My good friend and PR pro Renee Blodgett is in the finals of the PR Week Blog Competition. The winner is chosen by popular vote and Renee’s creativity and impressive contact list have enabled her to overcome some very large agencies to get this far. Please do her a favor: go to the voting page and click on “Down the Avenue” where it says “Vote Here.” It takes two seconds. Hurry, because the competition ends Friday. And then check out Down the Avenue, because we could all learn a few tricks from it.
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I meet with corporate marketers and their agencies these days, I’m frequently surprised to learn how little they think about search engine optimization. This is despite the fact that Google alone processes an estimated 750 million queries daily, and that IT professionals are some of the most active and advanced users of search engines.
One reason for this, I suspect, is that marketers are trained to be good at “push” marketing. Their craft has traditionally involved intercepting customers with messages that grab their attention and inspire action. Customers, however, are becoming more resistant to these tactics. Increasingly, they engage with companies and products on their terms when they’re ready to make a buying decision. That’s a much better time to reach them. The trick is to show up on their radar when they’re in this “pull” mode.
Google is now the universal homepage. Look at your traffic logs and you’ll probably see that search engines vastly outperform any other referral source. Yet many marketers devote lots of time and money to creating beautiful homepage designs that are rich in animation and graphics. Not only are these pages rarely seen by today’s web site visitors, but images and Flash animations are almost useless at attracting search engine traffic.
Successful IT marketers are learning to reverse the push model. They know that buyers start the research process in a search query box and that the sites that make the first page of results get 10 times the click-throughs of anything else.
The Great Equalizer
You might think search engines favor the big brands, but that’s not the case. Try this: Type “router” into Google and look at the results. Note that only four of the top 25 results are vendor sites. Now type “PC.” Note that the only vendor in the top 10 results — Apple — doesn’t even market its products as PCs! In fact, neither of the top two PC makers in the US market even makes the top 100 results on Google.
Now look at what dominates search results for both terms: sites that provide definitions and helpful how-to advice. This should tell you something. Your search engine performance will be greatest when you deliver content that helps customers make good decisions through practical, impartial guidance from knowledgeable sources.
Search is the great equalizer. The leading engines’ proprietary algorithms are designed to screen out material that their developers consider uninteresting. Your challenge is to match your content to their preferences.
Start by choosing the search terms that really matter. Be specific. Get general agreement that these are the terms you want to dominate in search performance. Marshall all of your internal web site contributors to reinforce those terms every time they write.
Discard terms like “industry-leading” and “innovative.” No one searches for those words. Start a blog or discussion forum. Both are search engine magnets. Pick up a copy of Search Engine Marketing, Inc. by Mike Moran and Bill Hunt. It’ll tell you a lot of the ins and outs. Make SEO a basic consideration in every marketing campaign. Then let those buyers reel you in.
This article originally appeared in Network World’s ITiki newsletter.
Over at the Tech PR War Stories podcast, David Strom and I have been busy interviewing some fascinating people about social media marketing. Here’s a roundup of recent activity. You can subscribe to the podcast feed on the site or by clicking here.
44: Internet Marketing Superlist Author Shares Secrets
At the end of 2007, Tamar Weinberg assembled an amazing assortment of blog entries about everything from headline writing to linkbaiting to becoming a Digg.com power user. Tamar will give you a twentysomething’s perspective on social media. If you’re trying to really understand this phenomenon, listen to what she has to say.
Jennifer Mattern calls herself the “social media Grinch.” But that doesn’t mean she’s down on social media. It’s just that she thinks the focus on social media can distract PR people from their real work, In this interview, she outlines her cautionary advice about social media and stresses the fundamentals that PR people still need to employ.
I’m writing a how-to book about social media marketing and one chapter is devoted to hands-on techniques for finding influencers online. It isn’t as simple as it sounds. In this episode, I talk about what I learned conducting influencer searches on behalf of a mythical Quebec resort. Step one: master advanced search.
Many people’s first reaction to Twitter.com is that they just don’t get it. It looks like barely controlled chaos. But Twitter has inspired a passionate following. Laura Fitton is a poster child for a service that is revolutionizing the way people interact with their social networks. In this interview, she describes what’s unique about Twitter and how it can be useful even to people who don’t use it that often.
It has become almost cliché for media professionals to complain about the lack of measurement tools for new media campaigns. The Internet is the most measurable medium ever invented, yet marketers continue to squabble about which metrics are most meaningful.
So it was a pleasure to read Katie Paine’s newly released book, Measuring Public Relationships. Paine is one of the acknowledged gurus in this area, and her opinions command widespread respect. The reports and tools that her team produces on the Measures of Success website make it a must-bookmark for PR pros. In this compact (204 pages), readable book, Paine gives us her best stuff. After reading it, you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about.
Paine boils down the issues to a few key factors. Outputs are the results of publicity efforts, such as clips and blog mentions. Outtakes are how people think as a result of experiencing outputs. Outcomes are how their behavior changes. All are measurable, she argues, so once you decide what tools you’ll use to measure them, the rest is just execution.
As Paine works through the various audiences that PR people must satisfy – journalists, bloggers, event audiences, local constituents and even internal employees – she uses repetition to drive home the point that measurement is all about sweating a few basics. Decide who’s important, figure out how you want to measure the results of your actions, set baselines and benchmarks and choose measurement tools. Although there’s good advice on the pros and cons of various online metrics, this book isn’t about page views vs. unique visitors. It’s about choosing the right metrics for your situation and then applying them in a disciplined manner.
Measuring Public Relationships brings welcome clarity to a debate that has become bogged down in complexity and minutiae. Read it and then pass it along to your boss.
The Arthur W. Page Society has just released a manifesto for the new world of corporate communications, and I’d recommend that anyone who works in PR or marketing download it. The Society is an exclusive group of senior execs from big companies, so their opinions carry some weight. While the report is short on quantitative research (though there is a survey of 31 CEOs discussed at the end), it’s hard to argue with its overarching conclusions: businesses no longer control their messages; constituencies are expanding and diversifying; and corporations must be more transparent and open about nearly everything they do.
“The 64-page report is called The Authentic Enterprise: Relationships, Values and The Evolution of Corporate Communications. Below are some excerpts that I snipped from the PDF. They’ll give you a flavor of the recommendations, but it’s worthwhile to read the whole document.
Thanks to George Faulkner at IBM for tipping me off to this new research.
“For those corporations that remain public and that aspire to build trusted brands, sustainable marketplace success and community reputation, the imperative of authenticity will inevitably grow in importance.
“We are no longer in control of our traditional spheres of professional activity. Indeed, all business functions are at the dawn of an era of radical de-professionalization.
“…New priorities and skills for which the Chief Communications Officer must now assume a leadership role: 1. Leadership in defining and instilling company values; 2. Leadership in building and managing multistakeholder relationships; 3. Leadership in enabling the enterprise with “new media” skills and tools…
“For business, globalization has long been transforming markets for capital and labor. Now it is reshaping the footprint – and even the idea – of the corporation. This institution is shifting from a hierarchical, monolithic, multinational model to one that is horizontal, networked and globally integrated.
“The chief communications executive and the communications function of a 21st century corporation will increasingly be responsible not only for the reputation of their single company, but also for understanding, communicating and even helping to shape the reputations of its ecosystem partners – such as clients, partners, government agencies, nongovernmental organizations and other influencers.
“More than 300 million camera phones were shipped in 2005. They are now the most widespread image-capture devices in the world. At current growth rates, there could be one billion camera phones in use worldwide by 2008. That means nearly one person in six is a potential photojournalist – or, with the spread of video capabilities, documentary filmmaker.
“Teens in the U.S. – the consumers of today and the employees, shareholders, voters and leaders of tomorrow – spend 60 percent less time watching TV than their parents, and 600 percent more time online, interacting with, influencing and being influenced not by institutions, marketers or professional communicators, but by their peers.
“Procter & Gamble…“imports” 50 percent of its new ideas from outsiders. And Eli Lilly has created an open R&D marketplace called Innocentive to match problems needing solutions with independent researchers who can solve them.
“All of this makes the 21st century enterprise vulnerable at a wholly new level to unexpected developments that can damage the brand, negatively affect employee commitment, undercut outside relationships and destabilize management, including the CEO and other corporate officers and Board members. This, in turn, means that the stakes are much higher for what corporate communicators do.
“We used to segment communications carefully to targeted audiences. In an open information commons, everyone can see (and, increasingly, modify) any public communication, no matter to whom it is targeted.
“Message ‘segmentation’ is no longer practical or desirable. Despite the proliferation of diverse stakeholders, all are now on a level playing field.
“Values are the fundamental basis for enterprise communications. “To be an effective communications function in the authentic enterprise:
- “We must not only position our companies, but also help define them. While expertise and authenticity are essential, communicators’ counsel to the corporation must now encompass its fundamental business model, brand, culture, policies and, most importantly, values.
- “We must not only develop channels for messaging but also networks of relationships. In a business ecosystem of proliferating constituencies, communicators must lead the development of social networks and the tools and skills of relationship building and collaborative influence – both to seize new opportunities and to respond to new threats.
- “We must shift from changing perceptions to changing realities. In a world of radical transparency, 21st century communications functions must lead in shaping behavior – inside and out – to make the company’s values a reality.
“Conduct public relations as if the whole company depends on it. Corporate relations is a management function. No corporate strategy should be implemented without considering its impact on the public. The public relations professional is a policymaker capable of handling a wide range of corporate communications activities.
“Realize a company’s true character is expressed by its people. The strongest opinions – good or bad – about a company are shaped by the words and deeds of its employees. As a result, every employee – active or retired – is involved with public relations. It is the responsibility of corporate communications to support each employee’s capability and desire to be an honest, knowledgeable ambassador to customers, friends, shareowners and public officials.
“[CEOs] say that the emphasis of communications work must shift significantly toward internal communications, as they seek to transform their organizations’ culture and workforce skills – not just to make them more efficient and productive, but to embed the kind of pervasive transparency, personal responsibility and values-based decision making that enterprise-scale authenticity requires.
“The greatest danger corporate communications faces, ironically, may lie in our very success over the past two decades, if that success blinds us to the new demands that lie ahead.”
In the final Tech PR War Stories podcast of 2007, David Strom and I stretch out a little and ruminate on what’s ahead for 2008. Here, in no particular order, are our predictions. It’s going to be another wild year for tech PR, but one in which savvy PR pros can elevate their status with employers and clients:
- The end of beats at technology publications. Reporters will become more generalized and contract experts will contribute more of the specialized coverage;
- Fragmentation in coverage of technology; it will come from a variety of sources;
- Google will buy Second Life and Skype. Paul sees big opportunities for the search giant to leverage those core technologies into franchise businesses;
- PR pros will have to do a better job at creating meaningful relationships with press. They’ll also have to reach out to unexpected places for coverage;
- Increasing concerns about privacy in social networks. Facebook’s Beacon was just the tip of the iceberg;
- The Wall Street Journal will become a free service. Rupert Murdoch has already made it clear that he wants to take the paper in this direction and that will have big implications for tech coverage as the Journal asserts itself as a major online news force;
- The rise of social search, addressing some of the inherent limitations of search. Mahalo and WikiaSearch are early proofs of concept of an evolution of the search utility;
- Vendors will increasingly become publishers and will need help from PR people to create useful and interesting content.
Download the podcast here (19:00).
This week in the the Tech PR War Stories podcast, David Strom and I discuss negativity in the blogosphere. The risk of blogger attacks is one of the biggest reasons companies avoid social media, but we argue that fears are overblown. Sure, you need a thick skin to invite customer feedback. But companies with good products and happy customers aren’t likely to be hurt by one bad seed.
Learn more at TechPRWarStories.com.
Here is the final set of responses to questions that time didn’t permit me to answer during the AMA Marketing Seminar on Oct. 15. Each of these permalinks is tagged “AMA” so you can easily group them together. Thanks again to everyone for coming and for asking such great questions.
Q: Chris asks, “Do you think this will impact corporate cultures? And how?”
That’s a big question, but I’ll try to summarize. One enormous impact of new media will be to force companies to be more open and transparent about their activities, motivations and mistakes. Once customers began talking to each other and sharing their experiences with your company, you have very little control over those conversations. It’s going to be a lot harder to hide your blemishes and to keep secrets.
Already, many marketers are finding that their carefully managed product rollout plans are sabotaged by bloggers who get their hands on secret information. I believe that businesses, particularly large ones, are going to have to learn to live in a world where information can’t be covered up very well. This will force them to be more transparent with their constituents about their plans. That won’t be easy for everybody.
Internally, I expect social media to flatten corporate cultures. Communication within most companies has traditionally been controlled from the top down. But once individuals have the ability to speak freely with each other, those lines become much fuzzier. In most companies, this will be a good thing. However, a company that values a strict hierarchy will be challenged by this. They can refuse to give their employees blogs, but they can’t prohibit their employees from communicating off-hours via blogs or social networks. Again, this won’t be easy for everybody
Q: Viktor asks, “Will passionate social media users get paid at some point in time?
A: Many of them are getting paid now. For example, I spoke in my presentation about Adrants, which is a one-person operation that is generating good cash flow from advertising. Many models are being developed to reward bloggers for their hard work, although in reality very few people can make a living in this way. I expect that a small minority of people will be able to make decent income as new influencers, but only a very tiny number will become wealthy from it. These are niche markets, after all.
Q: S Law asks, “How do organizations and businesses engage bloggers to get that positive word of mouth?”
A: Much of my book is about this, so I’ll refer you to that, or to other books I referenced earlier, including Naked Conversations by Scoble and Israel; Marketing to the Social Web by Weber; What No One Ever Tells You About Blogging and Podcasting by Demopoulos, The Corporate Blogging Book by Weil; and The New Rules of Marketing and PR by Scott.
To summarize, though, you need to take the following steps:
- Get to know which influencers matter in your market;
- Read or listen or watch what they’ve been publishing and learn what their passions and biases are;
- Engage in conversations about topics of mutual interest. Don’t try to sell to them, though;
- Provide interesting and valuable information that they can use to further their interest and create new content for their sites;
- Invite them to become involved with your company as an adviser, reviewer and/or media representative;
- Show your gratitude. In most cases, this doesn’t mean paying them so much as treating them as insiders and respected advisers. Although t-shirts are always welcome!
Q: Erika asks, “Have you looked at social influencers in the healthcare provider community? What is the prevalence there?”
A: It’s very difficult to estimate numbers for any topic because of the large number of spam blogs. All the services try to filter out spam, but none succeeds very well.
Technorati lists nearly 5,000 blogs as being about medicine in some capacity and 2,000 as being about healthcare, although in reality the numbers are much smaller than that. There does appear to be quite a bit of healthcare information out there. For example, a Google blog search on “diabetes” turns up several thousand posts in the last day, and the top few hundred look legitimate.
In general, people use social media for topics that matter deeply to them, and there’s no question that medicine is one of those areas. If you try searching the two sources I mentioned above, you’ll pretty quickly get a picture of what’s being said out there.
Q: Scott asks, “How do you weed out fake comments, possibly from the company or someone that is one-sided?”
A: Most blogging services offer the option to screen comments. This requires a little extra effort on your part, because you must go in and look at each comment individually before approving it, but this is necessary in some cases because comment spammers tend to send a lot of their trash to certain blogs.
There is no way to verify a person’s identity when they post a comment, other than to verify e-mail addresses or search for their name. In general, you need to use common sense and make sure that comments don’t betray a bias that could
be driven by competitive issues.
I should stress, however, that you don’t want to suppress legitimate comments just because they’re negative. People expect to participate in the discussion, and as long as their words are reasonable and not profane, they should be allowed to do that. If you start censoring visitors, you will quickly hear from people about it, and often in public places. Don’t get into blogging if you’re not able to stand a little heat.