Thursday, December 17, 2009

Google and Facebook reach deal to include content into live search

Similar to the Twitter deal I blogged about on Tuesday, Google has reached a deal with Facebook to include some content created by its members into search results, effectively creating 'live' search. It appears that content will only be added that relates to 'hot topics' (again, similar to the Twitter deal), but that could easily change over time.

Now on the surface, this seems like a very big plus for businesses, especially ones that have a limited social media effort, or any that are only on Facebook. If the deal eventually branches out to incorporate ALL content created by Facebook members, then the SEO ramifications alone are huge.

But I think it's wise to consider one very big issue: You will be letting Facebook have control over your content. You already do, but as more money becomes involved, there could be more changes to how that content can be changed or controlled.

For example, a few weeks ago I was working with a client to do a promotion via the company's Facebook fan page. Right as we were in the final planning stages, Facebook changes their rules on promotion and giveaways, and instantly our idea had to be nixed. What about Rupert Murdoch's public spat with Google and his desire to pull all MySpace content from Google's search engine? What if your only social media presence and your network as a business was completely on MySpace, then that happened?

So this move has some very big potential advantages for companies that are active on Facebook, but I think the potential downsides must also be considered. I also think this solidifies that for the average business, the hub of their social media efforts should be on a platform where they have control of the content, such as a blog.

What do you think? Are the risks worth the reward for companies with this new deal?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Google - Twitter strike live search deal; what it means for your company

If you do a Google search for Tiger Woods (as I did in the image above), you'll notice something has changed. At the top you have a news story, then a few results from the web, and under that is a frame with constantly updating new stories about Tiger, including tweets from Twitter.

Yes, Twitter. Live Search is now here, as Twitter and Google recently struck a deal to have tweets about popular topics included into Google's search results. Google struck a similar deal with Facebook as well, and I'll cover that in another post.

If you are a company, you have to understand the ramifications of this. Potentially, YOUR tweets as well as the tweets from Twitter users ABOUT your company, could be integrated into Google search results. As with most areas of social media, this can either be a great thing for your company, or a nightmare.

Consider this; Let's say your company suddenly has a major product recall. Speculation in mainstream media is running wild that this could just be the tip of the iceberg, and that other more popular product lines could be affected as well.

When people run to Google to do searches to see what is happening, tweets from Twitter will very likely be served up highly in the results. This is where your company can either benefit, or be in big trouble.

If your company has been proactive and is engaging with Twitter's users about this issue, then not only will your responses show up in search results, but so will the responses of Twitter's users, that have likely been influenced by your responses.

On the flip side, if people are discussing this on Twitter and your company has no presence there, there's likely to be wild rumors and speculation thrown about, and if your company isn't there to address these rumors, they will only get worse.

So what can you do about this?

1 - Start monitoring Twitter immediately. Go to Twitter Search and do a search for your company. Here's a link to a search I did for 'Heinz'. Notice up in the top right there is an RSS icon and it says Feed for this query. Click there, and you can subscribe to these results in your favorite feed reader.

2 - If you haven't already, reserve your company's name on Twitter. If the exact combination that you want isn't available, pick a name that's to your liking, and edit your profile to explain who you are, what you do, and include a link back to your website or blog (if you have one).

Now in all honesty, as the deal currently stands, this likely won't affect most companies. For example, I did a search for Jones Soda, and no tweets were served up in the search results. So if you are a small business or even a mid-sized company, this likely won't change much if anything for you. But if any news-worthy event happens that attracts MSM attention, it could very easily have tweets inserted into search results.

So it might be best to remember that Noah built the Ark before the rain started.

Monday, December 14, 2009

What 'The U' can teach you about building communities

I'm a sucker for documentaries that show the 'rise and fall' of military empires, businesses and the like. I love seeing the plan that made these giants possible, then what changed that led to the inevitable decline.

So when I saw that ESPN was going to have a special titled 'The U' on how Miami Hurricanes football became a juggernaut in the 1980s, I had to watch. Now let me have a disclaimer here; the Canes in the 80s were brash, cocky, arrogant, and much of what their players did was a complete embarrassment to college football, in my opinion. I wasn't interested in the special from that angle, I wanted to see what happened to take a football program from all but being closed in the late 70s, to being the dominant program in the country just a few years later.

To give this story a baseline and some perspective, in the late 70s, support for Miami's football program was so low that the school ran promotions with local Burger Kings to give away a free football ticket if you bought a Whopper! The school was about ready to drop the football program when it hired Howard Schnellenberger in 1979. Schnellenberger had tutored under two of the greatest football coaches of all-time, Bear Bryant at Alabama and Don Shula at the Miami Dolphins.

When Schnellenberger arrived in Miami, he immediately started putting his fingerprints over the entire program. His first goal was to 'win back' the city of Miami. Racial and economic tensions had divided the city in the early 80s, and left the entire area looking for an identify to unify it.

And Schnellenberger saw that potential identity as being the Miami Hurricanes football team. He purposely focused almost all of his recruiting efforts on getting football players from inner-city Miami, and the surrounding areas. He did that because as he explained, he wanted to recruit kids from South Florida that wanted to play in front of their friends and family, so they would be in the stands cheering on these players.

Schnellenberger's staff called South Florida 'The State of Miami', and told his staff to saturate that area of the state with their recruiting efforts. What happened was that kids from Miami started committing to play football at Miami, and then started calling their friends at other local schools and told them to come to Miami as well.

And the Miami community noticed that Schnellenberger was going into rough, inner city areas of Miami, and recruiting kids that other schools wouldn't touch. That began to resonate with the Miami community, and they began to respect Schnellenberger and in the process, the community began to adopt the Miami team as their own. Because it was.

"By the mid 80s, the Hurricanes were Miami's team" - Billy Corben, Director of The U

In 1983, the Miami Hurricanes won the school's first football National Championship. And the key was, that title was won with LOCAL players. An area that had been engulfed in strife and division, now had a reason to come together, and Schnellenberger instilled a sense of pride, of local pride, in the Miami program.

What does all of this have to do with your company's efforts to build an on or offline community? The lesson learned here is to give the people you are trying to reach, a sense of ownership in something larger than themselves. Schnellenberger did NOT recruit the best players in the country, he recruited the best players in Miami, specifically because he wanted LOCAL players. He wanted the mamas and daddies of these players to be in the stands cheering their sons on. He wanted the Miami community to identify with this team.

And they did. Remember that lesson when you are trying to create your community-building efforts.

Pic via ESPN

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

More comments doesn't always equal more conversation

How many times have you heard that when it comes to social media, that 'it's all about the conversation?' We all have, and 'the conversation' is terribly important.

But I think the misconception many of us have is that all you need to have a conversation, is comments. Check out this post by Olivier. Notice it has 266 comments (currently). But look closer and you'll see that almost all of those comments are coming from one side of the issue.

That's not a conversation, that's a buncha comments. And I think this is a problem that many bloggers have, in that we don't always effectively manage comments so that people that come down on both sides of the issue feel like they can be heard.

I'm not picking on Olivier here, notice this post I wrote last week on Mashable. Almost all of the commenters agreed with me, but Mike offered a differing viewpoint that I really didn't touch on. That was my fault, and I should have done a better job of addressing what Mike said. Doing so might have opened up the comments to more viewpoints.

So if you're a blogger that's wanting to get conversations started on your blog, remember that you need more than just comments. You need interaction, if all you have are a buncha 'Amen!' comments, well that might make YOU feel good, but it's not the best way to get a conversation started.

And if you do get a differing viewpoint (or someone that flatly says you are full of it), EMBRACE that, because they are giving an opening to anyone that has another viewpoint to chime in. More viewpoints means a better chance of turning a few comments into a vibrant conversation that we can ALL learn from.

That's how your blog gets traction and respect. Not by having comments, but by having conversations.

Pic via Flickr user db*photography

Thursday, December 03, 2009

When it comes to online content, more niche usually trumps more masses

I've been paying closer attention to Mashable lately. If you aren't familiar with the site, it prides itself on covering all aspects of social media, and even has the tagline "The Social Media Guide". The site has been growing like a weed for months, and every new post gets hundreds of RTs on Twitter.

But what's caught my attention recently is the content of the posts. As the site continues to grow, it seems to be moving away from just covering social media, to more broader 'news' stories.

For example, here are some of the titles of posts that have appeared on the site just in the last week:

Tiger Woods Injured in Car Accident
This is Why You're Fat: Thanksgiving Meals Average 2,200 Calories Per Serving
Black Friday Deals Online: 5 of the Best Tech Bargains
Want to Buy a Dual-Screen Laptop? Now You Can
Blackberry Deals and More: Carriers Celebrate Black Friday
Black Friday: Best Buy's Deals Include $200 HP Laptop

There are many other posts where the social media connection is a bit hard to see, to put it kindly. Now I understand why Mashable is writing and posting about Tiger Woods and Black Friday Deals; because it will get the site a flood of traffic.

But in the process, Mashable is losing its focus as being 'The Social Media Guide'. And it's an easy mistake for content creators to make. Hell the first time I had one of my posts picked up by TechMeme and saw a sudden crush of traffic, I was tempted to change my writing to get listed there again.

I think this is an important lesson for all of us to keep in mind; to not get intoxicated by the rush of tweets and traffic that might come from writing a post that's not the focus of your blog/site. Sure, it's great when the traffic starts shooting up, but if you aren't staying with the content that GOT you to where you are now, then you're leaving the door cracked open for the competition. In fact now would be a great time for a competitor to launch a site that's super-focused on social media, that can crank out several posts a day. If the posts are high-quality, and if Mashable keep veering away from covering just social media stories, then the opportunity would be there for the new site to establish itself as the 'new' Guide to Social Media, and occupy the area that Mashable is moving away from.

We have a sayin' down South that you 'Dance with the one that brung ya'. This applies to your online content as well, don't lose focus of what got your blog/site its readership in the first place. And don't confuse traffic with readership. The former is often fleeting, while the latter are the people that stick around.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Three ways a company blog can LOWER costs for your business

Let's be clear; most businesses want its blog to generate sales for the company. Either directly or indirectly. But some of the biggest benefits that can be achieved via a blog is to use it as a tool to reduce the cost of running your business. Here are three ways this can be done:

1 - Your blog as a customer service/support tool. Think about how much time and money and energy is spent on handling customer service issues. With a blog, you can handle most of these issues, giving customers the ability to find the answers for themselves, saving them time and energy as well. A win-win for everyone, as this always improves the customer's impression of your company, and makes them feel cool as well since they could solve the problem themselves! In the book Groundswell, the authors calculated this benefit alone as being worth $69K a year to a large blogging corporation.

2 - Organic SEO benefits. Everyone knows that blogging has big SEO advantages. But the organic SEO benefits from your company blog could be enough that you could scale back on the money you're paying that SEO firm, or even stop outsourcing your SEO efforts! That means you can take that portion of your marketing budget and move it to other areas!

3 - Free market research! One of the first things you'll hear about social media is that 'it's all about the conversation!!!' Ok I agree, there's so much more to it than that, and it's often hard to directly monetize 'the conversation'. But here's one area where customer feedback can pay off on your blog, and that's in the form of free research! Think about it, if you have a vibrant and active readership on your blog, then you can use your customers to get insights into new products you are developing, existing or possible marketing campaigns, or really anything! Click here for an example of this in action with the recent social media survey I conducted on

So keep these ways in mind when you are considering launching a company blog, or are trying to sell your boss on doing so. Don't just consider the potential revenue generated, but also the potential to lower the costs of running your business!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Use December's blogging lull to your advantage

If you've been blogging for more than a year, you know that we are heading into the 'dead' season for blogging. As we get into next month, everyone's attention moves to other, frankly more important areas, and blog readership across the board goes downhill from around mid-December till the New Year. Traffic will come to a crawl and for this blog, Christmas Day and New Year's Day are probably the two lowest days of the year for traffic.

So since most people will be taking a bit of a vacation from blog reading, it might be tempting for you as a blogger to take a mini-Holiday as well. But I think that would be a mistake, and that you should use this time wisely to improve your blogging efforts. Here's five ways to make the most of December's blogging lull:

1 - Re-evaluate everything. Go back and look at what your blogging results have been for 2009. How did traffic do? Subscribers? Comments? And how did these metrics tie back to your blogging goals? Put your blogging strategy for 2009 on trial, and then tweak it for 2010. Set goals for your blog. But make sure that those goals tie back into your larger focus for your blog.

2 - Ramp up content. David Armano advises doing this, using the Holiday vacation to push out as much if not more content than usual, with the thinking being that since many other bloggers are slacking off, your content can more easily be seen. We are going to keep looking for content to share with our networks, and if you keep creating great content while everyone else slacks off, guess whose posts will be shared with my network? Use December to increase your blogging visibility.

3 - Use December to get a blogging jumpstart on 2010. Hey we all want to spend time with friends and family during the Holidays. Work in all forms seems to take a backseat, and that's a good thing in many cases. But if nothing else, use that last week of December to get your content in order to hit the ground running in January. Most people won't begin to get back into reading blogs regularly until Jan. 4th (a Monday), and this is when many bloggers will begin to get back to writing. Use December to have at least one week's worth of posts already written for January, so that way first thing on Monday the 4th, you've already got fresh content waiting on readers, while many other bloggers are thinking about getting back to writing.

4 - Experiment. Every year I spend the final week of the year spending time with social sites/tools that I've been meaning to try out, but just haven't had the chance. I started doing this 2 years ago when I decided to see if I could finally figure out what the hell was the big deal with this Twitter site that everyone was buzzing about. December is a great time to examine different tools and see if they work for you to complement your blogging efforts.

5 - Become a commenting superhero. Remember, traffic is going to come to a crawl on many blogs. Virtual tumbleweeds will be bouncing into the blogger's legs and they will probably just resign themselves to the fact that it will simply be a few weeks before the traffic comes back. So just as you can use this lull to ramp up your content and get noticed, do the same thing with comments. If many people aren't commenting, this is your chance to get noticed. And not just with other readers, but by the bloggers themselves.

So there's some ideas for being proactive in December, and taking advantage of the blogging lull. And by the way, I'll be utilizing all of these steps, what about you?

Pic via Flickr user Katmere