What's going on around here?

Before you dig in and notice the scarcity of timely and fresh blog content, fear not, I'm very much aware of this fact. In recent years, I've had my energies focused on building a wonderful Chicago based business over at SIM Partners as its VP of Operations and Client Services. This has seen me take a step back from content production here on the site. But, I've decided to leave the blog up despite the obvious dust gathering, since some of the info does prove useful to folks who come by to read - like you.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Loving A Challenge: Facebook's New Graph Search

I love this industry I work in.  There I said it. Cheesy as it sounds, I could give the Local Search/Social Internet industry a bouquet of flowers this morning.  Facebook unveiled Graph Search yesterday, as you probably already heard.  The reason my heart swoons is because of the host of challenges faced by business owners based solely off of the mere implications of this new search tool. Cheesy and geeky all at once.

There are several implications to consider. But the one that makes my heart race immediately is discussed a bit in Danny Sullivan’s January15th article where he describes the gap between good search results and Facebook users’ actual habits of revealing every little opinion (like) and detail about themselves.

The basic premise is this. A search for “which Irish pubs on Chicago’s North Shore do people who live in Highland Park like” is dependent on not only Highland Park users (my friends and their friends) taking the time to “like” Irish pubs on Facebook (lord knows, I don’t take the time myself), but also on North Shore Irish pubs actually being on Facebook in the first place – let alone having done anything to encourage likes to their page as well. And if you're a large national brand with locations scattered across the country... whoa, what a challenge!

The Graph Search search results landscape will undoubtedly have holes; holes that will only be filled by a steady dose of habit building on the part of end users "liking," and businesses getting on Facebook to attract those likes.  And the success of Facebook’s new gizmo depends on those habits forming. Where local search is concerned, Facebook's Graph Search's success and SMB's ability to leverage the space are fused at the hip.

I love you, Local/Social Search industry.  You always keep me on my toes. J

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Social Search+ & Your Panic Button

Big changes are sweeping across Google. As you may have noticed, they recently rolled out Search Plus Your World, which has turned the industry on its ear. The issue? Google appears to have abandoned the very premise that built their empire, opting to discard “relevance” in favor of showing “social-personal” results.

Why? It’s Google’s latest push to win back the eyeballs that Facebook has so successfully stolen over the last several years. The search giant is now doing everything in its power to make Google+ the only social platform we will ever need.

As a result, search results are turning inside out, and you may be wondering what on earth this means to your business being found online anymore. You would be right to panic a little bit. Things are that dramatic. But you can still avoid running around like a chicken with its head cut off. First things first, take care of the most important stuff now.

Complacency = Bad Move

As a business owner, this is the sort of shift in the search marketplace that will not be best served by waiting to see how it all plays out. Given that it takes minimal effort, you would be wise to create a Google+ Place listing right away. If this requires your finally giving in and joining Google+, so be it. Google’s recent changes leave you little other option now. Google now favors their own properties in search results, so they now represent critical opportunities for your business. You can't afford to put it off any more.

And if you haven’t noticed, that Twitter account and Facebook page you built for your business is now far less likely to be found at the top of Google results. Yes, for the moment Google has made sure of that – all the more reason for you to get your Google+ listing in order.

As you go through the exercise of building things out on Google+, take some time to tend to your Google Places listing as well – the one you see showing up on Google’s map results. It will be a good idea to make sure that the business information across all platforms (Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc..) is consistent. That can only help you with those elements of the Google algorithm that still factor core business information into results. You might also want to link to your new G+ listing from your own website, and other pages online. This will help connect the dots as well.

While building G+ circles and developing a G+ content strategy to grow your audience are also sure to be critical “to do’s” going forward, for now try not to let all of that overwhelm you. Take care of your need to exist in the Google social landscape in the first place. It’s that important to Google, so it sure needs to be that important to you.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

1 Things Needed For Social Media Business Success

Lists are huge in social media. But there are way too many. With so little time and attention to give, I thought some "one item long" lists might be handy.

Only have time to learn the one thing you need to rocket your business to the top via social media? Here it is:

1. Passionate Interest

That's it. Whether CEO or corporate tweet writing flunky, if you can approach social media with the wide-open-eyed excitement of a child, you will have what it takes to see your marketing plans through to success. It will provide the foundation to carry you through all of the other necessary steps required to get it right.

Why? Easy - Social media doesn't want to help you make more money for your company. Social media doesn't want to help you drive up the number of people on your email list. Social media doesn't want to pass out coupons for you lunch special. Because of this, the path to business success in social media is going to be a lot like predicting the weather. You're very unlikely to get it exactly right, and there's every opportunity to get it very wrong. With business pursuits, social media becomes a world of chaos; a fractal landscape where the finish line is always scurrying away. There is no silver bullet, so stop looking for one. You are going to need a willingness to persevere.

With a passionate interest, these facts should intrigue and excite you. With a fascination, you will be lucky not to pin 100% of your business hopes on driving instant profitability in social media. You'll care, but you won't care enough to stop trying after failing a few times. You'll care, but you won't care enough to stop when some slice on a pie chart isn't big enough. You'll care, but you won't forget that what you are attempting to do with social media is almost humorously antithetical to social media itself.

Your passion will drive you on until you find that one spark your business needs to ride the infinitely thin line between social interaction and flat out pandering for a buck. That passion will drive you to pay serious attention to goals, budgets and resources while always keeping an eye on authenticity and the bigger picture.

Can you use social media as a business tool without passionate interest? You sure can. It's happening every day and probably to varying degrees of success. But know that most of the businesses that now call social media a failure probably didn't have the self-aware understanding of what they were trying to do. In this sphere, business success comes from the ability to embrace social media rather than tame it. Remember that social media doesn't exist for your business. It exists for you and your friends.

So, quick gut check time. Are you passionately interested in social media's ever-evolving opportunity and human-techno interaction-ness? Are you ready to use that to fuel some dice rolls with a smile on your face?

If you're going to land the perfect jump in social media, you're going to need to fall off the ramp several times and smile as you go back up to the top to try again. A truly passionate interest will serve you like a really good pair of knee pads and a tightly fitted helmet. You're gonna need them.

Friday, March 18, 2011

4 Ways To Build Your Brand In Social Media

As more brands clamor for the attention of users across the social media landscape it becomes increasingly difficult for any one of them to capture the eye of their intended audience. Every day the din of products and companies is growing in the social universe. They flash across our field of vision competing for the precious scant time we are willing to afford them.

If you are going to mount a campaign to capture the attention of your audience in an effort to nurture raving fans who can wave your flag as brand mavens, you had better exercise as many options as possible to get people to connect to your content.

Your best bet will be to spend a little quality time researching your audience as it relates to your particular industry. Understanding the relationship between what you do and who you do it for will help you devise the most effective type of social media campaign.

In broad strokes, there are essentially four different ways you can leverage social media in an effort to win the attention of your audience. Understanding the various ways your brand can make use of these avenues will aid you in keeping the content flowing over time.

Consider these as you develop exactly how you will use social media to your advantage:

1. As Communication: The use of online channels such as You Tube, Facebook, Twitter, blogs and forums to build and maintain a communication platform between you and your audience. If you have a lot of content to share on a regular basis, getting it out in as many venues as possible will be instrumental to success.

2. As Collaboration: Drawing people together to interact with each other and your brand. Contests, suggestions, giveaways and polls are just a few different ways to inspire your audience to interact and help generate content around your brand.

3. As Education: Product presentations, demonstrations and how-to's can be welcome forms of content specific to many different business types. All of these serve to educate customers about your brand. This extends to the sharing of your company values, news items and related industry information that your audience may find useful.

4. As Entertainment: Never be boring. Engage your audience by posting content that is interesting, and relevant to the connection they have to your offerings. Don't be afraid to take calculated risks -- sometimes poking silly fun at yourself can trigger a windfall of viral activity.

Building a captive audience in social media is no small task, but taking advantage of these four inroads to content development can help you keep the buzz growing.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sobering Light For Social Media & Small Business

Trends are now showing that the honeymoon phase of social media appears to be waning. I, for one, am delighted. The effort to demystify the dreamy potential locked within social media’s nucleus is occasionally met with deaf ears when attempting to help businesses strategically step into the social space. And now as statistics point out many small business owners are coming to terms with the fact that social media might not be quite the shiny object as once imagined, perhaps they can get down to the business of successfully using social media at all.

In the recent fourth installment of the Network Solutions Small Business Success Index study, we learn how the down-turned economy is having a predictable effect on the health of small business. Highlighted in a summary of the study’s data by Susan Wade, are trends showing a more sober view of social media among business owners. Don’t confuse this sober view with a sudden realization that social media isn’t really "all that." Far from the case, it actually seems that while fewer businesses are diving into the social media pool, those that have jumped in are finding a good deal of value. And with fewer small businesses feeling able to tackle social media at all, it is leaving the field more open for those taking the chance.

This spells good things for those willing to make the effort. As businesses learn the ropes they are tightening the job description they assign to social media and allowing it to succeed within more realistic expectation on tasks and on time.

From the study:

65 percent [of businesses surveyed] say they’ve successfully used social media to stay engaged with current customers, up from 46 percent in December.

64 percent have developed a greater awareness of their company compared to 52 percent last year... They’re also more optimistic about the prognosis for the next 12 months. More than half (57 percent) predict they’ll make a profit from their efforts during that time.

These might look like modest indicators of grand success, but when one considers at this time that many more businesses fly into social media blindly than do so with a solid strategic plan, that numbers continue to trend up is a good sign overall. Seeing social media aid in customer interaction and receive a more realistic evaluation period (12 months) to bring about a profitable return is about the best news this digital darling could hope to see documented.

Another set of statistics worth calling out:

43 percent feel [social media] takes up more of their time to manage than they expected. And 29 percent say it opens up another can of worms, giving people a chance to criticize the company in a public forum.

These are probably the most obvious "necessary evils" related to social media overall. Yet, these will also likely lead to a continued thinning of the pack in the race for customer’s attention and loyalty within the social media universe.

If there is any advice to take out of this study it is that small businesses still owe it to themselves to venture into social media wisely, and with a solid and measurable plan. The realistic upsides can improve a business’s position and keep them in front of customers as technology continues to mature.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Being Twitter Safe

A common and useful tactic with Twitter technology is streamlining the process of getting tweets out into the social sphere. Hooking your twitter stream to RSS feeds, pulling it into a blog via API, auto publishing it to a myriad of your other social media accounts in other platforms – all of these help us get the most bang for the tweeting buck by amplifying the broadcast range of our conversation without costing more effort and time.

While there is every incentive to take advantage of these broadcast tools, be mindful that the advantage taken may go both ways. There are some serious dangers associated with opening your twitter account to third parties, as discussed in a recent Search Engine Watch article by Gary-adam Shannon, “Twitter Exploit Warning: How Anyone Can Easily Snatch Your Direct Messages.”

The article takes a pretty deep technical dive, but the point is clear: Currently there is no limitation to the level of access being granted (often unknowingly) to a third party app when you hand over your user name and password. In particular, you should be aware that when you hit that big “Allow” button, you are granting access all the way down to your Direct Messages – the Twitter equivalent of your personal email box.

How To Protect Yourself?

The safest bet, as recommended by Kristine Schachinger in her article, “Twitter: Take Better Care of Our Private Information!” is to simply delete your Direct Messages regularly so no one can reach them. It isn’t a perfect solution, but until Twitter improves our ability to protect our private content it’s about the only way one can straddle the line between taking advantage of technology and being taken advantage of at the same time. Tread carefully.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

SMS Marketing & Business Owner Adoption

I’ve been digging deeply into the world of mobile marketing lately. Well documented now, this is one of the fastest emerging marketing channels in the realm of digital advertising today. Text, or Short Message Service marketing (SMS Marketing as it is commonly known) represents an extremely low cost and intimate means of reaching customers with highly targeted offers and ads.

A mobile marketing audience is all opt-in, meaning you don’t send messages to people who have not first indicated that they actually want to receive your marketing texts. Think of telling people who walk into your restaurant that by texting “burgers” to 555555 they could join your exclusive “text only” burger club list and receive weekly text coupons featuring your gourmet burger creations. When your patrons send in the text to that number, they are added to your burger club list. They are giving you permission to send them texts about something they are interested in. These people are self-pre-qualified and eager to hear from you.

When executed strategically, text marketing can turn upwards of a 20% conversion rate to your desired action (sale, reservation, appointment, etc...). Clearly when technology can put you directly in the pocket of your most valued customer base, the results stand to be excellent. But I’m less worried about the technology than I am about something else.

Having lived through the rise of local search engine marketing, heading sales for one of the pioneering companies in that space, I can’t help thinking about the adoption rate of the audience that needs to embrace the technology – businesses themselves.

Back in 2003-’04, it made all the sense in the world for small and medium sized businesses to utilize targeted local search marketing, yet getting that point across to the business owners who should do the marketing was as big a challenge as any related to the technology actually taking off. Are we in for the same uphill battle with SMS marketing?

We’ve talked about business adoption issues before. Optimistically, we can hope that times have changed. Small and medium sized business owners are more technically savvy now, right? They won’t be scared off of a marketing medium that seems to be more part of the world in which their kids live than themselves, will they? Could it take more than simply stating a few compelling facts about the technology – facts that are instantly making professional Internet markers’ mouths water now – to give business owners all they need to dive right in?

Optimism didn’t take us very far with small and medium sized business owners trying to understand local search marketing. In fact, even to this day these “proven” marketing channels often catch business owners off guard.

So, SMS marketing technology is here. Is the mass adoption of the audience still two to three years off? Will we have an easier time creating and successfully delivering the buy-in message this time around? I look forward to finding out.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Future Of Businesses Socializing Online

If it's good enough for all of us, shouldn't it be good enough for businesses too? The explosion of social networking--the connecting, reconnecting, and sharing of our daily thoughts--has quickly incorporated itself into the fabric of our lives. For those doing it, many might say they feel all the better for it. How long until businesses take on this passion for connecting?

Forget about advertising for a second. Doesn't it make sense that businesses should be pining for the chance to congregate online in highly (hyper) local communities to share, learn and benefit from each other's experience? If you were a brand new accountant getting started in St. Louis, wouldn't it be great to find a St. Louis accountants group online to join? If this group was moderated with guidance and insight into all things “St. Louis accountants,” it could be an instant networking tool where information and experience was shared among peers for the sake of helping the community.

We seem to be close, but it isn't quite here yet. Just as nearly every business sector eventually found itself with a local online directory in which to list business information over the last five years, it must only be a matter of time before businesses are given the opportunity to band together--not so much in spaces to do business advertising, but more in places to do business socializing. I'm picturing a 24/7 online version of an annual three-day national accountants convention, but without the hotel bills or bar tabs. There could be one for every business industry in every major metro area.

As is often the case, technology might leap into motion a few years before the small- and medium-sized business audience is ready to adopt it. But maybe that won't be such an issue anymore? Maybe that's the only unclear part of the not too distant future. That businesses should come to find places to socialize and learn together at the local level online seems a crystal clear outcome as we peer into the future's crystal ball.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Did The Small Business Website Really Die?

Going back at least a couple of years now, folks began speculating that the traditional small-to-medium size business website was going to be extinct any day now. The logic was sound: with so many up and coming platforms and directories doing a better and better job of showcasing business information, who would need to waste their time building a website that often couldn't even approach the value that these sometimes free directories could provide?

I talked directly about the importance of businesses making use of these sorts of directories and services in the "Got Business? Get Listed" article, and I will always maintain that a business must find as many outlets for its own web presence as it possibly can. But does this mean the actual business website is useless? Absolutely not.

Potential patrons of any business take it for granted that a business will have its own website on the Internet. It has become much like having a business card. However, unless you have endlessly deep pockets, the days of building a grand and lavish website for a small business are indeed long gone. A business must now be smart enough not to waste money carelessly when building a site.

The key today involves making sure that the website you feel obligated to build provides the very best value for three key parties: your prospects, your budget, and your ability to be found online in the search engines.

Essentially, you have to make sure each of these critical parties gets what they want out of your website. Take care to create content across diverse forms of media, and provide your visitors the ability to engage with you in the manner they desire. Depending on your business type this could mean anything from a video library to a blog, or simply allowing visitors to view and download a pricelist or menu.

Internet users have come to assume a company website represents a critical feature in any business' web presence garden. Make sure you tend to yours appropriately.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Reputation Management Basics

Regardless of how aggressively you might be trying to launch yourself or your company into the realm of social media, and even if you are more comfortable hiding in the anonymous shadows of the Internet, everyone should give some attention to managing their online reputation.

What does this actually mean? Well, think about first impressions. Sometimes, before you've even had an opportunity to define yourself to a new acquaintance, someone is talking about you beforehand (are your ears burning?). It's important to understand that we all have a mutual acquaintance who is constantly blathering on about us to anyone who will listen. It's our good friend Google.

Do a vanity search in Google on your own name. You might want to put it in quotes, or add the city you live/work in to help Google weed out all the other people with your (or your company's) name who aren't you. How do the page one results look? Is Google telling an accurate story about you? Are the web pages that Google lists presenting you in the best possible light?

If you have never done this sort of search before, you may be in for a shock. Google is going to do an awfully good job of finding every scrap of content associated to the phrase you searched. Are you finding "the real you" showing up at the top of the results? Perhaps you're seeing some links to comments you placed on a message board five years ago. Or maybe you are seeing a slightly inaccurate version of you, or perhaps someone who isn't you at all but leaves that distinction a bit hard to discern. Whatever you find, this is the first impression you are leaving when anyone (a prospective employer, client, business partner, etc..) does a little digging on you.

Let's assume that the results you see leave some room for improvement on Google's first page of results. What can you do? And what if there is something that you really wish would go away? How can you get rid of it?

Well, you aren't going to have much luck removing a webpage result from Google's algorithm unless you can reach out to the party responsible for that page and get them to take it down. More likely, your best bet will be to create as many opportunities for Google to see the real you, so the not so "real" stuff sinks from view.

Here's what you can do. Begin by creating accurate profiles about you and/or your company on social sites that Google trusts. Once you have created these, Google will likely start presenting them as its top results for searches about you.

Here is a short list of places where you should absolutely tell your story, and Google loves each of them:

Facebook – Seriously. Regardless of your opinion on the Facebook fad, if you don't have an account there you may as well create one if for no other reason than to give Google something accurate to place as the number one result for a you-specific search. Google's algorithm likes Facebook profiles that much. And you don't have to start "friending" anyone. Just create your profile and make sure your settings allow the search engines to find your page. You'll easily figure this out in your account settings.

You might also want to create a Facebook Fan Page – Google loves these too, and while you might typically think they are intended for businesses, plenty of people have fan pages. They rank very well. You can make one for yourself and it will show up right along with your own profile.

Got a blog? Get it listed in Facebook's NetworkedBlogs directory. That Facebook page can rank too.

LinkedIn – Don't have a Facebook account? Chances are then that your LinkedIn profile is showing up as Google's top result. Don't have a LinkedIn profile? Stop reading this and go get that taken care of right away. This goes for your company as well. Make sure you have built a company profile in LinkedIn and that every employee of the company (all should be in LinkedIn too) is correctly connected to that profile.

Your Website – If you have a site and can make use of its "About Us" section make sure you have an accurate and robust page about you. Google might not hold your webpage in as high esteem as it does Facebook and LinkedIn (which is why you need to leverage those platforms), but your website is a logical place to feature correct information about yourself.

Google Profile – Google allows you to create a profile connected to your Google account. This is handy on a number of levels, not the least of which is that your Google profile will tend to always be placed as the bottommost entry on the first page of search results in those you-specific searches.

There are lots of sites online where you can publish profile content about yourself. To varying degrees these profile pages will also tend to rank well for you in Google. Do a little digging and you're sure to find enough outposts for your personal/professional content that Google will soon be delivering the version of your story that you'd like it to tell. You never know who's out there asking the search engines what they know about you.

Photo by Fraser Johnson
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