Social Media Strategies for 2010 and Beyond

1 05 2010

During the past months I have talked about different strategies that contribute to empowering and enabling social media strategies from a marketing and public relations standpoint. These strategies have the ultimate goal of fostering good relationships between a company and its publics; the cornerstone of all public relations endeavors. Today it could be argued that public relations, marketing and social media practices can work concurrently as part of an overall marketing and public relations strategy. This process should be thoroughly comprehensive; from the way that websites are set up and presented to customers to the strategy that is used to interact with them. Short and long term strategies should also be part of the planning process. This document is a compendium of those strategies along with an application of the topics I have discussed on this blog so far.

Managing and Getting People’s Attention:

Today, with the onset of time-shifted media, never-ending possibilities of things to do online and overall busy life-styles, getting the attention of people (consumers) today is more difficult than ever. Media scholars, in increasing numbers are proclaiming that traditional forms of marketing, advertising and public relations are becoming inefficient and nothing short of wasted time and efforts. Fortunately social media’s open access helps address this. Social media websites like Facebook and Twitter are the places where much of people’s attention is now being spent. Similarly to how advertisers shifted their focus from radio to television when that new technology emerged, today the focus has to shift from television advertising to social media engagement. Fortunately this endeavor provides multiple benefits; as a form of advertising it engages people with a brand and related messages. However as an engagement tool it assists with:

1. Building customer loyalty

2. Maintaining brand awareness

3. Enabling word-of-mouth marketing

—an example that perfectly exemplifies all three forms of this engagement is what Best Buy is now doing on Twitter. If Best Buy offers some sort of coupon via their Twitter feed, it encourages people to visit their local Best Buy (loyalty), fosters conversations (brand awareness) and it can be easily shared with a re-tweet (word-of-mouth).

Facebook is also an important component to creating connections with consumers in platforms where they already devote much of their attention. With over 400 million users Facebook seems poised to be the leader in social networking, at least for the foreseeable future. Surprisingly, Facebok has now on track to overtake Google in terms of directing traffic to other websites. It seems likely that in the coming months, Facebook will continue to expand its presence and relevance for our society as part of the social media landscape. Thus from a marketing and public relations standpoint it seems clear that Facebook is a very important tool for reaching customers. If Twitter is about enabling sharing and serving as a gateway for content (see more about Twitter here), then Facebook serves more as a participation and engagement tool. Of course, this participation can have the sharing component, but for the most part it serves more as way for companies to listen to their customers and communicate with them in a place where they already spend their time. Facebook is the perfect tool for this now and in the immediate future as it continues to grow and expand.Short-term

Strategies and Best Practices

Arguably, the single most important step is for companies to take now (if they have not already done so), is to overcome their trepidation of partaking in the social media landscape. Many companies have already done so and are most likely seeing benefits from their efforts. Compared to risks, the benefits outweigh them when considering these ventures. At the very least companies are able to provide good customer service and show that they are ahead of the curve to their customers. A more desirable, and tangible benefit is of course when companies start seeing that their social media marketing and public relation endeavors result in some sort of Return on Investment (ROI). It seems clear then, that there are more benefits to be had by moving to social media than drawbacks.

There are certain strategies and best practices to keep in mind when moving a company’s presence to the social media field. Given the fact that the Web 2.0 era is all about sharing and interaction it is important to remember to keep things simple. This Mashable article suggests that when including sharing and subscription options on any website the buttons for the most popular social networking sites should also be the most predominant. The premise of this thinking is that if sharing occurs on the biggest and most popular sites, then eventually the same information will trickle down to reach all areas online where people end up seeing the information eventually.

With Web 2.0 brands and companies now have unparalleled access to listen to their consumers both the negative and positive feedback. Feedback loops are now easily shared. It could be argued that the best marketing strategy in this new environment is to listen to consumers first and respond what they have to say to keep them happy. Not surprisingly, word-of-mouth marketing leads to increased trust of a brand and its products. These two processes can work in tandem to benefit both customers and companies. According to media scholar Brian Solis: “80% of (customers) reported that customer stories and suggestions shape products and services. As a result, brands earn the trust and loyalty of their customers by listening and responding”

Finally, social media strategists need to remember that social networking websites are places where customers are in charge. They can chose to listen and ignore the messages that are put out by companies with the relative ease of a click of a button. Thus, maintaining a natural, approachable and genuine tone when speaking to customers is of upmost importance. It is also important to think about the future when planning out social media strategies. What may be the most important technology may be outdated six months ago and replaced by something else. Although predicting what these new trends may be is difficult, having a long-term plan for adopting new changes is also important.

Long-Term Strategies and Best Practices

The key to ensuring success for social media and public relation practitioners in the long-run is to stay ahead of new and emerging technologies. Moore’s Law is also applicable to Web 2.0 technologies. Thus realizing that social media technologies and practices will be constantly changing should be the principal long-term strategy to keep in mind. I have previously discussed this topic, and gave the example of Starbucks and their efforts to stay ahead of the curve. They not only use popular social platforms that are relevant today, but also up and coming platforms that are yet to diffuse on a mass level. (See Foursquare). Starbucks has managed to foster relevancy to their brand by interacting with their customers via current and up and coming technologies.

Another important long-term strategy to keep in mind in regards to the more technical aspect of a social media operation is the differences between Search Engine Optimization (SEO) versus Social Media Optimization (SMO). These two processes can work together very well to help a brand expand its online presence. Given the fact that today, many people are spending much of their time online in social networking sites it makes sense to make SMO part of the continual strategy. For the time being, Facebook continues to be the most important player in the social media landscape, with Twitter being a close second. Guidelines for SMO have been developed by social media scholars. These guidelines rely on people actively sharing content to their friends and followers on social networks.

Ultimately, success or failure when embarking on social media initiatives relies on a number of factors. However, having the right short and long term strategies and a well-informed knowledge of the basic components of social media will ultimately yield the best possible results. As more people and companies continue to expand their use of social media we will continue to discover the best ways to use these technologies to their fullest potential. In the meantime, continual exploration and experimentation is the best option to pursue. This is for both the benefits of customers as well as companies. As they establish a relationship in the social media landscape both can benefit from this relationship.


Search Engine Optimization or Social Media Optimization?

9 04 2010

Changes in the Web 2.0 era tend to happen at alarmingly fast rates. What might be an essential skills for employees to have two months ago may be outdated or not as important today. As someone who has been trying to enter the job market in a social media position, I commonly see job requirements that list experience with SEO, or Search Engine Optimization. SEO relies on the architecture of search engines like Google that use tracking “spiders” to find information on the web. The information is uploaded to the internet in the forms of keywords that people may use when they are searching the web. The goal of SEO is to ensure that a company is easily identifiable when consumers search for information on search engines. This should be an important goal for any company that is trying to establish a presence online.

However, Brian Solis suggests that this method is not the only important consideration for establishing a web presence. According to Solis this trend is changing. Once again Social Networks are at the front of significant changes on the internet. They are overtaking search engines as the main source of information for many internet users. This might eventually render search engine optimization useless. This is being overtaken by Social Media Optimization (SMO). Solis explains the possible reasons as to why this process started and its effects:

“Facebook recently overtook Yahoo as the second most visited site in the United States. And in doing so, Facebook along with other social networks set the stage for a confluence of social and search that fundamentally changes who we, as a society, discover and share information, and in turn, where attention is directed and driven.”

Given the impact and relevance of social networks today SMO should be a part of any company’s marketing and engagement strategy. While this transition continues to take place, Solis suggests the overall approach that people should keep in mind with this new method: SEO + SMO= Amplified findability in the traditional and social web”.

Getting to know and understand the actual SMO process requires a redefinition of traditional optimization practices. The earliest online article I could find about SMO dates back to August, 2006 on IMB, or The Influential Marketing Blog. The originally posted an article called “5 Rules of Social Media Optimization (SMO).” This list was eventually adapted by other media scholars and grew to be a 17 point list. Some of the later points are redundant or right-down unnecessary, in my opinion. For example: 14. Develop a SMO strategy, 11. Be real, 10. Create content. The first five points are the most useful and important, even today, almost four years after this list was initially developed:

  1. Increase your linkability
  2. Make tagging and bookmarking easy
  3. Reward inbound links
  4. Help your content travel
  5. Encourage the mashup

I would argue that these rules are all about embracing the participatory web and thus its success hinges on companies being able to interact with their users on social media platforms. However this is not just limited to interaction, nor is interaction the most important component. Instead the focus here it foster and allow sharing to take place. This is essential for sharing not only content but also sharing and spreading brand awareness and enhancing. This thus enhances the spread and attention that any given brand may receive. Going back to first Brian Solis article, he has a chart that shows the origins or referral traffic for some websites. It is not surprising to see that social networks, (including Facebook, Twitter and Myspace) have become the predominant sources for referring traffic to these brands.

USA Today leads this group of brands in terms of generating traffic via social networks. I imagine that this is due to their posts and news stories which many people probably go on to share on social networking sites. These probably include some sort of link that re-directs the viewer back to the USA Today page. The only brand that has not experienced this shift is Gap. If they wanted to increase their presence and traffic generated by social networks I imagine that a strategy based around coupons or sales, easily shareable on social networks, would drive traffic to their websites from these sources.

As social networking sites it will be interesting to see how much their impact continues to change the entire internet. They are currently the main source of attention for online users, thus companies need to establish a presence on these sites if they want to continue to be relevant for their current audience as well as potential audiences.

Enabling User Sharing—Best Practices

2 04 2010

As companies begin to overcome their initial hesitations for pioneering social media initiatives, the focus then becomes figuring out the best way to allow their users to interact with their content. Facebook, Twitter and the newly-emerging location-based social networking services seem like ideal ways to encourage people to share content online. There are hundreds of online social applications that allow users to share content. Website designers should focus on making sharing as easy as possible for their users. Mashable—The Social Media Guide offers some suggestions for making this happen.

Simple Social Design Tips From the Masters

“With so much content competing for users’ attention, it’s important for content creators to have websites or applications that are accessible, clean and interactive.”

  • Mashable’s first tip is to keep things simple. More specifically when a website tries to get their users to interact with their content on other platforms they should ensure that their links and buttons are conducive to this process. For example, filling up a website with many buttons to enable sharing may actually make it too confusing and overwhelming for users. Obviously creating confusion for users may actually inhibit the purpose and process of social sharing. Their suggestion for this is that designers should mainly focus on spreading and promoting their content on the most popular platforms. This screencap is from a blog I follow regularly. On every news story they have buttons for sharing their stories. Hovering over this button shows about 10 different outlets for sharing their story on. It looks like this.

However, clicking on it expands the window to give the user over 250 different outlets for sharing. But this is only available should the user click on the “More” button. I think this approach is probably the right one for enabling them to spread their content. Only after clicking on the window is the user presented with many more options for sharing that content. The majority of these services are very much niche market applications. They appear to cater to specialized interests and markets. Everything from fashion-minded websites, to smaller and less popular news sharing websites, some of which have particular topics with their stories; politics, for example. With this approach this blog is making their content easy to share for the majority of their users. Thus someone wants to share a post on Twitter, a relatively mainstream service; they can easily do so, just by hovering over the Share button. However if a niche user of a news sharing website like Style Hive, then a click of a button will easily enable this as well.

  • Of course these efforts are worthless without having the right strategy. Jeremiah Owyang’s web site Web Strategy discusses what would be the next step in this process: Developing an appropriate strategy for any social media endeavor. Having these buttons and links is important but without a strategy it will inevitably “send traffic away”. This article lists seven possible strategies for social media strategists to keep in mind as they develop their strategies. Each approach has positive aspects and drawbacks. They even list a possible approach that companies may want to delve into in the future.
  • A more effective way to integrate these efforts with a company is to allow them to interact with the company through Facebook and/or Twitter. According to the web strategy article this “widens the marketing funnel”. In other words, users are interacting with a brand on their own terms. By allowing them to use the familiarity of Facebook or Twitter they can interact with this content on a platform that is familiar to them. At the same time they are able to use features from these services, for example Facebook status updates and tweets.
  • These are some of the strategies that go into enabling a social media strategy that builds a connection between a company’s website and the social networking sites that users know and love. In many respects these efforts are more important that simply creating fan pages or Twitter accounts. Instead they allow these efforts to go a step further and truly allow companies to embrace the benefits of the Web 2.0 era. They allow a more complete experience for users. Most importantly they allow an incredibly easy way to enable word-of-mouth marketing. In the future more companies will continue to adopt these efforts we will see this continue to be an increasingly significant for companies to expand their presence and remain relevant online.

Actionable Data

19 03 2010

As part of my internship experience with The Media Consortium tracking user data has been an important task. Although it can be very time-consuming and occasionally frustrating, it is an important aspect for any online enterprise. It involves gathering data from sources like Google Analytics, Feedburner, and Newsladder and analyzing it to determine the way that users interact with the site. The main challenge becomes sorting through all the data in order to gain meaningful information that can be used for the company’s benefit. This is a challenge because these sources provide a great deal of information; they are incredibly thorough. Although one would be tempted to think that the most important information to gain from these sources are the number of page views any given site might get, some media experts say that is not so important anymore.

According to a blog post on Read Write Web says that page views have become an obsolete form of tracking data. They quantify this metric as a part of the dot-com crash “failed business model”. This makes sense, as the internet continues to grow and expand; the attention of consumers becomes a very scarce and hard-to-obtain resource. The focus and goal in reaching consumers becomes reaching the right consumer, at the right time with the right information. This is becoming the best business practice in the 21st century. This was the same thought that Seth Godin posited in his book “Unleashing The Ideavirus“. Godin’s advice boils down the notion of the “idea” as something that is directly applicable and important to people. In this day and age this is the best way to gain their attention. According to Godin:

“Marketing by interrupting people isn’t cost-effective anymore. You can’t afford to seek out people and send them unwanted marketing messages…and hope that some will send you money.”

This further proves the idea that measuring page views as a way of identifying consumer trends is simply ineffective and obsolete. The Read Write Web offers some insight for adapting to this new consumer culture. Marketers and public relations practitioners should now start to focus on what their users do with their content and how they can respond these actions to create a mutually beneficial website experience. This is what the article calls actionable data. This is data that people should “…use the information you gather to make a decision and take action”. Obviously the first step for this is getting a way to gather and analyze the data.

Like many other services before it, website analytics has also been changed with the Web 2.0 revolution. This makes these services more easily available to smaller companies. They are free of charge. Five years ago, my employer would not have had enough budget to access paid services that provide this information. Thanks to Google’s open-access mantra, their service is completely free, user-friendly and chocked-full of features that make visitor analysis a very insightful venture. I look forward, past the pain-staking data-gathering aspect of this project and being able to see how this data can best be used to interact with our audiences.

It seems like this novel concept of action over numbers is starting to spread as well. Twitter recently announced a new initiative to make their service more accessible. Instead of “buttons” that re-direct viewers from a website to Twitter page, they will now be able to see their tweets in the same page, as well as having the option to follow that user. Twitter is clearly adapting to this mantra. Instead of bumping up the number of people that visit their site, they are increasing and differentiating the way that users can use the service. They are giving their users the right tools to interact with their service and fostering action with that information and data; ultimately this may be the best strategy for continuing Twitter’s burgeoning popularity.

What remains to be seen is the efforts that other Web 2.0 outlets come up with to further engage their users. The focus is now to make their data something that people not only see, but also interact with and spread throughout the web.

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