Never con a con

I’m continually amazed by the number of people who come to this site to build their links by posting unrelated material in the comments. Remember, I’m a social media specialist. There are few link-building strategies, legitimate or shady, I haven’t heard of. When I leave comments I make sure they are relevant, add to the conversation, keep the self-promotion to a minimum. Usually I limit my self-promotion to putting my site’s URL in the field specifically for providing your URL.

The idea behind “link spamming” is to get as many links to your own website as you can get. This can convince search engines your site is more important because you are so actively involved in commenting.

Now, if someone really does spend time reading other blogs and leaving legitimate comments then they should be rewarded in the search engines. Unfortunately, far too many others have caught on to this and take “short cuts” to put out as many links as they can without  wasting time even reading your posts. I get so many link spammers that I very nearly round-file legitimate comments by mistake. Some common less-than-ethical tactics include:

  • Leaving vague compliments like “I love this post! I couldn’t agree more! I’m so glad I found this site! Keep posting!”
  • leaving gibberish, like: sMxfo1 aaqdaajzwccb, [url=http://xurxhkxhjsmj.com/]xurxhkxhjsmj[/url], [link=http://jahdbanbwwmp.com/]jahdbanbwwmp[/link], http://eqrmcekmtscx.com/
  • Commenting in a foreign language hoping I’ll just assume it’s for real.
  • Copying and pasting text from some other source, laced with links.

Because of this I’ve taken to personally moderating all my comments, at least for now. I’m hoping some of you comment spammers out there will read this post and abandon hope. But if not, I hope a few more bloggers will learn to recognize this behavior and help put a stop to it. These people are messing things up for all of us.

Someone Commented! What Now?!

In the early stages of any social media effort it will seem like you have no friends, that no one reads your posts, and you’re basically shouting into the void. You start to view social media as a one-way conversation with…well, yourself.

But then one day someone leaves a comment! Oh-my-gosh! Now what do I do?! Before this happens it is a good idea to consider a few points:

  1. Try to read their comments in as neutral a light as possible. You may not know the emotional context behind their words, and it’s very easy to insert your own interpretation based on how you say certain things. Do not assume that they are being critical or negative, sarcastic, upset, or even gushingly happy unless there are more than just slight contextual clues to help you.
  2. Answer in a way that puts you in the best light. Yes, it’s tempting to assume someone is being sarcastic and answer with sarcasm. But if they were being sincere you might inadvertently offend them. It is better to look like you totally missed their sarcasm than to assume sarcasm where there is none. Take their comments as positively as possible, and respond accordingly.
  3. If you really can’t tell, ask! If you are not certain what someone is saying or asking, ask them for clarification. People tend to assume they are perfectly clear in their communications, and they may be a little annoyed that you don’t understand, but that’s better than guessing wrong and really irritating them. Most people, once you ask for clarification, will realize that what they said could be unclear or taken several ways, and will gladly clarify.
  4. Decide on your company’s “voice” beforehand. Unless you are the only or obvious face of your company, people may not know expect it is you answering their comments. Try to maintain a consistent voice, especially if more than one in your company answers comments. Alternately, if there are several of you, and each of you may be known to customers in other ways, it may be okay to use your individual voice, so long as commenters have a way of knowing who it is responding.
  5. Do not EVER respond angry. Get someone else to do it or give yourself time to calm down before you even touch that keyboard. Don’t write an angry response you don’t intend to send to get it out of your system. One little slip and your tirade is out for everyone to see. Take the time to really look closely and impartially at what they said. Is there any truth to it? Ignore how they say things and focus on what they are really saying. Respond to the real problem as best you can and ignore any emotion behind it all. If you must stick up for yourself, be cordial and calm and try not to be accusatory in return. Take the high road.
  6. Don’t leave them hanging. While you don’t necessarily have to answer every comment, especially if it’s obvious they’re not expecting one, it’s still a good idea to participate and respond regularly. They’re commenting because they enjoyed something you said or because they wish to interact with your brand. Saying nothing back could discourage them from ever saying anything again. On the other hand, don’t always jump right in and respond, either. Give some time for other followers to respond first. Let your followers get to know one another through you and their impression of your brand rises. But do not ever ignore a negative comment! In most cases, some response is essential! Even if you cannot satisfy that commenter, others will be watching to see how you handle it.
  7. Be quick to apologize. If you do misread or misunderstand a comment and give a response that frustrates or offends be quick to apologize. Even if the problem was on their side, apologize for your part in the exchange. Some wars are not worth winning–being right doesn’t help if you drive away your customers. Making things right as soon as possible will make everyone who visits your site more comfortable.
  8. In social media no conversation goes unobserved. Unless you really are communicating by direct, private messaging, everything you say is seen by everyone. They may not participate in the dialogue, but they are watching and making judgments about you and about the person with whom you are interacting. This can be your biggest enemy when it’s you in the wrong, but it can be your biggest ally when the other person is being a jerk. When others see you trying to be kind, polite, helpful, and patient they will respect you more. They may even come to your aid if they see the other party as being unreasonable. But never forget for a moment that everyone is watching!

Interacting with fans of your company is what makes social media fun. How you choose to respond can help make your company fun for your fans. Take some time to consider each response. One bad response may not ruin your brand, but then again, it might! Better to be safe than sorry.

There is no magic to social media

I’m always a little afraid to work with people that have too high of expectations of social media. Sometimes people seem to approach it with the idea that just having a Twitter account is going to somehow double their business overnight. That’s to be expected though, considering the hype surrounding social media.

Then there is the common misconception that social media means telling people your most intimate/dull details. “Do you really think people care what I had for breakfast?!” people will ask me. The answer is “no”, unless you can somehow make breakfast interesting.

But for businesses especially, social media should not be all about you. It should be about your customer. You should be looking to provide information they are looking for. Yes, you do want to make things a little more personal and candid from time to time. People like to know they are dealing with a human being–someone they may have something in common with. People do business with people they know and like.

But most importantly, people do business with people they believe to be credible. There is no amount of social media that can make you sound credible if you are not. Credibility is built through two steps:

  1. Provide solid, useful content.
  2. Repeat regularly.

That doesn’t sound very magical, does it. In fact, it sounds downright boring. What is worse is that it’s not easy. It would be much easier to post about your breakfast, frankly. It takes much less thought and preparation. It takes much less discipline.

Though journalists like to look down on social media generally and bloggers specifically, popular bloggers have more in common with journalists than they care to admit. The people who get read are those who post something new regularly, whether they feel like it or not, whether they have time or not. Or rather, they make time.

Not every post needs to be a masterpiece, and your audience will probably forgive you a few lapses. But to really make social media work requires regular, disciplined, focused effort. You need to take time to think about what your audience needs to hear. You need to write it as best you can, and then post it. And then you need to do it again tomorrow, or next week, or however often you’ve committed to posting (I recommend no less than weekly).

No, there’s no magic to social media. It’s like everything else in life and in business: it takes work. Those who show up regularly and do the work are the ones who get the benefits. Those who stumble in expecting to find magic overnight will be sadly disappointed.

For the record, I had oatmeal for breakfast this morning. I sprinkle sliced almonds on top, drizzle real maple syrup over it, and then surround it with a moat of vanilla soy milk. Any leftovers we give to the dog, who prowls around the table throughout breakfast, snorting in anticipation of the pending treat. When she finally gets it she gobbles it down so quickly she can’t possibly know what it tastes like.

Creativity counts

Imagine getting these results from your social media advertising:

– 4,911% one month traffic increase
– 144,843 video views with 162 comments
– 1,500 tweets
– 120 blog posts in one month
– Tweets from Guy Kawasaki, Kevin Rose, and Jason Calacanis
– 7 national TV mentions

What was the company that accomplished this? Grasshopper, a company selling 800-number services for small businesses. How did they do this? They created an inspirational video with nearly no self-promotion, and they sent out a package of chocolate-covered grasshoppers, along with a link to the video, to 5000 people they felt were influential.

The idea was so unusual and so counter-intuitive (snail-mail packages in the era of instant Internet communciation?!) that it got attention. Lots of attention. There’s no indication of how it impacted revenues, but it’s hard to imagine it not making a difference.

Social media can be powerful, but it can never compare to sheer creativity. Put them together, however, and interesting things can happen.

(Information via Mashable)

You no longer control the message

Whether or not you engage in social media with your business, social media may be engaging you. People are interacting with and talking about your brand online. They control the message. You only get to participate in the conversation. This can be good or bad, as shown by two example.

The first is a 2009 social media campaign launched by Starbucks wherein content participants vied to be the first to locate, photograph, and post new Starbucks posters to Twitter with appropriate hashtags. Great idea, except at the same time a producer of an anti-Starbucks video was releasing his video. He found out about Starbuck’s campaign and was able to hijack it to get people to instead submit protest pictures. Though Starbucks pulled the plug on the contest, the damage was done–and continued on for some time.

The second is an experience I had yesterday at a networking event. FourSquare is still fairly new, and I haven’t seen much evidence of it being used in Boise yet. One person in my Facebook network, however, regularly uses it to check in at the gym where she works out.

At the networking event I met the couple that owns the gym. Since I’m constantly on the lookout for new opportunities for my clients I thought I’d ask them how FourSquare is working for them. They had no idea what I was talking about. They didn’t know what FourSquare was, let alone that someone was giving them free publicity through it. Their response was correct: they vowed to find out more, and also find out who their customer giving them the publicity was and reward her (that’s what FourSquare is about, really).

This was a positive example, but of the same concept: people will talk about you whether you know it or not. Ignorance is understandable, but not helpful. Your best bet is to start listening and make sure you are a part of the conversation.

Reputation management is one of the services we offer. Even if you can manage your social media effectively, we can help you monitor the Internet to detect conversations about your company.

Dealing effectively with customer feedback

eMarketer interviews Pete Blackshaw, vice president of Digital Strategic Services at Nielsen, and his colleague, Maya Swedowsky on how to deal with customer feedback through social media. Read the entire article, but a couple excellent points to consider:

If that person has come to one of the company’s social media outposts, like Facebook or Twitter, to make that comment, that the retailer should respond to that and should try to respond to really most comments that are posted directly on the Facebook fan page or directed at their Twitter account, because it’s clear that that person is making their statement or their stance known and presumably wants a response. But there are conversations happening everywhere.

It’s all how you provide context, how you measure the influence. If it’s an issue where you historically have shown volatility, you may want to dial up. Sometimes there’s a real cost of not engaging and responding. Sometimes the response is just how you make sure that your Website has content that might thoughtfully deal with their issue.

Social media statistics, skepticism, and strategies

On Deming Hill’s site I found an interesting article about why CEO’s hate social media. Particularly interesting to me was some of the data they posted as to its business benefits:

Executives rely on market research to support and substantiate any designated course of action, and devour facts, stats, and data-points like shrimp at a wedding reception.  Summarized below are a few statistics buttressing the explosion of this social media trend, and detailing how Corporate America is leveraging it to realize significant revenue and market share growth going forward.

  • In the last 7 years, Internet usage has increased 70% PER YEAR. Spending for digital advertising this year will be more than $25 billion and surpass print advertising spending (forever)
  • Lenovo has experienced a 20% reduction in activity to their call center since they launched their community website for customers
  • Blendtec quintupled sales with its “Will it Blend” series on YouTube
  • Only 18% of traditional TV campaigns generate a positive ROI
  • Naked Pizza set a one-day sales record using social media: 68% of their sales came via twitter and 85% of their new customers
  • Software company Genius.com reports 24% of social media leads convert to sales opportunities
  • Dell has already made over $7 million in sales via Twitter
  • 37% of Generation Y heard about the Ford Fiesta via social media BEFORE its launch in the US and currently 25% of Ford’s marketing budget is spent on digital/social media
  • 71% of companies plan to increase investments in social media by an average of 40%
  • A recent Wetpaint/Altimeter Group study found companies that widely engage in social media surpass their peers in both revenue and profit

(Sources for Statistics: meyersreport.com lenovosocial.com George Wright Blendtec Mashable.com econsultancy.com businessweek.com )

Obviously we’re not hearing about the “also-ran’s” and the flops, but this offers a clear indication that, when done right, social media can play a key role in a company’s marketing. But these figures also suggest a few important caveats:

  1. It takes money to make money: If Ford devotes 25% of their budget to social media they’re not using it to leverage the “free” aspect or get by more cheaply.
  2. You have to have a goal: Lenovo set out to decrease their customer support calls specifically, not just “Let’s do social media and see what happens”.
  3. If you don’t measure, you don’t know if it works: I doubt any companies could quote such statistics if they weren’t measuring the results of their campaigns.
  4. Be wary of statistics: All of this looks nice. But this list of statistics was compiled and published by a social media company. While these statistics show there is a good reason to look at social media more closely, it’s best to remember they didn’t post anything that suggests that social media is anything less than wonderful.

Can you expect results from social media? Yes. Is it a guaranteed fix-all for your business? No. It should never replace your over-all business or marketing strategies, only support and enhance them. You should know what you are doing and why before engaging in any social media campaign or effort.

That said, and lest one get the idea that I don’t believe in social media, a consistent, focused social media plan, well-executed and given sufficient time, will produce results. Just make sure you’ve got all your ducks in a row first.

Which SM service is right for you?

There are a lot of social media services out there. Far too many, really. No one can really hope to know about them all, let alone understand them and use them. But over time several have risen to the top as the de facto leaders in the field. Services such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Flickr, Blogger, and some others have gathered the most attention and the most users, and since social media is all about the number of eyes you can draw to your information, it’s all about users.

But even that many services may seem daunting. Businesses looking at getting into social media may be asking themselves which is right for them. The answer is usually: Yes.

The trick, if there is one, to social media is only partly picking the right one. More important than the service you use is the content you make available. Just being on Facebook will not guarantee that any of it’s 500 million users will even look at your page. Using Twitter could be like the proverbial tree falling in the forest–if no one hears you, you won’t make a sound.

Ultimately the real question of which service is right for you comes down to this: Which one do you most enjoy using? It’s as simple as that. While you can be successful on multiple services at once, you’re likely going to be the most successful on the one you use most.

If you understand Twitter and enjoy conversing in small, concise bursts, then by all means, focus on Twitter–at least until you get a good following built up and want to try some other services. If you like the various features of Facebook and can spend hours in there posting and talking to people, then use Facebook.

You will invariably perform your best in the places where you’re the most comfortable. It’s true in business, and it’s true in social media. Experiment with the various services and find out which one you’re most drawn to. Then dive in, use it, and start engaging with your audience.

Doing one social media service well will always be more beneficial to doing a half dozen of them poorly.

Measuring ROI – Some thoughts

Measuring ROI of any marketing effort can be more difficult than measurements in other areas of a business. You can usually measure quite accurately how many dollars were spent on a particular project. You can measure the number of units produced per day or the number of employee sick days. You can measure your sales versus profits.

Marketing is a bit more hazy. Yes, you can measure the number of leads collected in a particular month compared to the amount of money spent on advertising. And if you have exceptionally strategic-minded salesmen you may even get them to regularly ask their contacts how they heard about you to further narrow down your marketing effectiveness.

But it can be more difficult to measure customer loyalty (ie. who thought about switching and didn’t) or determine whether an increase in repeat sales is due to your marketing or due to som other factor. Customer buying habits are complicated, and usually the best you can prove is correlation, not causation (ie. “when we increase marketing spending 20% our sales increase  between 8-14%” vs. “we can make sales increase 1% by spending $10,000 on marketing”).

That said, there are certain relationships that can and should be tracked. Any marketing executive who claims you can’t measure the effects of marketing should be watched closely. The same goes for social media. There are certain results that can be measured if you are willing to make the effort.

The problem is that many businesses are not always collecting good data to begin with. Regardless of whether you use Social Media, can you say what the cost of acquiring a new customer is for your business? Can you say what a customer is worth to your business?

For example, it could cost you $500 to attract a single customer. That customer on average may spend $200 per year with your business. At that rate it will take 2.5 years to realize a profit on that customer. If the average customer only stays with your business for three years you’re not going to have a very good return – only about $100, or about 6.6% per year.

However, knowing that information, you are now in a position to measure the benefits of any specific marketing effort. Suppose you decide to implement social media marketing in your business. After a period of measurement you determine that customers gained through social media cost only $400 to obtain. Assuming the other factors are equal, you now break even within two years, for a $200 profit on that customer over three years, or 16.5% per year ROI.

Or imagine that it still costs $500 to gain a customer, but you can increase their yearly purchase rate to $220. Your three-year profits on that customer rise to $160, or 10.6% yearly ROI. That’s a significant increase over the original 6.6% ROI.

Or let’s say through a change in your marketing you are able to retain a customer for an average of four years instead of three. You now make a net gain of $300 over those four years, or a yearly ROI of 15%.

Now these results are for demonstration purposes, and not indicative of expected results. They are to make the point that there are several ways that any marketing initiative can impact your bottom line. But you won’t be able to know you are getting those results if you aren’t already measuring some very basic factors in your business.

Make sure you have metrics in place in your business. Without them you will never be able to be sure if your marketing is working, or whether you just have a very good salesman running your marketing–good at selling you on fronting the money for their experiments.

Don’t overlook LinkedIn

For many Net Socialites LinkedIn is one of those “also-ran” sites. It’s reputation as a job-search site causes many to overlook it in favor of more sexy, pure-social sites. But for both individuals and businesses that want to establish a business presence online or build their reputation, LinkedIn should be included in their social toolbox. Here are a few reasons why:

  1. Recommendations – Client, customer, or co-worker recommendations are Internet gold, regardless of the platform. Savvy businesses and consumers are learning to include LinkedIn when vetting contractors or other businesses. Always invite your customers to give you a recommendation on LinkedIn.
  2. Q&A – With a site full of over 20 million experts, one quick way to stand out is to be a regular in answering questions. It builds your reputation for being a “giver” and heightens your credibility. Don’t forget that asking good questions can also make you look good–and get you good, quality answers!
  3. Groups – Joining LinkedIn groups both helps define your online personality and can put you in touch with potential customers. Being an active, helpful participant can lead to business contacts, even if the group is completely unrelated to what you do. For example, if you contribute regularly in the Charlotte Bronte discussion group, people in that group will come to like and trust you. They will also see what it is you do for a living. If they happen to be looking for what you offer, chances are they’ll come to you first.
  4. Social Media Aggregation – Integration with several of the top social media sites are already in place on LinkedIn, and you can set up live feeds one your profile page. You can update your LinkedIn status from other platforms. You can keep your LinkedIn profile fresh with constantly changing content–with very little effort!
  5. Research – It’s easy to look in on what your competition is doing with LinkedIn, and you can find a lot of information that way. You can also look up potential clients, employees, or collaborators. The power of LinkedIn as a business directory, though not directly social in nature, should not be underestimated.

It takes very little effort to set up and maintain a LinkedIn profile, and provides one more line in the water to catch clients. Why not add LinkedIn to your social media mix?