Advertising, PR, sales, marketing: now you see it, now you don’t

People are visual, so it makes sense that they act on what they can see. But that’s not so hot when you need to deal with, um, concepts.

So, people ‘get’ advertising, because they know what an advert is. I don’t know what the figures are for the average number of adverts people are exposed to throughout their lives, but it’s a shockingly huge amount. We see them on broadcast, print and social media, and whether or not we mentally screen them out, we’re aware of them.

But they don’t, on the whole, understand PR. This is because PR is about placing articles or selling in stories in the media on a client’s behalf. If you don’t ‘get’ that then this might help: before I started in PR, I genuinely believed all those pieces with HP’S CEO’s name against them had been written by HP’s CEO. Then, when I discovered the unalloyed joy of writing bylines, and found myself one day writing one for HP’s CEO, I suddenly realised what was going on.

Advertising is bells and whistles, while PR is a sleek, black plane. Or, advertising is ‘look at me’ while PR is ‘look at them’. Or, advertising is Edwina Currie while PR is Peter Mandelson.

Likewise sales and marketing. Again, people get sales because they buy and sell things. In the same way they can ‘see’ adverts, they ‘see’ sales. But they don’t, I’ve found, understand marketing because they can’t see them. Markets might be big, or small. They might not exist at all. But they’re the environment you need to operate in, to sell effectively.

Increasingly, I’m finding that social media is about marketing. It’s about a lot of other things too – not least research, awareness, engagement, all those great things – but what I tend to find myself thinking about now is the market. Who are the client’s competitors? What are they doing? How can we measure ourselves against them? What does success look like? Generally, it looks like something you’ve done that is better than your competitors, from selling more things to getting more attention.

Sales is little regions of activity, while marketing is the tectonic plates that underpin all of this. Leave it too long and you’ll find the plates have shifted. Or, sales is Mount Etna while marketing is Pangea (not, repeat not, Pandora).

So I’m working in a double-blind area. It’s PR (Mandy in a Nighthawk) and marketing (a theoretical ancient unified landmass with a funny name). Would I prefer to work with my eyes wide open, in ‘real’ things such as advertising and sales?

Well, that depends.

What are the hours?

What do subscribe, like and follow have in common?

They’re all ways of linking, true.

They’re all different words for linking on blogs, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and so on. Also true.

But they all mean the same thing. And that thing is?

“I find what you have to say interesting, and I’d like to know more.”

This probably strikes you as blindingly obvious, but it does make you realise: what’s the point of starting any social media programme unless you’ve got something to say? Why should people be interested if you don’t have anything unique or interesting to say? And why should they come back if you stop saying it?

And this cuts to the heart of communications in so many ways, whether offline or online.

Imagine you’re setting up a radio station. You’ve erected the mast, bought a cool studio, installed your microphone and unnecessarily huge mixing desk. You smoked 20 Woodbine a day for the past year to give your voice that gravelly texture. Everything’s in place. You flick the switch. You’re on air. Everyone’s waiting. But you suddenly realise you don’t have anything to say or play. It’s just a big empty speech bubble.

Would this ever happen? I’d like to think not. In so-called ‘traditional’ media you think about what content you’re going to produce, whether in print or broadcast, who it’s going to be for, what are their needs and wants, and so on. PR people do the same, just on the other side of the media mirror. And we do the same in ‘new’ media, if you can imagine such a thing as a three-way mirror.

The point I’m making is that so much of what we do in social media relies on exactly the same processes traditional media would go through. We don’t wave a magic wand. It’s not weird science or a black art. Messaging, content, audiences, everything you’d think about in a ‘traditional’ comms programme, you need to think about with social media too. But most of all, it’s about content. Actually having something to say, and saying it in an engaging, interesting, relevant way.

It doesn’t matter what you call it. Subscribe, Like and follow all mean: we’re listening, so talk!

If you don’t want gurus then don’t call them gurus!

A recent post by Mark Ragan reminded me of a post I’ve had swirling around in my brain recently. His post is pretty bang on the money – of course he’s right that, as a general principle, we shouldn’t use jargon. But who’s ‘we’? Who are ‘them’? What are I?

Well apparently I’m a guru. I never told people I was a guru. I don’t walk around wearing a loin cloth. I never held my arm in the air for 50 years until it atrophied. Nor have I sat on a windswept mountain and heard the sound of one hand clapping (actually I did once hear that, but it’s a long story).

So, when I was a web designer, pre-FrontPage and Dreamweaver or even basic HTML editing utilities, I was called an HTML guru. Then I became a designer, and was a design guru, apparently. Then I became a copywriter and I was an apostrophe guru (no, really). Then, when I got into social media, I became – you guessed it – a social media guru. I never called myself that. I was introduced as that. People would say, proudly, “And here is Brendan, our social media guru” as if touring the museum of curiosities. I would smile politely then return to picking nits out of my fur.

So Mark Ragan is right. We need fewer gurus. I agree. I’ve said so too in the past (good grief was that really so long ago?)

But I think there’s another trend I’m seeing this year, which is a bit more pernicious. There seems to be a general movement to ‘kick out the gurus’. This anti-guru movement seems to boil down to the following argument: social media was taken up by early adopters who don’t really know how to ‘do social media properly'; social media is essentially marketing; so now, it’s time to bring in the real marketeers, people who know how to ‘do social media properly’.

Again, I’m all for driving out the snakeoil salesmen – but hang about: who called us gurus in the first place? It wasn’t us!

Think about this. Who did you first employ as a social media specialist? Or who did you first ask to look into social media within your organisation? Were they fully qualified marketing types? Were they measurement addicts, or management specialists? Were they, in short, the kind of people we all seem to be asking to come in and sort out the social media house?

Or were they people who seemed to ‘fit’ naturally into this strange, new, online space, and bring a variety of skills to bear? So, some of you might have hired someone because they used to be a web designer and they’re comfortable with the web; or maybe they were copywriters who can identify stories and carry messages; or possibly they were web-savvy PR people who wanted to see how to port PR across to the web. Or some, or all, or none of the above but something much more exotic and interesting.

And then you called them gurus. And now you want to get rid of them because they’re gurus.

Social media is far from a settled issue. Networks are being born (Quora), growing (Foursquare), or even getting a bit creaky (dare I say Google?). It’s still messy out there. You still need a native curiosity about it, otherwise you’ll just get left behind. Most of the people who I know working in social media today are simply that: curious people, who try their best to make sense of online conversations to the benefit of their organisations or clients. Calling them gurus is doing them a gross disservice.

So before you demote them to the social media helpdesk, having brought in some big shiny new gun who’s going to wrestle it from the gurus and turn social media into dollars, don’t forget: they were the ones who you turned to first, and tried their best to make it work. It would make much more sense to help them succeed rather than kick them down. And to help them do this? Don’t call them gurus.

Aggregated predictions: what really will happen with social media in 2011

Around Christmas-time I was foolish enough to list my social media predictions. They were a combination of ‘more of this, less of that, same of the other’, and you can still read it if you’re foolish enough to base an entire year that hasn’t happened on the ramblings of one poor gangrel creature.

Fortunately I wasn’t the only one. There are plenty of other gangrel creatures out there, with their own predictions, so I thought it would be interesting to see what other people have said, aggregate them all, and see if we have any agreements. While there are plenty of one-offs (for example I think I’m the only person who predicts the rise and rise of digital agencies at the cost of PR agencies) there are, amazingly, congruencies between people.

Here’s what I’ve found below, but you can see the Google doc I used to compile this, together with the links to the bloggers I read. I got as far as halfway through page 4 of the Google results before I started to lose the will to live, and I might even pick this one up again, but for now, this is where we’re at.

Mobile

There were various takes on this, ranging from the increased importance of check-in sites such as Foursquare, through to the influence of technologies such as the iPad. I bunched them all under mobile, and this is the most important popular prediction, with 11 mentions from Socialnomics, ReadWriteWeb, Fred Meek, 4TM Guide, Lockergnome, Social Media Examiner, The Next Web, Trevanian Legg, Ron Medlin, Social Media B2B, and Concepts Marketing.

Alignment with business goals

The gurus are being expunged, dormanted, deleted. Next most popular was the prediction that 2011 will see people really tying social media to business results, with 8 mentions from Conversational Currency, Socialnomics, OneForty, ReadWriteWeb, KnowledgeBlog, Social Media Examiner, Infusionblog, Trevanian Legg, and me. I went on to say that these would yield disappointing results, and I’m happy (or sad, or despondent, or maybe a little morose) to say that KnowledgeBlog and Social Media B2B think so too.

The rise of Facebook

I said that I don’t see Facebook declining any time soon – unlike, say, Google, and who’d have thought that eh? – and I’ve been joined by Fred Meek, Social Media Examiner, The Next Web, Hausman Marketing Research Letter, Ron Medlin, Likeable Media and Contently Managed – that is, 7 other thinkers who also think Facebook will continue to dominate, whether through expansion, flotation, collaboration, monetisation, or something else ending in ion.

Amusingly enough, 4 commentators think Facebook will decline in influence, mainly through the rise of niche networks. They are Forrester, ReadWriteWeb, Trevanian Legg and MSL Group. They are, of course, wrong.

More group buying, particularly Groupon

In total 5 commentators think that social or group buying, particularly that exemplified by Groupon (or, in fact, actually Groupon since its valuation last year north of one billion dollars) will be significant over the coming year. They are Socialnomics, KnowledgeBlog, The Next Web, Social Media B2B, and MSL Group.

More content-driven programmes

All social media should be driven by content, but Social Media Examiner, The Next Web, Infusionblog, Social Media B2B and Contently Managed think this will happen more in 2011, with tools to help marketeers do this, or to enable their audiences to do it for them.

More consolidation among the large networks

This is something I didn’t mention but I do agree with. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, LinkedIn are irresistible and I don’t think the likes of Diaspora (the open-source so-called Facebook killer) et al are going to make a single dent. So I agree with Socialnomics, KnowledgeBlog, 4TM Guide, Social Media Examiner and Contently Managed on this one.

Again however, there are dissenters. Social Media B2B and GigaOm think there will be a rise of importance from niche sites at the ‘big’ systems’ expense. Silly sausages.

Anonymity and vetting

This is something I really hadn’t considered but does make sense. One of the primary concerns I noted while training at the Social Media Academy last year was that of privacy, that is, how much should I let people know, and how can I tell if people are genuine online? Four commentators mention privacy/vetting issues, and they are Conversational Currency, Socialnomics, ReadWriteWeb and GigaOm.

Video

This one surprises me, I have to say. ReadWriteWeb, Tim Ferriss, Concepts Marketing and Contently Managed all mention the ascendancy of video to some degree. I guess this ties in with the ascendancy of mobile in that we’ll all be glued to our displays watching video while we accidentally fall into water features.

That’ll do pig

I don’t want to give the impression I’m being a bit hasty here but I really need to crack on. Take a look at the Google Docs spreadsheet for the full picture. I might add to it as I go along, but really, go and take a look to see what else people comment on. Of the remaining topics that are mentioned by at least three sources we have metrics (which I guess ties into business goals), advertising, more social search (and less social search!), more workplace acceptance, continued importance placed on social media, the culling of so-called social media gurus (using a blunt instrument I presume), the intriguing and some would say tautological concept of Social Google, more Quora (of quorse – sorry), and more Twitter - again, counterbalanced by some who say less Twitter. Nothing more thrilling than when people disagree.

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.

The Universal Process™. Or: the Gartner Hype Cycle of Life

Life. Work. Birth. Death. And everything in between. Read on.

I wrote some time ago about the process of writing. Unless I’m writing for myself – that is, when I had time for ‘recreational writing’, or even blogging for that matter – I tend to procrastinate. I sit in front of the monitor surrounded by swathes of research, I huff and I puff, I put my head in my hands, I wander off, stroke the cats, make a cup of tea, sit in the garden staring at a bush. I repeat this a few times, then, after the first paragraph or two, it’s there, in my head. I totally know where it’s going and what I’m doing and before I know it, the piece is written.

But then it needs redrafting, often several times, off my own bat and following feedback. In the end I’m heartily sick of it and I’m happy to dispatch it, but everyone seems happy with it. Then, some time later, I go through my own stuff and think “That’s pretty good. Did I really write that? I must have been intelligent back then. Perhaps I’m destroying my brain with too much TV/Guinness/social media.”

This hasn’t changed, and it’s telling me that it’s an essential part of the process. You need that time to fulminate. To ruminate. To think. People don’t pay you to think, but it is necessary. Then you become so familiar with something you just want rid of it. Then you look back on it a few weeks or months or years later, and you’re pretty pleased with what you did. It was all worth it in the end.

The more I work in other fields, the more I think this is a universal process. I’m going to call it the UP™.

An example: I used to be into home-based music production. It was a phase, albeit a fairly long one (about 8 years – you can hear the results here). The same would happen. I’d noodle a fair amount, then suddenly latch onto it and off I went. Then I would spend a very, very long time with the production. In the end, same thing: I had enough. But it had to be finished. So I would end up finishing it without really knowing if it was finished. And sometimes I listen to it even now and I quite like it. Does that make sense?

Another example: today, I put together a Facebook page for a client. I’ve done this before, but every client is different, and you pretty much find yourself starting from scratch every time. At first I was fairly overwhelmed. There were so many wrong ways to go about it, and I had to find the right way. So I looked through all the content I had – several times – then did some research about best practice, looked at what other people had done, etc etc. There was huffing and there was puffing, there was head in hands. There were cats stroked. Bushes were looked at. Tea was drunk.

About two hours later I was absolutely heading in the right direction. And now I’m really getting into it. And I thoroughly expect that, after we launch and promote it (and keep promoting it for the next few months) I will have had enough of it, and want to do something else instead. But I’m hoping the client will like it. And I’m hoping I’ll look back on it and like it too.

Copywriting, music, social media (and, for that matter, design and code, which is what I’m doing with the FB page). They all follow this pattern. Even research. I hate starting a social media audit. I love it when the figures come out. I hate having to keep plugging away and updating it. I love it when I look back and think I did a good job.

This process needs a model.

I like the Gartner Hype Cycle. I like its categories: the Trigger, the Peak of Inflated Expectations, the Trough of Disillusionment, the Slope of Enlightenment and finally the Plateau of Productivity. See below.

I think that applies to work, too, but with a different shape. My new categories? The Commission, the Trough of Despond, the upward Slope of Encouragement, the Peak of Productivity, the downward Slope of Dudgeon and finally, the Plateau of Reality. It’s the UP™. See below.

Let’s be philosophical. I wonder if life is like this? In which case The Commission is when mummy and daddy got friendly, the Trough of Despond is when you realise you’re probably not going to get that Ferrari (or in my case a Morgan, although my Spitfire is seeing me alright), the Upward Slope of Encouragement is when you think “Well, that’s ok, let’s focus on what’s important”, the Peak of Productivity is after you climb up (or my case, up a bit, across a bit, down a bit) the career ladder and start really enjoying life, the Downward Slope of Dudgeon is when you start confusing your grandchildren’s names with the cats and hoovering the garden, and the Plateau of Reality is… well, I don’t think I’m there yet. I’ll post you when I am.

Advanced Search: Facebook gets it slightly wrong again

Today I actually used Facebook for something. My partner wanted to find women’s networking groups online, and I suggested Facebook. Of course, she didn’t listen to me so I decided to have a look myself.

Immediately, I came up against a problem. I wanted to search for groups in London, but couldn’t find an easy way to do it. I’ve been giving training on Facebook recently so I’ve been waxing lyrical about the wonderful demographic data it contains. So surely an advanced search would be easy to do? After all, Facebook’s advertising does a nice job of opening up the demographics and helping you zero in on specific groups.

The answer, as is often the case with Facebook, was ‘Yes, sort of, but not very well’.

Facebook does have an advanced search, but it’s a beta application. You can find it at http://www.facebook.com/advancedsearch. Once you get onto it you’re prompted to complete your profile, which I skipped. Then you’re confronted with this page:

Three guesses what’s wrong with it. OK, I’ll tell you. It’s awful. It just looks… awful. There’s far too much text. And there are far too many buttons. I get dizzy just looking at it.

So, let’s try and look for networking communities for women in London. I have to look a few times before I realise the Pages button mentions ‘Business’ in between Bands and Celebrities. So I click it. And I get this:

Is that it?

What about all the other information you can specify for a business page?

What about address, town, phone number, email?

What about birthday (hang on, why is that even a field for a business page? See what I mean?)

What about website, personal information, personal interests?

And why am I being asked about cupcakes?

Maybe Facebook thinks it’s so clever that it doesn’t need to lay it all out for you. So why does it then do this when searching for a person? See what that screen looks like below.

Eurgh. What a mess.

I have a theory about Facebook. I think they don’t really know what they’re doing. People give Google a lot of stick nowadays but whenever they update their software, it just slots in elegantly. You find new functions without looking. Everything is in its right place, because – I think – they design things properly from the outset. Which makes it easy to build on that solid design.

Facebook, on the other hand, seems to be thrown together. They don’t have a coherent design policy.

I used to design interfaces for a living. I was no Jonathan Ive, but I’d try and think about the best way for someone to interact with a page, and then challenge the programmers to make it work. I’d try and keep it consistent and think about how it might develop in the future, so it could have functionality added without a design change.

I have a strong feeling that Facebook does this the other way around. The programmers take what’s available and challenge the users to make it work. They are to online application design what Microsoft is (or was) to local application design. That is, the design follows the tech. It’s just wrong. Ask Apple.

But who knows. Perhaps by the time it comes out of beta it’ll be slick, easy, intuitive. If so, it’ll be running against the grain of everything else Facebook does.

Guest Post: Steve Meleka of Noble Meleka on SEO

That's what I think anyway. Do you agree? Click image for source.

That's what Steve thinks anyway. Do you agree? Click image for source.

Preamble: Last week I posted my thoughts on SEO, after receiving a stream of great comments on Twitter that I thought were worth sharing. In turn, I’d posted because I was working on a project with a long-term colleague and friend, Steve Meleka. I worked with him at Imagination Technologies at the time we won the Sega Dreamcast contract, where I was the technical writer and Steve was the web designer. Now that I’m freelance, and Steve has his own web development company, we continue to collaborate on cool and interesting new projects.

Following from my post last week, and the resulting tweets, it struck me that Steve has a lot to say on the subject – as someone who works on the ground, day in day out, getting results for clients. While there’s a tendency in the social media world for people to think they’re the latest and greatest, we need to be reminded that community and content are not everything. We need to remember the basics. So here’s Steve’s take on this…

Good, effective copy is what sells a product or service to a real person. But, and it’s and extremely important ‘but’, the people who you succeed in selling to will always be a subset of the people who find you in the first place.

If the content of your page generates 500 visits in its ‘un-optimised’ state, and you manage a 5% conversion rate then you’ve got yourself 25 sales. Give yourself a big hand.

But, if you increase your traffic two or three times using SEO techniques while managing to retain your conversion rate you could manage 50 or 75 sales. If you’re selling large individual units – combine harvesters or something – that’s a fat wad of cash. Any don’t kid yourself for a moment tat the combine harvester outfit down the road aren’t trying to beat you to the top of the search results, because they are.

Appearing at the top and even getting more visits is only half the story though. The saying goes we should work smarter, not harder, and SEO probably falls mostly into the ‘harder’ category. The smart money is in converting visits into sales, which means writing compelling sales copy for people, not search ranking algorithms.

Tell me though, what use is one approach without the other? Pretty much a big fat zero. Like I said at the start, those people you manage to convert will always be a subset of those you manage to attract in the first place.

I know very well that quality content is going to get linked to from many other places than just search engines, but most small business people don’t consider themselves ‘experts’ and many consider giving advice dangerous since it could give their competitors an edge. So in the end, at this end of the market it’s not the norm for clients to generate (or even commission, sadly) enough new content to generate interest.

So what do I see the web doing for small & medium businesses now? Well, people said back in the 90s that the web was going to democratise business, and create a level playing field where Mom and Pop could compete with the conglomerates. In some cases that’s true, but only if Mom and Pop deploy their more limited resources in a new or novel way (see Mashable’s Small Business Success Stories to see what I mean).

The reality is that the web has just turned into another tool in the marketing box, and often a bigger budget will win out. Want more visits? Publish more content. Looking for more conversions? Test more high quality a/b tested content. More, more, more. In the end, more costs more. (Guess this page will rank better for ‘more’ than anything else.)

So at the coal face, working with small and medium sized companies, a strategy I’ve found to work is apply SEO in a palatable fashion to generate traffic into the site. At the same time, and ideally within the same content that ranks well in the first place, make the offer or suggest the solution to the problem the customer has and aim to convert them.

It’s a tall order, I know, and it’s not one I can manage alone. That’s why I hire a kick-ass copywriter like Brendan to fuse the two together for me. It won’t always work first time, but hey, this is marketing, we should be endlessly rinsing and repeating anyway, just like we did with direct response print ads back in the day.

Post-amble (is that even a word?): What do you think? Do we need to work harder, or smarter, or both? Is SEO dead, or live and kicking? Let me know.

Everyone needs to get out more

Estimated reading time: 2.5 minutes

So today is Wednesday which means I write about… hang on, let me look it up… tum te tum te tum… ah yes, here it is. Social media!

Right.

Over the past month, in the UK, we’ve been subjected to the constant advances of politicians throughout the election. Thankfully it’s all stopped,  but at the time I did notice a phenomenon that I keep seeing around me and that I think is significant.

Which is: when you’re inside something, when that something is your world, there’s a tendency to think it’s the same for everyone else too. And the reality is, that it isn’t.

To take the political example, I have a strong feeling that Cameron, Clegg and Brown woke up every morning thinking that the world is a world of politics. They would meet their aides, shake people’s hands, look interested when being shown lathes, and generally be in that world till they fell asleep and night and dreamed of kittens.

But for someone like me, it isn’t a world of politics. I’ve never even met a politician, that I’m aware. I’ve never been to a political event. I voted, sure, but I count myself among the people who think that politics is pretty irrelevant to their lives. It all seems so pragmatic, so ineffectual when considered against seemingly overwhelming global forces.

Enough of the politics. What I’m trying to say is that there’s a tendency to believe that what you’re doing is treated with equal significance as everyone else, even when it’s something as (supposedly) important as politics.

And I see this in social media too.

The people I follow on Twitter, tweet about it. The bloggers I read, blog about it. So there’s a real possibility that, working in social media, you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s a world of social media.

It isn’t.

I know it isn’t, not just because there are trees, birds and sky out there, but because during the election, despite sky-high ratings for Clegg, he just didn’t cut it in the real world. If it were a world of social media, he’d have won hands down.

Is this post making sense? I know what I’m trying to say, but I’m not sure it’s coming across. Basically, as communicators – whether politicians, PR people or social media types – we need, often, to break out of our little world and see it from someone else’s point of view. That way, we start to appreciate what’s really going on, rather than what we think is going on.

I’m lucky. I do something else too – that is, I write. OK, so I write about social media, but I like to think that I can do this from the outside in, as well as the inside, um, in. So should all communicators. It’s not a world of PR, or of advertising, or of social media. We need to get out more.