If you work in search marketing, then chances are good that you’ve read the great journalistic effort from Danny Sullivan on Search Engine Land “Social Signals Google and Bing Really Count?” Since the story is now 13 days old in linear, real-time (translating to roughly 6 months old in Search Marketing time), you might be wondering why I’m choosing to talk about this now?
There’s been plenty of talk about the details of how Bing and Google credit profiles and what they key off of to assess that profile’s authority. But, what I haven’t heard from anyone, is the quintessential problem this reporting of this data brings with it: do you build a profile for quality or a profile for ranking purposes.
This post is solely going to focus on Twitter profiles. While Facebook does have relevance to the conversation, it’s not being used by more than one of the major search engines in full (via Search Engine Land’s Article) and even at that it appears Bing is back-referring to Twitter to surmise authority. Ultimately, this is going to more introspective about how I’ve used Twitter in last two years, than empirical facts.
It All Starts With Quality
We all start building our profiles with the aim of quality in mind, because, after all, our first profiles are usually personal. We follow influential people in our business spaces, friends, or people who provide amusing or great information. As your time in a given space grows, your own influence builds. Whether it takes months or years, every active profile arrives at this point where they must choose the direction of the profile.
Follower counts grow, following counts grow. The opportunities to spread your meme farther and farther is alluring. At some point you stop focusing on the quality of followers and focus on the number. Bigger is better. And Google and Bing seem to agree with that logic. What Danny was calling the SocialRank and as Bing articulated:
We look at how many people you follow, how many follow you, and this can add a little weight to a listing in regular search results
Nowhere in that statement does it mention quality. And, you might feel free to apply that to this statement, but I’d be careful about that. It seems to be focused on straight quantity. Followers to Following. The measurement, it would seem to Bing, is to see a well-defined gap between Followers and Following.
It Ends With Rank
I’ll be the first to admit, being on twitter for almost 2 years now, that I’m as interested in attaining rank, being as “influential” in the space as possible. At some point Twitter transformed itself for me into being a tool for getting messages out, highlighting great content, building relationships (i.e. Superstar mentality) and less about the quality of followers.
For the first year on Twitter, I didn’t care about counts in the least. I built a profile fashioned out the industry’s best, whether they followed back or not, because they brought great information and conversation to the table. I was of the mindset that I would rather have a succinct core of idea and information exchange, than be a Jim Morrison wanna-be. I subscribed, and still do subscribe, to Edward Lewis’ Twitter paradigm that you kill off spam profiles/accounts from followers. Because it was/is all about quality in your stream and getting the maximum from the space/tool. Then it happened:
At some point, I started caring about how my profile ranked and how much influence my profile carried. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment, but is was a progression over time. And, truthfully, it makes me a bit sad. I love the community of SEMs/SEOs/Marketers that I listen to and communicate with daily. I really do believe we are as tight-knit a community as there is on the web, but at some level we all see each other as a means to an end. Spreading the meme, good SERP position for queries where social has influence, and standing on one another’s shoulders to shout for authority/thought-leader status.
Just tonight I looked over my profile and found a huge surplus of spam hanging around. And, because I’m so careful to keep an acceptable Friend/Follower ratio, I explain it away. I prune obvious leaving the ones I know are spam but fake human well enough.
The Tools Reinforce This Behavior
Don’t get me wrong, I think Klout, Peer Index, and the like are innovative and genius. But they reinforce the mentality about Rank over Quality. And, yes, I use these tools to not only keep tabs on my own influence, but when I’m engineering a social attack strategy, these are first places I go to start organizing and architecting that attack.
These tools assess influence, reach, amplification. I don’t know the accounts personally, whether they’re small and have a solid following; I just know that I’m going to place Person X here and Person Z here because their influence and amplification dictate those terms. Because these are the right moments to set off the meme-explosions with the right profiles. It’s impersonal and cold-hearted.
Google and Bing Reinforced This Behavior
I’m not blaming the messenger for this. Danny did a bang-up job on that post. I’m blaming the engines for encouraging people to be more mindful of their counts than the quality of their profiles. It’s clear the engines think that these two ideas overlap, that one can’t be had without the other. In some respects, they’re right. Quality attracts quality. However, quality also attracts a boat-load of spam.
To be honest, one the hand I’m glad the engines finally admitted what most of have known for some time: influence, friend/follower ratios matter. On the other hand, it disturbs me that this information will only encourage more spam profiles to be created, and that people will not label as such because of the influence factor. I know that’s asserting a lot about the Twitter community in general, but I see this as an inevitable outcome. When ratios matter, when authoritative meme-spreading matters, spam gets a break because they lend itself to bolstering stats and occasionally helping a meme along.
What’s the Solution
I wish I had one. And, there are some of you out there saying, “And? No problem here. It is what it is.” I’d love to tell you that Tweeple will reverse course and solely focus on building quality, but I know that’s not realistic, or feasible. We’re marketers, it’s about leveraging advantages.
The solution is to let this take its course. That’s the best I’ve got folks. I think since there’s still some mystery around how engines are viewing what’s authoritative and influential and what’s not, there’s no reason to get jittery. Yet. But, if “links” have taught us anything, it’s only a matter of time before exploitation of the system becomes a premium. And it is my sincere hope that the engines have enough sense to adjust fire when it becomes saturated into their SERPs.
Overall, I’d like to see our community eliminate the spam profiles following them now. I know that you kill off one, three more takes its place, but if we remain steadfast on eliminating these profiles, eventually we’ll be left with quality. I can hope can’t I? (Starting with me)
Rule One: Use It
There are thousands of quotes about “no time like the present” and “carpe diem”, but there’s simply no time to have you glaze over on me now. The truth of the matter is you have jump with both feet, arms spread wide, and get to the bottom of the social media deep end.
That’s the biggest barrier I’ve seen the last seven months. Everyone has heard about it, everyone is talking about it, and no one is using it. Apparently, there is a “no escape” clause built-in to social platforms. Or least you would think so. And, if your business is already using social (I use this term loosely), step back, take a deep breath, and start using it all over again.
Wanting a Ten-Speed Before You Have Training Wheels
You might find yourself reading something like this. All in preparation for that time when you might, eventually, create a profile for your company. Why bother learning the finer points of social communication w/ niche communities if you’re afraid putting your fingers down on the keypad? Or worse yet, not even using social media.
Tip and Guideline Posts are for People Using Social Media
All the “tips” and “guidelines” posts are for people who’ve discovered there might be a better way to get in touch with their communities. Tips and guidelines are primarily for social media marketers that have some level of familiarity, and some unsuccessful social marketing attempts, and are trying to figure out how the “social rock stars” do it.
What Tips and Guide Posts are Really Teaching
These posts really teach you how to play it safe. Both personally and as business on these platforms. Tips like, “*be firm, but not too firm. *Be yourself, unless yourself sucks. *Speak your mind, but don’t be too honest.” How do you expect to differentiate yourself if you’re all acting the same way? Would any real communication be achieved?
Clearly it’s a business tool, and clearly there are “rules” to engagement, but it’s not something you’ll pick up from a post. Take the SEOs and SEMs using social. It’s a unique niche where pretty much anything goes (unless you trash SEO. Then you’re just in a world of trouble). There is no post, tip sheet, or guide that would prepare you to swim fluidly in those streams. It’s a jungle; it’s bizarro world.
And, that thin-slice can be transfered to any vertical, marketplace, or community you want to be a part of: each one has its own way of doing things. Its own unique way everyone communicates. All these tips and guides are really for social media marketers; the people who use it for a living and are looking to gain an advantage over their “community”, not interact with it.
The Human Element
Now that we’ve cleared some of that up, it’s time to talk about how you are / how would be using social. Again, the majority of the people I run across, use social like they would use television: push marketing. You don’t talk, you don’t get involved, you just drop links to product pages, event pages, without so much as peaking any interest in your “community”. Social isn’t push marketing no matter how much you think it is or could be.
Social media is about getting people to care about what you have to say. In any way, shape, or form. Whether you pander to their greed, their charitable side, emotional side, or even the little kid in all of us. Give someone a reason to invest in you, and they will.
If you don’t listen, how do you expect to communicate? How can you provide something meaningful to the conversation if you never heard what was asked for? If you’re continually pushing a message, a link, an anything, without listening, don’t expect people to listen to you.
Use these platforms to better understand what your customer needs. It’s the ultimate CRM tool. If you’re listening, you find out what it is your customer likes about a certain product, doesn’t like about a certain product, whether they got bad customer service, or great customer service. You can react quickly and resolve or champion a situation.
The Bottom Line
You need to use social media in order to understand it and use it for business. Social is not a “magic portal” where people simply follow your direction, convert, and bring you profit. No amount reading “tips” posts or “the ultimate guide to using Twitter” posts will make you understand it any better.
There’s a theoretical side and applied-practice side to everything in life. Once you have enough practice you can start applying theory and making the platform your own.
While I think that social media is “the last item up for bid” in terms of a company’s battle plan in search marketing, this doesn’t mean it’s not an important part of an overall strategy. I’ve said it before, an SEO has to be fluent in every discipline. Social media is a the perfect way to:
1) Get links from a variety of outbound sources, at a variety of IP address (though the anchor text is an if’y proposition)
2) A great way to get brand recognition through several communities, marketplaces, and verticals quickly
3) And, if you can pull it off through nice landing pages, a great way to boost conversions
The strategy with any social media marketing effort is, simply put, to hold a conversation with a community, while manipulating them to perform the desired action. It sounds cold and calculating, but to say it is anything else from a search marketing viewpoint, would be a lie.
In order to create a successful campaign, not only for your own branding efforts and promotion opportunities, but to for your clients’ as well, there is a need to coordinate efforts between all of locations to reach the widest audience possible.
A Cooperative Blitzkrieg
It’s very rare you see the word blitzkrieg in anything other than World War II references to German attack methods. But, in this instance, we’re talking about your internal strategy to push your social message out into the wilderness (see the diagram below). The aim of this strategy, which I’ve found to work well, is to create “waves” of pushes throughout these communities.
The 1st Wave
The Parent Entity in the diagram above is a social media asset (i.e. company blog, parent Twitter account, parent Facebook Fan Page, or LinkedIn Company Page, etc.) When the parent entity publishes on the aforementioned platforms, it will have it’s own natural push into the community(ies) at large. Without an internal strategy in place, this is where the meme dies: in an isolated space left to generate it’s own buzz and movement.
To combat this, every company should/needs to encourage it’s employees to become satellite proselytizers of the brand and the meme. It will take time for the individuals to create and manage a trustworthy reputation within their given communities; therefore, this is a strategy that is intended for the long haul and relies heavily on the 2nd wave.
The 2nd Wave
This, perhaps, is the integral piece of the strategy. Not only does it rely on the “individual” off-shoot from the parent to have a good reputation within their respective community and following, it also relies on them to time their re-issuing of the meme so as not to seem “disingenuous” or “spammy”. Which is why Parents should allow their employees to enter communities unattached to the Parent.
Let’s be honest. We all know we’ve done the internal eye-roll when we see an employee spread the parent message. Especially when the meme is re-blasted within seconds of the Parent. If the meme is spread by people unattached to the Parent, then it’s going to have a much higher trust factor and that the information is valuable.
The second wave can last a couple a days, if need be. This is where the coordination comes into play. Depending on how many individuals you have, you can set up “mini-waves” at the 2nd Wave. The objective at the second wave level is to penetrate as deeply as possible into the 3rd Wave (The Communities-At-Large)
The 3rd Wave
If the 1st and 2nd wave really possessed the cooperative blitzkrieg element, and the meme was actually “valuable” to the community, then deep penetration in the the 3rd wave should be all but guaranteed. Controlling the meme at the 3rd wave is close to impossible, which is why it is imperative in the first two waves that message be engineered but not feel contrived. It’s walking a fine line of control and art.
While this may seem cold and calculated, it has to be done. Real spontaneity and viral memes are like Halley’s Comet: it don’t happen often enough to really count on as a staple element. The more strategy you can apply to social media efforts to ensure visibility, branding, and interaction to elicit the desired reaction in a community/communities that have the attention span of ferret on a triple espresso, the better.