So You Want to Be a Social Media Consultant?

Note: I’m back…. Having completed my MFA in Media Design, I can now get back to writing. Hope you didn’t miss me too much. Or, wait… I hope you did. ;-)

With the growth in social media of all types, there’s a growing demand for service providers who can help businesses – small ones in particular – navigate the often confusing and always changing social landscape. This bodes well for those who have knowledge and experience in social media, and I’ve recently heard from several students and graduates of Full Sail’s Internet Marketing programs who are launching social media consulting businesses.

One thing I caution them is to remember that social media for a business isn’t the same as managing your personal social profiles. While I’ve mentioned before that you should have a strategy for using social media for personal branding, you really must have a strategy if you’re a business.

Beyond that, it’s vital for a social media consultant to be realistic about how he or she can help another organization. Just setting up a Facebook Page or a Twitter account is often not enough for a small biz. They need training on the technical elements of how to post, but, more importantly, many of them need training on what kind of content to share to help build an audience.

Here’s a brief recap of my advice to those up and coming social media consultants:

  • Be realistic. If your client manufactures something you can’t even pronounce, understand that you’re going to be relying on them to produce the content – or you’re going to be traveling up a steep learning curve pretty quickly.
  • Take a holistic approach. Don’t just focus on social media, but build a strategy that ensures what you’re doing aligns with the rest of the client’s marketing efforts.
  • Know that common sense is not all that common. It may seem obvious to you that every Tweet shouldn’t be a sales pitch, but we’ve all seen that happen. Explain the value of building relationships, not just making sales.
  • Understand the time commitment required to use social media effectively and don’t underprice your services just because it’s ‘fun’ to be on Facebook and Twitter; the fun will wear off pretty quickly when you feel like you’re working for pennies.

Obviously, another very important thing is to stay current. Things change (have you seen the new MySpace everyone’s buzzing about?), and it’s your responsibility to know what’s happening in the industry.

Shooting the Laptop; A Rational Choice?

Have you seen the video of the father angry over his daughter’s complaining on Facebook about the things she’s expected to do around the house? If not, check it out:

It’s been interesting to me to see the response to the video. On the YouTube page, it’s pretty mixed, but my personal social circle seems to agree that the dad is right.

And while I have to admit that a small part of me cheered, a bigger part of me cringed when I watched the video. Here’s why:

  • Sometimes parents need to take dramatic action.  I’d support any parent who was doing something to protect or support their child. But killing the laptop where their high school student probably does their homework doesn’t really seem to be practical to me. Block Facebook? Sure. Kill the laptop? What does that really prove?
  • More importantly, there’s almost never a good reason (other than revenge, which isn’t a good reason) to publicly humiliate someone. There’s NEVER a good reason to publicly humiliate your own child. NEVER. I can hardly imagine the horror that a 15-year old must feel at becoming an inadvertent ‘Internet celebrity’ now that the video has gone viral, but even if it hadn’t, the father was clearly addressing all her friends in the video.
  • Kids need to learn how to address problematic situations in a rational way. Though he was calm in the video, the father’s response wasn’t rational in my opinion. Taking the computer away? Rational. Giving the computer to a charity? Rational. Shooting holes in it? I just don’t see what that proves.

I suspect this father’s (probably well-intended) efforts will serve more harm than good. And I think it serves as a good example to all of us who share things online to consider the potential ramifications of anything we do.

Giant Strawberries – And a Few Tips for Better Copywriting

Strawberries are one of my all-time favorite foods.

As a kid, every year my siblings and I would go with our father to pick strawberries at a farm in Ohio. We’d take our baskets out into the field and work our way down a row, picking only the perfectly ripe berries. The smell of berries wafting through the car on the way home made us oh so hungry. And I’m lucky enough to now live close to the ‘winter strawberry capital of the world‘  so I can get delicious fresh berries at a time when many people are still shoveling snow off their sidewalks.

But, even here… After strawberry season comes to an end, the supermarkets continue to sell them, shipping them in from California or elsewhere to fill their shelves. Those berries are like ‘normal’ ones on steroids. They’re enormous. They look great. They taste like, well… air. Not bad, just more or less completely devoid of flavor.

So much writing – particularly website copy – is exactly like those Fragaria × ananassa. It looks good. It might even sound pretty good, unless you’re actually hoping to glean something meaningful from it. But, alas, it has no taste, no real substance. (Side note: Did you know that a strawberry is “not actually a berry, but an aggregate accessory fruit”?)

Here are a few things you should think about to make your writing more compelling:

Understand your market. There’s a market for off-season strawberries. Consumers (for some reason) want them and restaurants need them. Online writing is like that, too. In these days of ‘content is king’ everyone is scrambling to produce more content, so there’s a market for massive quantities of quickly produced content. The problem: That content often doesn’t add much value for the intended audience. Not to mention, it’s leading to a web full of uninspired and downright uninteresting copy that serves little purpose other than giving Google’s web crawlers more to do. I’m certainly not suggesting you shouldn’t be aware of what search engine algorithms consider important, but write copy for your audience, not for search engines. (Yes, I am aware that suggestion is not particularly original, but it’s amazing how often you still see obviously ‘optimized’ content that readers would get no value from.)

There is a market for juicy content. More selective consumers – and restaurants – don’t want those flavorless berries, and they’d be willing to pay a premium for strawberries that taste like strawberries in the dead of winter. Your readers, likewise, might be willing to pay a premium for real content that added value to their lives – that solved a problem or made their day better. Now, I don’t necessarily mean ‘pay’ literally here, but they might be willing to give you their contact information or share your content if it’s good enough. If you can build a tribe of people with whom you have credibility, over time the relationships with them can grow into something that’s mutually beneficial. Consider Copyblogger, and how Brian Clark and company provide solid, useable information for free, and build a relationship with readers that can then be leveraged to help sell products. (The key here, of course, is that the products are top-notch and in line with the underlying mission.)

Reading your content should be like eating strawberries. Writing it may be more like picking them. For the reader, your copy should be juicy and delicious, and virtually effortless to consume. For you, it may be a different story. Even as a kid, crouching down and stooping over to pick low-growing berries for even just a few hours is hard on your body. (I have deep empathy for farm workers who do this kind of back-breaking labor every day.) Writing good content can likewise be hard work. You may need to do research, interview experts, find the right images, and revise, revise, revise. (You WILL need to spellcheck and proofread; don’t make me come over there.)

Last year’s season is irrelevant. Please, please, please don’t make how long you’ve been in business one of the first things you say about your company. You may have struggled through hard times and emerged triumphant, but as a potential customer I couldn’t really care less. I care about me – not you. (Sorry, I’m actually much nicer than that sounds, but, even so, I want what I want; your longevity matters relatively little to me.) Besides, history is about the past, and, as a customer, I care about TODAY and the future. For all I know, you may have been the perfect strawberry farm until you forgot to irrigate this spring or you sprayed your fields with toxic pesticides. Tell me what’s in it for me – now – so I don’t have to speculate.

Before I overuse the strawberry metaphor, here are a few more, non-berry related tips:

  • Write about the benefits. TO ME. And please be specific. “Our phones are answered 24 hours a day, so you will always be able to reach us if you need help” is much better than “Industry-leading customer service ensures your satisfaction.”
  • Don’t blather on. Get to the point upfront. It’s fine to make details available to me, but don’t bombard me with them before I even know if I’m interested.
  • In the realm of completely obvious but apparently not to everyone: Make sure it’s clear to me as a consumer what it is you’re really offering. This seems to be especially true of service businesses where good copy explains clearly what you can do for me – and how (more or less). And where bad copy leaves me wondering what on earth you’re actually selling.

Good writing is important, as I wrote about in previous posts on helping my students get to the underlying reason customers buy from you and writing for skimmers. In a world that’s increasingly driven by online activities, being able to communicate in writing can be the difference between success and failure.

(I picked up some strawberries at the supermarket today. Normal-sized and grown in Florida. Hoping they’re like good copy.)

Who Do You Believe?

I spoke with a prospective client on the phone today, and the conversation made me remember the importance of really understanding our goals. She’s a successful businessperson, pretty adept at marketing despite the fact that’s not her background, and she’s done fairly well with her e-commerce business.

But, she knows that she’s made mistakes along the way, and that things could be even better for her. This is true of a lot of business owners trying to find their own way to digital marketing success. Because it’s in their nature, small business owners want to figure it out for themselves. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with that, doing so can be tough. There’s a lot of really good information out there for the DIYer, but finding it can be hard in a sea of useless or, even worse, inaccurate information.

The same holds true for students in the program I manage at Full Sail University. How can they know what to believe? Whose advice should they take?

Here are a few of my personal recommendations for deciding what’s believable online and what’s not. I fully expect that some will disagree with me, and I acknowledge upfront that some of my comments are based on overly broad generalizations. Nonetheless, here’s my list:

  • If the page is a long-form sales letter, with a call to action that says “limited time offer” every time I scroll, I’m personally going to subject the site to a more serious sniff test. I dislike being ‘sold to,’ though I’m happy to buy what I need. If you can’t convey the benefits of your product – to me, personally – concisely, I’m going to be suspicious. I’ve never bought a product from an infomercial and probably never will. (I acknowledge that there are plenty of people who do.) Realistically, though, I have to think that most sophisticated web users are too busy to scroll through loads of repetitive information. Show me what’s in it for me, and that you value my time by being succinct.
  • If you make grandiose promises, I’m not going to believe you. And if I don’t believe you, I won’t believe anything on your site. Perhaps it’s  because my mother always told us as children that if she caught us lying she wouldn’t believe anything we say, but the feeling runs pretty deep for me.
  • Users tend to evaluate the quality of a website first by the design. I’m no exception; if I get to your site and it looks like it was designed in the 1990s or has poor usability, my finger’s already on the back button. You’d have to do something pretty spectacular to make me stay.
  • If you can’t spell or use proper grammar, I’m probably gone. I realize not everyone is the greatest writer in the world, but if you can’t use spell check or hire a proofreader, you’re not that serious about your business.
  • If there are no trust signals, I’m going to be hesitant. I know many small businesses operating online don’t yet understand this, but without something telling me I’m safe to do business with you, I’m going to be a little reluctant. Eliminating the reluctance is your job.

If you’re not able to evaluate your own site (true for many business owners who put blood, sweat and tears into creating their site), then ask someone who can be honestly critical what they think. Watch how they perform the action you want (e.g., purchase, sign up for email newsletter, etc.). Then take their advice to heart and make changes if necessary.

Credibility is the key to success online. Consider how readers experience what you’re sharing online, and decide how you want to be perceived – as a smarmy used-car salesperson (no offense intended) or a legitimate business.

Getting the Easy Questions Wrong. What’s Wrong With Search?

I’m thinking of visiting my family for Thanksgiving this year. Needing to confirm the date, I did what seemed like the sensible thing to do; I went to the search engines. Alas, I may have been better off pulling out a real calendar.

My search engine of choice is Google. I typed ‘when is thanksgiving 2011′ and the first result was from WhenIs.com. About 2012. The second natural result, helpfully, has the right answer.

But, this is a question that has a specific answer; this is not something where I need to see multiple options. There is an answer, and I don’t really care where it comes from, so long as it’s accurate. I don’t need to see ‘about 47,400,000 results’; I only need one result with the correct answer.

Searches elsewhere yield equally terrible results.

Blekko, which claims to ‘slash out’ spam, features a top result about the Southridge Mall’s new anchor, which might launch by Thanksgiving 2011. Blekko’s second result is about Disney moving The Muppets Movie release to Thanksgiving 2011. Both kind of related, but still not answering the question. The third link is to a Catholicism sub-page on About.com, which has a link to the date among 35 other primary, non-sponsored links on the page.

Bing’s ( and by default, Yahoo’s) first result is the same About.com Catholicism sub-page noted above. Buried in a confusing mess of information, the actual date is available on the second result – sgholiday.com.

Ask.com actually gets it right in its ‘Closest Answer’, and even its number 2 organic result from Chacha.com has the right answer – right there in the search results.

The issue here relates to the difference between being a ‘search’ engine and being an ‘answer’ engine. If the query has only one real answer, perhaps it’s time that search engines stopped delivering ‘results’ and started delivering the right answer.

 

Bouncing Around the SERPs

Recently, a colleague posted a celebrity lookalike photo of her kids on Facebook. Needing a break, I thought I’d try it too, especially since people are always telling my daughter that she looks like Rachel from Glee.

Since there was no clear link to where the celebrity mashups had come from, I went to Google and searched for ‘my celeb lookalike’ – the exact name that was used in her posts on Facebook.

The most promising result (in position #5) was findmycelebritylookalike.com, so I clicked on that and somehow ended up in AOL search results. So…. from the Google SERPs to the AOL SERPs.

Searching. Again.

From the top AOL search results, believe it or not, the most promising result looked to be a paid listing from Ask.com. That takes me to the SERPs from Ask.com, which gave me a bunch of results that were even further from what I was initially looking for.

From one search, I’ve now seen the Google SERPs, the AOL SERPs, and now the Ask.com SERPs. Really?

Google – What are you doing?
I NEVER wanted to be taken to someone else’s SERPs from yours when I do a search. Never, never, never, ever. If I wanted to search on their search engine i would have.

What in the world are you thinking? How can an algorithm as sophisticated as yours not see that link goes to AOL’s SERPs?

Worse yet is that each progressive click takes me not closer to what I’m searching for, but further away. I’m well aware that search is complicated, but the user experience from something like this is so awful I might have to switch to Bing.

(By the way, I did eventually find a celebrity look-a-like site. It said I most resemble Sam Elliott. The next best alternatives were Dennis Weaver, Mark Ruffalo, and Kim Rossi Stuart (don’t worry, I had to look him up too). Finally, at 60% match… O. J. Simpson. Still, better than the other site that said I most resemble Albert Einstein. Don’t spend too much time on this, folks.)


Integrated Marketing – Getting It Right Is Hard

Today, I received a really terrific piece in the mail from Banana Republic. Now, let me say upfront that most of these kinds of mailers usually go directly from the mailbox into the trash, but this one was different.

Mad Style. Introducing the Limited Edition Banana Republic Mad Men Collection.
To be honest I don’t really watch much television, but I have seen several episodes of Mad Men and found it to be a really entertaining show. Part of what I enjoyed about it was the period style, and when I opened the Banana Republic mailer I felt like they’d captured it perfectly, but in a completely updated, modern way. I’m not a fashion hound by any stretch of the imagination, but if I was ever going to have a ‘signature style,’ this would be it.

That may harken back to my teenage years, when I discovered – much to my surprise – that my father actually owned a sweater and skinny ties that were ‘totally’ in style. That refined but not overdone look is something I’ve been attracted to ever since.

Where Banana Republic Missed the Boat
I’m somewhat of a lazy social sharer, as I suspect are most people. I’ll happily Share to Facebook or Retweet something if you make it easy for me. But rarely am I going to go searching for a way to extend your advertising efforts.

In this case, though, I was so intrigued by the clothes (and, truthfully, by the brilliance of the marketing tie-in) that I actually went online in search of something that I could post to Facebook and/or Twitter.

Sadly, I found nothing of value. Numerous articles about how Banana Republic was going to release a Mad Men line, and a few (weak) posts on blogs about the actual launch. But nothing that really showcased the clothes in the mailer, and, oddly, nothing from Banana Republic itself. Nothing.

Really, truly, nothing. There’s no mention of it on their website, not even if you do a search.

Worse yet, the mailer directs you to a url (bananarepublic.com/madmen) to get information about the upcoming cocktail parties (how apropos!) on August 11. Unfortunately, as of this writing that url redirects to a default page at bananarepublic.gap.com:

Banana Republic - Integrated Marketing Fail!

See anything about Mad Men there? Me neither.

This is a perfect example of why integrated marketing is so important. All the pieces have to fit together perfectly to pull something like this off. Sadly, Banana Republic missed the mark this time. (Though I still want the clothes.)

 

 

Review of Nimble Social CRM

Social network fatigue. If you spend a significant amount of time online, as I do, you’ve probably experienced it too. Not just the ‘should I share this on Facebook or Twitter or both?’ question, but the ‘how can I possibly keep up with all this and still get anything done?’ question.

I love social media. I really do. But sometimes it can get a little overwhelming, and I’m always trying to find something to bring together the various places I ‘live’ online in a way that makes it easier. I tried RockMelt, but it just didn’t work for me. I’ve tried Hootsuite and I use Tweetdeck, but I’ve still felt like there should be something better.

Google+ Is a Step In the Right Direction
In my early review of Google+, I noted that there are some great features with that new platform that make staying connected more seamless. I can segregate my ‘Circles’ to allow me to focus on friends sometimes and professional connections others. I can easily access my other Google applications, like my calendar, documents and Gmail. I can even video chat with multiple friends.

Certainly, there are still improvements to be made with Google+, and where it fits into the social media landscape over the longer term remains to be seen. The comparative advantages G+ has are probably short-lived, as other social networks (yes, I’m talking about Facebook) are likely to replicate them in short order. (The one advantage that isn’t possible to replicate is the integration of all the other Google applications.) But what makes me most happy about the launch of G+ is that it definitely ups the game on the personal front for social media. (There is no ‘business front’ on Google+ yet.)

Another Platform That’s Also (Mostly) a Step In the Right Direction
I recently discovered the Nimble Social CRM platform, which is available through the Google Apps Marketplace. It looked interesting, so I downloaded it a few days ago and have been experimenting with it a little since.

Nimble is a lightweight web-based CRM (customer relationship management) platform designed for small businesses. I think that Nimble has some real potential, and in many ways is just what those of us who are active online need.

Contacts, calendars, emails and social conversations are all in one place with Nimble. No need to jump around from Facebook to Twitter to LinkedIn; you can see it all right there. Did that Tweet prompt you to remember an email you needed to respond to? Hop right into your mail.

Nimble just came out of beta, and while it appears to be pretty robust already I’m sure there are improvements still to come. (Like including Google+, I hope.) Nimble pulls together the places you live online into one cohesive platform. And it allows you to respond easily to Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn (or any combination of the three).

Plusses

  • Nimble allows you to bring in contact information for everyone in your email accounts, plus Facebook, Twitter and Linked In if you want.
  • You can easily find contacts’ other social profiles, see their latest social stream, and even connect with their companies’ social profiles. When you click on a contact, you can see what they’re sharing across all three social networks.
  • I can – if I choose – see all of my email accounts in one place plus my social feeds. (See minuses for the downside.) This puts Tweets, Facebook messages, LinkedIn messages and email all in one place.
  • You can post a status update to the network of your choosing right from one screen.
  • There’s a built-in task/event manager with the calendar.
  • You can search all three social networks at once to see what’s being talked about online. A search can be saved if it’s something you frequently do.
  • Using tags, you can build custom groups on the fly.
  • You can see your Facebook stream without the ads! (This makes me wonder how/why Facebook allowed this.)
  • The company says that Nimble Contact will always be completely free to use. It plans to roll out additional features, including a team version ($10 per user per month), Nimble Sales ($19/user/month) and CRM ($29/user/month).

Minuses

  • I miss (sorely) the ability to assign labels and move things to folders from my Gmail accounts. (Yes, I know that’s not necessary with Gmail, but I just feel better if I’ve filed stuff away. Perhaps Nimble will finally break me of this unnecessary habit.)
  • I’d like to be able to use WiseStamp for my email signatures because I can easily include links to my social profiles, my website and my blog.
  • Nimble only allows you to bring in one calendar.
  • Seeing all my messages in one place is simultaneously wonderful and horrifying. The potential for overwhelm is pretty big, though I’m planning to continue testing Nimble to see if it makes me more efficient.

Overall, I think this platform is potentially very useful to those who spend a lot of time online. I liken it to Google+ in that I think it raises the bar for systems that allow us to integrate our online lives a little more easily. Give it a try, and let me know what you think in the comments.

 

Is Plus Finally Taking Google Into Social in a Real Way?

This past week, Google rolled out Google+ to select users for a wide-scale beta test. Google+ is the search giant’s latest attempt at breaking into social networking, something it’s tried several times (and failed at) in the past.

This latest venture, though, has been met with significantly less scorn than Buzz or Wave or any of the dozens of other mostly failed attempts at social media.  I’m fortunate enough to have gotten an invite to be included in the limited trial, so I’ve seen some of the features that the platform offers. Most people (myself included) seem to be most impressed by Circles – which allows you to segment the people you interact with however you want – and Hangout – which allows you to have live group video chats.

Of course, detractors justifiably note that:

  • Facebook could be just one release away from mimicking those Google+ features it doesn’t already have. In fact, Facebook is announcing that it’s making video chat via Skype available.
  • There’s a perhaps insurmountable hurdle to getting people to switch from Facebook to Google, since most of us are already there and feeling comfortable.

The much-anticipated launch of Google+ has gotten me thinking about what this latest evolution in social media represents about the ways we want to interact online. As an Internet marketer, it also makes me wonder how (or if) it impacts businesses online.

On a personal level, I think Google’s gotten several things right:

  • Circles allows me to interact with my personal friends, acquaintances, professional colleagues, and clients in the way I want to. I can share uber-geeky Internet marketing stuff with my colleagues and share personal photos with my friends and family, and they don’t have to overlap. While Facebook has a way to do this, it’s cumbersome, and most people don’t seem to use it.
  • Circles also allows me to see my streams separately. When I’m in work mode, I can read through my Professional Circle, and then switch to Personal later.
  • Hangouts are a great way for me to do everything from chatting with friends to doing group projects.
  • I’m a regular user of many other Google services, and being able to easily move from one to another is a tremendous plus in my opinion.

It feels to me like the online social world is really starting to adapt to the way we as humans actually want to interact online. When I ask students in my SEO class to create their own mechanism for online information retrieval (theoretically, of course), one of the most consistent themes is trying to make things easier and more intuitive. In some ways, I think Google is moving social in that direction with Plus.

From a business standpoint, it’s really much too early to tell. There’s currently nothing like Facebook Fan Pages on Google+, and there’s also no advertising. Google says that business profile pages will be available, though there’s no estimate as to when.

When you consider how Google might rank the Plus business pages when they do become available, though, it certainly seems like something worth following closely. (And given that some business entities set up a ‘personal’ profile on Googe+ that’s already ranking well, that assumption seems pretty fair to make.)

Social Media Today did a great post called Why Google Has the Hammer to Make Businesses Use Google Plus that’s definitely worth a read.

And it becomes even more interesting when you consider how Google might (hopefully) integrate existing Places pages into Google+. While it’s going to take getting a critical mass of individual users, I think Google’s potential for mashing up all the information it has about your business is one of the more exciting things out of this latest development.

Lifestyle Design – It’s Not for Everyone

I’ve noticed an interesting phenomena that seems to be growing over the past several years. There’s a LOT of advice encouraging people to ‘follow their bliss’ by doing their own thing, and not bowing to the pressure of ‘getting a job.’

I think this is terrific in many ways:

  • Control – You’re in control of your own destiny. Don’t feel like working on Fridays? Then don’t.
  • Flexibility – The lifestyle design folks want you to build a life, not a career – and certainly not a ‘job’. If you set up your business in a way that is location-independent, you can do what you need from anywhere with an Internet connection.
  • Big rewards – OK, I’m always a little skeptical about the promise of big financial gain, but there’s no denying that some of these folks are making a pretty good living.

But… I really believe that too many people are seduced by this idea. It sounds great, but working for yourself just isn’t for everyone. Here’s why:

  • Not everyone is self-motivated enough to making working independently actually work. When the company I used to work for allowed the first employee to ‘telecommute’ as a test case, it was a disaster. She was never available, and it was pretty clear that she was just taking advantage of the ‘home’ time. When I asked to work remotely because I was relocating, my boss obviously had serious qualms, but he agreed to a test with me anyway. It turned out that I was actually more productive at home than in the office.
  • There’s more to it than just the work. Let’s face it; one of the big benefits of being employed is that you usually get benefits. With health care costs rising out of control, there’s no doubt than some of us are going to have to choose ‘employment’ simply because it means we have medical benefits for our families. And, if you’re lucky, you may find an employer who offers some sort of retirement benefits as well.
  • Some people need the social interaction of being in a workplace. Yes, you can replicate that by chatting online or on the phone, or going to a coffee shop. But some people really need the face time to be comfortable.

Having been both an entrepreneur and an employee, my advice is simply this: Be mindful of what you’re choosing to do for ‘work,’ whether that’s on your own or in an office. Think about what you enjoy and then try to find a way to do that, within the constraints of your own family situation.

Oh, and if you find a way to actually make that four-hour workweek thing work, let me know.