Wednesday, January 30, 2013

How to Stop Facebook Making that Bloody Annoying Noise

It started a few weeks ago and it's been driving me mental. It took me ages to track down what it was. Facebook has started testing a new feature called "Being Really Annoying". Normally reserved for platform or algorithm updates, Facebook now offers an extra level of irritation with an intermittent auditory assault every time someone engages with one of our posts.


To me, and anyone else who works in community management, this sounds like machine gun fire.

This isn't rolling out for everyone just yet. Gee, I guess I'm just lucky. When it comes your way, trust me, you'll be wanting to disable it ASAP. Thankfully that's not difficult to do:

Go to 'Account Settings > Notifications'.

Click 'View' on the tab that says 'On Facebook'...

...then unclick the box that says 'Play sound when each new notification is received', press 'Save Changes', and relax.
NB: It might not go off at first, if (like me) you have multiple tabs or accounts open. You will need to do this for any alts. if you have any (I know I do, for old legacy billing with certain clients).

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Social Media Doesn’t Work (on its own)

The old adage of "if you build it they will come" does NOT apply to social media. Anyone who says any different is sellin' snake oil.

Let me explain, and let's use Facebook as an example:

You build a business page. Nice custom cover image. A few well chosen apps to help spread the news, like 'Tell a Friend', WooBox's 'Twitter', and Involvers 'RSS' (with your blog feed attached). You put an embedded widget on your website (above the fold please, so people can actually see it) to get people 'liking'. You start posting a few pics of new products or staff bowling nights, scraps of daily evergreen stuff you think customers might like, and links to your new blog posts, just to get the page rolling. Nothing. Jack. Bubkiss. All you get is a few members of staff signing up, and then it just sit's there. Why?

No. They won't.

Put simply, people have no REASON to sign up? Why SHOULD they follow you? What's in it for them? People sign up to business pages for the following reasons:
  • To get discounts and hear about promotions.
  • To demonstrate their support for the company (notably charities).
  • To get something for free.
  • To keep up-to-date on company activities.
  • To get a 'look behind the curtain' at the 'real' company in action.
  • For updates on your future products and/or sales.
  • For fun (so BE FUN).
  • For access to exclusive content.
  • If someone recommended them.
  • To learn more about the business or service.
  • To get company relate knowledge and to learn more about specialist topics.
  • To speak to the company directly.
With all this in mind it's good to have a statement of intent so people know what they are signing up for (then stick to it). "Join us on Facebook to get the latest deals first", "Follow us on Twitter for the latest indi. fashion tips","Follow our Page for our weekly print out coupon codes!", "Ask the experts. We're here to help." etc.

But how do you get them there in the first place?

Get those icons and links to social channels everywhere. In email footers, on bill boards, on vinyl signs at locations, on letter heads, business cards, compliment slips, on OTHER social channels, put FourSquare stickers and QR codes on the back of toilet doors (we did this - track ably - for a leisure venue client and it worked a treat). Make sure they're in an easy to follow and obvious format (like @nikhewitt for Twitter etc.). Be sure to be seen, or you may as well not bother.

The easiest way is to spend some money and to target your audience directly, but this shouldn't be done in isolation. Social media channels are often a walled garden. Here's an example of how you can structure a simple tactical campaign to grow followers quick. This is a snippit from an email I wrote for a Facebook client last year (with the costs and names removed to protect the innocent):
With reference to our earlier call I wanted to put the following in writing. The Page needs to generate followers and interactions. To do this, and grow numbers, we suggest a targeted push towards your target demographic with a campaign/sweepstake to win some thing you can offer (product, vouchers, etc. - this MUST be something the audience would want, and MUST be on brand) that remains cost effective. Participants would gain extra entries to the sweepstake for inviting friends. We would insist on FB page membership in order to enter. Each sweepstake would run for 1 month. Naturally this would require coding, approved app hire, and art work, so initial implementation for this (inc. 1 months hosting) would be £XXX. Doing this monthly, if affordable, would be an excellent future incentive, and be around £XXX cheaper pcm. This would be ideally placed in the run-up to XXXXXX season. This would also require a custom blog post with all details, and a full Digital Press Release (as per our press release service) at a cost of £XXX. These also offers excellent SEO value and would offer the maximum exposure possible for the money. Additionally I would suggest posting a banner or 'flyer' to the front page of the website for the period of any sweepstake, plus sending out a newsletter to all members with the press release content (which you could no doubt do yourselves via MailChimp, as we discussed). We would suggest using this time to test up-take on traditional (not sponsored stories, which rely on a base of active followers already) Facebook social ads, and believe a daily spend of £XXX would active an extra XX targeted followers (totalling XXX), for the first 10 days of the sweepstake, with a total spend of £XXXX. Naturally this would also afford an excellent branding opportunity. This would be tailored by us on a daily basis, with custom messaging created, to get maximum results, at a charge of 15% (included above). The primary target for these would be likely be male or female, single/engaged/married, 20-40, UK based, of diverse education, with an interest in XXXXXX, XXXXXX, XXXXXX etc. and competing brands - as per the target demographic you suggested when we created your SMMP. Therefore, all expenditure suggested would total £XXXX and generate a lot of coverage and a minimum (we'd suggest) of XXXX active community members. The SEO, viral, and links value of this would, additionally, be exceptional, and likely generate far more fans in the future.
See how it uses digital PR and email as well as targeted ads, plus a good reason to sign-up? See how it acknowledges the bigger picture?

Organic methods are obvious, but slower. It's important to have content that's fun and easy to share. I ran a large Online Poker client for a while, and knowing what the user liked was important. Posting free chips was great, and always 'liked' (though rarely shared) but the audience wanted that sense of fun and community. One picture of 4 taxidermy animals playing pokers got over 1,600 shares, 3,600 likes, and over 900 comments. It also raised that days new follower count by over 1000, and game sign up by nearly the same. Sharing aspirational content like fast cars, nice houses, etc. was commented on and shared a lot more - especially inviting commentary with messaging like "what would you buy if you won big". The same can be done with promotions, but watch those Facebook (and other) T's&C's when it comes to competitions - most have to be done via an approved app. Look at your analytics and previous posts, and figure out what your audience responds to.

Another organic method I use a lot is object tagging other Pages. This gives a nod to others Pages if they're mentioned. We have a football tipster client, Beat the Bookie, and their bets of the day contain object tags to teams and individuals so that those Pages fans see my clients Page - so noting the support and the service my clients are offering - and so promotes cross-traffic. This is really just 'crediting people', and it works particularly well when mentioning others when you are distributing their links to on-topic content via Twitter.

Anyway, I've gone on enough. In summing up you need to think about the bigger picture and tie your marketing in in other places. Try it. Shirt buttons to granny bonds it'll make a surprising difference to the growth of your channels - without thinking further afield, you've just got a static page.

If you need any help putting this kind of campaign into action, give us a ring at the agency I work for. We'll sort you out :)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Targeting Companies With LinkedIn and Facebook Social Data

Social data is used for advertising on some of big social platforms. Who we are, what we do, what we like, what we eat, where we shop, our favourite music, where we work, what charities we support, where we went on holiday, whether we have pets, etc. is all up for grabs when people want to hawk their wares to us online.

Put the coffee down and buy my shit.

For me, I say bring it on, advertising is a damn sight less annoying when it's properly targeted. I love the idea of the data I need finding me, and this is a step on the road to the semantic web. This is contextual advertising at it's finest. All marketing and advertising should be strategic, and I've worked with clients who've come to me with very specific ideas on who they want to target, for branding purposes and for click-through generation. When B2B companies come to us and want to target a specific company social is not an immediately obvious choice, but actually both LinkedIn and Facebook make it surprisingly easy (if the budget is up to it).

Why a specific company? If you make brass widgets there's only so many companies who need to be supplied with brass widgets.  If your product is part of a larger process or product, or you have a finite market you need to reach, a list of the companies who need your product is a great place to start (the rest's down to good copy, being cheaper, or having some whizzy USP the potential customer can't live without). Even if your a small business like a sandwich shop, imagine being able to target all the local businesses around you and put your lunch time special under their hungry noses.

LinkedIn is a damn site more than just a job site, and claims a hefty 187,000,000 (1.87 x 10^2) users, many of them decision makers and people with purchase power, in 200+ countries. When you're creating your ad, at stage 2, just scroll down to 'Company' and start to typing the company name. It's all pretty obvious. In this case I picked the BBC, which has 11,905 LinkedIn members.

Facebook is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly hugely mindbogglingly big it is... When you're creating an ad (under 'See Advanced Options', 'Get More Likes', or 'Promoted Page Posts') go to 'Choose Your Audience' then scroll down and open the 'See Advanced Targeting Options' link, then go down again to the bit that says 'Workplaces'. Start typing a business name and (if it's in Facebook's database) it'll give you option to select it in the dropdown. As you can see there's 14,520 people, who live in the United Kingdom, that work at BBC. Obviously you can keep adding other companies if needed.

With both channels there's even more needle-sharp targeting you can add to this like groups they belong to, their job title (in LinkedIn), marital status (Facebook), their interests, whatever.

Imagine then using these ads to actually give the targeted company employees something industry specific like a well researched white paper or branded online tool? Get creative. Give them something that might make their job easier, and just watch those click-through rates go up. Perhaps you could try targeting companies with these ads for a couple of weeks before getting your sales reps to give them a call? An ad's an ad, it's the creative (and strategic) thinking around it that'll get you somewhere.

Get creative. Know your audience.

Remember, the ability to target a company like this is great - indeed so are any of the many other targeting options - but you need to think why your going to be doing this and make sure it's not working in isolation from the rest of your campaign. If you don't stand out or you're not offering them a reason to care then they won't give a damn. Make sure your text will grab their attention and that it relates directly to the target audience. Have a relevant and compelling call-to-action. Optimise those small images to fill the space and make sure they're easy to read. Create different ad versions, combo's of image, title, description, and test what's best for click-through. All the usual methods and standards apply, if not more so - as you're directly under the nose of your target market.

If you find a cool use for this, let me know :)

Friday, January 18, 2013

Why Your Content Has to be Awesome

As many of you will know, I work for an international digital marketing agency as Head of Social and Content Marketing. I've been working in digital marketing, in search, in online community development, with content creators etc. since the mid 90's. Things change all the time.

Panda. Here to mess with your shit.

Penguin and Panda (Googles sobering little gifts to the SEO community) have suddenly changed the playing field, and now content is valued a lot higher than it's ever been before. Content creation is now a big part of SEO. This is a good thing, and a bad thing.

It's a good thing because content producers are becoming far more highly prized and valued. It's a bad thing because most SEO companies are flooding the Internet with low quality, spammy bollocks.

To understand why this is like it is I need to quickly highlight a few high-level core concepts of modern internet marketing.
  • Links:
    Only good links, from good sources, are of any interest to Google. Links mean a lot less than they used to. Anything else, like link farms and unrelated directories, are just spam.
  • Frequency:
    Google loves fresh content. If you add 3 or more posts a week to a blog on a website, the search spiders'll adore you for it.
  • Social Signals:
    What your friend recommend and what they like, are going to play a part in what's rated at the top of your search list. Having a social presence, as an individual or company, is now all part of the equation.
  • AuthorRank:
    We have to foster specialists. If their content is liked, shared, etc. within the community that's going to be a plus. Individuals who are specialists in certain topics and have a genuine interest in the subject are going to get that little boost c/o Google. Google+ demands profile authentication, so this isn't something you can game (which does make having a nom de plume somewhat tricky, but that's for a later post).
  • Organic Distribution:
    Good quality, entertaining, contentious amusing, informative, and valuable (to the audience) content is king. Not just blog posts - but white papers, videos, Infographics, curation, digital press releases, podcasts, advertorials, whatever. If you provide a genuine service, in an accessible format for the audience, and answer and research real consumer questions it's going to give you a clear advantage when it comes to other people distributing your stuff.
Put all this together and what have you got? Good content (and the way it's shared) is the new links. No one is going to distribute rubbish, though that's probably not going to stop a lot of SEO companies from just mass producing shit of Golgothan proportions without looking at the bigger picture. Heaven help us. This said, with social signals and AuthorRank we have to hope the the good stuff is going to be what 'naturally' floats to the surface.

The SEO Content Marketing Monster. You know who you are.

This theory's admittedly based on a few obvious things:
  • We're reliant on crowd sourcing quality, and a discerning audience.
  • Right now, setting up the likes of AuthorRank relies on us opting in to do so by inclusion of code on pages etc., and we're going to have to start opting in to share our data more.
  • SEO companies not (somehow) gaming signals in the future.
I'm lucky. Where I work I get to set content and social policy. No grey hat spam. We create proper content strategy (see here for an example) and we've had a content team of up to 10 pro-brand journalists for over 8 years (one of the big draws that made me take the job was the strength of the team). These folks have a track record, a history of contents and a natural interest in specialist fields from mechanical engineering to professional travel journalism. I'd put the work of any one of them up against that of any of the reporters I worked with at The Daily Mail. I know this'll see us through.

My big tip? For gods sake don't buy (or produce) mediocre, bulk, untargeted, and unstrategic content - you'll be throwing your time and money away in the long term.

In the future, if your stuff's not original and not good, how's it going to get seen? It could well be that Google has found the ultimate filter by using people as quality control through social and accreditation. It could well make the Internet a better place.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Brian Blessed Alarm Clock now on Android

What seems like an age ago my mate Rich came up with the notion that he'd rather like Brian Blessed to be the voice of his sat nav. For those who don't know, Brian is a somewhat larger-than-life English thesp. He's known for his sonorous voice and hearty, 'king-sized'. delivery, plus he's something of a national institution. Rich turned up at my front door one day, having spoken to TomTom and the bearded legend himself, with the goal for getting 50,000 people to sign up to a Facebook Page under the promise that if he did then TomTom would make it happen.

So began the push that saw me (2 days later) lying in the foot well of a moving Smart car, filming Brian (who was in the boot), and giving Rich any moral support he needed to make it happen. Sure enough, 3 months later the Facebook group hit it's target and TomTom did the rest.

Rich, however, is 'a bit special'. It didn't stop there. Brian's become something of a friend since all of this, and it made sense to keep the fun rolling and to do our bit for charity (Walking With the Wounded) at the same time. So began the next phase, which saw me standing in a shed, drinking a mug of tea, directing Brian Blessed in Shakespeare - arguable THE MOST ENGLISH THING one can possibly do - and saw Rich working with designers (including my good mate The Lightfoot - who did the design for this blog) and coders to make the 'Brian Blessed Alarm' clock happen.

It did. It's now available for the iPhone (which Steven Fry tweeted out as "The reason the App store was invented...", bless him, and the app stayed at number 1 for months) and (as of last week) it's now out on Android. Please, give it a go. Seriously, NOTHING is more effective at getting you out of bed than the words of Brian Blessed. For the pittance this thing costs you owe it to yourself, to Harry, England, and Saint George.

Some of Rich's other ideas are coming to fruition soon - keep your eyes on 'Blessed Originals' for further bearded nonsense and off-the-wall projects with other famous folks. Occasionally I still find myself in a projection booth somewhere, live tweeting along with Brian and 1000's of his fans to the movie 'Flash' or some such. You can also follow Rich on Twitter at @IdiotSvengali. It's rarely dull.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Why we Can't Ignore AuthorRank, & why That Rocks

Gone are the easy days of the early noughties when the definition of content quality was based more on the 'authority' of a domain than who wrote that content (or it's virility). Google is moving the goal posts, again, and this time it makes sense.

Now it's all about the individual, and (in SEO terms) as individuals that makes our name a commodity. I worked for the Daily Mail in on-line info delivery for 7 years, and if individual contributors don't start making the most of this then it's a crime against journalism. This is a ranking you'll take with you - it doesn't belong to the individual website - and that rocks for original content creators.

Let me try and explain how this works:

Is your name now a killing word?

Authorship, or AuthorRank, is Googles way of examining the importance of a post by the reputation of the individual who wrote it. What does +reputation mean? Prizes. Essentially, justifiably preferential search engine ranking for people who produce good content and who's work has been distributed by others (in the past, or currently) via social signals.

So how do we gather AuthorRank?

Predictably enough we have to start with our Google Plus profile - by adding the blogs, Pages, and channels we contribute too to our profiles and letting the data filter down so that it recognises us. It really is time to stop being scared of giving over our relevant data - get over it, and get in the system. Go to your G+ profile, then go to 'edit' and link the websites you "Contributor to" in the section close to the bottom. You'll be given a code to embed into your posts to set up your 'author rich snippets' - here's a how to - and for businesses (and as individuals) there's a bit a faffing around with "rel=author" and links to G+ pages in footers etc. (doubly so, it seems with Blogger) then you can test it here. With Blogger you can link your G+ and Blogger profiles together (see over on the right) and here's a handy AuthorRank plugin for Wordpress that should see you right.

Content creators (and there's every indication this will soon work for YouTube too) are 'ranked' using a magical Google algorithm based on the 'engagement factors' of the content they produce. This is what we blanketly call 'social signals' and it covers tweets, retweets, comments, shares, likes, +1's, all the usual social malarky. Add to this the stuff we consider Googles typical measurement factors like inbound links etc., and from this it crafts a measurement that it can attribute to an individual to get a sense of their popularity (even, potentially by Circles and Google Communities etc. within a given topic). Presumably the more a content creator creates content on a topic, plus the more engagement with that content, the higher that persons rank is going to be for that topic. In this case specialisation seems like it might be a plus - it's always worked for insects.

Blogger identity is important.

This has the possibility to change the content landscape and shift the balance of power into the hands of the creator. Suddenly brands and marketeers are going to have to court authors. Specialists are going to have (SEO) value and search engine kudos within their chosen areas, and magazine brands will have to seek out the folks with strong AuthorRank to boost their reputation and flagging rankings. It's nice to think that journalists, writers, and content creators who have authority in a topic are going to find themselves a commodity in the very near future. Any companies who want to be seen as specialists and industry leaders - and it's a goal for many when we're creating online marketing strategy - are going to have to conduct 'author outreach' for their short-term content creation, and they'll need to boost and cultivate the AuthorRank of those who are already writing for their organisation to make the most of them in the long term (and don't forget, they'll take that individual rep with them if they leave). Very interesting.

In the immediate future it looks like outreach to find people who have AuthorRank on a given topic should be relatively easy. All we need to do is run a search on any relevant keywords and see what rich snippets show up and who they are attributable to. Right now, each of these has a grey line of info next to them saying how many Circles these folks are in. To begin with, in the absence of any proper tools for automating this research, it's a good start. Right now, these are the people you want writing your guest posts and these are the folks you'll need to contact and schmooze.

The hard working author in his natural habitat.

It's a great time for content creators, and in the future there's the potential for us to be paid - if they smooth out all this adding codes and messing about for the layman - to write on the things we have a passion for and a talent for. Though admittedly the origins of this were seeded back in 2011 - at least some good shit came out of 'Penguin' and 'Panda'. Google is fostering creativity here, and I'm feelin' this bodes well for the future of brand journalism, content marketing, and people with passion and talent.

Nice one Google. That rocks.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

How not to get Distracted While Working in Social Media

Working online has always been a challenge for those us susceptible to the lure of shiny objects. Social media is the biggest damn time vampire known to man, and when I'm working for clients there's that constant reminder that there are friends, colleagues, and acquaintances begging for me to comment on their posts or correct their grammar. Here are a few tricks I use so that I don't end up wasting my day looking at cat videos when I should actually be doing the shit I'm there to do.

Set Out a Schedule

When I need to do something, no matter how mind-numbingly trivial, if I'm not going to nail it there and then I put it on my schedule. I refer to my schedule every time I finish a group of tasks when I think "what's next", or if I need to look busy because someone's caught me gawking at Pinterest with my mouth open like a fish. There a billion micromanager and reminder apps out there (and I've tried a lot of them) but I just use Google Calender fed by Mac Reminders on my iPad, iPhone, and Mac Book Air. It's free, easy, decentralised, and it's a big help for my notoriously fallible sieve-like memory (a man's gotta know his limitations). Retrospectively this also acts as a good log of what's been achieved in a day, and anything that doesn't get done by 5.30 get's dragged into the next available slot.

Stay On Target

cut the chatter

I have a personal rule of 50/10. I work for 50 minutes. Then go make a brew, abuse Twitter, smoke by the bike sheds, stare at some new Facebook app, check Pair to see what the spouse/cat is up to, watch dubstep videos with My Little Pony characters in them, or whatever for 10.

Also, I don't multi-task. The concept that 'multitasking is awesome' is a myth perpetuated by people who sell self-help business books. It's weapons-grade horse do-do. I do one thing at a time (I like to think reasonably well) not 4 things (half-arsed). I do something until it's finished, then I do another thing. Sure, sometimes that not always possible, but I break big tasks into smaller tasks (usually with dependencies being stop points that need external action from others) and it keeps me on track. Doing one thing at a time doesn't mean I'm not thinking about other things as well, but I concentrate on one task at a time, whenever possible. You may have a mutant power that lets you juggle plates - good for you - but that's not me. For more on this, I recently read this great post by Mr. Tony Schwartz, writer of 'Be Excellent at Anything', which is worth a look.

Track Time

a necessary evil

Working for an agency I have to log client hours anyway, so it's not rocket science. We use Harvest, which is easy and there are apps for the hard of understanding. I don't micro-manage this. I'm not obsessive, and I group stuff (a couple of client emails, booking a meeting room, working on a Keynote for a campaign pitch, can all be bundled together under 'meeting prep' if it's the same customer). It does, however, help keep me on track when I know I only have 2 slots of 30 minutes a day allocated for each client to check their social channels, respond to questions, and create/compose something fresh before looking at the next one. No time for love, Doctor Jones.

Eat a High Protein Lunch

Seriously. It stops me getting hungry mid-afternoon and stops my mind wandering. Chicken or fish is good, but keep it light. I'm also a big fan of regular coffee (though any sources of caffeine with antioxidants - like chocolate - works just fine) and it helps info retention. Personally, I favour the protein and caffeine and avoid the sugars. Each to their own (which is why I run the company tuck shop). Not too much coffee, there's a balance - jitters and needing the loo all day is counterproductive.

Ignore Stuff

There are always people who approach you with "can you just". Most of the time, yes, I can squeeze in 5 minutes to give an opinion or my advice, it's my job, but sometimes I genuinely can't. When I say "not right now" I've already set as president and it MEANS "not right now". From past history people know I'm serious.

I don't constantly check pages, but I do get information delivered to me. For example, I use the Pages app on the iPad which updates and flashes up when someone posts onto one of the Facebook Pages I manage. It's on the screen for 2 seconds, and I keep it docked next to my main monitor at work - if it's important it'll get my attention, if not it gets ignored 'til later.

NB: The power of listening to (productive) music or podcasts on headphones here is obvious - not only does it stop people hassling you for no good reason and with the day-to-day office fluff, it also saves on ambient distractions and cocktail party syndrome.

So there you go, that's my suggestions. No doubt there's more, but I'd say scheduling, targeting, and tracking are the main ones. What we do professionally isn't personal, but it is social. We have to make the distinction to make the most of the time we have available. It's a job we're doing after all, a client is paying for our time, it's not a...