Corporate Social Media – making an honest company of you

Social Media makes an honest organisation of you. If your company screws up, someone somewhere will be saying it and most people will believe that rather than the propaganda driven corporate web pages. People warm to companies who can say “yep we made a mistake, we’re sorry, particularly if you are saying it from within the same social networking communities as your customers.

All social interaction is essentially about being open and honest. After all, these were the principles that my parents and grandparents instilled in me and ever was the case.

But it is difficult for companies to behave like individuals and social media is also a poor moniker for what we have here; it is just new media – Web 2.1 (or some such). From a corporate perspective you are trying to talk with people you don’t know, while you are not there. It hardly passes for polite conversation. It is difficult to offer a firm hand shake and then pass round the Battenberg. What started as way to underpin social relationships has been invaded by a load of corporations saying “I’ll be your friend . Let me send you endless spam all about me and regale you with tales of how great I am “. It’s not going to work is it? The interaction has to be two-way, personal and on the customer’s terms – which means putting the customer first, defending your mistakes and creating a lot of feel-good factor rather than sales leads.

Right now everything is in transition. Corporate websites are a series of walled gardens each protecting its own content. It is difficult to abandon this practice since it is an extension of the way things have always been done. The Social Media landscape assumes an open parkland where the content is used freely by any and all, no matter who created it in the first place. There is a sea-change in culture required. Being closed and protective is the behavior of someone with something to hide and the ebb and flow of social media simply by-passes these sites. Increasingly this will become more so. Initiatives such as Michael Chisari’s Appleseed project which has been picked up by the World Wide Web Consortium under the title of The Future of Social Networking  will technically bypass corporate walled gardens making them rather barren places on the web compared to the parkland content everyone else will be working with.

To be seen, heard and able to influence in this new landscape means completely knocking the walls down. It is difficult to simply dabble in social media, you have to make a commitment to it and take a large cultural jump. 

Users are currently a lot further ahead of business in this regard. Inevitably  businesses will follow the users and equally certainly it will keep them honest.

Social Notworking (2009 a [My]Space Odyssey)

You know how sometimes you’re out walking the dog when a bunch of alien interlopers abducts you. Before you know it, you’re warped off to the planet Q’Zog in the Fourth Quadrant, your brains picked clean en route, only to have other vile experiments visited upon your person on arrival.

Yeah I know, it happens all the time. So what’s new? Well this week, during one of these otherworldly episodes, my alien hosts subjected me to experiments based on research into web-based social media patterns on Earth. It turns out that a few millennia back they went through the same thing themselves and were interested to see if we were making a mess of it all yet.

Eventually, I cracked under pressure and told them about spontaneous uptake, web 2.0, multi-channel integration, SEO benefits, corporate blogging, Mobile blah, micro blah, digital blah and so on. They rubbed their chins, nodded sagely and did that thing with the sides of their mouths that universally means “If only they’d bothered to ask us, we’d have told them how to avoid getting everything wrong”.

So I did ask them. “Where did social media go wrong for you guys?” Quickly followed by “…and do you mind if I pick your brains for a change ask your advice”. It seemed to do the trick. The big alien, the one who usually does all the cross-species sexual experimentation (but that’s another story) picked up his MacBook Core DecaQuadro, running OSMXM Sabretooth and fired it up. He pressed a few keys and Hey Presto! They launched and clicked onto the category entitled ‘Social Notworking’.

And they talked me through the tale of woe that once passed for social media on Q’Zog.

Once upon a time the ordinary aliens of QZog found it fun to keep in touch and cement friendships through social media sites. A load of them sprang up – TrouserBook (they use a different body-part for speech and visual recognition), Twaddle (like us, there are lots of them with nothing important to say and they like to say it a lot), Flockr (they like pictures of sheep) and so on. Eventually people thought they could make money out of these sites with PPC and other propositions. In time, corporates started to notice that they were being cut out of the loop. No one was going to their websites to find out about their products. The alien masses were asking each other and liberating their buying habits. So the corporates moved in to try and find a place in this great new SpaceBook. And for a while all was well on QZog. But it didn’t stay that way.

The first problem was all about money; isn’t it always? Social networking, it seems, was just too difficult to monetize. 
Strangely, back on Earth, this dynamic is now beginning to show its face also. Google has begun to make less than optimistic noises about it. Google Chief Financial Officer George Reyes has said. “We have found that social-networking inventory is not monetizing as well as expected”. Which is Earth-speak for “Oh Shit”.

My alien hosts went on to talk about too many players flooding the market. Particularly white labeled channels (i.e. a site full of pre made functions which can be branded so that people can create their own versions of e.g. Facebook). The more this happens, the more dispersed and fractured the user base becomes. And sure enough, free, open source and plentiful white label options have also made it to earth

It was noticeable that my extraterran hosts were pretty ticked off with corporate intervention in social media. Over commercialization was clearly a killer in the Fourth Quadrant. What started out as a one to many tool, became a corporation to consumer tool and all the people got fed up with being sold at and went somewhere else. I thought about this for a while. Surely as social communities form, Earth’s marketers would not dream of piling in, taking over and crapping all over the experience. Would we?

There was a problem as well with inaccurate member data on sites. This is less important to socialization so users didn’t care. Additionally, identity fraud in the fourth quadrant led to users purposely loading inaccurate data. From a commercial perspective, this began to create problems; CRM is only as good as the data validity. All that effort aimed at the wrong people! Strangely, on earth this seems to be happening. Some say as many as 33% of users load duff info into their profile.

Another issue over in the Fourth Quadrant was the difficulty in measuring the effectiveness of these social media strategies. As with earthly hosting, if you want to deploy a campaign via a social network, you can’t access the host’s server data and logs by automatic right. You can manually monitor the interaction on the site, or measure click through, but it is almost akin to redeploying slate and chalk as a core technology.

Data privacy also started to unravel the network. You may think that this could not happen on Earth, what with all the regulatory concern and cautionary tales. But then again,Facebook had already been caught tracking and releasing user habits back to developers and others involved in advertising initiatives. And what if your average Joe Alien wants to leave. Well have you noticed that no matter how often you opt out or don’t opt in, the level of spam keeps going up? You have to think that the data options are being somehow abused. Surely not on Earth? Well think again, it’s a bit like a religious cult. Once you’re in, they don’t let you leave. These are the very things that eventually dissuaded Q’Zogians from joining social media sites and led to their abandonment followed by collapse of the network platforms.

Here’s a new phrase for all of us on Earth: “Social Network Fatigue”. It started on QZog with people getting fed up with maintaining multiple spaces on multiple platforms. It further manifested itself with people just falling out of love with the whole thing because, like nostalgia, it just wasn’t what it used to be. It might not sound like we have that problem down here, but on closer inspection, there are people writing PhD theses about it.

The QZogians also started to experience a slow-down in the use of social media platforms. It peaked over a few years and then declined. Perhaps because of the tedium of the operation, or something else happened, but it stopped being the next best greatest thing.  And, you guessed it …Earth is seeing the same pattern.

The Q’Zogian saga continued to get played to me out like a Greek tragedy. Networks had inconsistent performance, companies got fed up with employees cyber-sciving, so they started locking social media sites outside firewalls. The sites variously suffered: scaling issues; user overload leading to downtime; hacking and scandal. The social media moguls largely fiddled with their Geek-Up PowerPoint presentations while their empires burned.

“So”, I asked. “If you had your time again, how would you make sure that this didn’t happen?”

“Easy” they answered “We could have kept it all together, increased the marketing value to business, re-enfranchised the users and made a packet on the way.  We’ll drop by next week, pick you up and tell you how you get this entire social media gig right.”

“Oh and by the way…” they said as they dropped me back by my still walking dog, “…  Has anyone talked to HP about their pay-per-post digital camera social media campaign on YouTube. It really sucks”

RSS as an SEO Strategy

RSS and SEO panel at SES Chicago will be about how to syndicate web content – news, updates, tips etc – to increase search visibility

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BtoB Marketers finally beginning to find ways to monetize feeds and measure results

RSS could be relevant to BtoB marketers – more relevant to their audiences than other feeds might be for consumers. BtoB marketers could send product updates and announcements, staffing changes-all without inundating their customers and prospects and with 100% guaranteed delivery.

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RSS adoption – Forrester study

Forrester Research relased a new study on the adoption of RSS and says it is peaking at 11 percent. Steve Rubel of Edelman says this mean RSS is not going mainstream anytime soon. Strange – now that all browsers read RSS and RSS is the underlying backbone of all online content syndication, I thought it already was mainstream.

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What’s the difference between PRESSfeed and a blog?

Blogs have exploded on the Internet in the past two years. What started out as a personal journal online has evolved into a sophisticated marketing tool. But an online newsroom is just as important. News content in an RSS feed can give you many of the benefits of blogging without the constraints.

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Chatting with someone who never reads blogs

Blogs for businessI had the pleasure of having some friends over this weekend – it was great to see them, as it seems so long since we hosted at home following the arrival of our first born aka “he who shall be obeyed”! :)

After dinner, I was chatting with one of my friends and we touched on something that I wanted to share with you because it’s just so relevant to what we are doing.

He kindly asked how my “blogging business” was going and I replied that at the moment there seemed to be a growing interest in both social media and blogging which meant that things looked positive for the coming year. He was very pleased for me but he went on to tell me that the while he knew of my interest in blogging, he had never actually read a blog himself. “Bollocks,” I thought. I said that I’d be surprised if he hadn’t, as I knew he was someone who liked to keep up to date with the news in general and the financial news in particular.

So I asked him if he read the Business section of the BBC news website. “Everyday”, he replied. “I particularly like Peston’s Picks – it’s the best bit of the whole site.” (That’s written by the BBC’s Business editor, Robert Peston).

“Yep, one of my favourites too”, I replied. “What do you like about it?”

“Well, he always seems to have written it that day so it’s got the latest news – exactly what I’m looking for – and you know that he’s got the inside track on the stories because of his reputation from the TV. I also like that fact you can also leave your own opinion at the end of the article and, to honest, some of those are really interesting too.”

Well, if those all sound to you like key characteristics of a blog then you’d be spot on and indeed Peston’s Picks is one of the most read blogs on the BBC site, particularly in the current economic climate, for exactly the reason my friend cited. But the fact is that although there are references to it being a blog, it just comes across as the place on the site where you can read what Robert writes. The fact that the technology he uses happens to be called a blog is frankly immaterial – it’s just the name we currently give to it.

So, in fact my friend is an avid reader of a blog (and no doubt others) without even knowing it. Perhaps he’s also exactly the sort of person that we should be seeking out and listening to as we start blogs for our own businesses. Rather than focusing on creating a widely read “blog”, I believe that he reminds us that instead we should be looking to write widely read articles or to engage in conversations or create connections with people we want to associate with. The fact that we do so through something called a blog happens to be because it’s the perfect tool for the job.

So when we plan our blogs, let’s put ourselves in the place of my friend and look at what matters to him – that’s all about content, authenticity, discussion and relevance. And it’s very little about the technology that we choose to use to supply him with those things.

Tags: Business Blogging, Social Media, Robert, Peston

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Business Blogs, Social Media and Welcome Mats

One of my favourite analogies when I talk about social media and online marketing is the concept of spreading “welcome mats” around the internet. The more individually made mats that you make and strategically place, the more chance you have of being found in an increasingly competitive online market … and of course the better the chance of developing those all important contacts and relationships.

What’s a Welcome Mat?

So, what do I mean by “welcome mats”? Well, for me, they come in many different shapes and forms but are essentially places on the web where you invite people back to your website or blog by introducing yourself (through something you have written yourself or via someone else’s reference or recommendation) and making contact with them. Essentially a “doorway” back to your site indicated by a “welcome mat”.

Still not clear? Well, let me give some of the forms that they can take. Some of the principal ones that come to mind are:

  • Website pages which appear as Search Engines results
  • Blog posts (individual, categories etc.) in Search Engines and Blog Search Engines & Directories
  • Social/Business Networking Profiles pages and the posts or comments you leave on these sites
  • Bookmarked articles on Social bookmarking and Crowd Sourcing sites
  • Links coming from other websites or blogs
  • Blog comments you leave where the “name” will link back to your blog
  • YouTube profiles linking your videos back to your site
  • Reference to your post from a Twitter message (either your own or someone else’s)
  • AdWords (PPC) Adverts
  • Directory entries
  • Articles posted with a link in the signature file
  • Forum / Bulletin Board signatures

In each of these cases, you are effectively creating a Welcome Mat – something which provides information about you and your business, and then extends both an invitation and the means to find out more about you, via a link back to your site.

So, how will people find me?

As people use the internet for research, social interaction, fun, information gathering or whatever they individually want, they “cross the internet” in a variety of different ways – just how they go about it, is totally out of our control. In fact, it’s likely to change each time and so the ‘route’ that they take will be different too.

They might use a search engine and then follow links in a directory they find, or head straight for the blogosphere and check Technorati. More and more, they may use a tool like Twitter to ask others’ opinions or they might start off with some Press Releases via Yahoo News. Whichever they choose, our goal as online marketers is to make sure that we appear in as many relevant places as possible to increase our chances of being part of their search – creating multiple and specific Welcome Mats allows us to do this.

Our mission – should we choose to accept it! – is to make sure that we give ourselves the best chance possible to place a welcome mat in their path and make it attractive and relevant enough for them to follow and read our information. No small task!

Where do blogs fit in?

The trouble is that creating Welcome Mats is all well and good but the internet is vast and there are a lot of people vying for attention – so you have to take the time to make them relevant and to make them stand out. They have to demonstrate why they should spend time on your site rather than someone else’s. Blogs have two key roles to play in this scenario.

In the first instance, they are a great way to create welcome mats. For example, each time that I write a post which I hope will first and foremost be of interest to people who read my blog, I also know that it will also automatically:

  • create 5 or 6 new pages (individual post, home page, archive page, 2 category pages) – 5 potential Welcome Mats on the main Search Engines;
  • ping 35 blog search engines, directories and RSS directories – let’s say at least 10 Welcome Mats;
  • if it is well written, it may be fortunate in having 5 people reference it in addition from their blogs – giving another 5 Welcome Mats;
  • add to Feedburner’s Headline Animator which I use when I post on Business Networking sites which displays links to my RSS feed – on average another 5 Welcome Mats;
  • perhaps referenced, tweeted or dugg on relevant social media sites if the post is something that people believe is worth sharing.

So, by posting on my blog and focusing purely on my key aim of writing something which will prove useful and interesting, it is also likely that I will automatically create over 25 new Welcome Mats. That for me is a bonus rather than the primary reason that I write … but is also an additional reason to encourage businesses I work with to get their own business blog.

In the second instance, blogs are also a great place to refer people back to – so not only do they fulfil the role of information creator and distributor, they are also a great place for all of these welcome mats to lead back to, rather than a static website. This is particularly true when it comes to social media and the interactive nature of the blog acts as a central focus for the other tools such as video, microblogging or social bookmarking. There is no better place for someone to get to know you (and decide whether they want to do business with you) than on your blog – so let it reflect the information and values you wish to communicate.

So, go for it!

It’s no longer the case (if it ever really did work this way) that you can simply put up a “roadblock” and divert people automatically to your website. This smacks of so called “interruption marketing” and as such gets short shrift from the net savvy users that we have become today. Today, we have to use our powers of attraction and our networks instead to help to deliver our message and information to the people interested in it.

The ‘Welcome Mats’ of today need to be much more based upon four of the principles of social media – creating, sharing, participating, involving – than on the advertising bias of a few years ago. These also offer many more opportunities. So take the time to look at your own and see whether you are creating attractive invitations that people are going to want to follow and share with others – if you find that you’re not, then I’d suggest that now’s the time to start.

Tags: Business Blogs, Social Media, PPC, Pay Per Click, Emarketing, Internet Marketing, Mat Making Machine, Search Engines

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Why negative comments are positive

An area where companies often voice their concerns as we discuss setting up their own blog is that of negative feedback. They worry that people will use the comments section of their blog to express their dissatisfaction with the company and their products or services. They’re also keen to understand how best to deal with them.

From a personal point of view, I totally understand this concern. As a rule, we dislike negative comments being made about us – that’s just natural – and companies and company bloggers are no different. There’s an instinctive reaction when we receive anything other than glowing praise for something we’ve written: for the individual blogger, there’s personal pride at stake; for businesses, there’s the concern that it will reflect badly on their organisation and alienate customers or prospects who see it.

So, for some, the gut reaction is to suppress it … moderate it out … pretend it never happened. Better still, don’t allow anyone to comment! That will also take away the guilt factor of knowing that the comment was made but that you haven’t approved it!

Why this really isn’t an option

The trouble is that this is the digital equivalent of sticking your head in the sand or perhaps jabbing your fingers in your ears and shouting “La la la” very loudly. Conjures up a faintly ridiculous image? Well, in social media terms, it’s equally ridiculous, I’m afraid. Why? Because the person who wanted to complain on your blog will still do so, they will just go elsewhere … generally somewhere where you won’t have the chance to respond and engage with them.

So what’s the alternative? Well, instead, give people the chance to raise the issue on your blog – let them vent their frustration. And, in the process, you’ll be giving yourself the chance to answer their concerns.

For me, there are three key reasons why I’d want to do that and they’re nothing to do with blogging and everything to do with business:

  • Firstly, it costs much more, both in terms of time and money, to find new clients than it does to keep your current ones.
  • Secondly, customers with negative experiences are more likely to tell people about them than customers with positive experiences. However, customers who have had a negative experience which has been solved tend to be the most vocal;
  • Thirdly, it costs more to fix a problem than to prevent it in the first place.

By responding and resolving their issues, we have the chance not only to keep them as a customer but possibly turn them into an advocate for your company again. In any case, by openly allowing the criticisms and answering them, you are more likely to gain respect in the eyes of other readers than lose it.

Feedback has other benefits

You may also be receiving valuable feedback which could help improve an aspect of your company’s activities and fix a problem which already exists. Without this feedback, you could remain blissfully unaware of an issue which is costing you clients who have decided not to complain but rather “vote with their feet” and look for another supplier.

Certainly you need to make sure that the comments comply with any guidelines that you have in place – and in a corporate blog, they should exist – but those should cover areas such as abusive or racist language rather than constructive criticism. So rather than suppressing negative comments, you should encourage comments and feedback of all types. While it might sometimes seem a painful process in the short-term, the long-term benefits will prove far more valuable.

Tags: Blog comments, Customer Feedback, Business Development, Customer Service

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Blogs are not for SEO

SEO in business blogs for rankingIt really is a total waste of effort setting up a business blog if your sole intention is to use it to enhance your Search Engine rankings. If you do, then you’re not just missing out on the important benefits that blogs offer, you’re also missing the point of blogs altogether. Oh, and in the process, you’ll also be jeopardising the success of your own, right from the word “Go”.

“But I thought a business blog would help my Search Engine rankings!”, I hear you cry. “Absolutely”, I reply, “it will. Enormously so!”

The thing is, that’s not the point.

Running a blog will give you the chance to do so much more, whether you are looking to use it to initiate dialogue with your readers, build trust and foster new connections with customers and prospects, carry out market research or customer service, or indeed any of 101 different business uses that blogs can be put to.

And that’s where your focus, effort and attention should be directed – your readers – not simply on helping your SEO efforts!

However, if you do spend the time to keep the content of your blog focused on what your target audience wants then, believe me, the much lauded “Google Juice” will flow naturally because of what you write and the way that you write and structure it. However, it will do so as an automatic by-product rather than the sole aim.

The same values hold good in all areas of social media – concentrate on the people you are talking to and what you are talking about and you’ll go far. Social networking sites, for example, are called that rather than Google Ranking sites for a reason. If Google is your main reason for being there then the networking activity will ultimately die, killing your presence on the site along with it.

I might add that if you use these tools to do nothing more than sell, then you’re also missing the point and once again you’ll find that this comes back to bite you. Using social media to employ the same “old school” marketing tactics that we, as consumers, are rejecting en masse shows a lack of understanding in my book … not only of the medium but of people.

Anyway, enough ranting about this – back to my main point. Business blogs are great in providing enhanced Search Engine opportunities but try not to focus on this to the exclusion of everything else or you risk losing everything. Focus instead on your readers and I guarantee that your SEO desires and requirements will follow.

Tags: SEO Blogs, Blog Marketing, Business blogs, Corporate Blogging, Search Engines, SEO, Search Engine Optimisation

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