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Content Flow

If there’s one major flaw with the way that many businesses use automation tools, it’s that they’re not able to properly control the flow of content from its longest form down to it’s shortest form. This is unfortunate because using RSS feeds to post to Facebook and Twitter from a blog, for example, doesn’t save much time at all but minimizes the effectiveness of the networks.

It’s all about flow. It’s about taking advantage of the strengths of the various networks will not falling into the traps that each allows.

Let’s take a look at an example of content flow. In this case, we’re going to work it down from a standard piece of website content rather than a blog post or YouTube video. Those are easier. If you can master the creative elements of promoting standard website content, the other types of content will be a piece of cake.

Original content

Original Content

This is where it all starts. Here, we see a sales special. It’s not the type of content that any social media pro in his or her right mind would ever consider promoting through social media. They wouldn’t want to be accused of spamming. They wouldn’t want to turn of their fans. They would believe in most cases that this is the type of content that had no chance of resonating with a social media audience.

They would be wrong.

There is tons of content on a business website that has absolutely no chance of seeing the light of day on social media, but there are other types of content that simply need a little bit of playfulness, cleverness, and creativity to tweak them into an appropriate position. Take a look at that special. Do you see anything that you would be able to latch onto if you were trying to promote it on social media?

Put it on Facebook and Google+

Hinderer Honda Starbucks

If you were to say something to the effect of, “Take a look at our amazing specials – Honda Civic is only $8 a day,” you would watch your posts get reported, blocked, and hidden into oblivion. You would actually do algorithmic damage to your posts and your profile in general.

If, however, you made it clever and worded it in a way that people would be able to relate to, you could still get the message out with a reduced risk of negative sentiment. In the case above, the post had a modest 16 likes and the link was clicked 32 times. It’s not a home run compared to some other examples out there, but it’s a realistic expectation that a local business could achieve with the right techniques.

Be creative. Branch out. Put a little bit of effort into it. It doesn’t take a lot – this particular campaign took about 2 minutes to craft and post. It’s worth the time spent.

Put it on Twitter and Pinterest

Hinderer Honda Tweet

This is both the easiest and hardest part. It’s the easiest because it’s only 140 characters. It’s the hardest because you have to take full advantage of those 140 characters and craft it in the most appropriate way possible.

On both Twitter and Pinterest, getting people’s attention is the key. The firehose on both networks has such a wide stream today that there’s a good chance the majority of your messages are being seen by very few people. This is where hashtags come into play and it’s the main reason that automating Tweets for anything important is one of the silliest activities out there.

A Tweet takes seconds, literally. Is it worth making something almost completely ineffective for the sake of saving seconds?

In the example above, the post was highlighted with a couple of different hashtags. The first is relatively worthless other than getting people’s attention from within their feed. The mind is trained to look for things unconsciously that are important to that person, so if someone is looking for a car and is considering a Honda Civic, they don’t have to read it consciously for it to catch their eye.

The second is one of the hooks. As Twitter search and hashtag use continue to grow exponentially (much faster than the site itself), it’s important to have at least one keyword that can attract your targets. In this case, the Tweet is targeting the local state. It could have as easily been a city, a lifestyle (#green, #economical), or even something slightly off topic (#coffee).

The most important part about Twitter (but not Pinterest) is that you can take a message and repost it over time. It’s good to come up with a couple of different variations, but for the most part as long as you’re spreading out the repetition of the message, you can reach more people without spamming them.

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Applying proper content flow strategies allows you to get the most out of the content that you produce as well as the content that’s already on your website. Crafting the messages around the mediums is harder than just putting them into a feed machine, but the results can be exponentially improved as a result. That’s not to say that nothing should be automated. It’s just that important things should not be.

Flow” image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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KGB

The KBG. Komitet gosudarstvennoy bezopasnosti. The Committee for State Security for the former Soviet Union was one of the most feared agencies in history. Thankfully, this post isn’t about them.

Here, we’re going to talk about a different type of KGB, the type that is plaguing social media on pages across the internet, hurting businesses and striking fear into the hearts of knowledgeable internet marketing professionals around the world. It’s the type of bad posts that were once thought to be effective but that have been debunked time and time again, yet so many businesses (and even vendors) continue to post them.

Today’s social media KBG is this:

  • Kitties
  • Games/Giveaways
  • Bogus Questions

If you or your vendor are still using these things, stop immediately. They aren’t helping. In fact, they are hurting the cause of using social media as a proper advertising venue through which to increase business. Here’s why:

 

Kitties

Kitties

Don’t misunderstand. I have nothing against felines. By “kitties” I’m referring to the type of posts that have absolutely nothing to do with business but that are designed to become popular on social media for their general appeal. They are often funny, sometimes cute, and almost always fluffy (not in the feline way).

Do they work? If the goal is strictly to get more likes in an effort to improve Facebook EdgeRank, then technically they can be effective. The problem is two-fold. First, they turn many people off. They get enough kitty posts from their friends and family. Many people don’t like it when they see business pages post irrelevant kitty pictures because it is insincere. “You’re a business, not a buddy.”

The second and arguably more important reason is that your business has plenty of relevant content to post. Stay focused. A car dealer should be posting cars. There are plenty of awesome cars that work just fine to get engagement. Local businesses have a world of potential content surrounding them in their community and within proximity to the store. Kitty images are simply not necessary for driving engagement and the risk of turning people off as a result is simply too high to dismiss.

 

Games and Giveaways

Giveaways

Just as with kitties, games and giveaways intended to inflate the fan counts on the various social networks (Facebook in particular) can be effective in achieving its goal. Just as with kitties, it’s not necessary and can have dramatic negative consequences.

Who wants fans to like their page so they have a chance to win something? What are the chances of getting any engagement from that person? How many people do not win the great prize and get a negative sentiment about a business right from the start?

Most importantly, it’s just too easy to acquire high quality fans through transparent advertising to give games or giveaways any consideration. Through transparency, pages are able to grow at a much better pace. Is it faster? Sometimes, but not always. That doesn’t matter. I’ll take 100 fans who came in for the right reasons and with the right expectations over 1000 fans hoping to get something for free any day.

 

Bogus Questions

Bogus Questions

Of the three components of KGB-style fan acquisition techniques, this is arguably the most annoying. You don’t care and we know it. There, I said it.

No business outside of a movie theater cares what their fans’ favorite movies are. It’s so apparent to anyone who’s been on Facebook for more than a month that companies who ask irrelevant questions are doing so to get you to talk to them. It’s a desperate move that is apparently so to the people who see the questions.

If you’re going to ask questions (which is a good thing when done right), keep it relevant. Keep it in line with what your business does. Ask questions that you might ask a customer if you were sitting with them in the waiting room or met them at a party. Don’t ask questions that are simply there to drive engagement. People know what you’re doing and they don’t like it.

Will some people respond to any question? Of course? Is this a good thing? No.

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There are too many transparent and effective methods to get fans and increase engagement. Using these types of techniques is so antiquated that I can’t believe there are still companies that use them.

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Pinterest

There’s just no excuse for car dealers to not be on Pinterest. Some would say it’s worthless. Some would say it’s hard to understand. Some might even say that it’s a fad. They might all be valid arguments under normal circumstances, but there’s on thing that trumps them all.

It takes no time, almost literally. You can maintain a very strong, daily-updated Pinterest presence in less time a day than it takes to get a fresh cup of coffee.

With the “Pin It” bookmarklet on your browser, you can pick out an interesting inventory item and have it Pinned in seconds. That’s all it takes. If you set it up to where you’re following the right boards, you can repin interesting automotive content in even less time just by clicking a couple of buttons. There’s also a “Cars and Motorcycles” category that makes finding the best automotive content super simple.

The video below is under 3 minutes, including the intro and outro. In it, I add two pins to my board. Done right, it’s such a small investment of time that you should be doing it on a daily basis. Surely there’s two minutes every day when you’re not so busy you can’t plug in a little effort, right? If not, it’s time to get an assistant.

Here’s the video:

This article originally appeared on automotivesocialmedia.com.

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Twitter Tweet

There’s a case against Twitter and Pinterest that is being waged by some in the automotive industry. They’ll say that there simply isn’t a good return on investment, that they aren’t worth messing with because it’s just too hard to find a benefit from them. This is true until you look at one major factor: time.

Twitter and Pinterest require very little time to maintain and keep vibrant. Before we get into the ways that dealers can streamline their efforts to make them more suited for a proper ROI, let’s first take a look at the three major aspects of them that make them worthwhile:

  1. Time Driven Algorithm – Unlike Facebook and Google+, the Pinterest and Twitter feeds are completely time driven. When you post something, it appears in the feeds of your followers immediately. Over time, they move down. This is a good thing for their purpose because they’re ideal for getting real-time engagement.
  2. Communication – At the end of the day, they are great as communication tools. Twitter allows you to communicate with people about ideas and events while Pinterest allows you to communicate visually.
  3. Google Loves Them – If there’s one major reason to improve your Twitter and Pinterest posting habits, it’s Google. From a social signals perspective, they are adored.

Now that we have that covered, let’s go over a proper posting and monitoring strategy that can streamline it down so they aren’t a waste of time.

 

Quick Visit Twice a Day

Three minutes. That’s all it takes to keep a strong Twitter and Pinterest presence. If it helps you sell on car a quarter, it was worth it. If it helps you get your pages indexed and ranked better so that you sell more than one extra car a quarter, you’re seeing better ROI than anything else you could have possibly done.

Log into Twitter. Check for and reply to Direct Messages. Check for and reply to @replies. Post something. It’s 140 characters. It doesn’t take much effort.

Log into Pinterest. Check your recent activity. It will be mostly repins of your posts, but see if there are any comments. Pin or repin something. It’s easy.

That’s it.

 

Tools

For Twitter, I prefer Buffer. It’s super quick, there’s no need to mess with timing because it uses a queue, and it shortens all of the links for you as you post. The best part is that it can be a Chrome or Firefox plugin which means that you don’t have to visit the app itself. As you’re browsing throughout the day, you can Buffer it very easily.

Regardless of which tool you use, be sure that you keep your queue relatively full. While I don’t recommend planning your Tweets weeks in advance, you can definitely stay ahead of the game so that on days when you simply don’t have the time to mess with it, at least you have content going up.

A quick note about automation – I never recommend feed posting. In other words, setting any RSS feed to autopost, even if it’s your own blog, is a mistake. From sources that you don’t control, feed posts means that your posts aren’t manually vetted. People can tell. It also means that if someone makes a mistake and posts something that is either inappropriate or a mistake, your feed posting program will get it onto your Twitter feed regardless. I remember seeing a car dealer Tweet a post that said something to the effect of “Empire Avenue verification post 2342hkhk!kj32&hh”.

Regarding your own blog, you should be posting it to Twitter manually. It’s your content so you should highlight it appropriately. Use hashtags. Ask for feedback. Make the title more Twitter-appropriate. It bugs me when people auto-feed their own blog posts because it saved them seconds while costing them an opportunity to truly highlight the important content appropriately.

Lastly, don’t feed your Facebook page posts onto Twitter or visa versa. Not everything that goes on Facebook is appropriate for Twitter. More importantly, it simply doesn’t save much time. If you post something to Facebook that also works on Twitter, do it manually. Seconds, folks. That’s all it takes.

* * *

They don’t take much time. There’s simply no reason to not include Twitter and Pinterest into your social media strategy. Done properly, they can enhance more than just your social presence. They can help with your website rankings, your blog traffic, and the general perceptions that people have about your dealership. We didn’t even get into the more advanced ways that you can use these sites to promote your business. At this point, I’d be happy if dealers were simply using them on a regular basis.

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Hamlet

Everyone who plays in the Facebook page strategy game has their opinions about the types of content to post. Car dealers and vendors have tried different things over the years. Some have found success while others have let it fall off completely, dismissing it as unimportant or too time-consuming to mess with on a daily basis.

For those who are doing well or wanting to do well with engagement on their pages while still demonstrating real ROI, here are some content types that have worked well for us. It’s important to mix things up on Facebook. Fan fatigue happens regularly, especially when a dealer or vendor finds a particular type of content that works well. They tend to favor this type of content in their posts. Some even go so far as to post only one type of content such as cool cars. Your fans watch. They know. By the 10th car in a row, they start to get tired of seeing them regardless of how cool they are. Mixing it up is important.

While there are definitely more than three content types that can be effective, the three below are the ones we’ve found that can account for the vast majority of your posts and still keep your fan base growing, liking, and generally engaging with your page in their news feed.

 

Local Content

Honolulu at Night

It’s extremely important to understand that this type of content only works well if your page has been built with mostly local fans. We’ve covered before that nearly all of your fans should be local, that having too many fans out of the area can actually hurt your ability to use Facebook for marketing to real buyers. If your fan base is not over 90% localized, you should get that fixed before posting a bunch of local content.

Once you have that established, it’s time to take advantage of what you have around you. The local area is always loaded with interesting places to visit, amazing places to photograph, and intriguing people to highlight. This should be the focus of your localized social media posts.

Local places are easy. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in a major metro or out in the country. The people around you area like to see the local area highlighted on Facebook and they appreciate the businesses that do the highlighting. In the example above, we were given an easy pitch to hit. The fans are completely localized (they had 26 fans when we started so we had a clean slate with which to play) and the area is a gorgeous one: Honolulu. As a result, getting nearly 400 likes on the post was a piece of cake and didn’t require a huge amount of Facebook ad spend to make it happen.

While local places might be the obvious choice, there are others. For example, highlighting other loved local businesses or organizations is easy. A post with a picture of a popular local diner, for example, could lead with “We visit Stan’s Diner every Sunday for the pancakes…” These types of posts won’t be as popular as scenes like the one above, but it’s good to spread the love to others. If they see it (and if you have a strong enough Facebook page, they will) they will appreciate the mention.

Lastly, focusing on local people is always a hit. One popular post we did last year highlighted the three local baseball players at the high school that made the all-state roster. It’s something that can be universally liked by the community, particularly if you’re in a small town.

 

Automotive Content

Automotive Content

Not much needs to be said about this. Being in the automotive arena, there’s never a shortage of “carporn” out there for your fans to ogle over. There can be a temptation to flood your page with this type of content, particularly after you’ve had your first viral post, but don’t get too car picture heavy. Again, fatigue will follow if you do.

Something that a lot of dealers are starting to do is to post helpful tips on subjects such as car maintenance. These are great but again they should be used sparingly. Most people aren’t out there changing their own oil and the internet is loaded with how-tos if they ever get the inclination to do it themselves. An occasional post or a quick tip doesn’t hurt.

 

Dealership Content

Waynesville American Cruisers

Some dealers do this too much. Some never do it at all. It’s expected of local businesses that they should be at least a little business-centric with their posts. These are often the most important posts because they are intended to drive foot traffic, website traffic, or both.

Doing it too much can put a strain on the algorithm and force your posts to become virtually invisible. It’s not all about “me, me, me,” on Facebook (at least not for businesses) and this will turn people off. They don’t have to report or unfollow you to have a negative algorithmic effect on future posts. If they simply pass over your posts in their news feed without interacting with it, there’s still a negative effect.

One common trend has been to post pictures of happy customers in front of the car they just bought. Doing this too much is a big mistake because of the algorithm. It’s a post that has an isolated chance of getting liked. Remember, just passing over the post is enough to cause some damage to your page and people won’t normally like pictures of people they don’t know. There are definitely ways to make it fun and get people to promote their own images to friends and family, but that’s a longer discussion than we have time for in this post. The short of it is that if you do post images of happy customers, keep it to a minimum.

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As I mentioned above, there are tons of different types of content that can be posted. However, there is also plenty of content that should never be posted. Keep it relevant. Remember, you’re a business and people want to view you as such. Trying to sneak into the conversation by posting funny cat videos is an easy way to turn the wrong people off to your posts.

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Checkbox

Over the past several months, we’ve been doing a ton of research in the automotive industry about how dealers perceive social media marketing. It’s something that has both thrilled and alarmed us because the results have been greatly mixed. On one hand, many dealers are starting to realize that social media is more than just a fluffy form of marketing that has not demonstrable ROI, a perception that had been growing in 2011 and 2012. Those tides have turned. However, the one alarming piece of information we discovered is that many dealers are considering social media to be a “checkbox item” for reputation management. In other words, if their reputation management provider offers social media, they’re covered.

Unfortunately, this is a bad trend. There are some pretty strong reputation management services available today. They perform some of the right activities that can be performed on the dealership’s behalf when it comes to getting more positive reviews on sites like Google Local and Yelp. The problem is that most of the social components that we’ve seen in these products and services are lacking quality and true return on investment.

It’s much the same battle that we have fought when it comes to search engine optimization. Almost all web vendors offer SEO, but must are simply not that good at it. Again, SEO should not be a checkbox item for a website any more than an engine should be a checkbox item for a car. Nobody goes out and says, “I like the way the car looks and it has all of the seats that I need. Does it have an engine? Okay, good, I’ll take it!”

Back to social media. The automotive industry has, for some reason, lumped reputation management and social media marketing into the same budget, the same type of product. This is very far from the truth. It’s a little discouraging because the effort put into a proper social media marketing strategy and the campaigns associated with it are of utmost importance and having a social media presence that is not aggressive, that acts as a checkbox to be clicked just to say it’s present for the dealersthip, is a huge mistake. Social media is growing so rapidly in both mindshare and timeshare. More people are on it and thinking about it. They’re spending more time on it than ever before. To dismiss it is a problem.

Reputation management is important. It acts as a way that dealers can protect their potential when it comes to business. People who are actively considering doing business with a dealership can be turned off as a result of bad reviews. It’s not common, but it’s present and should be treated appropriately. If having a strong reputation management service can help to save one or two deals a month, it’s probably worth the investment.

Social media, on the other hand, is proactive. It’s intended to take people and get them into the dealership and/or onto the dealer’s website. Even when it fails to do that, the fallback benefit is in the branding, getting the name and logo of the dealership in front of as many local people as possible as many times as possible to make the dealership a top-of-mind consideration when it’s time to buy a car or have service done.

If anything, reputation management should be the checkbox item. Social media needs much more attention and bad social media marketing partners can do more harm than good. Vet them carefully.

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Black Book

Branding is important. It’s something that most businesses want but few do well enough considering the tools that we all have at our disposal through the internet in general and social media in particular. However, too many are starting to use social media as a branding tool only. The reality for local businesses is that it can and should be used to drive foot traffic and website visitors. Branding should be a secondary benefit, a side-effect of a proper promotional strategy.

Look at the image above. It’s compelling. It’s branded (though not by the company that posted it). It combines the power of the OEM’s brand (this is posted on a Chevrolet dealer’s Facebook page), the trust associated with a partner brand (in this case, Black Book), and the clever wording in the description designed to achieve a goal. In this case, the goal is website traffic to a form that is specific to the message of the post. Here’s how the message reads:

“First and foremost, check out that beautiful Camaro. Once you’re done reminiscing about a body style that didn’t really get the attention it deserved, look down at the bottom left corner. You’ll see a logo that you should trust. We trust it.

“Black Book is the most accurate way to get an idea of what your trade in is worth. Before you go shopping for a new car, prepare yourself with knowledge about your own trade in… http://bit.ly/13nyr5E

At the end is the call to action, of course. Sometimes it’s good to make the link the focus of the post. In this case, because it’s a permanent page (a trade in evaluation tool) and not a time-sensitive landing page surrounding a short-term event, it’s best to hook the viewers with the image and description, then give them a valid and relevant reason to click through to the website itself.

After 18 hours and with the bulk of the Facebook advertising budget still available, it’s at 48 likes and has been seen by 1,300 people. Both numbers will go up in the coming days, as will the number of clicks to the link.

The challenge facing most who attempt posts like these is getting them enough localized traction. There are some posts that are good for branding that have no call to action. Even in those cases, the goal is to massage the Facebook EdgeRank algorithm to favor the page’s posts and display them in more news feeds. Those posts are primarily designed to enhance the success of the “money posts”, the ones with a specific promotional message designed to drive foot traffic or website visitors. If every post that goes up is a “money post”, the algorithm will start kicking the posts down on the feed. If all of the posts are “fun posts” designed strictly for branding and popularity, the point of using social media for business is lost.

Branding-only strategies are easy, which is why many businesses and even marketing agencies focus on them. It allows for intangible benefits. It also makes the success level much harder to track.

As you develop your strategy and campaigns, keep this post in mind. You can definitely have some fun and feel like you’re accomplishing something with a branding-only strategy. Unfortunately, it’s not the way to make social media really hum for your business.

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Smoky Mountains

Facebook has been a challenging venue for marketers and advertisers ever since it started really getting popular in 2009. At that time, it was clear that it was the social network to beat and the company started trying to cash in with different types of advertising options. Most of them failed miserably for the same reason that many marketers continue to fail today: people go to Facebook to be entertained, not to be the recipient of ads.

Today, it’s getting easier. People are more accepting of ads. A lot of it can be attributed to the way that Facebook has handled their promoted posts. They have done an excellent (some would say Draconian) job of keeping messages off of news feeds that are too promotional. Between the manual vetting they do of ads and the 20% text rule they apply to images, they’ve been able to keep a relatively strong balance between letting advertisers get their message out and keeping their users happy through minimized spam.

When it comes to putting out a message that resonates, that users can enjoy while still getting the promotional message out, businesses (local ones in particular) should consider adding a touch of fun and flair to their posts. In the example above, the goal of the car dealership in question is to promote their oil change special. There are a couple of different ways to go about doing this. They can make it a Facebook offer which can be very effective if the special is a true Facebook-only special. They could make it an event, but they would have to really make it a true event for that to work and few people would consider car maintenance an event. They could be direct – post about the special and throw some ad money at it. This is not recommended as the negative sentiment would murder the page’s EdgeRank.

In this case, they added the localized and timely flair of focusing on a wonderful aspect of living by the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. It’s spring and people are thinking about what they’re going to do when school is out, when vacation time comes, and when the weather is in a state of awesomeness that they can venture forth and enjoy the world. The message is clear and ends with the “pitch”:

“Spring in Waynesville, NC. You know what that means, right? Time to plan a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

“Before heading out, make sure your ride is in “Mountain Ready” condition. Here’s an oil change special just for your trip…”

By positioning it in a way that takes a positive aspect of local life and applying the marketing message at that point, it allows for the post to flourish. Even though the page itself has around 700 fans, it was liked by 80 people, shared by 3, and commented on by several. Branding was achieved. Positive sentiment was achieved. The link to the special itself on their website received a nice amount of clicks. Most importantly, the message was seen by around 10,000 locals.

There’s a fine line between tricking people into interacting with a post to click on an advertisement and actually engaging with them on their terms and getting the message to them as a result. Using local flair is one of the easiest ways to make this happen.

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Fans

For years, the acquisition of a bigger, “better” Facebook page has been a focus of many in the social media marketing realm. There are companies that are dedicated to the task. The reality now (and for a long time, actually) is that fan acquisition for business Facebook pages is such a minor piece of the puzzle that it’s something most businesses should push to the back burner. It’s not that you don’t need them at all, but the success of a Facebook page is determined by reach and fans are only a small part of the equation.

When someone likes a page, they have the potential of seeing your posts. For better or for worse, Facebook has made it challenging for the majority of your fans to actually see your posts on their news feed. They have to really, really like your posts a lot for them to appear on their news feed without help, which causes a chicken and egg conundrum. They have to see your posts to be able to like, share, or comment on them, but they need to like, share, or comment on them before they start seeing them in their news feed, at least organically.

This is where Facebook ads come into play, but there are distinct challenges there as well. Those who discover the reach potential of Facebook ads often make the mistake of promoting the wrong content. It’s not just about posting the “fun” stuff naturally and using Facebook ads to boost the promotional content. That is only effective until the content starts getting negative feedback. Remember, every time someone is presented with the content and chooses not to interact with it, that’s a bad thing.

A common series of events with Facebook ads looks like this:

  1. A user tries Facebook ads for the first time and their reach explodes for very little money spent.
  2. The content wasn’t super-viral and while it gets more interactions than most of the page’s content, it doesn’t do well in relation to the people it reached.
  3. Over time, the Facebook ad budget starts to yield reduced results. Hundreds of thousands reached becomes tens of thousands, then thousands.
  4. Budgets go up but engagement and reach stay stagnant.

Play the ad game the right way with EdgeRank in mind. That’s an entire other post. For now, let’s get back to reach versus fans.

Here’s an example of an above-average car dealer’s Facebook reach statistics:

Scott Robinson Reach

In this example, you see that they’ve done a pretty good job of keeping it local. They have a page for their dealership in the Los Angeles area with around 4K fans. They post good, engaging content regularly. Their reach isn’t bad for an organic-only strategy.

Here’s an example of how a properly managed Facebook page should look for a local business. In this case, it’s a car dealership in Waynesville, NC:

Waynesville Reach

The targeting is hyper-localized. They’re getting almost all of their views and engagement from within a 50-mile radius and the vast majority within a 20-mile radius.

They have around 700 fans.

Getting fans is important, but it’s only important in that it helps to expand a page’s reach. It isn’t who likes your page. It’s who sees the posts. The more people you can get to see your posts, the more effective your social media campaigns can be. Fans are part of it. Ads are part of it. Content is part of it. Putting together the exact right mix of the three is one of the biggest keys to success.

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Targeting

In the early days of search engine optimization, the pitch that many companies used was very appealing. “We’ll get you listed on thousands of search engines so that everyone can find you.”

Today, this seems like a ludicrous statement. There’s only three real search engines that account for 97% of the search traffic and it’s been like that for some time, but back as recently as 2008, many companies were still pushing automated search engine submission as their primary selling point for search engine optimization. The same thing is happening today, only with social media.

There are companies out there promoting the concept of building and maintain profiles on dozens of social media sites. This is a joke on many levels. First, the majority of social media sites are not profile-driven. In other words, having a presence on them is only somewhat useful based on high levels of activity on the feeds and interactions with other users. The profiles of individual businesses themselves are never seen, never show up in search, and not viewed from the site itself. Second, any time a profile is associated with lightly trafficked social sites, there’s an additional chance of failure. Smaller sites get hacked. They go dormant. They get shuttered. There’s no good reason to have these sites because of the potential negatives associated with them.

The most important reason to dismiss these sites is that they’re simply padding. Businesses often like bulk. They like knowing that they have all of their bases covered. Unfortunately, the majority of social media sites out there are simply not bases that need to be covered. Why pay to have a presence someplace that is useless? It’s just fluff. It’s filler. It’s a way to say, “look, you get more out of our social media service because we give you dozens of social sites!”

There are four must-have social media profiles for the sake of engagement and three others that are relevant for different reasons. That’s it. The rest is just part of a sales pitch.

Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest

These sites are necessary components of social media marketing for just about any business. They are where the action is currently happening. They bring value from a search perspective and are well-visited by people when they search for businesses by name because they actually have a chance of ranking.

Most importantly, there’s engagement potential. Properly managed, these four sites are where 99% of the social interactions can occur. It is a focused strategy that does not look at fluff as a primary sales tool and focuses on the things that actually matter in social media.

YouTube, LinkedIn, blogs, and others

YouTube is a channel. It’s a place where businesses can expose their message. LinkedIn is the professional component. It’s a measure for recruiting, a venue for public relations, and an excellent place to display the nuts and bolts of a company. While it’s arguable that it can be beneficial for B2B companies, it should not be utilized as a venue to attract B2C prospects.

Blogs are the personal repository for business communication that does not happen through video.

With blogs and YouTube, it could be argued that they are social media sites in that they are content-driven and attract eyeballs, but in reality they are monologue components of the marketing strategy. Yes, people can comment on them so technically dialogue can happen there, but it’s an internal dialogue. When blog posts or videos are shared on the above-mentioned four social sites, the dialogue can truly happen.

“Others” are the sites that are potentially valuable but not absolutely necessary for success. Tumblr, Foursquare, Chime.in, Flickr – these are sites that can bring value and should be considered by companies that have all of the above profiles humming and running on all cylinders, but are often a distraction otherwise. Also included in “others” would be the rising social sites. Yes, there are still websites and services that have potential to become players and they should be monitored, but putting effort into them in the early stages is not prudent. For every Pinterest that we put early-adopter effort into, there’s others that nobody has ever heard of that wasted time.

A quick note on automation

This is a debatable topic and I respect those who disagree, but the concept of running the smaller social sites through automation is a bad idea in my books. Yes, it’s possible to create a social profile, then hook it into a feed or other posting protocol that allows hands-free social integration. Some use this as the reasoning behind having dozens or hundreds of social profiles. “I build it and then I let it run itself.”

That’s appealing, but it’s also dangerous. Again, these sites get hacked. They become devalued. They get overrun with spam. They fall off completely. The risks are greater than the rewards.

* * *

Social media done right has the potential to help businesses advance their marketing and improve their customer communications. It should not be viewed in the terms of “more is better.” A proper social media strategy puts all efforts into venues that count. Otherwise, it’s just fluff to help a sales pitch.

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Keep it Local, Local, or Local on Facebook

Local Buying a Car

I was moderating a small panel at a conference about two and a half years ago that focused on Facebook fans. The two panelists represented the two different sides of Facebook promotion at the time: one focused on local quality fans and the other focused on bulk fans. After the debate, one might have called it a draw. That was over two years ago. Today, there’s really only one side that deserves any representation at all. Local businesses should focus solely on getting local fans, period. To get a broad reach of fans outside of the market area as a local business can do more harm than good.

Only one side of the argument “deserves’ to be mentioned today, but unfortunately that’s not the case. There are still plenty of companies out there that try to use contests or other incentives to coax people to like their pages. Some even purchase fans. Both methods are antiquated.

 

Don’t Reach Too Far

This is still very prominent today and it needs to go away. No games. No giveaways. Get that our of your head. You don’t need to get fans that way.

To the right, you’ll see a standard demographic breakdown from a Facebook page we recently took over. They had been growing their fan base through contests for some time. Despite the fact that the drawing for a free iPad required that the winner had to come to the car dealership to pick it up, there were still hundreds of entries in the form of likes on the page that came from outside of the area, even outside of the country. I know that iPads are great and all but nobody’s going to hop on a plane to get the iPad they won.

Fan growth can and should be organic and transparent. We’ve had extreme success with stating the absolute truth. In one example, we took over a car dealership Facebook page in Honolulu that had 26 total fans. Three months later, they have over a thousand and their demographic composite is exactly what we want it to be:

Cutter Chevrolet Likes

Other than the four people in Cincinnati dreaming of living in Hawaii, the likes we’ve built have been completely localized. The goal should be that every person who follows you on Facebook should be within driving distance of becoming a customer. Some would argue that you can expand your reach beyond the immediate local area, but in the vast majority of America, keeping it hyper-local is the way to go. It isn’t just about focus, either. It’s about exposure. Your brand needs to be seen by as many locals as possible and the easiest way to do this is to make sure that only locals are following you.

 

Don’t “Coax” Fan Growth

Like Our Page

Here’s the thing. People will follow businesses. It has been proven time and time again that people are willing to follow businesses if they give them a valid reason to do so. A contest is not a valid reason. Getting the latest funny cat pictures is not a valid reason. The latest Facebook game is not a valid reason.

The valid reason that you’re looking for is all around you. You’re the expert in your field. People come to you and trust that you know what you’re talking about when it pertains to your business. If you’re a car dealer, you know cars. Period. Your content should reflect a deep understanding of the automotive industry, your brands, the local area, and your customers.

Present it just like that. There’s no need to promise that you’re going to be interesting. Promise tangible things that pertain to your business. For example, you can advertise that your Facebook page is “The home of the most important Chevrolet news, pictures, and videos that pertain to you, Honolulu.”

It works. We know. We’ve seen it in action.

When people like your page because they think they can win something, play a game, or perform any action that has nothing to do with your business, they will not be engaged. If they’re not engaged, they’re wasted fans. Having fans that are not engaged kills your EdgeRank and makes your actual business-relevant messages and branding invisible to your audience. I cannot stress this enough. In the future, I’ll compile a blog post that proves beyond a doubt that this is true, but for now, you’re just going to have to take my word for it.

 

When Your Fans Are Local, You’ll Reach More Locals

Waynseville FB

This is arguably the hardest thing to do on Facebook when a page has been algorithmically damaged by poor strategies. Getting the algorithm to like you again takes time, but it can happen. It’s a healing process.

In the example above, it’s clear to see where the engagement is happening. By keeping the page completely local, we’re able to more easily target the dealership’s message towards those who can come buy a car, get their oil changed, or interact in some way with the dealership.

This isn’t a large dealership. It’s not a large Facebook page. In fact, it has around 700 fans. Thankfully, those 700 fans are engaged and we’re able to reach the local audience with their message much more easily than if they had fans spread out across the country or around the world. That’s the key to all of this. By keeping it local, you can reach the people that matter. Unless you’re Dell or Skittles, chances are that you aren’t going for a global audience. Make sure your Facebook page reflects this concept.

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Tons of People

… you should only care about the ones that can buy from you.

With global brands, it’s a different story, but when we’re talking about localized businesses trying to use social media to make an impact, the community itself is all that’s important. In fact, having too many fans outside of your market area can actually do more harm than good.

This hasn’t always been the case. There was a time a couple of years ago when it made some sense to go big, to build a strong fan base on Facebook or to accumulate followers from around the world on Twitter. Those days are well behind us, particularly with Facebook. Quality trumps quantity by a mile when it comes to Facebook for local businesses. This isn’t even really debatable anymore, but for those who aren’t sure, here are some reasons for this which we’ll be covering one by one in future blog posts:

  • Local Interaction Boosts Local Interaction
  • You Probably Can’t Sell to Someone in Jakarta
  • Don’t Take Away Your Most Reliable Facebook Tool
  • A Robust Page is Tight, Not Spread Out
  • When You’re Ready to Truly Market on Social, You’ll Want to be Localized

We’ll be covering these each in detail, but let’s start in this blog post with the first point…

 

Local Interaction Boosts Local Interaction

Honolulu at Night Facebook

It’s not double talk. A car dealer that has local fans as the vast majority of their following will be more easily able to get interactions on their social media profiles because they have the opportunity to take advantage of their localized content. In the example above, this stunning image of Honolulu posted on a Honolulu dealership’s Facebook page was able to get traction quickly because it resonated with their fans. This page is one that started off with 27 fans, a perfect scenario for a managed account that was pushed up with local Facebook ads only.

Facebook Post StatsAs a result, their fans are hyper-targeted for the local area. The post was promoted, but I’m actually regretting making that decision because it appears as if it had the merits to stand on its own. With 18 likes in 23 minutes on a page with just over 1000 fans, it’s clear that the bump (small as it has been in the early stages of the campaign) wasn’t necessary.

Don’t forget, Facebook works on an algorithm based upon actions and relationships. The actions that it takes into account are these:

  • Positive: People “talking about” a post through likes, comments, and shares
  • Positive: People interacting with a post by clicking on the image, video, link, or post permalink
  • Slightly Negative: People seeing a post in their news feed and not interacting with it at all
  • Very Negative: People reporting, unliking, or hiding a post or page

The relationships component comes into play with the users themselves. It’s a pretty complex algorithm, but the concept can be broken down pretty easily. If Sally likes a post from a local business and Suzie likes a lot of the things that Sally likes and posts, Suzie can be exposed to the content that Sally likes. This is the “viral” component that’s shown in the stat graphic above and it’s one of the most important reasons that you want localized fans. In this example, Sally lives in Honolulu and liked the post. Suzie also lives in Honolulu (as do 64% of Sally’s friends) and sees the image. As a local, she’s more inclined to like it as well.

When you keep your fans local, you’re able to get the benefit of familiarity and focus your posts on things that will be of interest to the local market. When you expand and have pages that are too far outside of the realm association with the local market, you can hurt even the interactions within the community. In the example above, it’s possible that Sally liked the image, but if there were thousands of non-local fans who liked the page but fell into the most likely scenario of negative interaction above – seeing posts and passing them by – then it’s very possible that Sally’s algorithmic boost that exposed the content to Suzie could get superseded by the other fans whose negative effect on the algorithm pushed the content down further on news feeds. In essence, too many fans who don’t really care about your local business area can keep the locals from seeing the posts at all.

Many businesses that start using social media for marketing do so because of the sheer bulk of the various networks. They demand a lot of time and attention of potential customers and just as television advertising works because people are watching it, social media marketing works because people are using it. However, do not get caught up in size issues. Your local business needs to stay as local as possible on social media. Arguments to the contrary are invalid.

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Facebook has been a promising venue through which to market a dealership ever since it reached a high level of popularity back in 2008. Back then, it was just breaking the hundred million user level and was showing signs that it would be able to be business-friendly in contrast to its rival MySpace. Now, it’s 10 times bigger and commands more time of humans than any other website.

The problem is that it’s not the easiest marketing platform to master. Unlike Google, Twitter, and other players that are used on a daily basis, Facebook has algorithms that keep dealers from finding success. Google has an algorithm, of course, but because people go to it to find businesses, they make it very easy for those willing to pay money or play by the optimization rules to get the exposure they need. On Facebook, users aren’t going there to engage with businesses so trying to “sneak in” marketing and advertising is an act that goes contrary to the desires of the users. This is why the algorithm can be so harsh.

It’s difficult, but it’s not impossible. There is plenty of advice on the internet that tells businesses and marketers how to have success on Facebook. Unfortunately, some of it is poor advice. Others are simply antiquated. Most make general assumptions. There aren’t very many specifics that small businesses can use to make an impact.

The best way for a local business to move the needle is to get to a point of local exposure and built up trust that allows them to give their marketing messages exposure and that promotes communication with customers and potential customers through the network itself. Accomplishing this takes a process.

The first three steps in the process are the easiest, the ones that can all be described in a single blog post. The stages beyond the first three get much more complex, not because they’re so much harder but because they become very specific to the goals of the dealership as well as the personality of the team. We can’t go into those, but the first three should be enough to get you going:

1. Grow locally

Here’s the bad news. If you have accumulated a ton of fans outside of your market area, there’s a good chance that you’ll have to dump everyone and start over. It’s not fun. It’s not easy (unless your following is so extended that you have to delete the page altogether and start from scratch – that’s easy). It can be one of the most gut-wrenching decisions you’ll ever make pertaining to your social media marketing, particularly if you’ve been doing it for years. All that effort, wasted. It hurts.

The good news is that building back up from scratch isn’t as hard as most think. It requires money – Facebook advertising is the best way to get a local following built up – but not much. Many businesses are already through this stage and can boast having a mostly-localized following. Regardless of how you get there, this is the first step – get your following up to acceptable level.

2. Get engagement

This is always the scariest piece of advice and the most challenging stage to implement. First, the term “engagement” is so overused and misunderstood. To so many, it means cats. The internet is loaded with cats. People post pictures of cats all the time. It seems like a great place to start.

On a local business page, there should be no cats allowed unless you’re building a page for a veterinarian.

Every business has some sort of relevant content that can be posted. No business is so boring that they can’t find interesting things to post that pertain to what they do. This is paramount – car dealers should be posting cars, automotive tips, and localized events because that’s what the people who liked their page expect. There’s no need to get too clever. Strong content doesn’t have to be contrived. It doesn’t have to be shared from George Takei’s awesome Facebook page.

Keep it organic. Keep it real. Keep it relevant. Your fans will like it and become engaged (whatever that really means).

3. Earn the right to market

There was a question asked on a forum about how to judge success on a Facebook page. They had built up to a nice number of fans. Their fans were mostly localized. They had engaging content on the page (though there were some cat-like posts that we don’t recommend, but otherwise it wasn’t bad). Now, they wanted to see where the ROI was.

Unfortunately, there was none, at least not that was noticeable. They had made it through to stage three but hadn’t taken it to the next level.

Facebook users aren’t as silly as we often believe. They don’t like a local business page without the understanding that they’ll likely see some marketing materials cross their feed from time to time. If they don’t want the marketing content, they wouldn’t like a business in the first place.

Some take this to the extreme and post only marketing stuff. This is a huge mistake based upon what was mentioned above – the algorithm. Marketing content does not perform very well under most circumstances, so having only marketing content won’t work. You’ll lose fans. You’ll move down in the news feed based upon poor EdgeRank. You’ll be broadcasting messages that nobody will ever see.

In stage three, local businesses have to earn the right to post marketing content by doing a couple of things. First, they have to be very proficient at step 2 and have an audience that is engaged. Then, they have to craft their marketing content in a way that can get the message out there while doing minimal damage to EdgeRank or following. There is no way to post marketing content that won’t turn some people off. You simply want to minimize the damage. Done right, there are more positive effects to EdgeRank from the right marketing material than any of the negatives that are bound to happen.

It must be timed appropriately. That timing is based upon the activities on the page on a regular basis, but the right mix of conversational and converting content should be worked in. Too much and you lose too many fans. Too little and there’s no ROI. Finding the right mix is the key and it’s something that must be diagnosed on an individual basis rather than prompted in a blog post.

* * *

These are just the first three stages. There are more, but again they are really dependent on more factors than that can be described in a post. Whatever you do, don’t jump ahead. Engaging content is worthless if you have 20 fans. Marketing content is worthless if you have the fans but they’re not engaged. If you start here, you can get to the next level which is true return on investment. You have to start somewhere.

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Coastal Lighthouse

I wouldn't go so far as to say that it's the main point, but it's definitely one of the keys. Exposure on social media is an extremely high-potential benefit of having a strong presence on social media sites, particularly Facebook.

There has been a lot of talk lately about social signals for SEO purposes. This is another key, but it's completely separate from getting exposure. There are other key points and goals - driving foot traffic, driving website traffic, and having a proper communication and reputation management tool are just some of the others. Today, we're talking about exposure. It's the one thing that has been very commonly used in the past by many dealers but it's also something that some have fallen away from in recent months.

In many ways, social media is like television. People don't go there to hear about car dealers, to see the brand, or to hear about the big sale this weekend, but that doesn't mean that the message doesn't reach them. Unlike television, there are algorithms in place to help or hurt your exposure. This is where managing your social media for the sake of exposure comes in very handy. When done right, a dealership can get exposure and help to improve their EdgeRank at the same time. Here are some of the things that you can do to make it easier.

 

Post Good Content

It sounds simple, but so many dealers and businesses in general simply aren't posting good content. In the car business, it's easy to find good content. We're surrounded by it at the dealership. We're exposed to it all the time on social media itself. It makes the news, fills thousands of blogs, and is the central topic of tons of videos that are posted every day. There's no reason to not be able to find strong automotive content to post on social media.

Local content can be good as well when done right. You have things happening in your community right now. You have places that make for amazing photographs or stunning videos.

The biggest challenge that some face is repetition. Depending on who you're using as a social media partner or the tastes of the people at the dealership who are doing the posting, it's very possible that the content getting posted is good but common. We've seen some vendors that will go so far as to post the same content to multiple dealership pages. This is just lazy. It doesn't have to be absolutely unique, but it shouldn't be so common that everyone has already seen it.

Keep it Steady but Don't Overload

There was a time in the not-too-distant past when social media gurus were recommending posting every single day no matter what. Many have changed tunes do to research, experimentation, and simple trial and error. Today, it's very possible to get a good bump on Facebook exposure without posting more than 2 or 3 things a week.

That's not what I'm recommending. I just want you to know that it can be done and works just fine. Ideally, you're able to post enough on a daily basis at the right pace based upon your fan engagement to get a strong momentum boost going with EdgeRank. However, if you don't have that boost, if you're not gaining momentum, it's better to slow down than speed up. Posting too much can do more harm than not posting enough.

 

Play in Other Yards

This is something that nobody's really doing. Sure, there might be a few, but for the most part Facebook pages are only interacting with those who are posting to their page. An easy way to get the brand out there, build interaction, and participate in the community is to venture forth onto other pages on Facebook and interact.

Sincerity is key. You do not want to like, share, or comment on local pages without a strong and valid reason. Interacting for the sake of interacting is easy to sniff out, so make sure that if you're representing the dealership with a like or comment on someone's Facebook post, you really mean it.

This helps in that it allows your brand to spread to people other than your fans and friends of fans. It's an ultra-simple way to separate your dealership from your competitors because nobody is doing it.

* * *

There are plenty of ways to gain exposure through social media that we haven't talked about here. Think quality over quantity. Think sincerity over automation. If you do it the right way, you'll get the same type of benefit that you get from television at pennies on the dollar.

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Content Search Social

It's very possible that I'm beating a dead horse on this one, but I'd rather beat a dead one than a live one.

If you hear me speak or read my writing, you'll know that I've been pushing this concept for a long time. This is the last plea I'll be making. It's the eleventh hour, so everything I post going forward on the subject will be tips for those who have decided to do it the right way. No more heartfelt pleas - either you get it or you don't.

Social media is embracing search as a primary missing piece to the time-domination puzzle. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest - they all realize that being integrated properly with external search while allowing for robust search features of their own is the key to taking the tremendous amounts of personal data they have on us all and turning it into something useful for both users as well as the all-important advertisers and data-collection services.

Google and Bing are acutely aware that they have all of the outside data that they need. The only part that's been missing to some degree for a decade has been true human sentiment on a personal level that is not tainted by artificial inflation techniques. Finding that balance between understanding what the people really feel versus being manipulated by blackhat techniques is the last victory they need to make their search engines nearly perfect which is why both have been trying for three years now to properly integrate social signals into their search ranking algorithms.

Content is the binding force in all of this. It's very similar to the food that a restaurant serves. From a search perspective, understanding the way that food at a restaurant makes them feel is a key to getting a true understanding of consumer sentiment surrounding that restaurant. In other words, the things that people are saying about the food helps the search engines know which restaurants to recommend. From a social perspective, they need to be able to gather all of the data about the restaurants themselves. They know individual sentiment. Now they need to combine it to form conclusions.

This is the bare essence of the merging of search and social around the hub of content. Businesses that are creating high-quality content and using the right strategies to get this content out there from a search and social perspective are the ones that will win in the long run. Before anyone starts saying that they need strategies that work today, it should be noted that marketing is often like driving a car (warning - it's another analogy so brace yourself). You don't look at the road directly in front of the bumper on your vehicle to steer the car. You look down the road. You see what's happening beside you, behind you, and in the distance in front of you. When you're barreling down the highway and you see brake lights ahead, you put your foot on your own brakes.

The same holds true for internet marketing. Knowing that search and social are hovering around content as the key to both disciplines and uniting all three around a unified strategy is what we're seeing on the highway ahead. As a result, we're able to drive the road that we're on more efficiently, at a higher rate of speed, and with the knowledge that we're going to be able to make turns or hit the brakes before getting into an accident. This is the strategy that helped us be preparing for the Google Penguin update years before it was ever introduced. It is the strategy that helped us avoid the pitfalls of artificial page like inflation on Facebook well before it became more of a detriment than a benefit.

This is what's coming. Are your eyes on the road ahead or are you peering over your bumper to look at the road conditions right now?

Here's an infographic by Marketing Adept that gives a decent breakdown of what's happening now. Knowing that can help you look to the future.

Content Search Social Infographic

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The rise of content marketing and more importantly the focus that Google and Bing have put on website content engagement have changed the way we view the types of content we put on our websites. It’s no longer sufficient to focus all of your content on the basic search engine principles of keyword targeting. You have to have content on your domain that draws in the important social signals and time spent on site.

In other words, your websites have to be interesting to a wider range of people, not just those specifically looking for your products and services.

There are several types of content that go on websites, but the two we’re going to be talking about here are the two most important content additions. There is basic content that is relatively stagnant on your website; product descriptions and inventory items rarely have to change, for example. There are other types of regular content additions that somewhat influential as well such as press releases and service announcements. Those are the content types that we won’t be covering.

What we will be covering are often called different things depending on who is describing them, but I look at them as conversion content and conversation content. These are the pages that should be getting added to your website regularly and on an ongoing basis. If you can only focus on one major discipline when it comes to enhancing your website traffic, search rankings, and social significance, creating these two types of content would be the activity that I would wholeheartedly recommend at the top of the activity list.

 

Conversion Content

For those marketing a website, this is arguably the easiest to understand from a needs basis. This is the type of content that should have an immediate impact. It’s usually geographically targeted and almost always product focused, so there’s a clear understanding how it can help.

For example, a Honda dealer in Irvine, CA, should be ranking well in Google for the various Irvine searches with their homepage alone, but they may need to create a content page called, “2013 Honda Accord Santa Ana” to have a landing page geared towards those in neighboring Santa Ana.

There’s a right way and a wrong way to do everything, and as a general rule anything that’s too easy is probably the wrong way to do it in the eyes of Google. In other words, automatically generating dozens, hundreds, even thousands of pages to hit the multitude of targets is the wrong way to do it. The practice is relatively common, so common that it often takes Google time to catch those who are doing it, but in the end they catch everyone. This type of blackhat conversion content creation leads to destruction (i.e. de-indexing or even a penalty).

Real conversion content creation is a manual effort, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be tedious or time-consuming. The page mentioned above should only take 10-20 minutes to create depending on what content management system is being used. It’s not rocket science nor does anyone need a PhD in SEO to make it happen. They simply need to create a page with lead generating tools on it that has visuals in the form of images and/or videos of the product and content describing it. The content itself doesn’t have to be long – a paragraph or two works though a little more would be better – and it can still be conversational.

There is no need to make the content keyword rich. As long as the title tag is set up properly and the content mentions the target keywords somewhere in there, that should be enough to start targeting the keyword appropriately. When you try too hard to get the keyword, you often make it harder to get.

 

Conversation Content

This is the type of content that I often have the hardest time convincing people to build. It goes against the nature of old-school marketing that has been embedded in most of us. In essence, conversational content has nothing to do with converting a visitor into a lead or a sale. It’s often whimsical, only loosely relevant, and seems to bring no value other than to entertain or educate.

Today, it’s the content that can have the biggest impact on search and social marketing. With conversation content, the goal is clear as day written in its name. You want conversations. You want people talking about the content on social media. You want people saving the content in their bookmarks. You want people talking to you about the content in the form of comments.

The image above was taken from a conversational piece of content titled “7 Charming Honda Vintage Ads”. There is very little chance that a Honda dealer is going to have any of the cars being advertised on the page. The page is not designed to sell anything, in fact. It’s designed to get shared. It’s designed for people to see it on social media sites, click through, and reminisce.

Most business website pages outside of the blog are not shareable. Sure, they might have social sharing buttons on them, but nobody is going to share an inventory details page of a 2009 Honda Civic. They aren’t going to share a service appointment page, a specials page, or an about us page. People share content that they find interesting.

Just as you want to be in the conversation with pages on your website, people want to share content on social media that can spark conversations. A page like this one will encourage people to share on their social networks because it’s interesting to see things such as vintage ads.

Social signals don’t just help with social media popularity. They don’t just help with the search rankings of a particular page. Their most important influence is that they help a domain rank better. The more pages that are on a domain that are getting shared well on social sites, the better chance they have of ranking for similar keyword terms as well. This dealership might not care about whether it’s ranked for “Vintage Honda Ads” but it certainly wants to rank for “Dallas Honda Dealers”. Social signals through conversation content pages help to this end tremendously.

* * *

As you continue to push the envelope and watch your digital marketing evolve, it’s important to keep in mind that things aren’t always obvious. They’re clear – that much is certain – but the techniques and strategies that have lower adoption rates such as creating the types of content in this article can be the differentiators between your own marketing and the marketing of your competitors. If you’re creating these types of pages and your competitors are not, you have the upper hand. It’s that simple.

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People in the world of marketing and businesses trying to use social media for promotions almost always face a paradox. It’s like a Chinese finger trap – the harder you pull, the more trapped you can become. That’s the world of social media and it’s the biggest reason for failure.

     

In social media, the more you try to talk about your business, the less your message makes it out to anyone who might actually care. On Facebook and Google+, the algorithms make it to where self-promotion can only last for so long without hurting the quality of the page altogether. On other social sites like Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, self-serving posts often make followers stop following. If you can’t talk about your business, what’s the point of putting your business on social media?

   

The truth is this: you can talk about your business… a little. To do that, you must earn the right. To earn the right, you have to talk about the things that are both relevant to your business while still holding the interest of your customers. In other words, you have to talk about them and/or the communities in which they exist online and off.

    

Those who do it right often take their social media marketing to the next level whether they mean to or not. You see, talking about others is one of the easiest ways to get them to talk about you. When someone else is talking about your business on social media in a positive way, it holds ten times more weight than anything you can say about yourself.

   

There are two important points of discussion, both of which are too long for this particular post, so we’ll touch the surface now and go more in depth in the future.

 

Earning the Right to Promote

This has been called many things by many people, but we’re all talking about the same basic premise. If you over-promote your business, products, or services, you’ll turn people off. They won’t see your posts because they block you, unfollow you, or report your posts as spam. By doing so, they aren’t just keeping themselves from seeing your posts on Facebook and Google+. They’re also preventing others from seeing you posts. When this happens too much, your page becomes toast. It’s burnt. It reaches nobody. It’s worthless.

  

Some take this premise too far and apply the extreme opposite strategy. They don’t talk about business at all. These are the people who are pushing a branding-only strategy. The idea is this: if you entertain and inform people, you can talk about anything that you or they consider “engaging”. This puts your logo and business name in front of more people. They like your business because you post great cat pictures. With this strategy, the goal is to be on of the “cool kids” on social media.

  

This strategy is absolutely ludicrous, though technically it’s not as bad as over-promoting your business, i.e. spamming.

   

I recently heard David Johnson talk about a post he put on Persuasive Concepts about it and his description was spot on. I’m not going to go into full detail here as it was a long explanation, but the basic idea is that if you bring value to your fans and followers by focusing on topics that interest them and that are important to your topic, you earn the credits necessary to cash in on promotional posts. For example, a car dealer might post car maintenance tips, customer testimonials, and pictures of cool cars most of the time while posting business-relevant posts occasionally that talk about “the big sale” or something more creative.   

This is earning the right. More on that in a future post.

 

Talking About Others

There’s an important lesson that should be understood before I go into any details about this. Intention is easy to sniff out. Sincerity is key. If you are talking to and about people, other businesses, charities, or anything else with the intention of getting them to talk about you, people will know.

   

If, on the other hand, you go in with the right frame of mind and position of heart knowing that most of the people and organizations you talk about on social media won’t reciprocate but you want to do it anyway because it’s interesting and valuable to your fans and followers, you have a chance of succeeding. It’s that simple.

   

Take a sincere interest in the community and the lives of those within it through your social media. You live close to people. You work close to people. You’re a part of the community. Highlight the best parts of the community and the people in it. Give credit to those who do the right things. Use your business social media page to bring good things to light and to help others succeed. Do all of these things sincerely and good things will happen for your business through social media.

This, too, is a topic that needs more flesh, just not right now.

 

Customers and Community

Take action. Be a part of it all. Participate.

If you focus on others, you’ll be able to get out of the Chinese finger trap of social media. If you just keep pushing (or pulling) harder, you’re only going to make things worse. Sincerity is the key. It can’t be said enough.

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There’s a saying in online marketing that has been around for a while. “Content is king.”

The truth is this – before the last year, it really wasn’t. Content has always been important, but it wasn’t until recent updates in Google and Facebook that content took a huge leap from being a portion of search and social marketing to become the actual hub through which search and social marketing flow. Today, marketing starts from content and works its way down versus recent years where content was simply a tool in the marketing strategy.

   

Google, Facebook, Bing, and Twitter are getting smarter every day. They have more brainpower going into figuring out how to stop spammers than the spammers have dedicated into finding new ways to spam. In other words, any tactic that involves practices that aren’t focused on quality can only bring short term benefit and can eventually lead to doing more harm than good. That’s the way that online marketing is heading and that’s a very good thing for both internet surfers as well as honest businesses and marketing agencies.

   

The old days of automated link-building tactics and paid social media promos (other than advertising) are long gone. Marketers can only achieve a true impact from quality content. Thankfully, this means that, in many ways, we’ve reached the end of the road of major strategy changes. That’s right, the practices that go into proper online marketing today are the type that will last for a long time, perhaps indefinitely.

   

It’s a bold statement, but if you think about it, that’s exactly where we are. Sure, there will be opportunities to find better channels, new tools, and make adjustment to different styles, but the end game is upon us. Quality content on and off of a website is the cornerstone of search and social marketing today and will continue into the foreseeable future.

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This is a topic that has been covered so many times that one might wonder how it keeps popping up. The reality (from a content perspective) is that Facebook posting best practices is the gift that keeps on giving. It’s frustrating to dealers and annoying to bloggers, but at the end of the day there’s one simple truth: whatever worked yesterday may not work today but may work again tomorrow.

That’s Facebook. It’s social media in general from a dealership perspective. There are three dynamics at work and they rarely do more than lightly influence the other two:

  • Facebook and other social media sites are constantly changing. As a result of changes to their algorithms, posting rules, and layout/design/UI, the game is continuously changing for dealers who want to be successful on social media.
  • Users are changing. It’s not just that more people are getting onto social media. The trends of what they like to post, how often they post, and the platforms through which they post are all in constant flux.
  • The world is moving. This is one of the factors that few really take into account but that has a dramatic effect on social media posting strategies. Political sentiment, breaking news, natural disasters, new gadgets, more websites… this list could go on indefinitely. Anything that’s not directly associated with the social media platform or its users can fall into this category.

With so much “posting turmoil” in the strategy tsunami of social media marketing, it’s no wonder that there are major points of confusion. There was a time, for example, when businesses were told not to post on weekends. Today, depending on which study you read and whose advice you take, there is evidence that the weekends are exactly when businesses should be posting more. Go figure.

There have been numerous studies and infographics on the topic, but the one below by Pagemodo does a nice job of giving “JD-Approved” advice on posting times, styles, and frequency. One major point of contention, though, is that the advice to post 2-3 times a day should not be considered a general rule. It all depends on your goals, of course, and unless your goal is strictly branding, this is not the appropriate frequency. Otherwise, the data is sound.

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The Relationship Era

SXSW Can't Buy Me Like

When it comes to advertising today, things have changed. In some ways it’s due to social media. Oh, who am I kidding? If it wasn't for social media, most brands wouldn't be held as accountable as they are today. Even local businesses, car dealers in particular, rely on social media and review sites to tell their story beyond the cars themselves.

It's all about relationships.

Searching for “I Love Zappos” yields 2,000,000 results. Searching for “I Love Dow Chemical Company” yields 3, according to Bob Garfield and Doug Levy at the SXSW panel titled “Cant’ Buy Me Likes”. Thanks to their presentation, this number is sure to go way up as people discuss it (such as this blog). By contrast, searching for “I Love Satan” yields 293,000. It’s not a good thing to be loved less than the prince of darkness.

What has happened? Why is it that billion dollar ad branding campaigns get usurped by a YouTube video by a disgruntled customer? They described that scenario of United who has been pushing their brand forward for years with a familiar tune, “Rhapsody in Blue”, only to watch it fall apart when they had a disgruntled musician post a sing about them.

Again, it’s all about relationships.

Here are some quick takeaways that dealers can use to understand the way that things are really working in this relationship era.

“The reality is that thinking of trust as a means of encouraging a transaction is like having a child for the sake of tax deduction,” said Levy.

Purpose and incentives can go hand-in-hand, but people can tell the difference. If a consumer smells insincerity, it won’t matter how much good you’re doing in the world. Do good. If the world enjoys and admires the good that your company does, that’s great but it’s not the goal (at least it shouldn’t be).

“Brands that are admired for the totality of their activity perform better than companies that are only excellent at their business goals,” said Garfield.

Branch out. Being the best at what you do is great, but sometimes the things you do that have nothing to do with your business are the ones that last. What do you remember when someone mentions a brand like Goodyear? You might have thought of tires, which is their business. You also might have thought of a blimp over a sporting event which is not their business but helps to sustain their brand in a positive way. The same can hold true on social media.

“The fundamentals of relationship era marketing are trust, belief, purpose, and authenticity,”

Yes, yes, and yes. And yes. You have a relationship with all of your customers – past, present, and future – regardless of whether you want it or not. Embrace it.

This is where it goes wrong

Things were going great. The points being made by Garfield and Levi were insightful, well-researched, and thoughtful for most businesses. Unfortunately, their advice took a turn for the worse, not because it wasn’t valid but because the ideas that they were giving their audience of media professionals were incomplete. I totally understand the need to sell more books and to use events like these for teasers, but the concept of telling businesses to stop focusing on their primary marketing techniques and switch to finding funny videos of laughing babies and branding that way was a poor direction to take.

Will cat pictures be more liked than business-related posts? Of course! Does that make them more effective? Absolutely not.

I haven’t read their book so I don’t know if they expand on the concept in there in a way that won’t turn businesses in the wrong direction, but that doesn’t matter. They shouldn’t have hinted in that direction to the audience without giving them the caveats. I’ll go into more detail when I get back from SXSW but for now, don’t jump to YouTube and find videos of babies to post to your social media profiles. Hold off until I rebut.

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