2011 social media predictions

So while I have my blogging head on – hot off the news that Delicious is disappearing and Facebook has undergone yet another redesign – I thought I’d jot down my thoughts on the state of the social media nation for the coming year. It’s not all good. Here we go…

Confidence will go down

Social media lives in the cloud (or ‘online’ as we used to say). This is good, in that the cloud is a wonderful thing where you can pool computing resources and readily share information. But its fluidity is a problem. I’ve already written about my dislike of the state of ‘permanent beta’ of such services, and with the recent make-over of Facebook, I remain annoyed. The bigger a site gets, the more we depend on it. The more it changes, the less we like it – not just because we have to relearn it, but strategists have to go back to the blueprints, trainers have to re-do all their materials, and so on. And that’s nothing compared to what happens when sites like Delicious just disappear. How can you invest time and effort, how can you plan, when you don’t know what’s going to happen over the next few months, let alone the next year?

Monetisation will continue to be a problem

Yahoo owns the biggest bookmarking service around, and it cannot make money off it. Twitter, as far as I’m aware, still doesn’t have a monetisation strategy. I don’t quite understand how Mark Zuckerberg can be so rich off the back of Facebook. Anyone remember the dotcom boom and bust? Social media feels horribly similar, in that I believe the people who make money off social media right now are the ones who get paid to assess its value. It’s very like the old gold rushes – the ones who got rich were the ones who sold the spades to dig for the gold, not the poor fools actually looking for it.

PR still won’t ‘get it’

I still feel my temples throb when I meet up with digital colleagues at PR agencies, who recount phrases they continue to come across such as “Let’s do some blogging stuff” or “Maybe we should send some tweets out.” Social media is still new, but it’s gone from burbling helplessly in the cot to at least toddling. Four-plus years is enough for PR people to have understood the basics, but my anecdotal evidence suggests that PR people, while they are completely brilliant at issues, are unrivalled organisers and demon communicators, are completely at sea when it comes to the high-level strategy and the low-level nuts and bolts of getting through to people online. I don’t see this changing any time soon.

Freelancers will find it an increasingly tough gig

I admit I haven’t found the past year easy by any means. People rightly want the confidence of an agency behind their programmes in case I get run over by a bus. And if/when you do finally get a client who’s prepared to work with you in the longer term, again they quite rightly want to know your ‘secret sauce’ – and then do it for themselves.

Digital agencies will rise

While I find PR people don’t ‘get’ digital, I do find digital ‘gets’ PR. My prediction here is that, far from PR subsuming digital, it will eventually be the other way around. Digital agencies have the heft of a professional outfit, with a proper team structure and a wealth of expertise that, I think, will be the umbrella model for the future.

Social media curves will continue to go up, but results will continue to disappoint

I still find it astonishing that, for example, in 2010 there was more social media traffic than all years combined (trust me, it’s a valid statistic, but I cannot find the source for that right now). At the same time, broadcast and mainstream media just has those huge exposure figures that social media simply cannot compete with. Dan Sabbagh of The Guardian recently showed us this (and this time I do have a link): of the recent Alan Partridge Fosters YouTube videos he says: “The first episode has racked up 492,000 plays on YouTube at the time of writing, and while the latest episode, 5, has dropped to 135,000, [Henry Normal, the man who “minds the shop” at Partridge actor Steve Coogan’s production company Baby Cow] claims the results are a success, even though a new comedy on Channel 4 would expect to be seen by 1.5m to 2m viewers.” OK, so 15-minute YouTube clips are cheaper to disseminate but 135,000 views is NOTHING compared to 2 million viewers – regardless of trendy notions of ‘engagement’, ‘dialogue’ or ‘the network effect’.

Facebook will continue to dominate

Facebook is a juggernaut and it’s not going to slow down any time soon. This is a pity because the web was never meant to be a single-application platform. It was supposed to be a resilient, open resource through which information could freely – which also means anonymously – pass. One day Facebook will break and then we’ll all be sorry.

Dashboarding and curating will grow

I truly believe that every company should be monitoring what people are saying about it, its issues and its competitors, on a daily basis. Even if they don’t then engage, there is simply no excuse for not listening, especially when marvellous sites such as Netvibes make dashboarding easy as cake, a piece of pie. Set up an internal dashboard monitoring your competitors and what people are saying about them. That’s research. And have an external one showcasing what you say and the areas you want to ‘own’. That’s marketing. Where’s the harm in that?

Social media will only provably work for big companies that have stuff to sell

This is possibly the most controversial point here. Social media only works when it scales up. If you don’t have enough followers/members/contacts, it won’t work. People are the fuel that drives the social media engine. So smaller companies that genuinely want to engage will not see the benefit. However, larger companies that can command a large amount of interest online will see the benefit – and that will primarily be through selling. Take Dell, for example. It has sales that have grown, year on year, from 1 million dollars, to 3, to 6, to 18 million. That’s a steep curve, and whereas it’s peanuts for a company that size, I can see that they can totally point to an ROI that means they will continue to invest in it. Meanwhile your smaller enterprises will give up. This is a real pity because, in the same way the web isn’t meant to be one big application (see my Facebook point above), social media was supposed to give the little man a voice. Again, terms like ‘engagement’ and ‘dialogue’ are nice, but only if you can afford to invest in them without necessarily pointing to an ROI. ‘Selling’, on the other hand, is what the CEO is interested in, and will shell out money for, and you can only do this effectively if you’re big.

So, there you go. What will I do next year? Don’t know really. Maybe I’ll continue ploughing my furrow and see what transpires. Maybe I’ll close shop and go and work for a digital agency. Maybe I’ll set my own up. Maybe I’ll get out of social media altogether (again) and focus on something nice and comfortable, like copywriting.

And you? What will you do? Here’s my advice if you’re thinking about using social media next year:

  • Make sure you’re doing other forms of marketing too. Social media on its own will not cut it.
  • Make sure whoever you work with in social media knows what a strategy is. If they say “We’re all about tactics”, walk away.
  • Really think about monitoring. It doesn’t take long to set up and you will be amazed at what you find out.
  • Be prepared to work in the dark to an extent – you may never really know how much money you make off the back of your investment.
  • Keep your eyes and ears open for changes and closures. No social media site/channel/platform is too big to go under.

That about wraps it up for 2010. I’m going to finish my cup of tea and then work on thawing my toes out, then I’m going to sit by the log fire and stare into the distance for the next two weeks. Toodle pip.

Tippex and bears. Who’d have thought, eh?

The Tippex Bear YouTube channel is brilliant.

I can’t remember how I came across it yesterday. I did notice something ‘strange’ about the YouTube page but thought it was just because it would be a custom-built page. When the guy reached out of the video, I nearly freaked. And then, the pièce de résistance, the ability to type in your own choices and see the video response. Amazing.

I really like this for several reasons:

  • It’s utterly viral. That is, it’s video – which often works because it’s a rich experience that people can easily share through just one link – it’s funny, it’s clever, and it’s pretty cool. I’ve written about viral before - what makes a good viral, and what is not viral. However, it also enables you to participate, which makes it almost totally viral in that you can change it, play with it, then pass it on. The closest I’ve seen to this is the Obama ‘What happens if you don’t vote’ video which I still love, but I wonder whether the Tippex viral tops it?
  • It’s joined-up. I guess the insight behind it is that you can make small changes that have a big impact. This is good, much better than ‘You can erase things and change them with Tippex.’ And so they go from the insight to the execution. I mean, who’d have thought about bears? Creativity abounds.
  • It has long legs. There’s huge scope for this to go on and on. Personally I’d like to see them invite people to create their own small videos for the terms that aren’t there. For example, I notice they don’t include ‘Tweets a bear’ which is probably quite a big miss. So, invite people to submit their own, and you get the audiences not just engaged, but activated.

I just wish I could have worked on this one. It must have been so exciting to come up with an idea you knew would work, then make it happen, and to take the client along with you. Whoever is behind this must be feeling pretty good about themselves today.

And I’ve noticed that it’s slow to load now. This is because it’s everywhere. How much more viral can you get? Let’s see how it pans out shall we? The chart below shows trends data for searches on the term ‘Tippex’. Let’s see if it starts to go up on the back of this.

Anyway, as the guy keeps saying to me: “Come on! Write something up there!” Top tip: give ‘tickles’ a go. It’s cute.

What are people saying about… the iPad, iPhone and iPod?

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past week, you’ll know all about the iPad, Apple’s new wunderkit – what it has, what it has not, what it’s for, what it’s not for, and so on.

Fortunately, the term ‘iPad’ is very quick and easy to search for. So, it’s a doddle to monitor. So, that’s what I’ve done.

The same goes for iPhone and iPod, so I thought it would be interesting to see all three lined up against each other. Inevitably the other two models in the Apple i-stable receive attention, so right now, all their figures are up. But this is more of a slow-burner. In a few weeks or months’ time it will be interesting to see how their charts look. Will one product cannibalise another? Will any of them drop off the radar?

Let’s take a look. Click here to see the dashboard, or click the image below.

What are people saying about the iPad, iPhone and iPod? Click image to see dashboard.

What are people saying about the iPad, iPhone and iPod? Click image to see dashboard.

Layout

First off, regarding the layout, well I thought it might be nice to nod to Apple’s design ethos and make it a bit more sophisticated than previous dashboards (all of which you can also see on the Netvibes tabs). This approach also endears you to clients. ;)

I also just concentrated on three sources: Twitter, because everyone tweets nowadays; blogs, because there are some very smart bloggers out there who can offer real insight into Apple strategy; and forums, because they’re often the forgotten social media platform and yet tech forums can offer heated debate, if not often informed opinion.

Twitter Conversations

Twitter buzz is, unsurprisingly, up across the board. There is a quite astonishing sudden spike showing when the iPad was launched (at time of writing – you won’t be able to see it after a week or so as the charts move on). Interestingly the iPhone buzz seemed to drop off quite quickly but also displays a ‘dead cat bounce’, that is, a sudden short spike after the fall. The iPad does too, but the iPod less so. This implies that the iPhone and iPad are seen as more contemporary products, the iPod less so.

The iPad tweets are all about the new kid on the block – what it does, links to reviews and so on. The iPhone tweets seem to mention the iPad and iPod, indicating a middle position in people’s attitudes. The iPod tweets are much more varied, talking about music rather than the product for example, which to me implies people have got over their wonderful new kit and are concentrating on the media instead. It will be interesting to see whether iPad conversations in a year or so will similarly discuss films, music and published media in the same way.

Blog Conversations

We see the same buzz profile as for Twitter – big red spikes, mirrored across all products. This time however the iPod peaked earlier than the iPhone, although it has approximately half the amount of traffic. The iPad trumps them all, with over 20,000 posts at launch.

The blog posts are all mashed up. Everyone seems to be talking about all products, comparing and contrasting. Maybe they will polarise in future.

Forum Conversations

Again, we see a familiar buzz profile, although this time the iPad, iPhone and iPod have a similar number of mentions at their peak. The actual forum posts aren’t that great in terms of quality however – mostly anecdotal and, strangely, Japanese. Maybe time to bring out the English language filter to snip them out.

Strategy

It’s always difficult knowing how to approach Apple. I sometimes wonder what their PR team actually does. I mean, can you imagine? Maybe you spend a few days in the office monitoring the buzz out there – none of which you really had to work to achieve – then go to the pub.

Of course, I don’t believe it’s that simple. But Apple is a strange beast. I’m tempted to say they really shouldn’t do anything with social media because they have such huge amounts of traffic and overwhelmingly positive sentiments. I think that, from a marketing perspective, they have to be careful not to cannibalise across the products. I’m sure they’ve considered this too. Smartarses.

But perhaps this is, as I said at the outset, a slowburner. Maybe this really is an opportunity for companies like Apple to watch what happens across social media, comparing and contrasting how different audiences behave.

For example, I was surprised to find that when looking at Bono’s twitter buzz, not only did it react much more quickly and at higher volume than other platforms – which is to be expected maybe – it was also more protracted buzz. That is, it took longer to die down than blogging or forums. I did not expect that, and I do wonder whether it’s a consistent pattern. I guess we just have to listen and learn.

Accountants are part of the brand too

Mistakes have repercussions. Don't get a fly in your brand.

Mistakes have repercussions. Don't get a fly in your brand.

So today, for the third time, I find myself chasing major companies for money after the 30-day period on my invoice has expired.

I do wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t kept my records in order. Would I ever have been paid? Or would the invoice be expedited/dormanted/deleted, or lost behind a filing cabinet, as per Brazil?

This is about more than money. It’s about brand.

People sometimes talk about brands as if they’re something mysterious or difficult to grasp. They talk about brand equity and brand values. They mention brand advocates and – yuk – leveraging brands. Or brand synergies. Arghh.

For me, it’s simple. A brand is the person as company – quite literally, the corporate. Some companies are nice, others are nasty. Remember how PR is essentially about what people say about you when you leave the room? Well brands are the same. You’ll do business with them and if you continue to love them you’ll tell people how great they are. If they don’t pay you in time – after 30 days, for chrissakes – you’ll smile and be nice to them in future, but slag them off to your friends. Like I’m doing now.

Of course, culprits shall not be named – even the ones that were 40 days late, or the ones who failed to pay me on time twice – but suffice to say, they should be big enough, and grown up enough, to know better.

Because when I first met them I thought they were great. But poxy accountants, working in the engine room, thinking that their efforts have no impact on the brand, have now made me very wary of working with them again. Their brand is damaged.

So, it’s an object lesson. Brands work outside the company, and inside. They permeate the company. If the company wants to be associated with great client service, then each and every member of the company needs to know this and work with it in mind. Even the accountants. Good Lord, even the copywriters come to that.

Bing vs Google

The following is cross-posted from Philip Westerman’s new blog about personal reputation management.

De Leon Personal Reputation Management Ltd is involved in online personal reputation management (PRM). Unlike most reputation management companies on the Internet, we work almost entirely on promoting the positive – rather than taking the “defend your reputation” stance assumed by most other PRM companies.

Therefore, we spend most of our time releasing information on the Internet, on behalf of our clients, for the search engines to find and rank highly in relevant search responses.

Wrong Bing. Click image for source.

Wrong Bing. Click image for source.

The nature of our work is that we are looking to achieve high rankings with respect to web sites, profiles, articles, releases, presentations, videos, photographs and so on, in response to a personal name search on a client. As most of us do not have unique names, we then look at other additional “identifiers” that the searcher might add to produce more targeted results. Typically these will be things like the name of the company they work for, their job function, location, etc.

Yesterday, I happened to read something about the www.bing-vs-google.com site. I went to the site and, as you do, I entered Philip Westerman De Leon.

The responses were very surprising.

Bing did not return one single response for any Philip Westerman (and there are quite a few of us) on their first page – whereas Google had me (specifically me at De Leon) in the first five responses.

In addition, Google showed details of other Philip Westermans after my entries. Looking at the results a little more closely, I could see that Bing had produced responses on all permutations of my search terms (i.e. Westerman De Leon, Westerman De, Westerman Leon, Philip Leon, etc) – but not one for the first two words i.e. Philip Westerman.

Wrong Google. Click image for source.

Wrong Google. Click image for source.

So, in response to a search on Philip Westerman De Leon, Bing didn’t find anything incorporating all four search terms. Google did.

On Bing, if I search Philip Westerman on its own, then it finds us all – but in no combination of all four words (i.e. Leon, De, Westerman and Philip) does it offer any Philip Westerman responses. Google does.

Of course, Google has been around a lot longer than Bing, and given that Bing has the Microsoft muscle behind it then we should be keeping one eye on it at least. But, while this very personal piece of research is clearly not a definitive answer to the question “How good is Bing compared to Google”, it does make you realise that Bing has a lot of catching up to do.

A rebrand can be a crisis – or an opportunity

If you need to say it, say it in Lego. Click image for source.

If you need to say it, say it in Lego. Click image for source.

Sometimes the value of the network becomes most apparent, when you most need it.

Last week, I announced my freelance copywriting status. It was a big step for me. But before I’d done anything ‘formally’, I updated my LinkedIn. Within half an hour I had three queries, one of which has turned out to be a hot lead. This surprised me.

I then posted about it on my blog. Through the magic of Twitterfeed, it appeared on Twitter. I then announced the change more directly on Twitter, as a more tailored Tweet. This did not result in new business but stimulated a lot of interest. On the back of it I’m hoping to meet up with several contacts next week.

However, my direct emails did bring in business. That is, the emails to the people I actually happen to know, who I’ve worked with in the past and treated well, and for whom I’ve produced good copy, resulted in several more leads.

As a result of which I already have good, solid business lined up and suddenly, the pipeline is hot. This is A Good Thing.

It may sound strange that I’m telling you this – as someone who has worked in social media professionally – but sometimes the proof can be astonishingly strong when you use it yourself, for yourself.

Basically I’ve rebranded, and whereas there is risk in this, you can come away with valuable new insights. Specifically:

  • Your blog is your base. Use it to explain what you’re doing, and why. I’ll be posting much more about social media and how it can help people, but also about the art and craft of copywriting. Hopefully, if you’ll keep reading me, you’ll see how the two can fit together nicely.
  • Your blog can also be a platform for other people. My new testimonials page is already growing, and while it’s an advert, it’s one put together with the help of people I’ve worked with in the past. In return, they get exposure and, where they’ve consented, links.
  • Twitter is your advert. It’s a soundbite. Put it out there for your quick fix. The effects are short term, but it’s a broadcast announcement and even just one or two returns can be worthwhile, providing you’ve been careful about the people you follow.
  • Twitter is also your moral support. I had a lot of great, positive feedback from my tweet, and even though it didn’t result in sustained interest, it helped. Does this affect the bottom line? Is it business sense? I’d argue that good morale always translates into a healthy balance sheet, even indirectly.
  • LinkedIn is your professional saviour. It’s strange how people dismiss it – I’ve heard so many people complain that they set it up then forget about it, so what’s the point? This is true, but the same could be said of that fire escape door you can see in the corner of the office. When you need it, you really do need it. I was frankly amazed at how useful I found it, and continue to find it even today.
  • Facebook feedback was much more along the lines of ‘very interesting, let’s meet up.’ Not direct business, but socialising. Networking. The sort of thing that leads to business, even among friends.

So you can cultivate your network, simply by staying in touch, not only proving your worth as a professional but even just sharing information, insights, even the occasional joke (yes, I have shared jokes in the past). In so doing, when you really need it, your network is there, ready to help.

If I were a company, I’d feel better knowing I had a supportive network. Hang about, I am a company now. Or am I a brand? Or a real person? Help!

And if you want to tweet anything, tweet this:
A rebrand can be a crisis – or an opportunity. Brendan Cooper on the power of the network when changing direction:  http://bit.ly/dc6Oz

Brendan rebrand!

Yes, youre right - its a cow. Click for source »

Yes, you're right - it's a cow. Click image for source.

It’s not quite an anagram, but close. An actual anagram of Brendan is ‘Nanbred’, which isn’t quite a word either, but close.

Main thing is, I’m rebranding. From now on, I am a freelance copywriter, and this blog will morph into something much more relevant to copywriting, albeit with a strong flavour of social media.

The reason? Well, after several episodes of working in social media account management for agencies, I’ve decided to strike out doing what I enjoy doing most, was doing for several years before I took up the social media mantle, and in fact do best anyway: copywriting. So from today, now in fact, I am a freelance copywriter.

Of course, this doesn’t mean I’m shedding my social media skin altogether. I think I still have a lot to offer in the field. But rather than managing everything – strategy, people, money, expectations – for other people, I’m going to be doing it for myself. And I’m going to be writing about it, lots.

So watch out for changes around here. I’m going to be bringing together the worlds of social media and the words of copywriters, in a fairly heady mix that should be quite fizzy, poppy and fun. The Brendan brand is expanding!

Of course, no freelancer worth their salt would pass the opportunity to pitch. So, if you’re on the lookout for high-quality copy that not only leaps off the page but grabs you by the collar and slaps you about the face a bit until you do something about it, then ping me. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know what I’m about. It’s tech and social media, but as you’ll see from the samples I’ll be getting online shortly, it’s also about healthcare and corporate, award entries, articles, features, and so on and so forth. Basically, everything that you read, I can write, online or offline.

Finally, a question: I’ve done a lot of soul-searching before coming to this decision, but feedback so far has been (very) positive. People have even said they think I should have taken this step a while ago. But I have one doubt. That is, can I justifiably continue to write about social media if I’m not ‘doing’ it on a daily basis? That is, while I haven’t spontaneously forgotten everything I’ve learned about social media over the past two years, can I still write about it given that I’m not one of the people actually making it happen?

Part of me thinks I can. Political journalists aren’t politicians. They may have been once, which helps with the insights and contacts. Economics correspondents aren’t professional economists, yet they still retain credibility even when appearing on YouTube wearing spacesuits.

What do you think? Comments below and look, there’s even another poll if you can’t be arsed commenting. It’s just a little click.

Anyway, time to wrap this one up. It’s possibly the most important post I’ll ever make because it’s essentially an announcement of professional intent. I was even considering deleting this blog and starting anew – like the Vikings who burned their boats when they landed on foreign shores to illustrate the commitment they were making – but then thought it’s too valuable a resource to end. I’ve had too many good comments and interesting debates here. So it’s here I’ll stay. But as a copywriter.

MIPAA presentation part one: improving SEO in marcoms material

mipaa_logoA couple of weeks ago I was honoured to be asked by Heather Yaxley if I would like to give a talk to members of the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) on improving Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) for marcoms materials; monitoring and engaging in social media; and the challenges and opportunities of evaluating influence.

Unfortunately the weather had other ideas, and as I look out of the window right now, it’s coming down in – not sheets, that’s rain – what does snow come down in? Duvets. Big thick duvets of snow.

So while I could have struggled to get into London there was no guarantee I’d get back. Very reluctantly I therefore had to tell Heather I couldn’t make the talk. She entirely understood – we’d already planned for this contingency because earlier in the week we’d had four inches of the fluffy stuff (I took some nice photos at the time) and I raised the possibility that this might happen.

The contingency was that Heather would just talk people through my slides, which at the time of writing she’ll be 15 minutes into. I’m sure she’ll do a superb job, but I’d also like to add my own penn’orth alongside the presentation which you can see at Slideshare and as a Google Presentation (some may call them bare or spartan, I prefer ‘clean’…)

I’m going to do this in three parts cos otherwise it becomes a huge post that no one will want to read. So, let’s kick off with part one…

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

A Search Engine

Before I start, I need to say this: you can buy books this thick (gestures with hands) about SEO, or hire the services of entire companies to improve your SEO.

I don’t want to write a book, nor am I a company, but I do think you can go a fair way to improving your SEO through two reasonably simple measures: identifying your keywords; and linking.

First off, let’s think about what SEO is. There are many definitions but I like simplicity, so how about this: making it as easy as possible for people to find you through search engines.

Sounds blindingly obvious, but let’s think about this for a minute. We’re talking about people finding you. People will be using words to find you, so to help them find you, you should use those same words.

But when we say ‘people’, with SEO we really mean computers. Search engines are just sophisticated algorithms run on vast numbers of computers to find content. So through SEO we’re really looking at ways in which to use the right words while working with the search engine algorithms.

Using the right words

Some nice keywords

Some nice keywords

Imagine someone sitting at their computer and looking for you. Think about the words they might use to describe you. You already know some of them. For example: who is your MD? What is your top-performing brand? What would you say is the major issue facing your company?

That name, brand and issue are three words or phrases that people might use to find you. They’re words that are therefore important. Hence keywords, and you may not realise this, but you already know quite a few.

I’ve already written about how to identify keywords so that a look at that post. Simply fill in the grid – it takes an hour at most – and you’ve listed the keywords you know. Piece of pie. Easy as cake.

Then list the keywords you don’t know. These are your known unknowns. You’ll find them in other marcoms material, on your own website if your website agency did a good job, and other agencies will already be using keywords to buy online adspace or search for cuttings on your behalf.

You can also use the Google AdWords Keyword tool to find more keywords. In particular, I like the feature whereby you specify a web page, and the tool will tell you what the keywords probably are for that page. It’s almost a reverse-search, giving you what the search terms may have been to find that page. So if you find a webpage that you think is bang on the money – that is, talks about exactly what you talk about – then run that through the tool and peel the keywords out of it.

Let’s take an example. Type http://www.mpiaa.com into the Adwords tool. Wait a few seconds, admiring the animated Google graphic, then up pops the answer. Looks like the kewords would be public relations, public affairs, pr, marketing, media, car, advertising, job, communication and brand. For an organisation concerned with PR and PA across the automotive industry, that sounds about right to me.

Now, liberally sprinkle these keywords through your marcoms material. Specifically, put them in page titles (ie the title in the banner across the very top of your browser), headings and links because search engines like this. Put them in your body text – about 5 every 100 words, otherwise it starts to look ridiculous.

Also put them in your meta tags. These are tags plus a description built into a webpage that describe the page, and while a lot of search engines no longer use them to find pages, they do use them for the description that appears in their results. If your description looks nice and makes all the right noises – that is, contains those hot keywords – then people are more likely to click you. So you won’t appear higher in rankings by using meta tags, but you will encourage people to click when they see you. That’s still SEO.

Link love

search engines love em

Links: search engines love 'em

Secondly, algorithms. There’s a lot you could say about how search engines work, but generally they rely on links. They love pages with lots of links coming in and going out, so add them to your marcoms material. Link out to other sites – the ones you’ll identify when you start monitoring social media – and encourage them to link back to you. Consider link exchange programmes where both partners benefit.

Also link within your site. Make sure your most important pages are linked up as much as possible. You can do this with those context-sensitive menus you often see to the right of a webpage, or some sites have what is almost a mini sitemap along the footer of a page.

And when you do link, if you are using graphics or Flash – as some great sites do, simply because they look fantastic – then try to supplement these links with text, because search engines still prefer it. And if you can use keywords in those textual links, and keywords in the alternative text that describes the link, then you’ve got a triple whammy – a highly SEO-optimised text hyperlink. Nice.

If you want an example of links, take a look at my PR Friendly Index and you’ll see some badges at the bottom of the page. People seem to like using them. Suits me – I get loads of links back to this blog. It’s not a link programme as such, but it seems to work. And in the code I’ve supplied, I have alternative text to go with the graphic for a bit of SEO. Plus all the entries in the index point to those blogs, so I get loads of links out too. OMG, is it really that long since I updated it…?

So, there you have it. That’s part one. Take a look at the presentation on Slideshare or Google Docs to see the whole thing. You might not need – or even want – to read two more posts covering the rest of itbut I’m going to write them anyway, probably tomorrow. I might even try and record myself talking about it. But that would be a webinar, or even a podcast, and the thought of doing one still scares me…

Virgin Media is about to activate its social media

If you want to know what people are saying about you, you must listen.

Parts of Virgin Media are already doing this, and the company plans to do more of the same.

The bad…

The backstory: given that I’d been trying for two months to get broadband since my house move, I  recently posted a non-too-complimentary missive about both Virgin Media and BT.

Virgin Media had been my ISP for three years and yet they seemed incapable of connecting me. Eventually they told me there was a ‘tag’ on the line – whatever that is – and that, if someone had checked this from the outset, I could have had a lot less bother. It turned out that the problem was really with BT.

So I left Virgin Media (from now on VM for the sake of my fingers), and decided to pursue BT. This was the second circle of hell, and six weeks later, I’m finally online.

… the good…

At the time of posting I decided not to turn it into just another whinge. I thought it would be interesting to pack it with keywords and links that should have made it as easy as possible for these suppliers to find me, especially given that this post would end up on my Twitter feed and Friendfeed, erm, feed.

Sally Whittle picked up on this, so it seemed fair to expect others to. I thought it would be an interesting social media experiment. I thought, “Let’s see whether those companies are actually on the lookout for posts about themselves. Potential consumers will be out there looking for reviews of ISP performance, so I wonder whether ISPs themselves are looking out for, well, reviews of their own performance.”

And VM found me – three times*. I was approached by Alex Brown and Paula Wills with an offer of help, and they put me in touch with Asam Ahmad, who is involved with VM’s online PR (note: I haven’t included Twitter links here for the reasons you’ll see below)

… and the coffee

So, Friday before last, I met up with Asam to talk about social media monitoring.

As with the Friendly Chat interviews I conducted last year, this took the form of a fairly open-ended conversation – no ‘ambush’ interviews, no recordings, just me furiously scribbling on a notepad in longhand while trying to concentrate on what was said and avoiding spilling my coffee. And this is what we talked about…

Turns out that, later that day in fact, VM was to receive the results of a major report on potential areas of social media activity. Conducted by an external agency, this looked at all aspects of social media, across all platforms, including VM’s competition. 360 degree reviews are commonplace in PR, and this sounded pretty comprehensive to me.

Obviously Asam couldn’t share the findings with me – he didn’t know them himself! – but he was able to tell me how this came about.

Activists activate

It seems that VM already has ‘activists’ who are already clued up, and already on Twitter, with alerts set up across various platforms to pop up when a mention of its name comes up. This is probably how Alex and Paula found me in the first place – and kind of what I was hoping would happen when I posted. Moreover, they had the foresight to put me in touch with Asam.

Activists is a good name. Companies need activists to forge change – and how things are changing.

These VM activists are already improving their internal comms. Asam has already found that, within a company of thousands of employees, he’s finding it really useful simply to follow colleagues and get an idea of what they’re up to. Informality is key. You can have any number of  ‘awareness days’ or ‘focus groups’ but a company’s ability to create horizontal, small-world networks across its organisation could yield immensely powerful forces for positive change.

This very much reflects the findings of the recent AT&T Enterprise 2.0 study (disclosure: I worked on the report while at Fleishman-Hillard) which also found that employees felt they were benefitting from internal networks.

This is important. The next generation of employees will already be using these networks and will expect to be able to use them in their work – as, equally importantly, will their clients. In my first ‘real’ job I was surprised to have access to email: now, I expect it to be there (who doesn’t?), and it’s a tool I use every day. Facebook, Twitter et al will be equally as important, and more powerful, in the future.

From Virgin Media to social media

So VM already has a loosely affiliated group of activists. It’s now figuring out how it can use social media strategically. This involves asking critical questions such as:

  • Where does social media sit? This is crucial. There is a very real risk that, as VM people continue to use social media, they may inadvertently become an ad-hoc frontline for customer support. While this is an area VM are keen to explore, Asam quoted a wonderful example of the MD of NTL:Telewest business using a twitter contact to pass a sales query on to the appropriate internal contact. While it’s great that the MD was able to do that, we’re talking seriously re-wired flows of communication here and obviously this is not a sustainable position.
  • This leads to the next question: how is it resourced? At the moment, Virgin Media’s social media presence is growing organically – their activists are looking at the best ways to use the tools at hand and much of it is done in their spare time. However, if they go out with a big bang, there is a risk that everyone will start to expect immediate service from something that’s in its early stages, and only managed by a handful of VM’s activists. This is why I haven’t listed any Twitter links here. I don’t want these people to become inundated. Yet. Clearly they will need to have internal lines of comms set up that enable the team to pass issues on for quick resolution, and that resource needs to be justified.
  • And justification depends on measurement, in which case, how do you measure success? I see this as A Big Question for social media in the coming year. How do you quantify your social media efforts? As budgets become ever more tightly squeezed, those owning the purse-strings will quite rightly demand to know what the returns are, given the inputs and the risks.

This is actually an age-old PR question: how to place value on relationships. My take on this is that, in meeting Asam and exchanged a few tweets with Alex and Paula, I now think of VM as a group of people rather than a corporate brand. Furthermore, VM has secured a ‘good’ story alongside a bad one, a point very astutely recognised by Rob at It’s Open.

There are other benefits. Asam himself follows journalists and they, in turn, follow him. Not only does he find it useful to get to know them on a daily basis – as he does with his colleagues – but he has insight into what opportunities the journalists are looking for and, in best PR practice, match what he has to offer with what they want. Furthermore they get to see, through following him, how he interacts with customers. It’s open and it’s transparent, and whereas these are just catch-phrases for social media, they’re good.

This is signal, not noise. I interviewed Sally Whittle, a very social media-friendly journalist, last year, and she testified to the drowning of journalists in the ever-increasing noise of social media. It’s true that journalists tend to be hunting for news, given their brief. But what’s wrong with a bit of fishing too?

At the end of the day, the Virgin Media activists found me. What needs to happen is for more of the company to become ‘activated’ too, but in a structured, planned, strategic fashion. The critical questions are around which parts of the company become activated, and how they interact with the rest of it. Virgin Media, to their credit, are addressing this problem now.

And at the end of the day, they found me. BT did not.

* Postscript: To date, BT still haven’t found me. Or, if they have, they haven’t contacted me. I should add that I’m now with BT quite simply because I’m so well acquainted with their support systems and I have a couple of named contacts, so I figure that if anything goes wrong (again), I can schmergle my way through the system and get help. Still, everything seems to be working. I’m listening to some cool Cuban music streamed through Spotify courtesy of BT. Nice.