the Heart of Building a Solid Community

building relationshipsAny community whether it is offline or online is only as strong as the relationships that have built it. Understanding that building a community one relationship at a time is critical to how long or how fleeting a community survives. Knowing that fact, is critical to any online marketing strategy companies or even individuals embark on in social media. One day you might find that a community has sprung up around your brand, product or service, if you don’t build solid, enduring and transparent relationships with your audience, it can disappear just as quickly if you don’t invest in building relationships with community members.

There’s no quick fix for building lasting relationships. No “drive-thru”, “fast food”, “overnight success” answers to building a lasting, thriving community that can withstand the trends and falls of the every picky, constantly distracted consumer. There’s only the ardent task of reaching out to one community member at a time and touching them personally. Unfortunately and sadly to some marketers, they are only interested in “how can I get X number of links fast”, or “how can I get X number of friends fast”, and that’s where they go wrong when jumping into social media.

Something magical happens to companies and individuals who take the time to reach out on a more personal level to build those relationships they deem important. They create evangelists. They create word of mouth marketing. They create something viral. All from taking the time to personally respond to an email, a blog comment, a post on a forum, a message on a FaceBook fan page, a glittery comment posted on MySpace, that personal “reaching out” means something to people. The simple act of saying “Thank You” or “I’m Sorry” or even “How Can I Help?” goes a long way towards building trust and a relationship that can touch many more people than who you reached out too.

Social Media and Community Building are not overnight sensations, you can ask any forum moderator or message board administrator. It takes time to build relationships that last. Even the “A” list bloggers (o.k. Perez Hilton could be the exception) didn’t become hot sensations overnight, it took reaching out, commenting on others blogs, linking to other posts and sites and speaking directly to the audience members to build their communities.

Social Media and Community Building are areas that do need a specific strategy planned for. How do you approach building a relationship, who handles building the relationship, what are the boundaries (yes, you do need to define them), and how do these relationships help you as a company or an individual become even better? Those are things that need to be considered before jumping in. If you just set you team loose on building relationships, it could go array, as one person on the team has a very different idea of how to build a relationship than another person.

Take the time to figure out what your message is and how you want to build the relationships around you, your brand, service or product. Research your audience and understand what they are receptive to, and then go out and start building those honest relationships, before your know it, you could have a thriving community on your hands.

Are Ghost Writers for Social Media Profiles Wise?

Britney Spears MySpace PageI stumbled across a piece on MSNBC today about Britney Spears advertising for a “Britney Spears 2.0 Media Manager”. I paused and momentarily thought about how manufactured some of the music industry “pop princesses” have become. I’m no fan of Ms. Spears, but I, along with every other American who has an internet connection, couldn’t help but watch that train wreck shave off all her hair and beat a car with an umbrella a few years back. Now that her father is in charge of her affairs and her image, this in some semblance of saneness does make a logical sense (using a social media ghost writer) if you are trying to control every aspect of a persona that’s been manufactured (and not have a Lindsay Lohan MySpace situation).

There are some cases in social media that expecting to speak to “the person”, pr having a conversation with “the person” is generally accepted as “not going to happen”. Take for example Barack Obama. Most people on Twitter or Facebook understand it isn’t exactly Barack Obama speaking to you, it’s someone he’s appointed from his campaign team to handle that interaction. Thus, in a sense, a ghost writer. There’s sort of an “unwritten rule of understanding” in these types of situations. It works in these types of situations because in the case of Barack Obama’s team, they were very focused on bringing back the feedback to Obama and his senior staff and have a conversation about it. That knowledge alone is enough for people to feel like they were having a conversation with a “team” that cared. It works because everyone is on the same page on the team and understands its about conversation, not about just “having a profile and adding friends”.

Just Because Your a Social Media Addict Doesn’t Mean You Understand The Social Sphere of Influence

The Spears job ad has a requirement of “you are addicted to social networks such as MySpace and Facebook. … You are a popular culture addict and passionate about the intersection of Silicon Valley and Hollywood.

Britney Spears Facebook PageThis job requirement makes me stop and think. Do these people even understand these social networks or social media outlets at all? Just because you are an “addict”, doesn’t mean you understand how the online social sphere works. With these record labels so closely manufacturing these images, you’d think they’d have a clue!

What If We Use a Ghost Writer, What’s the Worst That Can Happen?

Clients ask “does it have to be our CEO working our social media profile?” No, but it should be an experienced, seasoned company professional that knows your brand, marketing and the direction your company wants to go in that is representing you out on the social sphere. You should also be transparent. Don’t have someone running around on these social networks pretending to be your CEO, that just makes for really bad situations.

Clients ask “can we have a ghost writer for our CEO on the blog?” I strongly caution against this, for many the same reasons as not to have a CEO “ghost written” social media profile. If your ghost writer does not intimately know your CEO, how can they reflect their tone, idiosyncrasies, humor and inflections? What happens if your CEO is so out of touch, doesn’t read the blog he’s got someone ghost writing for him, and lands in an interview on the Today show and Matt Lauer asks him about a piece he wrote for the blog? Uh oh, big trouble.

But it gets worse with social media. If your “ghost writer” starts having conversations with customers or fans that you don’t know about, and then you come in contact with these fans at events and they mention these conversations and you have no clue what went on, its you with the egg on your face. But it doesn’t end there, word of mouth spreads, “do you believe he didn’t even remember our conversation we had on Facebook about xxxxx? What a farce, it probably wasn’t even him!” From there is just moves from person to person within these social networks and the trusting base you so meticulously grew with your ghost writer is gone because of one interaction gone wrong.

In some cases, ghost writing makes sense and its acceptable. Character blogs, like Robin Scorpio of General Hospital, are the ideal example of this, as is the Barack Obama situation. But in general I strongly caution against ghost writing anything on any social media platform. Every situation is different, however, not knowing or not controlling what’s going on with your social media profiles and just handing the “keys” over to a ghost writer is just asking for another WalMart fiasco to happen with your brand.