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.

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“. 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.

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

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? :)

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.

XMen Origins – Wolverine & 20th Century Fox Miss The Online Marketing Buzz

This past weekend the internet was buzzing. What were they buzzing about? The movie trailer for the new Wolverine movie coming out. It wasn’t on main stream news, where it was buzzing was on social networks, social news sites, video shares and forums as well as social communication channels like Twitter.

The trailer hit theaters as a lead in to the Keanu Reeves’ movie, a re-adaptation of “The Day The Earth Stood Still“. The first real big buzz coming Friday night. A smaller bit of buzz about the Wolverine movie came during Comic Con this year where they showed a slightly different trailer.

So how did 20th Century Fox stumble out of the gate on this one? There’s several ways, and as a marketer who’s well versed in online media, it just frustrated me to no end that these big movie houses still just do not get online marketing in any sense of the form.

What Happens When You Can’t Find The Website?

Let’s start with their website. Think you can find the official Wolverine website by typing in Wolverine Movie? How about Wolverine Movie Trailer? How about using it’s official movie title “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”? Nada – Zippo – Zilch. All through out the weekend I tried, today I took screen caps – no where in the top 10, take a look below (click the thumbnails to get a larger view).

Wolverine Movie Google Search   Wolverine Movie Trailer Google Search   X-Men Origins Wolverine Google Search

X-Men Origins Wolverine Official Site Google SearchTheir website is in flash, totally absolutely in flash with absolutely no content a search engine’s spider can read. The only thing it can read is the title tag for this site. Talk about being invisible to the search engines, and to the rabid Wolverine fans! It wasn’t until I typed in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine Official Site” did I get the movie site to come up in Google. Now tell me who the heck is going to type that in, other than me who was bound and determined to find the official site?

Video, Video, Video… It’s Where the People Are At

Now lets go to the subject of the trailer. Talk about needing to loosen control! 20th Century Fox definitely needs to loosen their death grip if they aren’t going to put their trailer out on their site the same day they release it in a movie theater. They also need to realize that when they don’t come up for “Wolverine Trailer” for their own site, they need to have it ranking else where, or someone else will. On Friday, Saturday and early Sunday there was still no Wolverine trailer on the official site, what in the world is wrong with their marketing team? Granted today when I went out to look the trailer is now there.

People were clamoring to see this trailer who didn’t want to go see this movie. Let me tell you, as a comic book gal, and a XMen fan from my childhood years, I was clamoring to see this trailer. I’ve been waiting like the rest of the XMen fans since the last movie to get more. We all scour the internet for clues, tidbits and the slightest bit of information we can glean to satisfy our need.

Thus why looking for this trailer became an obsessions with not just me, but others as well over the weekend. According to Groundswell, the author Charlene Li, points out that 29% of the people in social media are watching videos other people have made. Google was pulling down more trailers of Wolverine this weekend than you can imagine. But people were still searching for this trailer on YouTube and any other video share they could find.

Wolverine Trailer Search on YouTube

The Fans Take Action…. 20th Century Fox Misses Out

I did find it on another video share, I’m not going to say where, because I don’t want to see it taken down. I found another trailer from Comic Con too – and what’s amazing about that video, it captures people cheering during the trailer, talk about fandom! Cheering during a trailer – now that speaks volumes.

People were videoing the trailer from their phones while in the movie The Day The Earth Stood Still. They uploaded it to video shares and blogged about it. Why did they do this? 1) they love XMen, Wolverine in particular 2) they recognized that 20th Century Fox wasn’t filling their need or the need of others.

No where on YouTube is there an official Wolverine, 20th Century Fox, or Marvel Channel for the movie. What 20th Century Fox doesn’t realize is that there is real buzz going on about this movie. One look at Google Insights tells the story. Just over this weekend searches for Wolverine skyrocketed, several terms are break out terms with searches increasing over 1000% (I don’t get the big surge in Michigan though). None of these terms are pushing traffic towards the official XMen site either, and if you notice, none of these terms use the long arduous title that 20th Century Fox Does.

click images for a larger view
Google Insights - Wolverine - Trend and Map Data  Google Insights - Wolverine - Search Trend Data

So this leads to showing you the audience, a lesson in strategy in combining both SEO and Social Media strategies together when you are launching something big. When you understand online media, and aren’t having such a death grip on control of your brand, you can reap huge rewards. Unfortunately for 20th Century Fox, they are just making their fans of XMen and Wolverine not like them very much.

And btw the way, yes I did a fan girl squeal when I saw Gambit. 😉 ahhh Remmy LeBeau makes me weak!