Educational Presentations from #Mozcon You Don’t Want to Miss

Mozcon just ended and I found four truly outstanding, educational presentations that will help me with my daily work, so I thought I would share them with you. All four presentations can teach marketers a lot. I recommend taking the time to really dig through them and get some great ideas that can help you with your clients/work.

1. Mad Science Experiments in SEO & Social Media by @Randfish

This presentation has some really important information for anyone in the SEO/social realm. It should be reviewed and re-reviewed. The experiments will give you a lot of insights you need.

2. Digital Body Language by @iPullRank

What do you know about your digital fingerprint and how it is being used in marketing? Find out in this presentation and discover new ways to reach the customers you want and need.

3. You Are So Much More Than an SEO by @wilreynolds

Are you focused on the user or the SEO? What should you be focused on? Wil explains in this great presentation.

4. YouTube: The Most Important Search Engine You Haven’t Optimized For via @philnottingham

Want to be successful on YouTube and at video marketing? Check out these great tips by Phil Nottingham

Why Social Media Isn’t Working For Your Business, And How To Fix It

Recently, I had an interesting conversation with a new client who seemed convinced social media, specifically Facebook, was on the upswing as an effective channel for businesses to attract, market to and convert prospects.

We agreed to disagree.

“If you look at how social media is currently being used, even by marketers, I don’t think that reasoning is supported by facts,” I added. “Facebook, for example, is where everyone wants to go when they are in ‘friends-and-family-baby-pictures’ mode. It’s not the place people are going to when they desire to interact with brands. Even the marketers hawking their wares seem to realize this. I’m convinced social media isn’t driving sales. In fact, I think it was a bad idea for content marketers to even sell clients on the idea that social media moves the needle, especially given that, at best, it’s part of the overall ‘long game’ and is difficult to track conversions from.”

My words were born of a hunch, nuanced substantially over the last 10 to 12 months. For all the talk about social signals, real-time content marketing and the like, what many clients want to pay for are activities directly attributable to conversions.

In fact, many clients are beginning to hold a strong line: “I’m not convinced, if it doesn’t convert,” quipped one client.

It’s Social Media, Not Sell-To-Me Media

salesmenIf recent research is any indication, content marketers might have some explaining to do to many of their clients, especially those who were sold on the notion that social has a direct tie to sales. Data collected by Gallup’s new State of the American Consumer report, shows that “relatively few consumers consciously take into account what they learn from social media when making purchases.”

In fact, the majority of Americans say social media marketing has no effect at all on their purchasing decisions, which is a tough pill to swallow when you consider that U.S. companies spent a combined $5 billion on social media advertising in 2013.

“Although many companies run aggressive marketing campaigns on social media, 62% in the U.S. say Facebook and Twitter, among other sites, do not have any influence on their decisions to purchase products,” states the report.

Despite the millions of Americans using social media stalwarts Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter, only 5% say social media has “a great deal of influence” on their purchasing decisions, while another 30% say the channels have “some influence.”

This study is based on the views of Americans only who were asked to self-report estimates of how much social media marketing campaigns affect their purchasing decisions. Though social media likely does have more influence than many of those polled consciously realize or admit, the data does highlight a startling disconnect between marketers’ perception and reality.

Some Surprising Figures:

  • 50% of the millennials say social media has at least some influence on their buying decisions. Yet they were also just as likely to say social media has no influence at all.
  • 75% of the folks born before 1946 say social media has no impact on whether they purchase a product or service.
  • 94% of social media users say the primary function of social media is to connect with family and friends.

The Reason Your Business Should Be Using Social Media

It’s easy to take in these details and think, “Boy, social media sure is a waste of resources.” Before you throw the baby out with the bath water, however, consider this: Might the real problem be how many content marketers and digital strategy firms came to view social as a crutch, seeing it as a novel strategy rather than just another channel of communication? (Watch brand strategist David Brier’s awesome video on the topic.)

This might have allowed us to oversell the channel even before we clearly understood its purpose.

Also, doesn’t the data indicate less of a problem with social than it does with those of us who pushed it onto clients?

Maybe the message, all along, should have been, “As an industry, we’re still sorting out the real, bottom-line impact of social media. However, we advise you to start using the platform, lest you get behind in the battle to grow your brand’s presence.”

In a recent Google Plus post, Avinash Kaushik weighed in on the Gallup report, adding what I think is the reasoned approach we should all be taking (and sharing with clients.)

“Between [Google Plus, Twitter and Facebook], I have half a million followers. From practice I have an understanding of the medium, and I believe it is of value. But not for pimping, and not for short-term impact of any kind. If your brand is inherently social, do social. If your marketing/relationship officer can give you a few years to see results, do social. Else, quit.”

As marketers, he said, we should “seek companies that will invest in social because the brand is social (or can evolve to be) and will measure your success over the long term.”

How Smart Brands Are Using Social Media

smart-strategyInstead of seeing the news as a deathblow to using social media as viable content marketing vehicle, it’s wise to look at the information as the opening of a door of opportunity.

No longer do we need to sell social media as a means of influencing search signals or driving leads. Even better, we no longer need to tremble in fear at the thought of a CMO asking “What’s the ROI on social?” or “How can we track leads from social?”

We can shoot straight and inform clients that the brand should be visible on social media to foster a connection with prospects and existing customers, in addition to growing the presence of the brand and using the channel as additional an arm of the company’s PR and customer service divisions.

Smart brands, especially several of the major airlines, have seen the light and are already using social in this manner.

Take American Airlines, for example. They’ve successfully weathered a bankruptcy, a corporate restructuring and a rebranding, but through it all have maintained one of the most active Twitter accounts of any major brand, smartly using social as an addendum to customer service–deftly handling complaints, solving commuters’ problem and growing a positive presence many thought impossible for an airline.

The secret? They recognized the potential for social media to grow brand awareness and support, then seized the opportunity to do social media better than their competitors. It’s working.

Hardly a day goes by that their Twitter feed isn’t littered with as many kudos as complaints. Even better, the brand isn’t afraid to show a little personality, either, sometimes playing along with a funny quip instead of ignoring it outright.

Making Social Media Work For Your Business

Even if you don’t have a multi-national brand, you can use the latest information to your business’s advantage. Here’s how to make social media work for your business:

  • Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew: One of the worst mistakes you can make as a small or midsize business is trying to commit to every social media platform available to you. Your time is limited, so guard it wisely by selecting one or two social media platforms you’ve identified as having a sizable share of potential clients, then begin the process of interacting, engaging, answering questions and becoming a worthwhile community member. The goal is not to be heard; the goal is to be a valued resource to the community.
  • Develop A Time-Of-Engagement Rule And Stick To It: Nothing raises the ire of consumers like brands who pretend not to “hear” their complaints. The longer the time between their initial complaint and your response, the louder and more vociferous they become. Remember, the community is watching. Therefore, it’s imperative that you answer complaints in a timely manner. Work with your team to come up with a hard-and-fast rule for how soon complaints or comments are responded to.
  • Take Conversations Offline: When addressing complaints, the first rule is to be human, sensitive to the complaint no matter how frivolous it might seem at first. In the same breath, you must get them “off the air,” inviting them to contact you or someone at the company via email or private message (e.g., Twitter’s Direct Message, or DM). The longer the conversational is visible, the more likely it is to take a turn for the worst.
  • Focus on Audience Engagement Rather Than Audience Growth (at first): If nothing else, the Gallup research highlights the error of fixing the gaze of your business on faulty metrics like “Fans,” “Followers,” and “Likes.” Work organically through meaningful engagement and interaction. If there is a question you can answer, do so. If there are conversations you would benefit from being a part of, chime in. The more you emphasize meaningful engagement, the more you’ll be rewarded with worthwhile connections from your audience.
  • Be The Informational Resource Your Audience Needs (craves): There are no secrets to being a great marketer. But, if you’re looking to capitalize on a huge weakness in the content marketing space, seek to become the premier informational resource in your category via social media. When answering questions, provide more depth and relevance than the competition, and do so with frequency. And when you continue to see a question show up in social, create a content asset on your website that answers the question in “blow-them-away” fashion, then share it frequently across multiple channels and platforms. You’ll get noticed and, likely, rewarded with business down the road for your efforts.

The moral of the story is social media holds great potential for brands who choose to use it wisely and, most important, lose the sales-centered mindset. The door of opportunity is wide open for those who adopt this new line of thinking.

“Brands can win on social platforms if they understand why you are there,” writes Kaushik in a LinkedIn post. “If they provide you with entertainment, if they provide you with information you can share with your circles, and if they behave in an authentic manner they can earn a tiny smidgen of your love and attention (brand equity).”

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Did I totally miss it?

5 Hard Times Every Business Will Face on Social: What to Do

I have been managing social accounts for various businesses for about 5 years. I do really love social and it can be very rewarding, but there are times when things can get very difficult. I think any business that wants to have a strong social presence should have plans and strategies in place for dealing with the hard times that arise with social media management.

So, today I am going to explain why I think all businesses must have social plans and strategies in place and then I am going to go over some of the hard times I think every business will face.

First, Why Plans and Strategies are Important

1). Plans and strategies ensure that the person managing social represents the company in the appropriate manner. You need to make sure that whatever is said on social is a good representation of your company’s core values. With plans in place you can ensure that the same values your employees show to customers is also shown to those contacting you on social media networks.

2). Often there is a team of people running social media for a business to ensure someone is always available to people reaching out. With plans and strategies in place you can ensure that the same style of voice and the same level of customer service is available no matter who is managing social at any given time.

3). Backup is helpful! Fatigue, sometimes after 4-5 hours on social you start to just get emotionally tired, especially on rough days. There are times when written out plans and strategies are just a lifesaver. For me personally they are something I can fall back on when I am drained.

One Critical Recommendation For Everyone

I am about to go over the 5 hard times and give you some suggestions, but I have one serious recommendation that will apply to all situations and that is to be honest. Please keep in mind that when businesses lie and people find out about it the business always takes a hit.

When people lie on social and get caught it is actually quite sad to see the melee that is almost always an unmanageable situation to handle. Just tell the truth.

Hard-times

Website is Down

At some point, for every business, their website will go down. This can happen for a variety of reasons, such as hosting issues, mistakes made, bill didn’t get paid, etc. So basically, just know that at some point it is going to happen.

For smaller businesses this might not cause social media managers too much stress, but for larger businesses the social media blowback can be massive and exhausting. Website users are often not happy when they can’t get access to what they want. This is where plans and strategies can be really helpful.

  • What will you say?
  • Who handles site issues – who does social contact to find out when the site will be back up?
  • What resources are available for the community team to answer questions when the site isn’t available?

Tell the Truth? The website is down and people don’t always need to know why, but if it isn’t your fault there is nothing wrong with explaining the situation.

Employee Offended a Customer

Sometimes employees offend a client or customer. Sometimes it is the employee’s fault and sometimes the client/customer is too sensitive or looking for a problem (bosses, always keep this in mind).

All that matters is that you represent your brand well in this situation. People are watching and people write articles or create news stories about interactions they see on social. It is really important to be understanding and come up with a solution for the person that is upset.

Try to get them offline!

You don’t want to air your dirty laundry, right? So try to steer these folks towards, direct messages, messaging, an email or a phone call. Your interaction should be positive and empathetic, but you never know how people will react! The best thing is to make sure everyone does not see the bulk of a negative conversation. This doesn’t always work, so be as kind as possible and let others see you provide a solution.

Product or Service Failure

Product and service issues are a given. Sometimes it is user error and sometimes a product or service fails. Here are some suggestions:

Create a spreadsheet of all complaints/issues – If there is a fix for any of the issues write it down so everyone on the social team can quickly help people reaching out. This helps your support teams as well because social can answer questions and reduce the number of people being sent to support.

Be prepared for common user error issues and everyday questions – Keep in mind that people don’t know what we know. They may be using your product or service and truly have no clue how to troubleshoot. You have to be ready to help with user error and answer the same questions every day; this is part of the job. Keeping a list of common issues and solutions is good as well.

Be honest – If you don’t know why something is happening, just say you don’t know and they need to contact support. If a product or service has common problems discuss with management what is appropriate and not appropriate to say (legal is an issue). Sometimes the best thing you can say is, “We see this issue often and want to help you with this problem.”

Anger and Trolls

irritatedANGER! There are some folks that are just angry all the time and nothing you say is really going to make anything better. Then there are those that will let their anger go if they see you have made an effort to win them over. When it comes to angry people you have a 50/50 shot at making it better.

The best thing you can do is keep in mind that people are watching you and you need to look like you are really trying to the masses, as well as the person reaching out. If you see, after repeated attempts to help, that the angry person isn’t going to let it go just step back for a while and see if they will stop. Remember, you can always try to steer it offline.

TROLLS! Then there are those that love to troll social media accounts. They are there just to create problems and argue and they are very good at it! If you can avoid it don’t engage because it just fuels the fire. What I find often is that they will go away quickly if you just don’t engage. Sometimes you have to step in, but just know that you won’t win an argument with one because they aren’t there to find a solution, they are there to cause a problem.

Negative Discussions About Your Brand

When I am managing social accounts I always follow discussions, which means I don’t just look at mentions…I follow links and discussions that don’t mention our handle on Twitter or are not on our Facebook/Google+ page. If I feel like something is completely inaccurate I can say something from the brand and I can also reach out under my personal account and be a little stronger in my defense.

By following links in social discussions and using tools such as Fresh Web Explorer I can keep an eye on conversations about the brands I represent on websites. Often I take these to community teams and/or managers and we determine what step we will take. Sometimes we say nothing and sometimes someone within the company will reach out and say something via comments. This has been very successful.

Pro Tip: To be really good at social media management you have to follow the breadcrumbs. Watch conversations everywhere, keep lists of issues and find ways that your brand can be better. No one is perfect and everyone can improve in areas. Sometimes the best information I see on how we can improve is from discussions on social (where we are not tagged or mentioned) and in comments on websites.

Social Media Management

It isn’t easy, but it can be done right. Just have some plans and strategies in place and make sure everyone on your team has the same values and vision in place. This is a great start.

AuthorityLabs: An Accurate and Reliable Alternative to WebMeUp

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AuthorityLabs interface

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Writing for Your Audience Means Including Search Engines

writing

I realized the other day that I’ve been making a mistake when giving Web writing advice.

For quite a while now, I’ve been saying, “Write for your audience, not search engines.” In fact, I’m not the only one saying that.

That statement is only half right.

The fact is, you should be writing for your audience and the search engines.

It’s not that I believed you shouldn’t take search engines into account at all when writing. Quite the opposite. I fully believe incorporating SEO best practices into content creation is essential to creating effective Web content.

I just wasn’t fully considering what it meant to write for search engines. That is, until last week when, during a casual chat about SEO, Bill Slawski said something really interesting—that search engines are meant to emulate people.

I’d honestly never thought of it that way before.

Isn’t it weird how sometimes you can know something, and basically understand how it works, but still not fully make the connection about that thing’s relationship with something else?

That’s what I was doing with search engines and audience. I know you need to write using natural language, not only for your audience, but especially in light of Google Hummingbird. I know search engines help people find what they’re looking for. I just never considered this:

Search engines are also part of your audience.

Web Copy Without SEO is Just Copy

I was surprised a few months ago to discover there’s apparently a faction of copywriters who not only don’t believe SEO works, but are vehemently opposed to it. Their feeling is that incorporating any kind of SEO best practices or elements ruins their beautiful copy, and they’re just not having any of it.

I find this baffling.

On the one hand, I can understand the resistance to anything you feel is compromising your art. I get it. I’m a writer too. But here’s the thing—there’s a big difference between writing poetry or a novel and writing sales copy. If something exists that can help your sales copy be even more effective, why wouldn’t you want to use it?!

In addition, any kind of writing has certain rules to follow, many of which have to do with the prevalent medium. A novel is broken into chapters. Instructions are usually brief and often numbered. Poems have stanzas.

So if you’re writing for the Web, shouldn’t you be taking that into account and making it easier for search engines to find and read your copy as well as your potential buyers?

The thing is, if you’re writing Web copy, you are writing for search engines, whether you think you are or not, and whether you want to or not. Turning your nose up at SEO when you write doesn’t keep the bots’ cute little mitts off your copy.

The Pendulum Swings Both Ways

I completely understand why people—including me—have been saying “write for people, not search engines.” The true intention behind it is this: Don’t write for search engines in a way that tries to manipulate how they rank your page.

But I realize now that saying, “Don’t write for search engines” is an overreaction. “Holy cow, we tried tactics like keyword stuffing, and they worked for a little while, but then Google got smart and changed and came out with algorithm updates like Panda, and sent some of our sites to the back of the line! So now we can’t ever write for search engines, ever ever EVER!”

It’s like getting stung by a bee once, so you just never go outside.

Anytime you create Web content, you should be taking the search engines into consideration. This includes, but is not limited to:

I’m not going to delve too deeply into what “linking appropriately” means, or the many facets of keywords. Those topics warrant posts of their own, and are frequently and widely covered.

What I will say is this: Everything I just listed should be incorporated into a larger strategy. Where you’ll run into trouble is when you try to use one or more as a tactic to bring in more traffic, increase your visibility or, in other words, manipulate the search engines. It may work for a while, but will most likely eventually come back to bite you right in the rankings.

Search Engines as People

Whoa, there. I haven’t gone off my rocker and begun saying search engines are actually people. That would be like, oh, I don’t know, saying corporations are people with thoughts and feelings, and that’s just crazy talk. Who does that?

No, I’m just getting back to what Bill Slawski said—that search engines are meant to emulate people. And to what it made me realize—that they’re part of your audience.

The ideal way to create Web content is to consider both search engines and readers/viewers/site visitors from ideation to strategy to execution. While I do believe content can be optimized after it’s been created, if it’s done with too heavy a hand or too SEO-inexperienced an editor, it can come off poorly.

Poorly optimizing content is sort of like telling a joke, and just when you’re about to reveal the punchline, you realize you forgot to mention an important factor upon which the punchline hinges. Go back to add it in now, and the joke falls flat. Leave it out, and the joke is ruined.

The whole thing would have been much better if you’d taken everything into account and incorporated it from the beginning.

Consider your audience—your whole audience—from the get-go, implement a comprehensive strategy rather than just a few tactics, and you’ll create much better content that does everything it’s supposed to do.

Using Zapier and Google Spreadsheets for Twitter Contest Management

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been giving away Fitbit Flex wristbands through a contest we’re running on Twitter. When we were initially planning how we want to run it, we knew that it had to be something that was as automated as possible and needed to be fair for everyone involved. It also seemed like this contest is simple enough that we shouldn’t need to pay a service or someone to manage it.

Zapier for Automation

I’ve become a huge fan of Zapier over the past few months. I use it to automate quite a few tasks that would otherwise cost me time every day, week, or month. While we were planning the contest, I decided that we would use Zapier to collect the Tweets and automatically drop them into a Google Spreadsheet.

Zapier

Zapier refers to this as a “Zap” and they have a huge list of preexisting Zaps available as well as allowing you to create your own based on the various APIs and data sources they interface with. We set the Zap up to take the text, username, and timestamp from each tweet mentioning @authoritylabs and containing the #ALHealth hashtag and drop each one into a Google Spreadsheet.

Zapier Zap

This Zap will check twitter every 15 minutes and drop any new entries into our Google Spreadsheet.

Selecting a Winner

Now that we’ve collected all the Tweets, it’s time to select a winner. Each Friday of the contest, we jump into the spreadsheet and check to see how many rows are in there. Then we plug that number into a random number generator and whichever number comes up will be matched up with a row in the spreadsheet and the person whose tweet is on that row is the winner. Quick, simple, and fair for everyone.

Entries

Since the rules of the contest are that you can only enter once per day, we decided that only the first entry a user makes each day will be eligible for the contest. We could manually go in and remove the ineligible entries but that would just waste time. If the random number chosen happened to be for a Tweet that is from someone who already entered for the day, we would generate a new random number. It hasn’t been an issue so far, but it is something to keep in mind.

If you haven’t entered the contest yet, now is a good time to enter. We’re giving away 3 more Fitbit Flex wristbands over the next 3 weeks and you have just as much of a chance as anyone to win.