This is the second part of a talk I was due to give to members of the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) through an invite from Heather Yaxley, on improving Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) for marcoms materials; monitoring and engaging in social media; and the challenges and opportunities of evaluating influence.
What is social media?
There are many definitions, and you can probably find lots of them easily enough yourself. I prefer short, simple definitions, and one that I think works well is that social media enables people to interact with each other.
This means they share stuff – jokes, links, recommendations – and link up to each other so they can share more stuff with more people. There’s possibly something significant here, in that these could be very basic human instincts, but that’s for the academics to figure out. Right now, you need to know how to find the people who are talking about you, your products, your people, brands, services and competitors, because they’re talking to each other, not you!
If SEO is enabling people to find you using the algorithms of search engines, then your objective is to find those people using the word-of-mouth of social media. And ultimately, your objective is to become the ‘go to’ resource for your speciality. That applies equally offline or online, and it’s as good a communications objective as I can think of.
Find your influencers
So, first you need to find the people who are talking about you. Remember the keywords you identified in part one? This is where you can use them to find those people, who are having those conversations, using those keywords.
The slide gives you a good list of places to look so I won’t repeat them here. You’ll develop your own preferences and techniques, and that’s fine.
So, after looking, you have essentially a ‘flat’ list. You really don’t know who is worth listening to in that list. So, rank them. You can use Yahoo Site Explorer to count the number of links coming into a site and, specifically for blogs, use the Technorati Authority figure to count the number of blogs linking to a blog.
Now, I’m sure some people will read this and fume. Popularity is not the same as influence, because influence depends on what you’re saying and how it affects your audience, and the difference in their behaviour before reading you, and afterwards. If you have several thousand pounds, sophisticated computer algorithms and server farms at your disposal then by all means, employ them. If, however, you want an insight into who’s talking about you with the greatest reach, then these metrics are good enough.
Listen to them
So you’ve identified who to listen to. If you have a list of three sites then that’s easy enough to monitor. But your list is probably going to be much longer, at least 20, and it could go above 100. It’s impossible to visit them all individually, especially if you’re looking across news sites too.
Wouldn’t it be great if there were a really simple way in which websites could send, or syndicate, their content out whenever they’re updated?
This is what RSS does. It stands for Really Simple Syndication. RSS strips the formatting from a page and sends you just the content when it’s updated, in a feed. This is just like a news feed or a financial feed, and whereas you would use a TV to watch your financial feed, you use an aggregator to watch your RSS feeds. Think of RSS like a channel, which you tune into using a TV set.
Another analogy: it’s like Outlook but for RSS instead of email. In fact, Outlook can take RSS feeds too now, so you might want to look into that if you’re comfortable with Outlook.
However, the best aggregator imho is Google Reader. Again, you might disagree, but it’s so feature-rich, so flexible and versatile an powerful, for me it’s a no-brainer. You just have to set up a Google account and you’re laughing.
So just go through the blogs you’ve identified and subscribe to them. These are your core bloggers, that is, they’re the ones you really want to watch closely. Put them in a folder in Google Reader, and you’re done.
You still ideally also need to be listening out for more cross-industry news, so do searches on search engines that generate RSS feeds, such as Google Blog Search. These are your key conversations, so bundle them into a folder too.
You now have a nice system set up. You can monitor your core bloggers for what they’re saying about you, while monitoring the key conversations in the broader landscape for emerging issues and more core bloggers.
Make sure you spend plenty of time listening. We could also call this section ‘Learn’, because this is where you learn about your bloggers as a community, and as individuals. You learn not only what they’re talking about but how they say it. You learn about their culture, and will eventually learn how to talk to them in the way they like being spoken to.
Engage with them
After listening and learning, if you want to start engaging people, make sure you reach out to the right people. It sounds obvious but you need to match the right content to the right bloggers. This isn’t just in terms of what they’re talking about, but what they’re trying to do. A blogger who wants to show thought leadership might like an interview, for example, while another who wants to educate people will appreciate help with ‘How to’ posts.
If you’re a PR person this probably seems fairly obvious. That’s because there’s a good fit between social media and PR. Essentially, your blogger relations are going to be similar to media relations.
When making your first overtures towards bloggers, some people take the approach that it’s better to comment first, introduce second. I’ve personally had great success with the straight-up introduction, that is, send an email to the blogger, or to the forum moderator or website administrator, explaining who you are, who you work for, and how you can help. They’re generally fairly receptive if you do it right. For the love of all that is holy please don’t send a mass emailer. Please.
If you look at the slide, you’ll see a rather stark equation. Equations? In communications?
It’s not rocket science. All I’m saying is that good relationships plus time equals influence. If you practice good blogging relations, give them what they need, help them be better bloggers, then they might start talking about you. If you’re going from a standing start, then just one blogger writing about you is a great thing. Over time they might become your brand advocates, and they start doing your good PR for you.
Notice how no one has been compromised here. The bloggers get what they need to be better bloggers, by giving great content out to their readership. Meanwhile, you get good, credible coverage online that initially not many people will read, but the network effect is such that, over time, this momentum can pick up.
People will be reading what your bloggers write because they want to read it – that’s why they subscribed to their feeds. And whatever they write will stick around online, occasionally to pop back up according to the issues of the day. This can work both ways of course – bad online PR can bite you – but good online PR can be tremendously effective.
This ends part two of the presentation. Tomorrow I hope to get part three uploaded. Then again, I did say that after part one, and that was over a month ago…