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How To Develop Great Content – SESNY

Mar 25, 2010   //   by Erik Olson   //   Blog, Corporate Blogging, Industry News, Mashable News, Online Marketing  //  No Comments

At Online Marketing Blog, content marketing is frequently a hot topic.  And with good reason:  it’s a vital skill for marketers. Not only do we at TopRank Online Marketing see great results implementing content marketing for clients, but the industry as a whole sees it as a clear trend.  Consider the following stats:

  • 6 in 10 marketers plan to spend more on content marketing in 2010.
  • 71% of bloggers who maintain blogs for a business – their own or one they work for – report that they have increased their visibility within their industries through their blogs (as just one example of content marketing in action).
  • Content marketing plays an integral role in many of the top digital marketing tactics marketers implemented in 2009.

In this fast-paced panel, 3 content marketers each shared some quick tips, trends and strategies for content marketing.

Byron White, Chief Idea Officer, ideaLaunch

Byron ran through an overview of 10 tips to follow when fleshing out a content marketing plan:

1.  Develop a content marketing plan many digital marketers just dive in without any type of plan.  This is always a mistake, before going any further, you need to get organized and understand next steps

2.  Use free and paid research tools to research terms – there are a slew of both free and paid research tools which can help you define keywords necessary to create a keyword glossary.  Use tools in conjunction with your own creativity to create an inclusive list of terms.

3.  Find the hot topics and keywords – by understanding the industry and leveraging tools, you can discover hot/trending topics and keywords to be a part of your mix in addition to the mainstay terms.

4.  Develop customer profiles for testing/research the competition – building customer profiles and competitive research allows you to draw upon a knowledge base when creating content to both stand out from competitors and connect with your audience.

5.  Develop an SEO plan with “keyword silos” – made up of long tail and short tail keywords – in addition to building a keyword list, group it into like terms in order for your content team to leverage it in an effective manner during content creation.

6.  Score content for SEO strength – either via an automated tool or manually, score existing content for SEO strength in order to gauge what to optimize first.

7.  Infuse your brand with great content – on the web, your content is your brand (and your brand is your content).

8.  Create stories – people connect with stories more than just product pages and lists of features.  Tell stories and connect with prospects at a much deeper level.

9.  Define great content – know what great content looks like before you develop it.  You can’t create something remarkable unless you have a vision in mind.

10.  Document content publishing date – this is a frequently forgotten, but important tip.  Only by documenting new content publishing date can you track/trend success of that content over time.

Of course, metrics are key – track interaction and engagement with content.  Get to a point you understand how your content, whether a blog post or a product page, is converting and working for your brand.

Heather Lloyd-Martin, CEO, SuccessWorks

Heather spoke on developing great content in the B2C and B2B space.

Why care about content?  The best SEO is good content, according to Seth Godin.  If you want people to convert, link to you or even visit your site you need quality content.

Main advantage of good content?  Control.  Great content allows you to gain control of your site.

Tip # 1:  Think about your target audience

Start by creating a customer persona.  The questions you need to answer to do this include:

  • Who is your target audience?  (hint: it’s not everyone)
  • Do you have multiple audiences?
  • How old is your typical buyer/reader?
  • What education level do they have?
  • What are their average levels of income?
  • What benefits are important?

Tip #2: Expand your keyphrase universe

Look for opportunities to build out new, unique content.  Reach both hit and long tail phrases, and create content that speaks to a broad mix of terms.  One way to do this is build out a resource section to answer both broad and ultra-specific, detailed questions.

Tip #3:  Free your content from “fake SEO rules”

“Party like its 1999…but don’t optimize your site that way.”  I.E. – there’s no need to follow a specific keyword density to rank.  Instead focus on quality first, keywords second.

General SEO content rules:

  • Keyphrases in headlines/subheadlines
  • Keyphrases in hyperlinks
  • Keyphrases throughout the content (but not forcing it)
  • Keyphrase-rich title
  • Focus around 2-3 keyphrases per page

Tip #4:  Help your titles sizzle off the surface of SERPs

  • When you’re on a SERP, there are 10 results and users need to pick one.
  • Try to keep your titles to around 70 characters
  • Include your main keyphrases
  • Clearly explain what the landing page is about
  • Include benefit statements (such as “free”) whenever possible

Tip #5 There is always something you can do

Beware the “website mullet.”  Check for outdated copy.  Some of the worst offenders can be press pages, conference/events pages, old articles, etc.  Where possible, update copy or add additional content if you have older areas of a website gathering cobwebs.

Also, if you want to build out a new section of the site to make your content friendlier but can’t change the template:  start a blog or create a new section of the site.  Don’t let technical issues get in your way.

Jonathan Allen, Director, Search Engine Watch

Jonathan spoke on the idea of using other people’s websites/social sites to gain rankings and an audience.  The theme  was on mash-ups – aka remixes of content.

Define your goal – is the goal of this content to persuade or sell people to take action or is it more long-term, to develop links to improve your search engine rankings/brand awareness. 

Develop personas – I.E. connectors, those hyper-connected individuals who will help your content spread.  By reaching them, you achieve the highest propensity for your content to spread.

Create content – it must be relevant and must be compelling.

Connect – once content starts to spread, connect with others and encourage them to share so it spreads further.

Rinse and repeat – when you find a formula that works, continue to leverage that to create additional content. 

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10 Steps to Optimize Your Content Marketing Strategy

Mar 24, 2010   //   by Erik Olson   //   Blog, Corporate Blogging, Industry News, Mashable News, Online Marketing  //  No Comments

SES New York kicked off with an excellent keynote presentation by David Meerman Scott (interview) followed by a panel on Digital Asset Optimization including Mark Knowles, Chris Boggs and myself. Richard Zwicky moderated.

The rising importance of optimizing one’s digital assets came out of Google and other search engines’ decision to start including information and file types from other sources that their main search index. Some queries trigger search results that go beyond web pages, MS Office docs and PDF files to include images, blog posts, news, video thumbnails, books and others.

While many SEOs were responding to the changed landscape of the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) and optimizing for other file types, many others were already optimizing holistically under the premise of, “What can be searched on can be optimized“.

Most companies are not wired to create the variety of content that can achieve top visibility on search engines. In most cases, search engine optimization efforts are focused on content and digital assets that are currently in place.  Being able to get more marketing impact out of existing content is as much a driver of digital asset optimization as it is a part of a holistic strategy that matches up with the opportunities presented by an ever changing search results page.

In the DAO session I presented a historical perspective on DAO based on when we started writing about it in 2007 and the changed search landscape we face with personal, real-time, social and mobile search. I also discussed TopRank’s 10 Steps DAO Content Strategy:

Search & Social Media Keyword Research

Anticipating demand via search is traditionally handled by keyword research tools such Google’s tools, Bing or services like Wordtracker and Keyword Discovery.

As advertising and media placements can drive search, so can social conversations. Social media monitoring tools can help marketers conduct social keyword research as a compliment to search based keyword research.

Find out what key language and key topics are being discussed on the social web and you’ll have invaluable insight into content idea that provide value for social media marketing and search engine optimization.

Analyze Search Results Landscape

The output of Universal and real-time search results are not persistent. For example, a search for a particular phrase one day might yield news and image results and on another day display only web pages.

It’s useful to monitor the search results landscape for keyword phrases that you’re after. Understanding the mix of data sources besides the main search engine index can help with the allocation of optimization resources.

If News and real-time results are most common, it may make more sense to focus on content promotion there vs images or video.

Define Buyer Personas & Buying Cycle

Understanding the needs of your customer is marketing 101. Search marketers are becoming more sophisticated in their understanding of customer profiles and developing personas to represent who you’re trying to attract via search is an important step in a content strategy.

Knowing what kind of content and what type of digital asset your customers will best respond to can improve effectivness at driving traffic from the search visibilyt you’ve achieved through SEO.

The buying cycle is another dimension that warrants attention to make sure you’re creating, promoting and optimizing content that is relevant to where your customers are in their search/research process. Broad concepts usually represent early stages of research versus more specific phrases which often indicate a buyer is closer to purchase.

Inventory Existing Content & Assets

With a more holistic SEO effort, especially one that will incorporate digital assets, it’s important to have a baseline understanding of what you have to work with. Taking inventory of your content and digital assets is something we’ve been recommending for over 3 years and it’s an essential first step.

Having an understanding of current content and digital assets can also uncover content that is ripe for re-purposing. A common example is video that can be deconstructed into multiple, short form videos, single images, transcribed into text or splitting the audio off into a podcast.

Develop editorial plan for new content

Understanding your search and social media keywords, buyer personas and the assets you have to work with will help identify what new content you’ll need to create.

Adopting the perspective of a publisher, not just a marketer, will help resource allocation, planning and goals/measurement for content creation.

For example, rather than just sending out a press release and publishing a blog post with a new product announcement, a company might, based on search/social keyword research and an understanding of their buyer personas, decide to create a resource page for journalists that includes links to relevant resources, standard press release, images, PowerPoint, video, past media coverage, executive interviews, audio snippets, demo and appropriate media relations contact info. It would be made easy to bookmark or share this resource page as well.

The assets being linked to from the resource page would be hosted either on the corporate site, optimized of course, or hosted on 3rd party media sharing sites such as Flicrk, YouTube, SlideShare, DocStoc, PRWeb and others.

This provides a richer experience as well as numerous options for interaction. It also offers multiple, potential entry points into the resource page via search, since the optimized digital assets can rank in search results on their own and link to the destination content on the corporate web site.

Map Keywords to Content & Digital Assets

The functional process of implementing search/social keyword research is to map those concepts to the content and assets you have. This helps manage the initial keyword optimization process.

Mapping keywords to the editorial plan is also a useful guide for the future creation and optimization of content. Not only are web pages, images, video and other assets optimized for search, but optimized for customers.

Operationalize Content & Digital Media Creation with SEO

SEO and digital asset optimization are not one-time events. Keyword demand will change and of course, new content and media will be published. To ensure keyword optimization of new content, it’s important to incorporate SEO with established content creation and promotion processes.

That might be updating the corporate styleguide with SEO and keyword usage rules or it might mean making programming changes to the web site’s content management system to prompt content creators with keyword cues when adding text or other media.

Develop Off Page DAO Assets

The beauty of social content is of course, that it’s social! Sharing should be easy and encouraged. Hosting some digital assets on social media sharing sites such as those mentioned above (Flickr, YouTube, Slideshare, DocStoc) can introduce your optimized content to new audiences and attract both traffic and links. More relevant links mean better search engine visibility and web site visitors.

Promote/Syndicate via Distribution Channels

How will anyone know you have excellent content and digital assets if you don’t promote? Dedicate a fixed and persistent effort to developing social networks where your customers and influentials spend their time on the social web. Do the same with social media sharing web sites so that when you post a new video on YouTube for example, your network there can be notified.

Developing distribution channels for content will significantly improve reach and the likelihood of your content being passed on, shared and made socially popular. Email newsletters, RSS, Ping.fm and TwitterFeed services are good examples of content distribution services that help promote content efficiently.

Ongoing Measurement with Web, Social and Search Analytics

Search marketing professionals are well aware of the value from web and search analytics that measure search visibility performance as well as web site interactions and conversions. The importance of social media monitoring and analytics is also essential for a DAO Content strategy.

On the front end, social media monitoring tools can help you identify conversations and influentials that are meaningful to the topics and customers your marketing efforts are trying to reach. Social keyword research can in part, be accomplished by some social media monitoring tools. Those same tools are essential for measuring the social impact of your digital asset and social media optimization efforts.

A simple cycle would be one where you’ve identified new keyword topics beginning to buzz on the social web and taking that cue to create content. Promote that content through your social networks and use social media monitoring to track the effects of your content contributions to the larger conversation on the topic. Use web analytics to measure any increase in search based traffic based on the growing popularity and awareness of the topic based in part, on your contributions and social interactions.

With an Optimized Content Strategy, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that by following these 10 steps, a significant impact can be achieved in overall authority for the topics and keyword concepts focused on as well as the ability to attract new business, media coverage and employees.

The bad news is that it’s not easy. Making the commitment to serving customers with content and media on an ongoing basis, indefinitely without the initial ability to forecast ROI will make many companies say, “Great idea and it makes sense, but not for us.”

However, those companies that make the effort to really understand and implement these fundamental concepts are making an investment with a payoff that is very long term and with momentum, very signifcant. Some companies will be able to “come out of nowhere” and dominate their category by following these 10 guidelines for an optimized content marketing strategy.

Live blogging coverage of the Digital Asset Optimization session at SES New York was provided by:

And this article on Holistic SEO with Digital Asset Optimization was recently posted on ClickZ

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5 Tips To Optimize Press Releases For Search From PRWeb – SESNY

Mar 24, 2010   //   by Erik Olson   //   Blog, Corporate Blogging, Industry News, Mashable News, Online Marketing  //  No Comments

TopRank Online Marketing has been working with PRWeb providing SEO consulting services for nearly one year. PRWeb was founded in 1997 to help small businesses and communications professionals leverage the web to share their news directly with the public. As part of this process PRWeb lead the way for the “direct-to-consumer” press release, enabling companies to communicate their news directly to customers, prospects, analysts and the media.

During the past decade, PRWeb has reshaped the traditional press release and changed how companies large and small distribute news. Innovations of PRWeb over the years include:

  • Search engine optimization (SEO) for press releases to increase the visibility of news in search engines like Google and Yahoo!
  • Social bookmarking tools like trackbacks and bookmark links to take advantage of the explosion in social networking
  • Really Simple Syndication (RSS) to increase the distribution potential of news and built the industry’s largest RSS network
  • Allowing customers to include podcasts along with their news to increase the impact of their news release
  • The “Feature Video” allowing customers to leverage the video content from popular sites like YouTube to bring their news to life

Meg Walker, Director of Online Marketing for PRWeb lead a session discussing how to optimize press releases to gain the strongest visibility in both search engines and media.

1.  Meet audience demand

Prior to drafting a release, you need to understand what your audience is demanding.  Meeting audience demand is integral to accomplishing your press release visibility objectives.

There are many times you don’t realize there may be a hook in to reach your target, and understanding audience demand allows you to tap into it.

The steps to meet audience demand include:

Knowing your audience – what is it potential prospects and media are interested in?  In what tone should they be spoken to?  Do they appreciate a certain angle over another?  Understanding is key and should drive the strategy behind the release.

Be relevant – more than just understanding your audience, give them content that is both relevant and timely.  By doing this, you’ll create the highest propensity your news gets picked up, shared and passed on.

Satisfy customer demand – to know what the demand is, first research popular trends in search engines and stay on the pulse of your industry.  By creating content that is related to hot topics you can create far more visibility for your releases.  Staying up to date, informed and on the pulse of your customers is vital to connect with them through press releases.

2.  Stay focused

By keeping your keywords and topics focused, your release can rank better in search engines and resonate more with media.  As you are writing releases, remember you are writing about one topic per release.  By segmenting the message or trying to say too much at once, you dilute your key points and take a risk prospects and media will walk away without taking next steps or remembering the point.  Keep it simple, focused and impactful.

3.  Use images for search

Images can increase the click through rate on releases in both regular and news search by 15 – 25%.  It’s a simple step, but can’t be stressed enough.    Additionally, using images creates more traction in media – journalists and bloggers both love images as it helps them tell their story.

At PRWeb, we have seen releases that used 3 images generate more than 50 articles.  We also find that many people are discovering images via image search, which then draws them back not only to the release, but to the customer web sites.  Because PRWeb hosts press releases forever, your images can continue to receive both organic and image search traffic indefinitely.

4.  Use videos to engage visitors

By using video in news releases, we have seen up to a 500% increase in time on pages.  As the web shifts to a rich media experience, bloggers, media and end users are becoming more accustomed to video.  In the future, it may be common that video is included with releases.  But since today it is not as frequently used, it’s a chance to make your news stand out.

5.  Optimize your release

Anchor text links – use 3

  • One to homepage – direct visitors directly to your company website.
  • One to product page – send media and consumers directly to the product they are reading about.
  • One to blog post – this presents an opportunity to speak to readers in a less formal fashion.  With social web users and digital influencers continually expecting social content, a press release presents a great opportunity to spark interest in your social content.

Alt-tag – an alt tag helps your images get discovered in search engines – all release images should be tagged appropriately.

URL Keyword – top keywords can be used as part of the URL string, so be sure and include those during the release selection process.  PRWeb allows you to customize this.

Description Tag – add a keyword rich and compelling description tag (on PRWeb, that will become the meta tag).

Title of release – the title of the release will become the title tag of the page, which is a vital element of your on-page optimization.  If you have a target phrase, ensure your phrase leads the title of release. 

You can learn more about PRWeb at their website or follow them on Twitter.

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How to Become a Link Magnet – SES NY 2010

Mar 23, 2010   //   by Erik Olson   //   Blog, Corporate Blogging, Industry News, Mashable News, Online Marketing  //  No Comments

Links are the lifeblood of the web. Without fresh links, your website has no authority in the engines or consistent referral traffic.

Some companies and individuals appear to attract links without really trying. Others struggle and never break through to the point of building links at increasing velocity.

We’ve shared plenty of linkbuilding tactics at Online Marketing Blog, and it’s an ongoing popular topic for search marketers. In addition to direct and mechanical tactics, becoming a link magnet in your own right is an indirect yet powerful strategy to attract organic links.

The rise of the social web has set the idea of personal branding on fire. By developing a brand for yourself, your company and even the individuals within it, you can build an army of advocates ready to link to everything you post.

How can you develop your personal brand so that you only have to publish that sticky idea and links occur as a byproduct?

During SES New York 2010, Greg Jarboe, President & Co-Founder of SEO PR, moderated a notable group of linkerati:

  • Rand Fishkin, CEO, SEOmoz.org
  • Jennifer Slegg, CEO, JenSense.com
  • Aaron Kahlow, Chairman & Founder, Online Marketing Summit

Jennifer Slegg, CEO, JenSense.com


Jen started things off by talking about the building blocks to creating a personal brand with the goal of link magnetism:

First, ask yourself, “What an I doing it for?”

  • Rankings
  • Clients
  • Job opportunities
  • Stardust
  • Recognition

Figure out why you want to be a link magnet before anything else.

Next, consider your name.

Personal name

  • Is your name fairly unique? If not, you may have a difficult time building a personal brand.
  • Are there others with similar names? If so, there is the potential for confusion, and you’ll want to consider developing a handle.
  • Is the domain name available? This is vital for your blog, and you’ll want your domain name to be your personal brand if possible.
  • If you use a handle, does it narrow your focus too much? I.E., if your name was “content queen,” you may limit your appeal.

Company name

  • This is potentially problematic in that you and the company brand are forever merged. This can create potential company marketing conflicts in the future.
  • Consider using a spin on a company name (i.e., GoogleGuy or Company CEO).
  • Remember company name and your name will always be tied together. What if the company gets sold?

Setting the groundwork

Whatever name you go with, register it everywhere. Then, set up your blog on your site – everyone who wants to develop a personal brand needs a blog. Create a unique design/logo and ensure it is just as brandable as the name you use.

Define your personality

People link to personalities as much as quality information. What do you want to be?

Helpful – Great way to start if participating in forums is key to your branding. If you show knowledge, people will follow and then link to you.

Informative/expert – The most important thing is, you need to know your stuff. If you don’t consider yourself expert quality, start researching and learning now. You’ll get called out if you post bad info. Try these ideas:

  • Guest blogs
  • Speak/participate in events (offline/online)
  • Answer questions via Twitter

Controversial – Take the opposite stance on any popular industry topic. If everyone is singing praise about a company, look at the negative. If a company makes a move that everyone loves or hates, take the unpopular view and run with it. But tread carefully – you could develop a reputation for being “anti” or “pro” on a topic.

Being a jerk – This is very difficult to pull off, but those who are successful can be extremely popular. This gets you noticed, but you live with the rep. It could prevent you from being an authority. So if that’s your goal, this route may not be the way to go.

The key point to remember is the entire world is a stage – everything you say or do will help or hurt your brand.

Rand Fishkin, CEO, SEOmoz.org


Rand started his presentation with the notion that link magnets are the new paradigm of link acquisition.

How is a link magnet different than linkbait?

Linkbait = Content that’s built to attract links (but not necessarily reward their creation).

Link magnets emotionally or physically reward the linker, creating an incentive.

Why is this so powerful? Overall, the web has become jaded. Previously, we used to get plenty of legitimate blog posts/links due to great content. Now this has shifted. With a great post, we’ll get tons of Facebook status updates, Tweets, etc.

There was a golden era of linkbait where people loved and supported great content. Now we’re too sensitive; “The fish have figured out that there is a hook attached to our content.” This suspicion has created difficulties in attracting linkbait.

But people still link when it benefits them. Savvy marketers are rewarding linkers in non-financial ways.

For example, Yelp created a digital badge version of “People Love Us on Yelp” that restaurants could use on their websites. This made the most relevant pages on the web link back to the Yelp site.

There is the notion that great content earns links. According to Rand, this is a myth. You could post the absolute best piece of content on a subject on the web, and people will not link to it just because it’s good. It’s like saying, “The best ideas in politics are supported by the voters.” Instead, it’s branding and marketing to sell a concept that has an impact on where content goes.

The new bait is an emotional and obvious hook. Linking to content should do something for the people linking to it. Play to a linker’s psychology:

  • Self-fulfillment
  • Satisfaction
  • Efficiency
  • Effectiveness

One of the most beautiful things about the concept of link magnetism is that much of the time, especially when it’s embeddable, you have control of targeted links and anchor text.

You need a strategy for promotion & spreading of links. You need to create a distribution mechanism and a way to attract people, or it will never work.

Examples of great link magnetism:

Vimeo – When you click the “share” button on a video, it creates the overlay box to copy-paste the code and share it. By embedding the video, Vimeo also gains three links.

OKCupid – They create trends all the time using their data to help market the site. Their blog is frequently an example of both linkbait and a link magnet. By sharing the information on the blog, users are rewarded by sharing something interesting.

Techmeme – When they launched the learderboard, more than 30 of the top 100 bloggers linked to them.

Simply Hired – They publish the data/stats/salaries behind jobs. It is both interesting and useful data that frequently acts as a magnet for media.

Aaron Kahlow, Founder, Online Marketing Summit


Aaron decided to be interactive and not give a presentation. He gave just a few tips before turning over the panel to an audience Q&A.

Content – If you don’t have great content, there’s no reason anyone should link to you.

Personas/branding – If you don’t have a personality or aren’t comfortable with yours, you’ll never form the affinity necessary to gain links.

Social – Every time you create something, ask yourself if your colleagues/constituents would share.

Friends – Make sure you build relationships with those who are link magnets.

Suggestions:

1. Decide who your target market is, and then address them appropriately. For example, you can’t “geek out” and get technical if your audience is not.

2. Make sharing simple and easy. For example, if your audience is active on Twitter, leverage the Tweetmeme button on your blog.

3. When you find things you like, say something about it and link to it as opposed to always linking to the source.

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SESNY Keynote Interview: David Meerman Scott

Mar 22, 2010   //   by Erik Olson   //   Blog, Corporate Blogging, Industry News, Mashable News, Online Marketing, Social Media  //  No Comments

David Meerman Scott is a best-selling author and popular keynote speaker on the topics of viral and online marketing as well as the convergence of web marketing, digital media and online PR. One of his most popular books, The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to use news releases, blogs, viral marketing and online media to reach buyers directly, was a real eye opener for a lot of companies trying to make sense of where blogs, press releases and search marketing fit together.

The second edition of The New Rules has recently been published and David will be keynoting the upcoming Search Engine Strategies conference in New York. I caught up with him just before SES and did a phone interview to get more insight into the new book, his insights into the emerging social media world including Twitter, Foursquare, Blogging and Content Marketing. I also asked him to share some practical advice for time management and staying current.

The first edition of The New Rules of Marketing & PR was a real groundbreaking book for many marketers, bringing together web marketing and public relations strategies & tactics together. What’s new about the second edition?

First of all Lee, you were among the very first people in the world to to read the book and identify that it had something interesting to say and help talk it up. I appreciate that. There were a handful of people really early on in June 2007 who discovered the book, picked it up, read it and said wow, there’s something going on here.

The first edition came out June 2007 but I wrote it throughout 2006. If you remember in 2006, Twitter didn’t exist. Facebook was only for students, you had to have a .edu email address. Second Life was really being hyped. After the book was published for a few years, I’ve been getting emails nearly every day from people asking if I’d heard of a cool new service called Twitter that’s not in the book.

I had to update services and take a hard look at each of the examples in the book. I kicked out about 15 of them and added 25 – 30 new examples, so the new book grew a little bit in the number of pages. The examples are really interesting and really current. One of the challenges of writing a book is when you submit a manuscript, the book doesn’t come out for 6 months. Now, I wish I’d written about Foursquare, since that’s not in this new edition.

What is one of the biggest myths you’re seeing perpetuated about marketing on the web? About social media?

It’s not what I’d call a myth, but what I hear a lot are people who mistake these ideas that we’ve been talking about for 3-4 years with just being about Twitter and Facebook. People say, I’m doing this Online Marketing thing, I’m on Twitter. Or the opposite, they’ll say, “What are you talking about? This isn’t a form of marketing, it’s just a toy. who cares what you had for lunch today.” I see this everywhere, all over the world as I go on the speaking circuit.

People confuse the broad ideas that we’ve been talking about, on how to reach people on the web in all of its forms with the “latest fad”. One of the fads out ther eis the phrase, “social media”. We didn’t use that untill recently. That fadish sort of phrase does a disservice to us getting the word out about the big picture of what you can do on the web. I continue to call it the new rules of marketing and PR. It’s just allowing us to create and publish content and get it out there. There’s lots of ways to do that. The labels and attempts to box it in can be limiting.

Let’s try some word association. I’ll mention a word or phrase and you tell me what comes to mind.

“Foursquare”: Newest hottest thing, I’m obsessed. Really interesting, fascinating. Foursquare was huge at SXSW.

“Twitter”: Twitter. Twitter. I think Twitter is with us for the long haul. I think Twitter is a real and valuable form of communication.

“Content Marketing”: People don’t know what the word “content” means. I wrote a book in 2005: Cashing in with Content. That book is just as well written and groundbreaking as The New Rules of Marketing and PR. But it suffers from a horrendous title. Because nobody associates content with marketing despite many people trying to make that association, including me. I am trying not to use phrase “content marketing” because many people don’t know what “conten”t means. I often use “information”. I learned my lesson. I wrote a really good book on the topic but no one has ever heard of and followed it up with an international best seller in 24 languages and the major difference was use of “content” in the first book.

“Blogs”: A lot of people are saying blogs are dead. I don’t beleive that in the least. I think it’s the best way for people that are passionate about a subject to share that passion with the world. Have you heard some of this “Blogs are dead stuff?”

Lee: Yeah, I think of it this way. If you haven’t had the opportunity to learn how to use a tool in a way that results in positive outcomes, you can either decide to quit and call it dead or you can figure it out. I say that from a position of feeling very satisfied with our own blogging effort.

Recently I had the opportunity to interview Tom Peters, who said his best marketing is his blog. For many of us it’s huge. I interviewed Seth Godin as well and I’d guess that he would say a blog is a big part of his success as well. If you don’t do a very good job, it’s easy to dismiss. Many people are doing quite well. Social media and blogging is not an issue of either or. They work together.

“Viral Marketing”: I love the concept of viral marketing. The idea of people spreading ideas for you. There’s nothing better than people talking you up.

“Social Media Expert”: Ha ha. Snake Oil Salesmen. There are plenty of people that are very skilled at different aspects of social media. And provide value in education and some execution. I just have to think there’s other people out there who really are just jumping on the latest bandwagon and don’t really have the skills that companies are looking for and may be doing a disservice to their clients. Some of these people, were the same person in the 1970’s who opened a video center then a tanning salon in the 80’s then in 90’s web sites and then the late 90’s offered email and SEO and now doing social media. It feels like whatever the hot topic is, there’s experts coming out of the woodwork claiming themselves as experts. Don’t get me wrong, there are many talented people out there, it can be hard to tell who’s real. It can be hard for companies to tell because the don’t have the skills to see the difference.

Please share a few tips on how companies can decide where to start on the social web:

I think the best thing is to start where you’re comfortable. Decide what media you’re most comfortable with. Not everyone can write for example, so a blog might not be a good idea for them. Maybe photos or video is a better match or if you’re analytical, create charts & graphics that help people visualize critical concepts.

Forget about your own company and products. No one cares. Try to understand the people you’re trying to reach: the buyer persona. What problems can you solve for them? Then create content that helps them.

People coming into online marketing from an advertising agency or PR firm or even direct marketing all bring a different bias.

You’re like the energizer bunny, doing an amazing amount of work. What insights do you have for companies or individuals at companies on managing time and being efficient with social participation?

First, I would like to tell everybody: You have permission to say no. You have permission not to respond. A lot of people treat social sites like email – there’s an expectation that when you get a message you have to respond. You can do your best to be responsive, but there’s only so much time. I have ablog, I do videos, Twitter and FourSquare. However, I’m not on LinkedIn, not on MySpace and I don’t do a podcast. You have to pick and choose.

We all have pockets of downtime. Maybe you can take 5 minuets every 3 hours or so and take a quick look in the morning. Then again maybe after lunch. When you’re feeling productive, and this is very true in my case, you can really crank it out. That’s when it’s a good time to shut off access to other distractions. Today’s a great example. I just spent 5 days at SXSW and I’m so tired. It’s a perfect day to have a conversation with you. I couldn’t do a blog post today. There’s a right time and place.

The social web is still new to many companies and as a result, opportunists who are at best, familiar users” of social apps, come across as “experts” without having actually implemented paid consulting for companies. The same has happened with web design and SEO. How much of a problem is this? Is it a problem at all?

There are a number of people that say because they have 10k followers they’re a Twitter expert. They actually do provide a lot of value because they can teach you to be a better user of the service. However, that’s very different than helping you to create a strategy in a company to grow a business.

How do you stay current and informed? Events, people, blogs/feeds, social tools, testing, magic 8 ball, secret handshake society?

The main thing is that I’m so lucky to speak around the world and give presentations. Of course when I do that I get to meet lots of people that share their stories. Some are of success and some are about wanting to do more. I use those as my way of staying current. I first heard of Foursquare at a conference. In early February I was speaking at an event in Amsterdam. Some people were talking about Layer and how cool it was. I started using it and blogged about it. If I hadn’t been at that conference in Amsterdam I wouldn’t have heard about Layer. It’s really about getting out there, talking to lots of different people, listening and asking questions.

I live in fear of being a gray haired consultant that people look at and say, he was really smart 10 years ago, but now he’s lost it.

What are your thoughts on the future of the social web in 2-3 years?

We’re experiencing a revolution akin to when the telephone was invented or when the television was invented. There’s a new and fantastic way that we’re communicating today. Literally 100s of millions of people are communicating in new ways and the numbers of people and companies using social media are all growing. Some tools might not be growing like Second Life, but overall it is. We’re in the middle of a revolution. It’s important for people to recognize that this stuff is really growing.

What question should I be asking you? (And the answer of course)

One of the things I pay very close attention to is what’s going on outside of North America.

New Rules of Marketing and PR is publishing in 24 languages: From Vietnamese to Turkish to Bulgarian. It’s proof these ideas are working all over the world. I’ve been fortunate to deliver presentations in over 20 countries in the last 2 years. There are so many companies doing interesting things worldwide. There are so many social networks that are popular that we don’t know about. It’s a global phenomenon.

That’s fantastic, thank you for your time.

You can get more information about the various books written by David Meerman Scott here along with his blog. You can also see David presenting a keynote presentation at the upcoming Search Engine Strategies New York conference. For readers that are attending SES, I also invite you to attend the Digital Asset Optimization panel right after David’s keynote. Hope to see you there.

For even more of David’s insights, watch this video interview we shot at a past Minneapolis St. Paul Social Media Breakfast.

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Google: The Social Media Company

Mar 19, 2010   //   by Erik Olson   //   Blog, Corporate Blogging, Industry News, Mashable News, Online Marketing, Social Media, Twitter  //  No Comments

Over the last few years, the popularity of social channels – for professionals, teens, grandmas and everyone in between – has skyrocketed. Consider the recent numbers:

  • Twitter experienced an annual growth in 2009 of 1,382%
  • Facebook now boasts 400 million active users
  • Every minute, 20 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube

Between blog posts, Facebook status updates, tweets, videos and every other piece of social content published, there’s a whole lot of information floating around out there.

Enter the latest social media player, Google.

Google’s latest activities, acquisitions and features all point to the fact that the search giant no longer has a close eye on web 2.0; it’s already there.

Here are 5 ways Google is now becoming a dominant social media player:

1. Google Social Search

Google Social Search results

Until now all of the social content in channels like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, hasn’t been easy to find in a central place – including through Google search.  Until now, that is.

That’s where Google Social Search comes in. It’s still in the experimental stages, but this new feature combines users’ social connections with organic searches. For example, if you were to search for “New Zealand,” social search results would appear beneath the organic search results. The tool scans your social connections’ content (based on the social accounts included in your Google profile) to create these results.

2. Google Buzz

Google Buzz

These days, it seems the social world is abuzz with talk of Google Buzz. This new product is built into Gmail and essentially turns users’ inboxes into social networks. A mobile version of Google Buzz is also available.

Here’s how it works: Google Buzz leverages current email contacts and connects you with their social profiles. Through Gmail, you can share status updates and photos, and start conversations, all through from your email.

What does this mean for your brand? You may want to consider adding Gmail to your social media marketing mix.

3. Twitter and Facebook Feeds in Search Results

Imagine the tweets highlighting your latest blog post or a new product launch getting found in organic searches. These days, that’s a reality.

At the end of February, Google happily announced on Twitter that public status updates from Facebook fan pages would now be included in real-time search. Facebook joins a long list of other social content appearing in search results including:

  • Twitter tweets
  • FriendFeed updates
  • Google Buzz posts
  • MySpace updates

Twitter and Facebook marketing efforts, then, take on new importance and new meaning. It’s now essential that all social content be optimized just as other online content is optimized.

4. Google’s Social Acquisitions

Still not convinced that Google’s sights are set on social? Just check out the list of its acquisitions over the last nine years, and count the social platforms.

In terms of sites owned by Google, the search giant has the gamut covered:

5. Google Wave

Google Wave

Google Wave

Essentially, Google Wave is 21st century email. The tool enables real-time communication and collaboration – i.e., share images, post videos, discuss ideas. Within Google Wave, you can create a message, invite other users to take part in the discussion, and add files, images, videos, you name it.

The coolest part about the tool is conversations are live, but you can rewind the wave at any time to see a previous comment.

It’s only available in limited preview right now, and you need an invitation from Google to join. Unfortunately, I’m not one of the lucky ones. Google, if you’re out there, can you hear me?

There’s no doubt about it: Google’s gone social. What’s up in the air is where it will go next. What do you think will be the next Google social media tools or applications?

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10 Reasons SES New York is a Must-Attend Marketing Conference

Mar 18, 2010   //   by Erik Olson   //   Blog, Corporate Blogging, Industry News, Mashable News, Online Marketing  //  No Comments

Let’s get it out of the way that Online Marketing Blog is a media sponsor for Search Engine Strategies conferences and also that I serve on the advisory board. In fact, the blog you’re reading right now was the very first blog to be recognized as a media sponsor by a major marketing industry conference. Specifically, Search Engine Strategies thanks to Matt McGowan.

As a long time speaker at SES New York in combination with our other involvement, you could say I have a pretty strong opinion of this event. Here are 10 reasons why I think SES New York is a “must attend” marketing conference:

1. Keynotes!

Starting the day with big picture content is a great way to get the synapse firing in your brain. Well, that and a few cups of coffee from the Starbucks inside the Hilton.  With David Meerman Scott – Author of the New Rules of Marketing & PR, Avinash Kaushik – Analytics Guru & Author from Google and Yusuf Mehdi SVP from Bing, you are sure to get riveting insight about the future of internet marketing and where companies should be focusing their efforts in the long term.

David Meerman Scott is an excellent speaker and the release of the second edition of his groundbreaking book is very timely as the intersection of Search, Social Media and PR converge.  The best internet marketing campaigns start and scale based on good insight from analytics and what better person to share the wisdom that Avinash Kaushik.  Bing has experienced the best growth it’s ever had in the past few months and the search marketing industry is starting to take it more seriously. Yusuf Mehdi is the man to tell the story of how Microsoft plans to continue that growth.

2.  Connect with the Industry

I’ve heard that over 5,000 online marketing professionals will be attending SES New York this year. That’s 5,000 people you have the potential to network with including industry peers, rock stars, potential candidates to hire, potential employers to be hired by, possible partners, investors, news media and of course, the coopetition. Take a look at the conference agenda and you’ll see an excellent mix of smart marketers from agencies and from major brands like New York Times, Autodesk, IBM and Facebook. Plus you might get to meet people like Mike Grehan, VP and Global Content Director for for Search Engine Watch, ClickZ and Search Engine Strategies.

3.  All the Knowledge You Can Absorb

There are over 70+ sessions over 3 days covering the gamut of internet marketing topics from the expected SEO and Social Media to Analytics, Conversion Optimization, Geeky technical sessions, Advertising, Real Time search and one of my favorites, the Business Track. The conference is also sandwiched with a day of hands on training before and after the conference for those that want more than just 12 minute snippets from each speaker. Whether you’re new to the field of internet marketing or whether you’re looking for more advanced tactics, there’s a session for just about everyone. And that’s not easy to do. Just ask Stewart Quealy, Marilyn Crafts or Jackie Ortez.

4. It’s New York!

As the CEO of an agency that pays for employees to attend conferences, you might think it a bit frivolous to suggest attending an event because it’s in New York, but the attraction of one of the world’s greatest cities brings a variety of people and a unique conference experience.  Why not get smarter in a city that can offer you an experience unmatched anywhere?  Whether you’re a fan of the Falafel stand outside the Hilton (be sure to go to the one with a long line) seeing shows on Broadway (Wicked was Excellent. Equus was ah, different) or the lights of Times Square, that’s a never ending supply of new things to see and do in the big apple. That attraction brings together a group of international conference attendees that is unlike events in other cities and well worth taking advantage of.

5. Conference Box Lunches

Maybe not! Whether you decide to go with the lunch offered by the conference or you decide to arrange meetings during lunch at one of the many, many restaurants in the area around the Hilton New York, networking over food is something I’ve found to be incredibly productive. Find a table near full of people, sit down and introduce yourself. Ask lots of questions, be a great listener and people will remember you more than if you try and “sell” everyone you meet.

Sure, you may network at bars and clubs during after-conference parties, but the music is often so loud you can’t hear what people are saying and let’s face it: When SEO’s get near a bar, distractions are plentiful. The focus isn’t going to be on business. Connect with people during the day and suggest coffee, lunch or dinner before going out. Then have fun (in moderation of course) with them in the evening.  It will likely be the best networking decision you make during the conference.

6. Create Content

Attending conferences can be one of the most productive content opportunities because there are so many ways to do it.  If a session is interesting, take notes – aka live blogging. If you meet someone smart and interesting, take notes. If you see something sensational at a networking party, no need to take notes on that. :) Logging what you learn as you hear it can help retention but it also becomes a source of content that you can use for blog posts, sharing with the team back in the office or with your clients.

Content doesn’t need to be limited to text either. If you meet a smart industry expert, ask if they mind doing a short video interview. You’re in New York after all, take advantage of the city backdrop (sans the car horn and siren noise) to shoot a series of videos with people you respect in the industry.  Those videos can be de-constructed into a variety of content types for digital asset optimization and other SEO tactics. Photos are also useful not only for company blog posts but for use as stock photos long after SESNY has ended. In fact, the photo of Grand Central Station above was taken while I was in New York for a SES conference last year.

7. Live Consulting

On day 3 of SES NY there is a track called “Clinics”, which could also be called, “Free Consulting for My Business”.  There are clinics covering Paid Search, Ecommerce, Conversions and Big Sites/Big Brand Sites. These sessions are a great opportunity for companies to have their web sites or advertising reviewed by industry experts and get recommendations. Keep in mind, that advice is often direct and to the point – yet polite.  Panelists have been solving web site and online advertising problems for years and they’ll be able to see issues immediately and share possible solutions just as quickly. The advice a company might get in one of the clinics can be worth several times the cost of attending the conference.

8. Find New Resources to Grow Your Business

At SES New York, the exhibit hall will have over 100 companies presenting their products and services.  Cruising the booths and talking to reps (early in the conference, not late) is a great way to learn about companies that might have just the service you need to make your marketing more effective. Heck, if you’re really good, you might be able to reverse roles and pick up a few exhibitors as clients, depending on what it is that your company does.

Finding consultants and services isn’t limited to the exhibit hall. You can find great resources by attending sessions where representatives from some of the top companies in the industry will be sharing their insights and expertise. Hearing an employee speak gives you some insight into their processes and how they approach working with clients.   You can also find potential employees by networking with speakers, either directly or through referral.

9. Digital Asset Optimization

DAO is the name of the panel I’m presenting on, day 1 of the conference at 10:45 am right after the keynote from David Meerman Scott. Optimizing for the new Google takes a unique and creative approach to content strategy and SEO.  Optimizing and promoting Digital Assets present a tremendous opportunity to grow business through organic search. My presentation will focus on successful DAO implementations for a small business, a publisher/ecommerce site and a very large company.  Plus I’ll be offering a new TopRank Guide for download.  You won’t want to miss this session!

10.  I’ve saved the best for last

What are YOUR favorite reasons for attending SES New York?

Whatever it is that you’re considering getting out of SES New York, be sure to get more information on the session agenda here.

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2010 LeadingRE Conference: TopRank Digital Marketing Sessions

Mar 17, 2010   //   by Erik Olson   //   Blog, Corporate Blogging, Industry News, Mashable News, Online Marketing, Social Media  //  No Comments

Last week, I was in Las Vegas for the LeadingRE annual conference and marketing technology event speaking on social media and SEO strategies for real estate professionals. It’s always interesting to see where different verticals are at with their willingness to embrace social channels, and I’m pleased to report the top realtors globally are already engaging, or at the least starting to define their path.

I gave the opening presentation to the MarTech part of the conference – a track of panels/sessions designed to help real estate professionals better integrate their marketing initiates with technology. Additionally, I spoke on two panels in the general sessions of the conference: one on online reputation management and one as an open panel Q&A answering marketing strategy questions.

For Online Marketing Blog readers, following is a wrapup of each of my sessions and some key takeaways.

Architecting A Web 2.0 Marketing And PR Strategy

For this session, I took event goers through an overview of the process we at TopRank implement for companies seeking social media strategy: a social media roadmap. I took audience members through the essential elements of the roadmap:

1. Define an audience
Who is it you are trying to influence? Where are they participating, what types of content resonates with them? Understanding your audience comes first, and will drive the next pieces of the roadmap.

2. Identify objectives
What outcomes do you want from this audience? Only after you understand your digital audience should objectives be solidified, as research may uncover new opportunities not conceived initially. While many skip to objectives, audience research provides the current situation necessary to proceed to identify objectives.

3. Develop strategic approach
For a social media marketing strategy to be effective and not a cookie-cutter application, you must have a strategic approach unique and logical for your brand. Audience data + objectives + insight into your industry + strategic mindset as a marketer will enable you to formulate a strategic approach that delivers results and permeates the market.

4. Implement tools/tactics
Even more popular than skipping to step 2, most marketing and PR pros skip immediately to step 4. It’s a cliché to say “we need a Twitter account” or “we need a Facebook page.” You don’t know that yet. Nor do you have the proper roadmap elements to execute them successfully by skipping immediately to tactical elements. It’s like entering a battle by sending in the latest wave of ultra-sophisticated fighter jets but not having any sort of plan of how they work into your larger strategy. Yeah, they might be bigger/faster/stronger but it’s setting yourself up for failure without knowing how they integrate with other elements.

5. Measure results/metrics
What will your success metrics be? Formulate not just an ultimate objective measurement, but define the right KPIs that actually roll to those objectives. Understand how they all work together and stagger them in the right order in your marketing dashboard to keep your finger on the pulse of success.  It takes a comprehensive understanding of web analytics reporting before getting into this phase.

Online Reputation Management Panel

For this panel, I presented alongside Jennifer Baumann, Esq. of DLA Piper. As I am not a lawyer and cannot provide any legal counsel, it was a good idea for Eric Brin, conference organizer for LeadingRE to pair us. I shared prevention and response strategies and Jennifer discussed legal issues.

In terms of online reputation management, the old adage of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” could not be truer. I spoke mostly on prevention, but also response. Some key takeaways from this panel:

Negative PR gets referenced – The web is referential, and we are actively tagging brands to their actions. For example, the first thing many mom bloggers now think of when they hear the name Motrin is the Motrin Moms fiasco. We are constantly archiving and building upon events, news and essentially our lives digitally. This paints a larger picture of people and companies, and the scars of negative PR are not going to go away. By having a presence yourself and already established as a brand digitally, you get to be a part of that debate as opposed to silently sitting on the sidelines and allowing others to dictate how you are seen.

Additionally, if you foster a community of supporters, that negative PR might get hedged in the first place. If I wrote a blog post titled, “Apple Sucks,” almost immediately I’m going to get comments defending Apple – not just in my own comment section but on other blogs that debate and interact with me. Instead of a one-sided story, it will turn into a lively discussion and debate, with all sides being considered. A community of brand advocates is a powerful force for defending a brand or personal reputation.  In the case of Apple, whether by design or simply due to fanatical fans, they are now a part of the brand’s organic response.

Search engine brand awareness – If your brand has a large digital footprint with multiple domains/sub-domains, an authoritative presence across social channels and a fan-base, owning page 1 of Google for your brand name is possible. By doing this, you won’t let a negative (and let’s hope isolated) event or experience show up in branded searches.

Of course, in cases where negative PR spirals out of control (aka a Groundswell) a negative situation can acquire so many links/attention it ranks on page one for your brand. In those cases, buying search ads to help counter the negativity, posting responses on the offending site, adding a response on your own site, and strategizing ways to regain control of page one via organic SEO methods are just some potential steps you can take. But of course, it all depends on the specific situation what the response strategy should be.

Speaking of response strategy – for problems you anticipate may arise, having one is critical to be prepared for the worst.

Consult PR before engaging legal The RIAA’s reputation is irreparably damaged by their continual treatment of their biggest fans as criminals. Whether they legally can do something is not necessarily a reason they should. When technology comes along that makes a previous model obsolete, the natural reaction of the incumbent is to rally against it to defend a previous world. Unfortunately, all this succeeds in is positioning the organization or industry as draconian and opens the door to innovators who are designing models that embrace the new.

When someone says something truthful but biting against your brand, the natural reaction might be to call your laywers to suppress that information. All this does is provide ammunition for that individual or media entity to succeed in gaining greater attention.

In 2003, Barbra Streisand tried to sue photographer Kenneth Adelman for $50 million for taking a photograph of her house as he documented the California coastline as part of a project. As a result of the case, the picture substantially increased in popularity – quickly attracting 420,000+ views of a photo that otherwise would have existed in relative obscurity. Mike Masnick reported on the situation and coined the phrase “The Streisand Effect.” The name stuck, and now even has its own dedicated Wikipedia page documenting multiple examples of companies suffering from the Streisand Effect by calling legal before consulting PR.

Of course, there are situations where legal should be consulted, but they should be considered carefully, with legal being used as a last resort.

Strategy Salon Panel

LeadingRe-Panel

L to R: Matt Dollinger, Matthew Ferrara, Adam Singer, Steve Harney – image by Barbara Springer

This was an open Q&A discussion from the audience, where, Steve Harney, Matthew Ferrara, Matt Dollinger and I all riffed on answers to audience questions (moderated by Eric Bryn).  A few of the riffs from our discussion included:

Getting your company to buy in to social media – This needs to happen from the top. If your leaders aren’t fully bought in and driving forward the items you want team members participating in, you can’t expect them to succeed. As one example, if you have a company blog, someone up top should be leading and driving it if you want the rest of the team to contribute as well. To inspire people to stay motivated and engaged, create feedback loops within the organization to highlight success and nurture participation.

The perfect company website – There is no single archetype of the perfect website. Also, yours shouldn’t necessarily model competitors or one you think is pretty, rather it should resonate with prospects. Keep SEO in mind from the start and work with developers cognizant of search engines or consult an SEO firm to guide your development process. Site search matters, and is one of the most important features of any website according to Google. Leverage site search to gain data/insight into your customers and also tweak results to highlight fresh content or current specials.

The real estate company of the future – Instead of doing everything in-house, you may begin to outsource certain elements like design, marketing or IT. Why have generalists when you can have specialists in each field and work with them across distances and time zones via agile project management systems? Also, for smaller companies, it will be about more than just those within a small radius; recruiting top talent will be vital for performance. Of your full-time team members, leadership will be an integral role and not something simply relegated to management. You need to find and empower leaders at all levels within the organization if you want to succeed against competitors.

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5 Ways to Electrify Your Social Network

Mar 16, 2010   //   by Erik Olson   //   Blog, Corporate Blogging, Industry News, Mashable News, Online Marketing, Social Media  //  No Comments

social networking

A typical situation for many marketers when it comes to social networks is this: Setup LinkedIn profile, check. Corporate LinkedIn page, check.  Facebook profile, check. Facebook Fan Page, check. Twitter account, check. Corporate blog, check. Check check check!

But where’s the buzz? Where are the fans, friends, followers, comments, links, traffic, search engine rankings? Where’s the customer engagement? And the most pressing question of all: What is all this social web participation doing for our company and our customers?

Showing up to the game doesn’t mean there will be an audience. This is as true with the social web as it is offline.  The problem that marketers have with attracting interested customers and growing their social networks often stems from approaching social participation tactically and without a plan.  Testing and experimentation is great, but if what you’re doing is something that has a cost and is to be accounted for, then you’d better have a plan and objectives.  How can you score without a goal?

Here are 5 tips to help business marketers energize and electrify social network development:

1. Decide to start

You must start by deciding what business objectives you intend on meeting as a result of social network involvement. Once you’ve clearly identified objectives, then you can create a strategy that outlines which tactics make the most sense to reach and engage your audience.

Common objectives for companies to develop online social networks include:

  • Create connections with those interested in the type of solutions you offer so you can better meet customer needs
  • Build out a channel of distribution for promoting content
  • Connect with existing customers, create a place for them to connect with each other
  • Initiate discussions around product for new ideas, enhancements, focus group
  • Extend reach to influentials in your market for publicity
  • Tap into active user base for content
  • Facilitate conversations about your products & services to aid in new customer acquisition and/or upgrades
  • Create a communication channel that reaches employees for internal PR
  • Build up the personal networks of executives for thought leadership with journalists, analysts and key bloggers

2. Know your customer

If marketers spend their time on the social networks dujour without really knowing where their customers are spending time, then of course there will be a disconnect between experience and expectations. Picking friends, at least initially, on social networks should be very intentional, not random. Understanding customer preferences towards information discovery, consumption and sharing along with which web sites they prefer is essential if a marketer wants to connect in a meaningful way.

3. Be real, be useful

There are a lot of buzzwords like “transparency” and “openness” that describe the need for marketers to be “genuine”. Oops that’s another.  To be real is being honesty in your intentions.  I’ve seem highly respected marketers make absolutely idiotic statements about transparency, taking it to the extreme.  Ignorance is bliss I suppose, but there’s not much money in it.

The core principles of understanding the needs of your customers and then finding a way to meet those needs in such a way that is helpful and that at the same time leads to product sales, need not be elusive.  Approaching a social network blatantly announcing that you’re a marketer and that you will be marketing so buy some product dammit, isn’t being transparent. It’s being stupid.

Identifying yourself as a representative of a brand, product or service and communicating your intentions both in words and helpful actions is what I mean by “be real, be useful”.  Those good deeds create trust and relationships.  They create word of mouth and a certain gravity of popularity for your brand with your own identity as the proxy.  Fans, friends and followers “happen” because the word gets out that your brand promise is meaningful and being followed through on.

Developing relationships can be hard work. People already know this through the relationships they have in daily life. Yet  it’s very common for corporate marketers to initiate online social networking efforts only to become disillusioned at the lack of immediate sales results.  It’s important that social web participation for a company become a part of what the company is, long term. Not an “add on” marketing tactic.

4. Recognize and reward

When developing an active social network, participants will demonstrate certain behaviors that are more desirable than others.  For example, standing up for the brand when a troll appears or mashing up content in a creative way.  They say people will work for a living but die for recognition. This is a key concept for electrifying your social networking efforts.  First, understand what behaviors you want to reward. Participate and identify those behaviors that will influence the kinds of outcomes you’re looking for. Recognition can be active and passive. Active recognition is to reach out and recognize specific behaviors publicly and/or privately.  Passive recognition is built into the social CRM system you’re using or the platform within which customers participate. An example would be points based systems that provide rewards or more access based on accumulating points for completing certain behaviors such as comments, ratings, contributed content, etc.  The key to “Recognize and Reward” is for the recognition to be deserved, genuine, relevant and consistent.

5. Monitor, measure, feedback loop

All the good intentions in the world won’t result in relationship and business growth from social networks unless there’s management of content and curation of interactions with the outcomes from participation. It can be as simple as noticing “5 of this” or “10 of that” tips blog posts yield 200% greater engagement scores (comments, retweets, inlinks, etc) than posts that focus on a single, general topic.

Web analytics along with social media monitoring and a CRM component can facilitate the feedback loop to know whether customers are responding in the ways that you’d hoped.  Simply focusing on fans/followers, comments or sales can leave out some of the essential pieces of why some efforts fail and others succeed. Social media monitoring tools are essential for upfront research, ongoing monitoring and after-action results measurement.

In the end, the steps to take for growing a social network for business must be rooted in an understanding of the customers and their needs combined with whatever it is you decide you’ll provide to meet those needs. Being useful by itself doesn’t turn an active network into achieved business goals. Provide opportunities for interested members of your social network to opt-in to a more commercial relationship when they’re ready.  That could be as simple as moving from a Facebook Fan to a Webinar participant or Email Newsletter subscriber. In some cases it might mean becoming a buyer of products/services.

If your business has successfully developed it’s social network presence, what have been some of the roadblocks you’ve overcome? What insights can you share on best connecting with networks and growing your business as a result?

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© Online Marketing Blog, 2010. |
5 Ways to Electrify Your Social Network |
2 comments | http://www.toprankblog.com

Shutterstock Voted Best Royalty Free Stock Photos Site for Bloggers

Mar 15, 2010   //   by Erik Olson   //   Blog, Corporate Blogging, Industry News, Mashable News, Online Marketing  //  No Comments

Winner - TopRank Reader Poll A great photo can really add a lot of flavor to a blog post and in our own analysis at Online Marketing Blog as well as with clients, including quality images with a blog post can boost traffic and referrals 30-50%. To make posts more personal, I try to use my own photos as much as possible and do use imags from Flickr under Creative Commons from time to time. This is an area of significant impact for blogs as effective communication and marketing tools, so last week we ran a Reader Poll on the best site for royalty free, stock photos for bloggers.

We had the most comments from iStockphoto users and interestingly enough, the “Other” category came in second place with suggestions including: screenshots, stock.xchng, PhotoXpress.com and Creative Commons imagies from Flickr.

Shutterstock

The poll results are below, but as you can tell from the image, Shutterstock was the winner: Best Stock Photo Site for Bloggers.

Online Marketing Blog has been using iStockphoto for the past 3-4 years but after seeing this poll, we’ll check out Shutterstock.  In fact, I ran into the Shutterstock booth while at the SXSW Interactive conference and shared the good news in person. There was a photobooth within the exhibit booth (with props) that was very popular with conference attendees.

Congratulations to Shutterstock on winning Online Marketing Blog’s Best Royalty Free Stock Photo Poll.

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Shutterstock Voted Best Royalty Free Stock Photos Site for Bloggers |
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