When I found out that PubCon South 2011 was being held in Austin, I was pretty excited. I’ve never been to the Lone Star State before, but I’ve heard nothing but good things about the city. Any place that is referred to as “The Live Music Capital of the World” has my name written all over it.
In my state of excitement (which is often comparable to that of a 12 year old) I overlooked the fact that 90% of the time one spends at a search conference is spent either in conference rooms or in front of a laptop in the hotel room.
I did manage to sneak off to 6th Street for some Fat Tuesday debauchery, and I ate at Hoek’s Death Metal Pizza, the coolest pizza place on the planet, while there. But the majority of my time was spent networking and soaking up as much SEM knowledge as possible.
I will absolutely be returning to Austin with adequate time to explore the city (and headbang to Slayer while shoving pizza down my throat) but for now, let’s take a look at some of the things I learned while I was there.
Social media and reputation management always seem to be big topics at search conferences (as they should be), and PubCon South 2011 was no exception. While online reputation management (ORM) isn’t new by any means, it’s something that does tend to be overlooked by some companies. For organization’s sake I’m going to cover those two topics in this post, and I’ll be touching on other prevalent PubCon topics (most likely general SEO and local search) in subsequent posts.
Social Media and Transparency
Jeffrey Groks kicked things off with the keynote speech. The core theme seemed to be that for businesses, transparency is no longer an option, and this is largely due to the power of social media.
He noted that up until a few years ago, the main function of a marketer was to make promises that the company had no intentions of keeping. Now, “advertising only accelerates the inevitable”. The experience provided by the business has to match the expectations, and false promises don’t fly.
Word of Mouth at The Speed of Light
If you run a crummy restaurant, people are going to find out one way or another. If your service is lacking, people will go elsewhere. If it’s extraordinary, people will feel compelled to tell their friends and family about it. Advertising will speed up either one of these processes.
The power of “word of mouth” is truly remarkable. However, in order to get people talking, the customer experience must far exceed the expectations – positively or negatively. Slightly exceeding people’s expectations just won’t do it.
Increased Velocity of Advertising and The User Experience
Social media dramatically increases the velocity of advertising, as well as the user experience. This is reflected in things like the presence of user reviews/ratings on product packaging, displayed in a manner similar to online user generated content – like Amazon.com product reviews. It’s also reflected in scannable barcodes on products in stores like Best Buy that allow you to instantly connect to real customer feedback for that particular product on your phone.
Social Media Requires a Different Approach
Social media is not about buying. It can support it, but it is about building a relationship and a dialog. People are conversing on Facebook, not searching. Behavior varies by task and motivation. If you’re on Google, your motivation is different because you have a goal in mind. On Facebook, the context is different – this is a social event. It’s a different audience with a different mentality, so a different approach needs to be taken in order to be effective and not perceived as spammy.
The key to social media marketing is about providing value to your community. Krista Neher says that you can provide value to your community by meeting the needs of the people in that community in an authentic and organic way that is relevant to them.
Get Positive Online Feedback by Asking Your Satisfied Customers
Tony Wright reminded us that it’s okay to ask your satisfied customers for reviews. Don’t be pushy, but do ask them. Think of it as asking for public feedback. If they enjoyed your product or service, chances are that they won’t mind. This has application in both ORM and local search – positive customer reviews are key.
Identify (and work with) Influencers
Be sure to identify the “influencers” in your niche/industry. Yes, it’s important to interact with all of your customers/clients – but the influencers can really help you out. Reach out and ask them for permission to send them items for review (or whatever variation of this method is applicable for your niche/industry). You’d be surprised at how well this works! Make sure you take a personalized approach though… You definitely don’t want them to think that you’re spamming them. Also, meet influencers offline when possible. Face-to-face interaction carries more weight, and you can leave a stronger impression.
Participate In “The Conversation”
It’s important to be a part of “the conversation”. You can do this by encouraging your employees to be subject matter experts in relevant online places – or hire people specifically for that reason! Be prepared to offer customer service in public forums. Doing this is taking a big step towards offering value throughout your entire web presence.
Set Realistic Goals and Track Your Progress
Andy Beal stressed the importance of setting realistic goals when it comes to your online presence. You can’t ask for 50,000 Twitter followers in one day. Be sure to determine what your main goal is, i.e. getting a Ripoff Report listing for your company buried in the SERPs. Also determine what resources you have available to you. Does someone on your staff have a lot of Twitter followers and know how to use the service properly? Be sure to leverage that when working toward your goal.
Keep track of what the first page of results for your brand look like. Highlight the positive and negative listings. Positives would be pages on your site as well as external properties like a company YouTube or Twitter account, a Wikipedia entry, news stories about your company, etc. Negatives would be forums where your product/company is being discussed in a negative light, Ripoff Report listings, forum threads where people are complaining about your services/products, bad press, etc. Consider using color coding (as seen in the example to the right), and create a new report for your branded search each month.
Be Prepared For The Worst
It’s important to come up with mock scenarios. Try to come up with worst-case scenarios, and how you’d handle each. Internal communication is paramount for effectively handling (and resolving) a PR crisis. Always take note of what a crisis did to a company’s reputation, and communicate that with all internal sources.
Scam? I’ve Never Scammed Anyone!
When you begin to type your company name into a search box and suggestions appear, is “[companyname] scam” one of them? It can be very difficult to get this removed, so why not make the best of a bad situation? Write an article that addresses any possible concerns of scams. Are you an SEO company? Why not take this a step further and explain why [companyname]+scam is showing up in the search suggestions to begin with?
Is it Easy to Get a Hold of Someone at Your Company?
Does your company site have a “press center”? It should. This section of the site would ideally contain a well-written corporate bio, quality head shots, links to blog posts, and an email address that someone on staff is monitoring constantly. Why the emphasis on constantly? Read about the “Motrin Moms controversy“, which could have been avoided if the company was monitoring things more closely. Make yourself as available as possible. A crisis can sometimes be avoided entirely if the upset individual is able to voice their concerns/frustrations to someone at the company.
Talk Yourself Up
When you’re writing about your company in press releases, bios, blog posts, profiles, etc., don’t just mention the company name once and then refer to it as “I” or “we” from then on… Continue to speak in the 3rd person and refer to the company by their full name! Keep the keyword density for your company high (but not spammy) and increase the likelihood of that press release/bio/etc. listing well in the SERPs.
Dominate Your Brand SERP
It’s important to leverage profiles on social media sites to control what appears in the SERPs for searches related to your branding/company name. Sites like Flickr, YouTube and Tumblr tend to list very highly, and you can use this to your advantage.
This site isn’t new, but it’s worth mentioning anyway: KnowEm.com allows you to secure your company name on over 550 popular social sites. I’d take it a step further and recommend that if you do this, hire someone to go through and customize the profiles. If you don’t plan on using them right away, include something in the profile to the effect of: “If you’d like to get in touch with me, you can contact me [here], or interact with me at [site where you’re active]”. This looks much better than a bare-bones profile that appears to be collecting dust.
Not only do these types of sites allow you to get involved in their respective communities, but normally you’ll get a profile with your branding in the URL, and in many cases you can link back to your site from the profile as well. Create (and use!) profiles on the sites that make sense for your niche. To get a better idea of what sites are out there, check out The Ultimate Social Media Profile Chart.
Once you create profiles on these sites, you’ll want to get them indexed. Generally speaking, they’ll get indexed if you use them enough, by interacting with the corresponding community on each site, creating content, etc. You can also increase the chances of getting the profiles indexed by:
- Adding links to them from the “About Us” page on your website.
- Including links to social profiles in press releases.
- Utilizing social bookmarking sites to link to your profiles.
- Capitalizing on sites that allow you to include links to all of your social media profiles
Maintain a Presence on Industry Forums
Not only is it important to establish a presence on social media sites, it’s highly recommended that you do this on the major forums in your industry as well.
If you have no presence on a forum and someone attacks you there, you’re already at a disadvantage. You have zero posts on the forum, and it’s obvious to anyone who comes across the thread that you created an account specifically to address the individual. For this reason, it’s important to have some level of engagement on the forums where your niche is discussed.
What if there are dozens of online communities out there where your industry is discussed? Even if you don’t have time to monitor all of these forums, it’s still worth it to register an account on each one. As suggested above with the social media site profiles, create an account and customize it. If you don’t plan on using it regularly, modify your profile to say something along the lines of “we’re not active on this forum, but we’d love to talk to you [here].” If you don’t snatch up accounts on these sites, squatters might, so get to it!
Think Before You Speak
Some things to take into consideration before replying to an online “attack”:
- The reach of the venue where the attack is taking place. Remember that by replying to the post, you are validating it.
- The influence of the poster. If it’s a forum, how many posts does he have? How much “karma”? How old is the account?
- The tone of the content.
- Follow-up on the post. Are people taking it seriously? Watch for on-topic vs off-topic replies.
- Viral effects of the post.
- The resources available to you. Know what you’re getting yourself into, and remember that if you respond once, you have to keep responding. If you react once, continued reaction is required. If you start and then stop, you run the risk of doing more harm than good to your brand.
If you’ve decided that it’s in the best interest of your company to respond to the attack, be sure to:
- Be sincere. Most people complain online because there wasn’t a more efficient avenue for them to be heard. They most likely just want an apology from you.
- Be transparent. Explain the situation. Let the individual know what caused the problem to occur, and the steps that you’re taking to fix it. Give an ETA on when it will be fixed.
- Be consistent.
Have Eyes and Ears Everywhere
So, how are you monitoring your brand? There are plenty of popular social media monitoring tools out there, with Trackur being one of the more popular ones. You can also use Google Alerts, which is free. For more information, check out Marty Weintraub’s fantastic post on building a reputation monitoring dashboard. Once you come up with a monitoring strategy, filter out the noise by determining what you’re watching for – here’s a reputation management cheat sheet: 30 different aspects of ORM that you should be monitoring.
I’ll be making another PubCon post sometime over the next few days… Stay tuned!