Ernan’s Insights on Marketing Best Practices

Monday, August 27, 2012

Have You Forgotten About SEO?

The Challenge: Marketers have grown obsessed with building "engagement" on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Are they neglecting old-fashioned SEO in the process?


For years, tech pundits have depicted an "epic battle" between Facebook and Google, one that has only heated up with Facebook's IPO in May. But for marketers, Facebook and Google fulfill very different functions and represent different stages in the conversion funnel.

While Facebook is a platform for driving social engagement, organic Google results are still one of the best ways to create demand for your products and services. SEO captures users who are trying to solve a problem, but don't know that you offer a solution. Appear high in the search results, and they won't remain ignorant for long.

Before discussing ways to do this right, let's review a couple ways to do it wrong.


In the early days of Google, tech-saavy marketers tried to improve their search ranking by "gaming" the system, regardless of how relevant - or irrelevant - their content was to the terms a user was searching. These tactics included:

» Transparent-Pixel ALT Tags

One early tactic was to hide keywords in an ALT tag. The only problem is that ALT tags require images. The solution? a transparent, single-pixel image with a "keyword rich" ALT tag. The search engine response? Devaluing ALT tags.


Next, optimizers tried filling their META-KEYWORDS tags with ... you probably know where this is going.

In every case above, marketers and developers tried to drive organic traffic to their sites by fooling the search engines. Nobody was fooled: the search engines responded by adjusting their algorithms to better track the single most valuable aspect of SEO: relevance.


» Create Relevant Content

The open secret of SEO is that there are only a limited number of things marketers can do on their sites to affect search rankings. The major factor in search rankings is links from other sites: i.e., other human beings who think your content is relevant. It’s not something you can game, but it’s something you can assure by creating a steady stream of high-quality content—especially on your official blog. Google demonstrates this fact with their own official blog, which often ranks as a top tech blog—not just a high-quality "corporate" blog.

» Maintain a Consistent Voice
While keyword-heavy content might help search engine algorithms, it's likely to decrease organic, human links to your site. Maintain a consistent voice, rather than setting a minimum number of keywords per sentence, as Dropbox does on their corporate blog.

» Practice Tagging Best Practices on Every Page of Your Site
All of that said, don't neglect basic tagging best practices like concise META-DESCRIPTION tags and relevant TITLE and H1 tags. (SEOmoz offers a great tutorial on tagging basics.) There isn't much you can do on your site to affect SEO, but don't neglect the factors that are in your control.

Monday, August 20, 2012

5 Best Practices for Marketing on Twitter

The Challenge: Real-time platforms like Twitter make it easier than ever for public conversations about customer’s brand experiences—for better and for worse. Marketers need to be part of the conversation.

Crowd Sourcing

In the past, marketers had a clear distinction to work with: Facebook offered great demographic targeting options and opportunities for social endorsement, and Twitter was a real-time platform. But with the growth of Facebook's News Feed (and, now, Timeline) both platforms are truly real-time. So what is the unique benefit of Twitter for marketers? Twitter is the major platform for monitoring and participating in the public conversation around your brand.

As we reported before, "Regardless whether your business is on major social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, your customers are—and they're talking about you." This is especially true on Twitter: whether customers are reporting positive experiences or service outages; passing on a special offer or a negative review Twitter allows customers to alter the market perception of your brand instantly. As always with social media, what some regard as a threat, others see as an opportunity: manage an effective presence on Twitter, and you'll be broadcasting a positive brand image to 140 million users.


» Select a Branded Hashtag

Given the millions of tweets produced every day, there's only one effective way to track mentions of your brand: by selecting a memorable brand hashtag. These can range from simple branding (@Dropbox), or more creative subbrands like Audi’s #WantAnR8 campaign. In addition to simplifying Twitter management, branded hashtags are the centerpiece of branded Twitter pages.

» Track Mentions of Your Own Brand 24/7
Twitter was built for viral messaging: within minutes, someone's 140-character compliment or complaints can be retweeted hundreds or even thousands of times. Catch every mention of your brand early, and mitigate damage or amplify opportunities accordingly.

» Monitor All Conversations Relevant to Your Business
Monitoring mentions of your own brand is essential, but it's not enough. For a truly successful approach to Twitter, you should also monitor conversations around your area of expertise, and participate where you can add value. Music streaming service Songza received more than 2,000 retweets when they responded to fans discussing Dawson’s Creek on Twitter with links to their playlist of “every song featured on Dawson’s Creek.” If they monitored Twitter exclusively for mentions of their brand, it’s an opportunity they would have missed.

» Actively Manage Your Twitter Feed
Because Twitter is a real-time platform, customers expect a constant flow of updates and new content. Don't let your feed go stale: add something of value multiple times a day.

» Maintain an Authentic Voice
One of the keys to success with social media is maintaining authenticity. Robotic content will fall flat with customers; updates with personality will be appreciated. As one user tweeted in response to an interaction with the Internet Education firm Grovo, "People like to know who they're talking to. That there's a name and a face behind the brand makes your brand more trustworthy." Don't efface your employees on social media platforms; let their personalities come through.

Monday, August 13, 2012

3 Best Practices for Facebook Sponsored Stories

The Challenge: Marketers are eager to take advantage of Facebook's huge customer base and powerful targeting options, but Facebook's most powerful tool remains relatively unknown.

Crowd Sourcing

Few advertising channels heed the Voice of the Customer (VoC) more directly than Facebook Sponsored Stories. Users determine what they say, when they appear, and who they appear to. While some advertisers might see this lack of control as a disadvantage, savvy marketers recognize it as a guarantee of authenticity.

Unlike traditional ad units, Sponsored Stories are not directly created by brands. Instead, brands must create meaningful and engaging content on their Facebook Pages. When users interact with that content – whether by Liking it, playing a game, or posting a comment – that engagement appears on their Timelines.

Standard Facebook Ads display generic brand messages and offers, like "Go to Starbucks for 20% Off!" As we reported last month, these were often ineffective and driving high levels of engagement, because there was a mismatch between the purpose of the platform and the purpose of the ad unit. Google users may be looking for ways to purchase goods and services, but Facebook users want to check in on their friends. Sponsored Stories addresses this problem: ads provide relevant, social news - "Tom just checked in at Starbucks" - rather than trying to make a sale. The result: effective, scalable social endorsement campaigns.


» Fill Your Facebook Pages with "Engaging" Content
Sponsored Stories can only be generated when users directly engage with content on your site, whether by Liking it, commenting on it, taking a poll, playing a game, etc. If you don't keep your pages up to date, your fans won't have any opportunities to engage—and you won't have the opportunity to drive social endorsements with Sponsored Stories.

» Provide Opportunities to Share rather than Opportunities to Sell
The key to Facebook's popularity is sharing: users of the site can share their own status and check up on others. They're not there to buy and sell. To keep your social endorsements coming, build content that users will be eager to share – like fun games or interesting content – rather than more commercial content like discount coupons.

» Give Fans Reasons to Keep Clicking
As with every other marketing channel, digital or offline, no customer is better than a repeat customer. Give your fans a reason to keep coming back by posting fresh, relevant content to your Facebook Page on a daily basis.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Sam Adams: Using Social Media to Create a Beer

The Challenge: Companies are learning how to tap into the potential of social media not only to strengthen their brands, but to create new products.
Crowd SourcingInnovative marketers are not only using social media to promote a brand; they’re using it to create products. Using Facebook, Twitter, and other major social media platforms, Wal-Mart, Gilt Groupe and others are conducting wide-ranging research, predicting inventory needs, and developing new products.
Social media is allowing these brands to gain powerful Voice of Customer (VoC) insights. According to a recent article in The New York Times, the results offer dramatic proof of the value of listening to customers:
arrow Samuel Adams used crowd-sourced data to create “B’Austin Ale”. As Steve Greenlee wrote at “99 bottles”, “man is it good.”
arrow Frito-Lay used their “Do Us a Flavor” app on Facebook to discover that “beer-battered onion-ring flavor is popular in California and Ohio, while a churros flavor is a hit in New York.”
arrow Gilt Groupe uses Facebook to select sale items and “refine products”.
arrow @WalMartLabs used Twitter data to determine which DVDs to stock, and which game releases don’t merit major orders.
Amazing as these results are, social media data should be supplemented by in-depth customer insights. In the Times article cited above, Lara Lee of Continuum, a design group that helped to develop the Swiffer, expressed the risk of relying on social media research alone, “Data can’t tell you where the world is headed.” For that, you need in-depth, personal conversations with customers and prospects.
» Supplement Social Media Data with In-depth VoC Insights
Social media data can tell you what is happening. But, you must validate and enrich this data with in-depth, person to person conversations which detail why this is, and how customers want you to address their needs.
» Use a Diverse Mix of Research Tools
Develop an integrated research strategy which deploys multiple research methodologies and tools. Use each methodology for the value it can provide, i.e., quick surveys, social media, in-depth interviews, etc.
» Offer Value in Exchange for Customer Feedback
Today’s customers know how valuable their insights are, and they expect something in return. What did Frito-Lay offer? A million-dollar prize to the creator of their newest flavor.