Web Strategy

A Twitter playbook for your company

Brands, companies and organizations are invading Twitter at a steady clip. Social media gurus will tell you that Twitter can be a remarkably powerful customer relations, marketing and relationship-building tool. Yes, it can be - but only when used properly.32354436

Here are a couple of tips to keep in mind when building a presence for your company on Twitter:
  • Everyone starts out with zero followers. Don't freak out and follow hundreds of people in a knee-jerk reaction to "force" follow-backs. Chances are someone introduced you to Twitter. Politely ask that user for an introduction to the Twitter community - they will tweet something like "Please welcome @username to Twitter!" That should get you going. 
  • Maintain a balanced follower/following ratio. If you're following 2,473 Twitter users, but only 16 are following back, you're going to look like a Twitter spammer.
  • Upload a photo (avatar) and fill out your profile. Simple stuff, right? Showing your face means to users that there is a human behind the scenes and they'll feel more inclined to connect with your company. Put your location (city, state) in your profile, making you more likely to be found. A link to your company site or blog is almost a *must* - one of many tips outlined by Jeremiah Owyang on how to confirm your corporate Twitter account.
  • Maintain a 50/50 promo/convo ratio. For every time you send a tweet promoting something that your company has done (driving traffic back to your corporate site/blog) go out and proactively join a conversation taking place on Twitter. Remember, this is a conversation utility first and foremost.
  • Participate. You get out of Twitter what you put into it - enough said.
  • Use URL shorteners. Twitter isn't a pipe to shove long, unruly URLs into. Make use of URL shorteners like TinyURL, bit.ly and is.gd. Remember - you've only got 140 characters! 
  • Sponsor a TweetUp. Once you've got a few months under your belt, and you're well immersed in your local Twitter community - have your company sponsor a tweetup (meetup for Twitter users). This will establish goodwill towards you and your brand.
Playing by these simple rules will give you and your organization a head start on all the other entities trying to figure out Twitter right now. If you're still lost, follow the example of some of the best brands on Twitter: Home Depot, jetBlue, Comcast and Zappos.com.

Can social media be applied to b2b marketing tactics?

Social media marketing is often lumped together with consumer marketing, even though there are relevant B2B applications and ideas available. Just because one business is marketing to another business doesn't mean there aren't humans involved - humans who like (and sometimes prefer) to interact with each other via social networks.

Here are a couple of steps you can take if you're a B2B marketer:
  1. Develop a blogging strategy. Is there (are you) a "thought leader" within the company that can create valuable content that other businesses might be interested in? Think white papers, but served up on a blogging platform. Huge bonus: Search engines love blog content! Believe it or not, there are humans at those other businesses, and they're going to research your business on the Web. 
  2. Launch a private forum or social network. Are you stuck in channel marketing, or forced to market only to a dealer network? Create an online forum for them to gather and engage them this way. Use an application like Ning.com, which lets you build your own private social network overnight.  
  3. Listen, listen, listen! Sure, consumers are using social media to talking about brands, but conversations between and about business are also taking place. Subscribe to those RSS feeds and Google News Alerts!
  4. Learn, then sell your knowledge along with your product. The potential insight you might gain from the above efforts is simply added-value to your product or service. If you're dealing with channel marketers, distributors or manufacturers, you suddenly have a lot of information on what the marketplace is saying online and how to position products.
Here's a video of social media strategists Matt Dickman and David Armano talking about social media in the B2B marketing arena:

So get out there, immerse yourself in the social web space, and learn!

How to conduct effective online outreach

In the last column, we discussed how not to engage in online outreach efforts (AKA "astroturfing"). This time, let's talk about effective (and positive) ways that your company can reach out on the Social Web.Blog

Let's say a blogger mentions your company, service or product in his or her blog. You certainly have a right (whether the sentiment was positive, neutral or negative) to join that conversation. First, there are a few ground rules:

1.) Remain human. The last thing a blogger wants is marketing- or PR-speak in their comments section. Keep it light, candid and conversational.

2.) Did they talk about you in a positive light? Thank them, but keep it brief. The blogger will most likely appreciate that you're out there listening to customers. However, this isn't a platform for you to start screaming about your products. A link-back URL through the typical commenting fields is all you need.

3.) Add value to the conversation. If the blogger posed a question, answer it. If misinformation needs to be cleared up, clarify. This adds more depth and value to the conversation.

4.) Remain calm. If your company is being talked about in a negative fashion, take a page from Customer Service 101. Reach out, ask for more information and help to resolve the issue. If needed, tell your side of the story with facts and candor. A great example of this can be found in the comments section of a recent Iowa Web Awards blog post: The comment, which you can read here, was written by Anthony Clifton in regards to his company's reputation, Captain Jack Communications.

5.) Be transparent. When leaving a comment related to your business on a blog, use your full name and the company you represent. Anonymous commenting certainly won't help you build your case.

When in doubt, just remember to behave in these situations as you would at a networking event. Mingle, have conversations, but don't grab the microphone and shout.

Astroturfing: How NOT to approach social media

Profile_img1_astroturf_2"Astroturfing" happens all too often by marketers trying to infiltrate the social Web, and many practice it blindly without understanding how potentially damaging it can be to their company's reputation and brand.

First, let's define Astroturfing: It's the efforts of an individual (or group of individuals) - compensated by a company - posting information to blogs, message boards and social networks, posing as an average consumer with positive things to say about that company. To sum up: the attempt to create a fake grassroots movement to market a service or product. Hence the name Astroturfing.

Efforts like this are disingenuous and can be spotted easily with simple IP address tracking, which can lead to a public relations black eye for all parties - whether it is the company itself or their marketing partners.

Kami Huyse of Communications Overtones talks further about best practices and established an Anti-Astroturfing Code of Ethics here.

It comes down to one simple truth: Positive word-of-mouth can't be manufactured, it must be earned.

How your social networking activity can help your job search

We've all heard horror stories about how someone's social networking "presence" has disrupted their chances at landing a job. I would argue that, if used properly, your online identity can actually aid your cause when looking for a new career.

Let's face a couple of facts, first:Blog

1.) Employers can - and will - look you up online. They'll search for your name on Google, then LinkedIn, then Facebook. If you have a Twitter feed, they'll read it. It's well within their rights as an employer to do so.

2.) When we engage in activity on social networks (and the Web in general) we can leave behind permanent digital footprints. In many cases this will be public record - forever.

Look, our social network profiles are new forms of self-expression, so if all your pictures on MySpace involve you running down the street naked after doing a keg stand, chances are an employer won't look too favorably upon that.

That doesn't mean we have to neuter our personalities online. When I was hiring last spring, I looked at the profiles and activity of applicants within social networks to get a better grasp of them as human beings. What do they do for fun, what are they involved in, what are they passionate about, what sorts of pop culture do they absorb, what are their musical tastes, et cetera. These extra tidbits can really round out a personality beyond just a resume. In fact, I almost immediately passed over the ones who had very little social networking activity - due to lack of personality, but mostly because it was highly relevant to the job opening (social media strategist).

You can hang on to those keg stand photos, but take advantage of the robust privacy features within MySpace and Facebook. Feel free to share these photos with your friends - but not the whole world when you're seeking employment.

To sum up, let your social network profiles be a showcase for your personality and passions, and this can be a tremendous asset during the interview process.

Nathan T. Wright

How to market your company during an economic downtown

It's a well-known fact that the first victims of economic downturns are advertising and marketing budgets. As a company, how you do maintain your brand's presence and top-of-mind status with very few dollars to spend?

One of the things you'd want to look at is reaching out to online communities as aBlog_2 representative of your company and starting/joining conversations there. In most cases this is completely free, and requires only a time commitment and some knowledge of digital community best practices.

Here are the fundamentals you'll need to know:

1.) Choose online communities that are relevant to your services or product. Selling off-road vehicles or ATVs? Why not jump into the Iowa Outdoors forum and see what they're chattering about.

2.) Listen and mingle first. Behave like you would at a cocktail party. Mill around for a bit, find pockets of like-minded people and start conversations, or join those already in progress. Don't run up, grab the mic, and start screaming about what you have to sell. Be human.

As far as time is concerned - get started by dedicating a few hours per week. Like with any marketing effort, you get out of it what you put into it. The more time and passion you throw into this the better your results will be.

Form relationships instead of fleeting "impressions." Recently, two Des Moines-area companies have sponsored TweetUps (meetups for Central Iowa Twitter users). SmartyPig hosted an event, complete with prizes and giveaways, at a location that could only be discovered through a digital treasure hunt. Paragon IT is sponsoring a TweetUp this Thursday evening to better connect themselves with local entrepreneurs and business leaders. These are both fantastic examples of companies that have embraced Twitter as a low-cost marketing tool. (Full disclosure: I was involved in the creation of the SmartyPig event.)

Marketers, don't let the downturn slow down your efforts. With a little savvy and a few best practices there are thousands of affordable (and sometimes free) options social media channels that you can take advantage of.

Non-profits should focus on social media

Nonprofit organizations, with limited advertising and marketing dollars, should designate social media as the highest priority in their communications strategy. It always makes me sad to see nonprofits blowing thousands of dollars on outdoor boards when they could be focusing their energy on real, two-way conversations with constituents, prospects and donors online.Blog_2

Think of the possibilities within these two channels alone:

1.) Facebook
Facebook is probably the most effective digital grassroots and organizing tool there is. If you're trying to rally people around a cause, there's no better channel than Facebook, where your volunteers can spread your message, and even organize events on your behalf. Barack Obama's grassroots fundraising efforts have proven how powerful a tight Facebook strategy can be.

2.) Twitter
Twitter's power exists in small geographic pockets, which could really benefit a small nonprofit that only wants to reach a local audience. Imagine the impact the Animal Rescue League of Iowa could do on Twitter, reaching out to a Des Moines area audience with 140-characters "tweets" featuring a new animal that needs to be rescued, every day. All it takes is a little wordsmithing and a twitpic account to show off the animals' mugs.

A huge benefit here is what it costs - next to nothing. It's free to interact within these channels, but there is going to be a required time commitment to immerse yourself, learn the mediums and participate properly within them. Like any successful communications strategy, you get out of it what you put into it.

Consider blog software for your site's content management

WordpresslogoBehind the scenes, many Web sites are powered by Web-based content management software applications (A.K.A. "CMS" to those who like acronyms). CMS solutions come in many forms - they can be purchased off-the-shelf or built, licensed and customized to your needs by a Web development firm.

The benefit of having CMS is that you control your Web site's content - and you don't need to dial up a Web designer with expensive hourly rates every time you need minor information changed.

The challenge is that CMS solutions can be expensive for a small business to take on, and difficult to justify during the start-up phase. A solid, bare-bones CMS built-out can start at $2,500 and go on up from there, and that's just for the cost of development. This is why I've started recommending inexpensive (or free) blog software build-outs like WordPress to smaller clients (or even larger clients with tight budgets).

WordPress is blogging software, but can also be utilized as an extremely powerful - and customizable - content management tool. I'm seeing more and more websites being 100% built on WordPress platforms. As companies roll out blogging efforts in addition to their main, informational websites, my prediction is that eventually we'll see them consolidated into one digital presence.

If you're a large organization in need of a highly customized Web application and e-commerce solution, you'll definitely require some high-end development and/or CMS build-out. But if you're a start-up or a small business, consider using blog software to power your site, and save yourself a few thousand bucks.

Nathan T. Wright

Making your digital content shareable

In previous posts I've talked a lot about how the Web is now distributed, and the days of referring to websites as "destinations" are over. With RSS feeds, embeddable content, widgets and social networks, your content can be everywhere at once. Here are a few tips on how your company can take some basic steps to enter the world of shareable content. Best of all - they're all free.   

  1. RSS feeds                                                                                  Nates_blog_2
    RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication - this is basically a feed of information that gets exported from web content you update regularly (blog posts, news articles, press releases, et cetera.). Your readers can subscribe to this feed and receive your content via their news aggregator of choice. If you are currently using blog software or any sort of content management system (CMS) application to update your website, chances are you have an RSS feed already. Make sure that you prominently include an RSS feed button on your website to alert your readers to its existence.
  2. Embeddable Content
    If you're posting rich media (photos, audio and video) to your website, why not use popular media-sharing networks to host the content? You can use Flickr for your photos, any sort of podcasting network for your audio, and YouTube or Blip.tv for your video. These networks make it extremely simple to embed the content into your own site, as well as empowering your readers to grab it and share it on their own. this saves your company the dollars in doing custom development and programming, and also reduces bandwidth on your web server.
  3. Widgets
    Services like Clearspring, Sprout and WidgetBox make it easy to take almost any piece of content from your website and turn it into a "widget" that your site visitors can take a distribute on their own.
  4. AddThis Sharing Button
    You can create a customized AddThis button by visiting AddThis.com and stick it on any page of your website or blog. Readers will then have one-click access for sharing your stuff on a variety of social bookmarking websites like del.icio.us and Technorati, as well as Digg and StumbleUpon.

Taking these basic steps will empower your website visitors to distribute your content for you - how great is that?

Nathan T. Wright

Add social features to your website with Facebook Connect

Facebook_270x101 Last week at the F8 developer conference, Facebook announced the Fall 2008 roll-out of Facebook Connect, which will allow third-party developers to integrate the popular social network's features into their own websites.

So, imagine this scenario: Facebook users engaging with each other and updating their content (photos, wall, etc.) from your web property - without ever visiting Facebook.com. Ideally, integration should be a snap: Facebook Connect will let you grab snippets of code and bolt these features directly into your website.

Why is this important? So many times I've seen clients spend thousands of dollars developing custom build-outs of social features for their sites, often resulting in little to no activity among their visitors. The "build-it-and-they-will-come" motto doesn't fly online - currently, we all have social networking fatigue and the last thing we want to do is set up another user profile on yet another website.

This is where Facebook Connect could come in handy. Facebook has already perfected digital social interactivity between millions of users - why not integrate pieces of what they've already built into your web presence? This makes even more sense if the majority of your visitors are already Facebook users. Why re-create the wheel?

If your demographic doesn't include Facebook users, then (like any social media marketing effort) you need to concentrate more on the channel that does fit your visitor.

Facebook Connect is just another example of an emerging trend online: Content has become so decentralized. We used to think of websites as being be-all, end-all "destinations," but we're now seeing content and interaction spread out across hundreds of networks and sites.

An in-depth, detailed breakdown of the technical aspects behind Facebook Connect can be found here.

Nathan T. Wright

Developing a Commenting and Moderation Policy

Comments When talking to clients about their social media strategy, one of the biggest concerns I hear about is loss of control. Adding a company blog (or any social or community feature) to an existing web presence can give some organizations a heart attack - largely because they fear anyone can come in and leave negative and/or damaging commentary.

Integrating a little Web 2.0 flavor to your website doesn't have to equal a free-for-all of negativity and profanity. As a company, you reserve the right to create and enforce a clear Commenting and Moderation Policy.

Following are the basics that you'll want to cover in your guidelines:

  1. What's acceptable, what's not acceptable.
    State that you won't allow duplicate comments, personal attacks of any kind, comments that explicitly promote a product or service (spam), and comments that are vulgar, vile, cruel, or off-topic.
  2. Visitor Privacy
    Make a note that discourages the posting of phone numbers or email addresses in the body of the comment.
  3. Moderation Process
    Be clear about your moderation process - whether you are allowing all comments to be posted immediately and reviewing later, or holding all comments in queue for moderation. If you're moderating, commit to a period of time (typically 24-48 hours) within which you promise to post the content.

Additionally, don't be afraid to allow negative comments if they are intelligent in nature and on-topic. This gives you the chance to publicly follow up and enter the conversation. (The alternative is to never post it and cross your fingers that the same commenter doesn't take the conversation to another digital channel, where you have zero control.)

A clear, concise commenting and moderation policy might ease your fears - just like with any playground, it never hurts to set the rules up front.

Nathan T. Wright

FriendFeed: A cure for social networking fatigue?

LogobigNew social networks and applications pop up every day, causing many to suffer from what is known as "socal network fatigue." You've got too many usernames and passwords across multiple platforms to remember, and you've got different circles of friends spread across all the networks. This deluge of information can be difficult to manage.

Now, services are springing up that aim to help us with the social networking overload. One of particular interest is FriendFeed. Basically, you sign up once, enter all your logins for the various networks you participate in, and FriendFeed spits out a "life stream" of data about what you're doing.

Imagine all of your recent Twitter and Facebook updates, Flickr photos, blog posts, Upcoming.org events, StumbleUpon bookmarks and favorited YouTube videos mashed together with what you're currently listening to on Last.fm - all in one central feed.

That's what FriendFeed is - a chokepoint for all of the scattershot data we post about ourselves online, and perhaps a temporary cure for social networking fatigue.

Tag! You're it.

561962_price_tag5b35dThis week I discovered an interesting project called Brand Tags (Brandtags.net) - where visitors can drop by and "tag" popular brands like Coca-Cola, Microsoft, GE, etc.

Tagging is commonplace throughout the Web. While watching YouTube videos, you may notice a cluster of descriptive words to the right - those are "tags" that the user has added to help categorize where the video belongs. Brand Tags works in a similar fashion, except that you "tag" based on your perception - not categorization - of the brands.

Brand Tags is fascinating because it gives us a window into the collective mind of hundreds of thousands of people and how they currently see large companies - companies that spend billions of dollars to shape our perceptions.

Here are a couple examples of brands and their corresponding tags:

Brand: Apple
Tags: Cool, Design, Awesome, Innovation

Brand: MySpace
Tags: Annoying, Friends, Music, Kids, Teenagers, Ugly

Brand: Google
Tags: Search, Everything, God, Evil

Brand: McDonald's
Tags: Cheap, Fat, Food, Unhealthy

This is just another great example of how social mediums have leveled the playing field between large organizations and their consumers.

People talk about your company online, but who should you listen to?

Wonderinghead_questionmark Social media has given power to the people, and with it, your consumers now have the ability to publicly share their experiences about your company or product online. Sometimes positive, and sometimes negative.

If you're currently participating in the "listening" basics (tracking mentions of your company name in Google News Alerts, Google BlogSearch, Technorati, etc.) you will immediately find out when a customer starts talking about your business on a message board or blog. Whether these conversations are positive or negative, you can - and should - dip into the conversation stream with them.

Yet, the larger an organization is, the less time they can devote to following up on every single online reference or mention. So how do you discriminate?

First, check out the user who is posting the information. Let's say the environment is a message board, and the user is very active within that space. He/she has over 3,000 posts. This is somebody you want to pay attention to, and potentially follow up with. Even within self-organizing communities like user forums, leaders (influencers) still emerge.

Now, say there are 10 blogs that have posted glowing reviews about your product or service, but you only have time for a few "thank you" follow-ups in their comments area. Do some research into who the bloggers are first. Determine their reach and influence. How big of a voice do they have? Are their blog readers actively engaged? Are the readers leaving comments? If you see a lot of "Comments: 0" you may want to pass it up.

There are many conversations happening right now on the web, some of them about your company. Depending on your organization's size, developing an ability to filter through it and identifying the key influencers will be vital to your social media strategy.

Nathan T. Wright

What does success look like in a social media campaign?

Roi1 I'm frequently asked about how to best track ROI on social media marketing efforts. My answer is that social media ROI is next to impossible to figure. That may sound like a cop-out, but it's the truth.

The benefits of reaching out and connecting with your customers via social mediums are intangible. How do you extrapolate the ROI from participating in a conversation on a message board or blog, where you cleared up some negative misinformation about your brand or product in an honest, transparent and meaningful way? You can't measure that.

Sure, there are basic metrics that you can track on your website or blog, like clickthroughs, referrals, bounce rates and user sessions, but there is no metric for being part of an online conversation with your customers.

There are other ways to gauge success. Maybe it's increased visitor engagement and participation, which could take the form of more user comments on your blog posts, or more consumer-generated content (photos, videos, etc.) uploaded to your brand's Facebook Page.

Embarking on a social media campaign can force you to re-think how you visualize success.

It's a very back-to-basics approach, similar to the intangible fundamentals of really good customer service: going out of your way to listen to your customer's needs, and being able to respond to those needs quickly.

Your return on investment: Loyal, life-long customers.

When to edit a Wikipedia page about your company: NEVER!

Wikipedia It's tempting to want to create and/or edit a Wikipedia entry about your company or even yourself, and the collaborative nature of the site makes it easy for you to generate your own content. However, the best advice is to never write/edit your own entry, and never pay someone to do it for you.

When clients ask if I can help them craft their Wikipedia page, I refer them to Wikipedia's conflicts of interest page, which states: "Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, not a forum for advertising or self-promotion."

There are lots of benefits to being on Wikipedia: Links back to your website or blog, an increase in traffic and a bump in search engine points. But if you don't let your Wikipedia presence happen via true grassroots efforts, you will get caught. The Wikipedia community is incredibly active and passionate about self-policing the online encyclopedia - they can typically detect self-serving additions and edits within a matter a minutes.

There are also tools available such as WikiScanner, which can cross-reference page edits with IP addresses to find out exactly who is behind a specific edit. In the past, employees from Yahoo! and The Pentagon have both been caught tweaking their own organization's pages.

Look, this all comes down to basic best practices within the social media landscape. Eventually, fake grassroots efforts (AKA "Astroturfing") will inevitably be discovered, and your organization wouldn't want any part of such a public relations mess. Businesses should focus on what really matters: Keeping their customers so happy that they take it upon themselves to write a Wikipedia entry about the company.

Nathan T. Wright

Have you added video to your website yet?

Picture_8_270x372 There's a common perception that integrating video content into your website can be expensive. However, this isn't the case any more — video-to-web is fast, easy and affordable.

Showcasing your product with video creates a much more intimate connection with your website visitor than just a photograph, diagram or list of services. Probably the best example of this is BlendTec's "Will it Blend" video campaign, which illustrates the blending power of their products on objects such as iPhones and marbles.

Additionally, if you use a video-sharing application to host your content such as YouTube or Blip.tv, your video is instantly shareable in a peer-to-peer fashion. These services allow you to cast a wider audience net outside of your own website.

So how do you get started?

  1. Equipment. Depending on the final quality you'll need, you can hire a freelance videographer to shoot it, or simply create your own content with affordable digital video equipment such as the Flip cam.
  2. Get it on the Web! This is much easier than it sounds. There are many video-sharing websites out there to choose from — I mentioned YouTube and Blip.tv earlier, but there's also Viddler, Veoh, Revver and many more. It's a snap to upload your video file to any of these websites and they will take care of file hosting and bandwidth for you, usually for free.
  3. Integrate it. All video-sharing applications allow you to easily embed your video content into your website, blog, or social network profile. Typically this is as simple as copying and pasting a snippet of code.

In summary, there's no reason to drop $10,000 on an expensive video shoot for your website. With the right tools and a little curiosity, you'll be on your way to integrating video in no time.

Nathan T. Wright

Using Twitter to network yourself and your business

TwitsmThe concepts of networking and being connected have been critical components of doing business for ages. Technologies like LinkedIn and Facebook have allowed us to expand our professional networks online.

However, the one social network that I've derived the most professional value out of thus far has been Twitter, hands down. For those that aren't familiar with Twitter, it's a growing social network of about one million users, built upon short, 140-character status updates (or "tweets") between participants.

Twitter is virtually spam-free and has connected me to dozens of like-minded people working in similar industries here in Des Moines, and beyond. Eventually I've ended up meeting most of these connections in real life, either through Des Moines Twitter Meetups (we call them "TweetUps") or at industry conferences.

So, if you're a freelancer, a small business owner, an entrepreneur, or in a sales role, I would absolutely recommend adding Twitter to your social networking toolbox. (I'm assuming you already have a presence on LinkedIn - but if not, you should do so.)

One thing to note about using Twitter: Unlike LinkedIn, you're expected to not just have a presence there, but participate in all the conversation going on. Twitter's value comes from the quality of conversation you engage in and the quality of connections - not the quantity.

Happy tweeting!

Nathan T. Wright

Digitial back channels rawk SXSW Interactive festival

Facebooklacy_3Recently I attended the South by Southwest Interactive festival, and have come away with one over-arching theme:

Digital back channels can be extremely disruptive to any organization. Even a conference that celebrates disruptive technology.

I saw this happen in person at the Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg keynote interview on Sunday. During the discussion, the crowd became increasingly unruly, feeling that the right questions weren't being asked of Zuckerberg, while criticizing the moderator's particular interview style.

This was all occurring via digital back channels like Twitter (an SMS-based social network) and Meebo (collective online chat), accessed via mobile devices and laptops. The frustration spilled over when Mark Zuckerberg finally told the interviewer, Sarah Lacy, to actually "ask questions."

It was at this moment that the crowd's dissatisfaction exploded into a vocal revolt, resulting in wild, enthusiastic cheers. The group then turned on Lacy, drowning her out and shouting random questions that they wanted answered, immediately. It was digitally-driven mob rule!

While this was a relatively small example of disruptive technology, I feel it's a microcosm of what is happening all over the web: The peer-to-peer crowds have wrestled away control from large, traditional organizations in business, media and politics. This can take many forms: becoming famous via YouTube without any Hollywood agents or studios. Music downloads. Companies freaking out because somebody is posting negative comments about their product on a blog.

Technological disruption has been going on since the invention of the printing press. It's up to organizations to prepare for this, and learn how to respond.

Meanwhile, conference organizers must learn from this incident, and adjust their expectations for what attendees require out of a panel or keynote.

Is your intranet a desolate graveyard? Try a wiki.

WikiGood communication between employees is vital to all businesses, large or small. E-mail, unfortunately, often falls into the "bad communication" category. Tone is misinterpreted, context is lost and messages go missing.

That's why today many companies are experimenting with internal wikis and private social networks to improve communication among their team members. Think of this as just an evolution of the corporate intranet.

By adopting the social features that have made online destinations like Wikipedia and Facebook successful, businesses can transform their stagnant, one-way intranet into a bustling expressway of shared thoughts, insights and collaboration.

Here are a few quick pointers for initiating a wiki project within your business:

  • Start small. Choose a team within your organization to start using the wiki - not everyone at once.
  • Develop a strategy to roll it out internally. (Hint: Don't announce it via e-mail.)
  • Give the wiki time to evolve. If users aren't taken by it immediately, keeping pushing ahead, keep the faith and keep training.
  • Determine what success is. Reduction of e-mail volume? Better communication? Knowing your goals ahead of time will allow you to justify the project later on.

If you're ready to get started, there are multiple resources available, ranging from free, hosted services such as PBwiki, all the way to enterprise-level apps. Good luck on starting up your wiki!

Omgili & Google partnership combines objective and subjective search results

Omgili_logoWhen developing social media strategy for clients, I often talk about listening before talking. As with any marketing effort, it helps to know the general wants and needs of the customer first, before jumping in.

Traditionally this would take the form of consumer research, surveys or focus groups. Today, with all sorts of social mediums inviting peer-to-peer conversation (such as blogs, wikis, message boards and social networks) companies can listen to what's being said about them in real-time.

There are many listening / buzz trending tools online, ranging from the free (Google BlogSearch and Twitter) to the high-end (Radian6). One application that has emerged as particularly useful for me recently is the search partnership between Omgili and Google.

Omgili, to put it simply, is a search engine that tracks opinions, discussions and conversations, as opposed to individual websites and pages. At google.omgili.com, you can see how they've paired subjective search results (perception, arguments, opinion, sarcasm) with Google's objective results (facts, raw information).

It's a nice blend, especially for marketing and PR folk. Just type in your company's name and click "search both" to see what customers are saying, right now.

Consumer insight like this is invaluable, and it gives your organization an advantage in the long run. The best part: Omgili is a free application that you can start using today.

Link: Subjective + objective search results: google.omgili.com

Nathan T. Wright

Why you should pay attention to the OpenSocial movement

OpensocialLast fall, Google announced the OpenSocial standard. Let me spend a few moments explaining what exactly that is, and why it will be important to your business in the future.

The OpenSocial movement is based on the belief that users should be able to distribute content across the Web's many manifestions (blogs, social networks, mobile phones, etc.), as opposed to accessing it only via one central website.

Lots of other companies have joined the movement along with Google: MySpace, LinkedIn, Plaxo and SixApart, to name a few.

We've always thought of the corporate website as THE one-stop destination for all of our prospects and existing customers. With the onset of embeddable YouTube videos and RSS feeds, we saw that if the content is good enough, others will distribute it. OpenSocial is simply the next step of this evolution.

Let's say you've created a little interactive Flash game on your website. It's branded with your identity, it's engaging, and you want your visitors to play around with it. Three years ago this was called "sticky" content, thinking that users should be given incentive to "stick around" and come back to websites. Today, OpenSocial allows you to offer that game for anyone to grab and post inside their blog or their personal Myspace/Facebook page. Remember, your customer can also be your distributor.

Another great thing about the OpenSocial movement: If you want your content to easily "snap in" to all of these various spaces, why should your developers have to learn programming languages that are specific to each platform? They could spend hours learning how to develop something inside Facebook, then duplicate that time by re-creating the same initiative for MySpace. That's a lot of wasted time. OpenSocial gives us a common set of tools - learn it once, apply it everywhere.

Don't feel like you need to go out and learn everything about the OpenSocial movement today. Just keep it in your web strategy toolbox as your company's web content evolves. In fact, if you've ever read a blog's RSS feed, embedded a YouTube video, or sent a link to your friend, you're already a pioneer in this movement!

Graphic credit: Google

A new kid at the plate

Newkid One of the remarkable things about Des Moines that we take for granted is how many incredibly talented and diverse professionals surround us every day. 

When we first launched IowaBiz.com we had the good fortune of putting together an All-Star roster of business experts to serve as our daily guides to all things small business.

When he first heard about the project, Mike Sansone quickly volunteered to join the team.  For the past 8 months, he's shared his expertise and passion for using technology to connect to our customers, prospects and peers.  Without a doubt, anyone who has read a Sansone post has learned a little something.

Mike's business model is evolving and he needs to turn his attention to those changes.  So, today we thank him for his generosity.  No doubt we'll see him in the comments section on a regular basis. 

It was really a no brainer when we knew Mike needed to move on, to extend an invitation and tap the talents of Nathan Wright of LavaRow.  Nathan's a many year veteran of the digital frontier and he brings impressive credentials to the IowaBiz.com team.

So while you never like to see a player leave the game, it's always exciting to see who comes off the bench.  Enjoy the new player!

Your Company Blog: A Tool or an Employee?

Is your company blog simply a tool - or should you treat it like an employee?

I started working when I was 14 years old. A dishwasher in a French-style restaurant. I think I made like $2.00 per hour and shared tips from the nicer waitresses.

My grandfather said I was overpaid. I didn't understand that - so I worked harder. After a few short weeks, I got my first raise (four bits) and proudly told my grandpa about it.

He told me that everyone begins a job overvalued and underworked. It's part of the learning process. In time, things even out. Eventually, the great workers are undervalued and overworked - and sometimes overlooked.

When you begin working with your company blog, think about it as training a new employee. You'll be investing a good amount of time in:

  • Finding your writing voice
  • Commenting on other sites
  • Searching for like-minded blogs
  • Learning some of the tools of the blogosphere

Eventually, your blog will be running smooth and returning value in readership. It will help extend your company's reach and voice. It will help you become findable in places you hadn't expected.

But don't neglect this employee (or any of them for that matter). Periodically, have a review. What kind of perks can you give your blog to assist them in doing their job?

  • A new design
  • Some widgets or navigation
  • A mention in your collateral materials
  • A company car (okay - maybe a bit much there)

Loving your employees will compel them to be better, loyal, contagious, enthusiastic... They will become an advocate for you and your company. Showing your blog a similar love will generate better returns as well.

How about your blog? Tool or employee?

- 5 Ways to Treat Your Website Like an Employee and Reap the Rewards

Is Your Business Too Small for a Website?

Is your business too small to have a web presence?

In times past, if you weren't in the Yellow Pages (remember those?), you didn't exist. In this generation, if you're not findable on the Internet, you don't exist.

Several months ago, I wrote about a study showing 30% of small businesses still don't have a web presence. While I'd like to think that's changed -- it probably hasn't. Just check out your Chamber of Commerce directory.

Do you know a small business without a web site?  Maybe it's because of cost or because of hi-tech fear.  Blogs are one way to clear both of those hurdles.

Here are a few samples of Business Blogs doing it simple, but findable:

Aldo Coffee Company
Conference Calls Unlimited
Lightning Labels
Maine Stay Inn
Three Angels Gourmet
Two Maids and a Mop

Isn't it time you become findable?

New Shoes for Your Site - Social Bookmarks

A few months ago, I encouraged readers to have some Social Bookmark Intelligence. How did you do?

Here's a quick and simple video focusing on using Delicious as an example (RSS readers can also see the CommonCraft Social Bookmarking video:

At Social Bookmarking Script, you can generate code so that a series of buttons appears at the bottom of your pages

Social Bookmarking

Add to: Power Oldie Add to: Folkd Add to: Digg Add to: Del.icio.us Add to: StumbleUpon Add to: Netscape Add to: Furl Add to: Yahoo Add to: Spurl Add to: Google Add to: Blinklist Add to: Diigo Add to: Technorati Add to: Newsvine Add to: Netvouz

If that's too colorful for your site, at IceTag Generator, you can create text-based social bookmarks:

Related Articles:
- Don't Ignore Delicious and StumbleUpon at Web Strategy by Jeremiah

Web Strategies for 2008

Calendarcard Time to create or modify some of your web presence habits in 2008:

  • Social Media: Time to get engaged in the blogosphere. Comment or publish a blog; Start reading RSS Feeds; Publish content on YouTube or Scribd.
  • Social Networking: Get connected with LinkedIN, Facebook, or an industry-specific network.
  • Traffic Analysis: It's amazing how many business owners don't know how much traffic they get, where users comes from, what page they exit from, etc. Google Analytics is free and comprehensive.
  • e-Learning: Develop an e-learning strategy like the one Doug Mitchell recently wrote about. A great resource on this can be found at Rapid eLearning
  • Dump Flash: I still see sites being launched with all Flash - all the time. Of course, some have been saying this for years.
  • Study Up: Read Jeremiah Owyang, Lee Odden, and John Jantsch on a regular basis.

Want to brainstorm with others about these strategies?  Come to the monthly Central Iowa Blogger business breakfast on the First Friday of each month. 

Smart Surfing Stocking Stuffers for Your Browser

A lot of folks ask me how they can start paying attention to what's being said about them in blogs, if anything is being said, and how users are sharing information that is important to their company.

While Search Once and Subscribe tells us the "when" something is said, There are three buttons I use often to give me a glimpse to "what" is being said, and "who" is saying it.

When a blog that mentions us, I have these three "surf smarter" buttons right in my browser:

  • Google Blog Search This
  • Technorati This
  • del.icio.us History


As an example, let's look at KitchenAid (random choice)

I have these buttons on both my Explorer 6.0 and Firefox browsers. The links below are the scripts that create the buttons mentioned here.

  • For Firefox users, simply click and drag the link into your Bookmarks toolbar (or bookmark in your Bookmark Toolbar).
  • For IE 6.0 users, right click and Add to Favorites in the LINKS folder.

Think of these quick and easy tools as extendable ears. People might be talking about you or your company on the web. And if they aren't, you should be reading more of this section.

Here's to smarter surfing. Remember to Search Once and Subscribe. You never know when you might say, "We Wuz Blogged!"


Practicing the P's of Social Media

Map If you're looking at the Social Media terrain like a lost country boy in downtown Manhattan, SusanGetgood at Marketing Roadmaps offers concise direction in engaging the Social Media landscape with The 4 P's of Social Media Engagement.

  1. Prepare - find out what your customers are saying and what they care about by listening. I'll add a 1.5 here and say that after careful attention is paid, define your Purpose.
  2. Participate - engage in the conversation. Be it by commenting on blogs or having a Twitter presence, get out from behind the counter and be part of the community.
  3. Publish - Blogging, Podcasting, Slideshare, Instructables...something.
  4. Pitch - As Susan says, preparation should always come before promotion.

Passion would probably be good additive here to fuel your trip. Being bland (aka trying to please everyone) will leave you on the side of the road flat.

Another great resource for beginning (or continuing) your Social Media journey is Chris Brogan's Social Media Starter Pack

Did You Hear What They Said About You?

Blogged Do you know when bloggers talk about your company or offering?  You should. And it's as simple as Search Once and Subscribe.

Now before you show your...blind spot, know that bloggers can be a strong ally in spreading your good word (or its opposite). Whether you call it viral marketing or word-of-mouth (and there's a difference), it's foolish to ignore something so simple to track.

Let's say the folks at Beaverdale Books do a Google Blog Search on their store. Do they reward the compliments? Do they reach out to the complaints?

You don't have to be adept at using a Feed Aggregator. Simply do the search and subscribe to a Google Alert via email. If nobody blogs about you (another problem altogether), then you won't get anything in your email. But if they do blog about you, you'll know about it!

Our own Tom Vander Well writes how Understanding RSS/Feeds Might Change Your Life & Business.

Planning Your Website: Every Page is Important

Planning_2 Earlier this year, we posed the question How Important is Your Website's Home Page? While the home page is very important, it's not always the entry point for your readers. Therefore, every page is important - and you should have a plan for each page.

If you Google the phrase "planning a website" - not a single result of the first 30 results points to a home page. Each result points to a sub page in a site.

When we begin planning for a site, most of us look at the plan in a family tree type of hierarchy. This is fine for organizing a site, but it's not search engines normally see your site. Think more of a mind map, with each page being indexed.

Knowing that every page could be an entry point, it becomes important to know how and where you want the reader to go next...and then make it easy for them to get there.

Do a quick check of your stats to see what entry points you get readers, then go visit that page to see if your reader has a great first impression....or a quick exit.

Photo on Flickr by netan

HEO is Better Than SEO: Write for Human Eyeballs

Search I get questioned a lot about Search Engine Optimization (SEO). I always recommend Human Eyeball Optimization (HEO) over SEO.

Think about this: Who is the customer of a search site?  A user (almost always a human being).  If Google doesn't consistently provide relevant results, the user goes to another search site.

That said, help Google help you by helping their user. Write your content and design/develop your site for human consumption. If people hate your writing, Google hates your site.

Some small businesses still think there are tricks to ranking higher in search results due to placement of hidden keywords, lots of meta tags, or having your site submitted to 80 search directories.

Better practice is to think of who and how people search for content. Then write towards that end. If you know what your customers and prospects value and are searching for, provide that content on your site. You'll be found.

If you're paying lots of money for SEO service rich in "robot" and geek-speak, you've probably thrown away hundreds of dollars.

Ever wonder what a conversation with a Google spider, would be like?

Making the Web Better by Making it Social

"How much happier we would be if instead of crippling each other with fear, we competed to empower each others' creativity." - Dave Winer, ca 1996

Maybe you've hesitated engaging with social media because of the flood of choices. Some might call it widget hell. That's about to end.

With HTML and JavaScript, your developers and/or talent can get started...right now. What this could mean is that the developer in Manchester, Iowa doesn't have to live in Silicon Valley to succeed.

Among those involved: LinkedIn, Salesforce, Ning, Plaxo, Oracle, Friendster, Hi5, Slide...and many others.

Others on Open Social:

Marc Andreessen
Michael Arrington
Marianne Richmond
Chris Carfi
Richard McManus
Phil Wolff

Take a Drive Along Web 2.0

Corolla_2 Many businesses are in a state of confusion over Web 2.0. Is it easy? Is it complicated? What's the ROI? What if we get negative feedback? Do we have to hire more IT people?

I'm not a big fan of the term 'Web 2.0' My new Corolla is the fourth I've owned (and one of two in my garage). I don't call the new one Corolla 4.0. It's simply a newer version of a tool I use often.

The primary focus of Web 2.0 is people.  Connecting people sharing thoughts, experiences and expertise through social interaction. 

If you think MySpace, YouTube, Delicious, Flickr and Facebook are for the lunatics -- think again. There are looneys out there, just as there are lunatics on the road.  But that doesn't stop me from hopping in my Corolla 3.0 (my wife drives 4.0)

A few thoughts on how to keep your Web 2.0 running smooth:

Think Simple, not easy
:  Most applications and networks are very simple to use. However, it's not easy. Web 2.0 strategies take time and effort. Strategy is more important than tactics, so make sure you have a plan going in (and be open to an organic plan).

Think dialogue, not monologue: Web 2.0 is a conversational space. Give and take.  If you're doing all the talking...you probably won't have much of an audience. Engage with your audience, nay...become part of the audience - then engage.

Think authentic, not glass-house: Transperancy is a buzz word amongst social media gurus, but it seems many are scared off by that word.  Rather than thinking you must wear the emporer's new clothes, just be real. Who you are offline, should be who you are online.

Web 2.0 is still in its early stages, so don't think you've missed the boat. Have a presence in all the tools, choose a few to be active in. But get out there. Consumers are already out there (as is usually the case). Be part of the conversation.

And if you're one of those that doesn't like the term "blog," get over it. It's short for "web log"  I don't like the term "car" but I drive one. And car is short for...it came from...how'd we come up with car from automobile?

Hire a Blog Today.

Helpwanted Is your company blog site simply a tool - or do you treat it like an employee?

I started working when I was 14 years old. A dishwasher in a French restaurant. I think I made like $2.00 per hour and shared tips from the nicer waitresses.

My grandfather said I was overpaid. I didn't understand that - so I worked harder. After a few short weeks, I got my first raise (four bits) and proudly told my grandpa about it.

He told me that everyone begins a job overvalued and underworked. It's part of the learning process. In time, things even out. Eventually, the great workers are undervalued and overworked - and sometimes overlooked.

When you begin working with your company blog, it will be like training a new employee. You'll be investing a good amount of time in:

  • Finding your writing voice
  • Commenting on other sites
  • Searching for like-minded blogs
  • Learning some of the tools of the blogosphere

Eventually, your blog will be running smooth and returning value in readership. It will help extend your company's reach and voice. It will help you become findable in places you hadn't expected.

But don't neglect this employee (or any of them for that matter). Periodically, have a review. What kind of perks can you give your blog site to assist it in doing its job?

  • A new design
  • Some widgets or navigation. Maybe some social bookmark tools in the footer.
  • A spotlight in your collateral material
  • A company car (okay - maybe a bit much there)

Loving your employees will compel them to be better, loyal, contagious, enthusiastic... They will become an advocate for you and your company.

How about your blog? Tool or employee? How about your company's web site?

- 5 Ways to Treat Your Website Like an Employee and Reap the Rewards

Social Bookmark Intelligence

In Do it Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes Old Marketing Rules, author Mike Moran says:

If you have a story to tell and make it easy to pass on, more people will provide that recommendation you crave.

Social Bookmarks allow your readers to provide, share and spread your message in many ways.

I've answered the question about whether social bookmarks are marketing tools elsewhere. Recently, one customer had been averaging just over 100 page views per day. One of their articles got "stumbled" and received a 300% spike in traffic. The spike lasted for two days and the post still gets activity from the StumbleUpon recommendation.

At The Simple Dollar, author Trent Hamm uses Feedburner's FeedFlare to equip his readers to share his content. Is it working?  With 1,698 Delicious Links and over 6,400 Blog Reactions pointing to the site...I'd say so.

One way to tap into social bookmarking is by using a service such as AddThis or SocialMarker (as found at Jason Falls SocialMediaExplorer site...can you find the bookmark button)

An example of AddThis comes from fellow Iowans CyberNetNews. As you mouse over a bookmark button, a tooltip-type pop-up appears:


Rather than just pass this (opportunity) up as a passing fancy, get intelligent about social bookmarking and employ it on every page of your site.

Related Posts:

- Video: Social Bookmarking in Plain English
- The Social Bookmarking Faceoff Reloaded
- A Complete Guide to What is Social Bookmarking Part I | Part II

Blogging is More Than Lunacy

Blogging Blogging isn’t the lunacy many proclaim. There is some lunacy, but there's more to blogging than lunacy.

Many use blogging to journal thoughts, photos or sound bytes. But that's just a few ways to use blog sites. There's more.

Smart business people are beginning to use blogging to increase their findability, position themselves as an expert in their field and to engage in conversations with their customers.

While those that are using blogging for business are finding success, some professions still have their defenses up on the subject. Maybe it's fear.

Hearken back to yesteryear, when the complaint against television was that it would kill radio. It didn’t. But radio did find different – if not better – ways to be used. The outcry against blogging is similar in some professions.

The archive, architecture and frequency of a blogging is changing the professional worlds of web development, marketing, copywriting, and public relations.

Web Development
Here are the distinct differences between a static web site and a blog site:
1.    Timestamped, Archived Content
3.    Ability for the Reader to Engage
4.    Syndicated Content (or RSS Feeds)

Search Engines have a responsibility to deliver fresh, relevant content to their user or face losing them to competitors. Because blogs are updated frequently, provide depth with archived pages, and are have a categorized architecture – search engines are attracted to blogs.

RSS feeds is another reason web development is changing. Because users can receive content without the ads and design – web development is changing.

Marketing and Copywriting
Today’s customer craves a meaningful relationship. While they may switch loyalties and practice diversity – it’s in search of a business that practices meaningful outreach and treats the customer like royalty.

Since blogs allow the reader to receive the content however they choose – and since blogs allow for a form of open dialogue – the company that blogs will be talking with their customers, rather than at them.

Don’t Just Publish – Participate
Blogging isn‘t just about publishing your message, but also about participating in a larger discussion with other bloggers – namely your customers and prospects.

Like any other conversation, blogging has two roles: Listening and Talking. There are tools such as Google’s Blog Search and Technorati that allow you to search the blogosphere by keyword or web address. By subscribing to the RSS feeds of these results, you begin practicing “Search Once and Subscribe.”

Blogging is more than just quilts and cats, pictures and poetry. They are that and more. While some say it's lunacy - there are lunatics driving cars on our roads...but I'll bet you still drive a car.

Photo on Flickr by Sue Richards

Quick Attention Span - Your Next Generation of Consumers

There's a loser's limp in some business circles. You've probably heard it (said it?).

"The next generation of consumer has a short attention span."

I'd argue that we may be hearing a negative, when in reality - it's a challenge to us as business owners. Instead of "short" attention span, I'll offer a new label: Quick Attention Span.

As Lisa Johnson puts it in Mind Your X's and Y's:

"There's a rumbling hunger for what's new, better, faster, and more efficient. When something clicks - such as buying only your favorite singles from a full album on iTunes - the new way will rule. Some might chalk up this phenomenon to a short attention span or lack of loyalty, but there's a deeper truth. The market is now a place of constant change. Thriving brands, people and organizations understand how to handle this lightning pace and learn to evolve with each new shift."

It's your responsibility to listen to the marketplace and evolve...or become extinct.

Find ways to connect with your consumer and allow them to connect with each other: be it with a blog, an engaging presence on Facebook, or using social bookmark buttons on each web page.

Blogologist's Warning: A social media presence that is self-serving will backfire. Have a purpose that benefits your audience, and you too will benefit. Having a presence because it's "hot" may be harmful to your business health.

Is Podcasting Part of Your Strategy?

Podcast A few years ago, the term multi-media referred to having a presence in print, radio, TV and the Internet. Now, it's almost necessary to have multi-media in your web presence.

Text, Images, Video and Audio.  While video is getting a lot of play (and should be considered for your business), it may be more affordable to begin podcasting.

The National Pork Board offers its PorkPod podcast with an embedded player. This way your audience can download the podcast or listen from within the browser.

While this isn't a podcast, take a listen to Brian's radio spot - right here in the browser:

Play in Browser:

Audacity is a free, easy-to-use software available (MAC and Windows) for recording and editing sounds.

Easier still is BlogTalkRadio. Just pick up the phone and record. Within minutes after recording, BTR turns your recording into a sound file you can embed in your browser. Our own Rush Nigut does this at RushonBusiness. Sherry Borzo at dsmBuzz also uses this method.

Similar to blogging, one of the best ways to get started podcasting is listening first. Anita Campbell compiled a great resource 100 Small Business Audio Podcasts along with a backstory behind the list.

Related Articles:

- How to Start Your Own Podcast at WkiiHow
- Creating and Publishing Audio at HipCast

A Dose of Social Media Reality

Are you among the thought-followers thinking that Social Media and Social Networking is a fad?  Fad or not, there are some thing you may not know:

  • There are over 500 groups specific to Des Moines at Facebook? Several are either for or against local businesses. Is this a tool you can use to build a community of customers?
  • That even though folks like Todd Mundt are sharing several pages from the Des Moines Register, The Juice and Des Moines Business Record - these publications don't maintain archives -- which means they kill the sharing capabilities of users.
  • Speaking of Todd Mundt - Dig the way he shares top stories from his Google Feeds
  • Surprisingly, there's only 184 Twitter-ers who claim Iowa as home.
  • A Google Blog Search for the phrase "Business in Iowa" brings up over 4,500 results.
  • Over 17,000 videos have been tagged "iowa" at YouTube.
  • With all the blogs listed at IowaBlogs.Net - I'll bet some of them are customers (prospects?)

Here's the thing: If you don't pay attention now - you may pay the price later. Even if it is a fad - why not tap into the power and people now?

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