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Friday Five: Great Content Deserves to be Found

Content and search are aptly placed at the center of Edelman’s Media Cloverleaf for good reason—great content deserves to be found.

Owned media is the one area where you can potentially produce and control content powerful enough to be counted with traditional, hybrid and social media search results. Combine rich owned content with a targeted PR campaign, and you can start playing on the same field—and with close to the same rules—as the media, supporters, critics and communities.

So, how do you talk the walk in Search Engine Management—search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM)—to help your content rise to the top? Here are five ways:

1. Listen online to identify keywords

Listening is one of the most crucial steps in creating digital media content. What are your key publics saying about your company? Where do they say it, and through what media—on blogs, in forums and through video or comments? Social media monitoring tools like Radian6, BlogPulse, Social Mention  and Simply Measured can help you easily identify keywords and mediums so that you can arm yourself with a strategy to talk to your target audiences in their lingo and find them in the places where they’re having those conversations.

2. Does your company’s brand align with what consumers/key audiences are searching for?

Search engines are becoming increasingly sophisticated in terms of knowing what we want to ask before we ask it. Step inside the shoes of your target audience. If you were trying to find a specific company, what would you search for? Social websites like Quora also provide insights into trending topics by identifying frequently asked questions. Maybe your company is just the brand to provide the answer. Use Google’s keyword tool to find commonly-searched terms related to your brand, product or service. Use Google Insights for Search or Google Trends to understand geographic considerations, rising related searches and spikes in conversation over time.

3. Tagging isn’t just for Facebook

But, in the same way that “tagging” a picture helps you easily see your friends’ latest pictures in your newsfeed, tagging your content helps your key publics find your content. Meta tags are keyword descriptors attached to the content you have created and are important for search engines to determine the subject of the webpage. The meta tags that matter are title tags, description tags and keyword tags.

4. Make it relevant

With your newly discovered keywords and phrases, you may be tempted to slather them over content like frosting on a birthday cake. But, as they say, less is more. The last thing you want is for your content to sound like a sales pitch. Be authentic. Search engines are equipped to recognize spam and websites that are looking to “game the system” so to speak. When publishing content, make sure it reads and sounds natural. For a keyword to be recognized as relevant by search engines it should have a 3-7 percent keyword density. Also, consider these tools for checking out keyword density: SEOBook, SEOCentro and WebConfs.

5. Make it shareable

Integrating social media into your website and online initiatives can have a tremendous impact on the visibility of your company or brand. News content receives on average a 7x lift in average search views when shared socially vs. when not. Evergreen content receives on average a 3x lift in average search views when shared socially vs. when not. Additionally, whenever possible, consider embedding video from YouTube, especially the company/brand’s channel, or images from Pinterest. This tactic allows you to boost the optimization of the post, as well as the brand’s content and Flickr and YouTube channels.

Have you had success in creating owned content optimized for the Web? Let us know what tools you used and why it was a success in the comments below!

The Verb May Still be ‘To Google’, but the Search will Happen on Bing

In an effort to deliver the most relevant search results possible to its users, Bing* has begun incorporating social related content from a number of sources into its search results (primarily Facebook, but also Twitter, LinkedIn*, Quora, Foursquare, and Google+, among others). Although similar in concept to Google’s Search Plus Your World, in which Google pulls in relevant content primarily from Google+, Bing has taken a slightly different approach to how the information is displayed on the search engine results page (SERP). This social integration represents an incredible opportunity for Bing’s growth and user adoption going forward.

Social Results Now on Bing – So What’s Different?

Unlike Google’s ‘Search Plus Your World’, Bing does not combine social content directly into the organic listings. Google has received a fair amount of push back from users who feel that search results are too ‘cluttered’ now that social signals are packed into the Google SERP. Instead, Bing keeps the social content separate and displays three different areas of content on the SERP, so that users can find the answer that is right for them.

Traditional Organic Results

Bing isn’t changing the traditional organic results. Bing explained on its search blog that the new SERP layout is “…designed to help you take action and interact with friends and experts without compromising the core search experience.”

Snapshot area

The Snapshot area is to the right of the search results and is designed to provide useful and relevant information about specific queries, such as restaurant phone numbers, maps, and hours of operation. Bing has integrated with companies like Open Table and Yelp, so reservations and reviews can also show up here.

Social Sidebar

The Social Sidebar is on the far right and is where Bing will pull in its social results from a number of sources including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Quora, Skype, and yes, Google+. The Social Sidebar is divided into four different parts:

  • Ask Friends – Pose questions to your friends via notifications and get their opinion on what you are searching for and what listings Bing displays (perhaps a movie review or restaurant pick).
  • Friends Who Might Know – This will show you a list of people that may be able to provide a recommendation or give advice based on information in their public profile (where they’ve lived, photos they’ve been tagged in, etc.).
  • People Who Know – This section has experts and influencers who have blogged or tweeted about the topic you have searched for.
  • Activity – In this section you can see status updates in real time, like Facebook posts, and answer friends’ questions.

Why is this important to Brands?

Bing currently has 15.4% market share of search, which is no small amount of potential customers who will now be exposed to brands’ Facebook content. Community managers for brands will have to keep this in mind for everything they publish through Facebook going forward because it will have the potential to show up in search. Brands will also have to start paying more attention to Bing because of the data that will be available around the correlation between social content and users’ search queries. The opportunity to mine it and strike customer insight gold is too big to ignore. For example, trends will start to emerge around which types of content or commentary on Facebook, blogs, etc. have a higher likelihood of getting pulled into the social side bar (under ‘Friends Who Might Know’, but more important for companies under ‘People Who Know’). This can help inform the creation of content that has a good chance of being viewed in Bing’s eyes as authoritative in a given space.

Edelman’s POV

Why now?

It’s no fluke that Bing has chosen to roll out its social integration with search now. At the core, increasing trust and relevancy is the primary driver. Nonetheless, the timing of the rollout was a calculated play. It served as a return volley to Google’s announcement of the Knowledge Graph, as well as some certainly appreciated positive media for Facebook that coincided with the timing of the IPO.

Advantage, Bing

Bing’s integration with Facebook certainly gives it a leg up on the competition. Expect them to have a short-term opportunity to steal search market share from Google if played correctly. Could this serve as the long awaited catalyst that pushes Bing into the forefront? Possibly, but only if Bing invests in owning social search as a differentiator and not just another feature. Bing’s partnership with Facebook (read Facebook, 900+ million users) is a huge advantage that Bing must leverage to make it happen. In addition, Bing can integrate and pull in content from multiple social channels and doesn’t have to rely primarily on Google+ (170+ million users). Google’s Search Plus Your World was a huge step forward for social search but it hasn’t made a lasting mark on consumers, as many are still trying to grasp the concept and benefits to them. If Bing can own and educate consumers around the importance of social search and trusted results, it will have a good shot of making a step forward on usage. Even though Google technically led the charge on ‘social search’, Bing is well positioned to introduce and engage a much greater number of people to the concept. If done well, consumers will quickly forget who got there first.

What’s to Come?

Expect the adoption rate for Bing’s social search to be a gradual, long-term shift. Consumers will need time to understand how best to leverage the new features. Consumers will also change their sharing habits over time as they realize that social content is now impacting search results and buying choices.

Also, still unclear are Facebook’s plans for search. Obviously it’s needed; both for making Facebook content easier to find and also for driving revenue. Remember that there was a conversation over a year ago between Microsoft and Facebook about the acquisition of Bing. Though less likely, Yahoo is technically an option as well. Facebook also has dropped hints of an internal play.

Whichever direction Facebook decides, it will push into the search space, potentially making the partnership with Bing a short term one. Bing will need to move quickly if it wants to stay ahead and leverage the current opportunity.

Competitive Landscape for Social Search

Google hasn’t stayed quiet during the Bing announcement and Facebook IPO. Last week, Google launched its knowledge graph, which has huge implications on Search relevancy. However, without an impactful social play, Google will be left out. So, expect a continued push to drive adoption of Google+ (which has grown 88% in the number users since February of this year) and look for Google to start integrating additional social platforms, especially Pinterest, as a means of increasing exposure to Search Plus Your World. Also, expect Google to address concerns over social data showing up in the search rankings. The backlash has been loud enough from consumers and Bing seems to have the answer, but not the following. Google will look to tweak its SERP to get social data to play better with search results.

Big changes are no doubt on the horizon in the search landscape. In the next round of the fight for users’ search queries, expect to see more haymakers than jabs.

Further Reading

This post was compiled by Craig Kronenberger, Adam Westin and Analise Siciliano.

*Microsoft and LinkedIn are Edelman clients.

Image Credit: bpedro

Want to Get Better at Social Media? Ask “Why?”

This post was originally published on Dave Fleet’s blog DaveFleet.com.

Social media practitioners: want to get better at your job? Learn one word:

Why?

Used well, asking “why?” can help you get to the bottom of almost any problem, push your colleagues to explore new options, and force a new level of honesty in decision making.

The Social Media Strategist

I’ve just started reading Christopher Barger‘s book The Social Media Strategist (side note: only a few pages in and I already like it), and one particular section stood out to me:

“The individual connections and relationships made within social networks on behalf of organizations and brands don’t happen because the brands want to appear more approachable or more human. Those are nice side effects. But make no mistake, as unromantic as it sounds, businesses and organizations get into social media because they want customers (or potential customers) to eventually buy their products, feel better about having purchased their products, and have problems with their products resolved more efficiently, and they want to get insight on what might make a customer more likely to buy those products in the future. “The conversation” and “engagement” are just means to that end.”

We’re operating in a field which is still full of kumbaya and hugging. Social media is still a shiny object to many people – companies still come at it with a focus on the shiny object rather than on what they really need. In that context, asking “why” is critical to improving your odds of success.

We Should be In Social Media?

Let’s take an all-too-frequent conversation that agencies have with clients: the “we should be ‘in’ social media” conversation. At face value, a statement from a client like “we should be in social media” has no meaning, direction or any sort of objectives whatsoever.

However, by asking “why?” a few times, you can dig to the core of it. The conversation could go something like this:

A: We need to be in social media.

B: Ok, why do you want to be in social media?

A: Because we’re a customer-focused company and we want to get closer to our customers.

B: Fair enough. Tell me, what do you hope to achieve by getting closer in this case – why do you want to be closer to them?

A: Because we want to build a relationship with the people who use our products.

B: Great. So why do you want to build those relationships?

A: To help us hit our sales targets.

That’s by no means the end of that conversation – it’s just the beginning – but in just three questions you’ve dug down from “get me one of those” to a more focused objective of increasing sales volume.

Other times that might be increasing loyalty; other times it might be gaining product insights. Once you’re at that point, you can help to re-focus objectives, and can work to build strategies and tactics that drive at the true business need rather than the one originally stated. You can apply the same things to strategic or tactical conversations too, with the end goal of driving better thinking, better communication and better business decisions.

Looking in the Mirror

What’s more, you can do the same thing internally. Instead of challenging or editing, ask:

  • Why did you use that particular phrase?
  • Why do you think that’s the right platform for this contest?
  • Why do you think a contest is the right tactic for this objective?
  • Why do you think we should be on Pinterest?

Build a team culture where asking “why” is the norm, and you’re well on your way to building a high-performance organization.

Image credit: [F]oxymoron

Welcome to the Content Marketing Revolution

This post was originally published on LeadingCompany, a blog covering how Australia’s top leaders are changing the marketing landscape.

While corporate gets hung up on the tactical aspects of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, the real action is bubbling beneath the surface.

For many it’s not as sexy as the social technology platforms we hear about and see in the media every day but it’s equally powerful. Indeed, it’s the ‘secret sauce’ – the fuel that keeps the social web cranking along at breakneck speed.

I’m talking about content and how it can be used to keep your brand connected to the people who matter most to your business, cause or issue – how it can help organisations to:

  • Attract Attention
  • Gain respect
  • Build trust

… with longer-term goal of generating leads and ultimately growing sales revenue. (And let’s face it, which brands don’t want to tick those boxes?).

Emerging from Social Shadows

While we’re (finally) starting to take the notion of social media more seriously here in Australia, in the US the concept of ‘content marketing’ has emerged from the social shadows and is set to explode.

The creation, sharing (and in some instances, curation) of content is becoming a cornerstone marketing activity for many major brands and fast-growth companies.

Strategic Intent

Content can include everything from videos, podcasts, e-books, white papers and case studies through to blog posts, infographics, webinars, microblogging (Twitter), online news releases, mobile phone apps and interactive newsrooms. Used effectively and with strategic intent, content marketing is a powerful means of reaching and engaging with current and potential customers, media and other influencers.

The irony, however, is that despite its huge growth, content marketing is not exactly new. Videos, hard-copy newsletters and custom-published magazines – all corporate communication tools that have been around for years – can be considered content.

Why the sudden interest in content as a cornerstone marketing strategy?

Blame (or more importantly, thank!) the emergence of the social web.

Distribution Channels

Today, any person, company or organisation can establish its own online TV show (vodcast), radio station (podcast) or web-based magazine (blog), while social networking tools such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook serve as effective and powerful two-way content distribution channels.

Think about it for a moment. Let the concept percolate a bit – swill it around in your mind.

At the risk of repeating myself, we can now communicate directly with the people who matter most to the success of our business – and we can do it with a degree of scale and intensity of connection we’ve not been able to do before. I might also add: cost-effectively and in real-time.

This presents massive opportunities for companies and organisations to bypass the traditional ‘gatekeepers’ – journalists and editors – and engage directly with their constituents.

Empathy and Respect

But this opportunity comes with a caveat – several, actually.

Content marketing is not a sales pitch. Have empathy for your audience. Treat them with respect.

Create compelling content that’s interesting, relevant and worthwhile to your audience: it’s about them, not you.

Solve problems experienced by your audience (add value); tap into the experts in your company (hidden assets); provide credible information (without selling); and shine the spotlight on your customers (take a back seat).

Content marketing can be a powerful strategy. Get involved, but use it cleverly and respectfully … and reap the benefits!

Image credit: Rafael Peñaloza

Facebook Timeline Overview Infographic

This post was originally published on the blog of Edelman Canada.

Lately the internet has been buzzing with the word Timeline. Personal pages have been using it for a little while now, but as of March 30th all pages will implement the Timeline layout, and the residual changes that come with it. Using one of our clients, Starbucks, as an example, we’ve developed an infographic that sums up some of the important changes and features of Timeline, and serves to answer some of the questions floating around about what it all means.

Ultimately the introduction of Timeline will mark a shift in the way brands use their Facebook page and engage with the community. Visually stimulating content will be more important than ever, something particularly exciting to a designer like me.

We encourage you to download, read, and share our insights on the new Facebook Timeline.

Click image for full size (opens in a new window)


*Starbucks is an Edelman client.

Friday Five: 5 Things to Know about Timeline for Brands

Shortly after Facebook’s f8 announcement about its new Timeline profile format, people were already speculating when brand Pages would undergo the same changes. We’ve since seen countless articles speculating exactly what the implications of Timeline for Pages would be, and most importantly how Timeline would be used.

Facebook unveiled Timeline for Pages last week, along with a number of equally important product and platform upgrades.

Here are FIVE key things you need to know about the new brand Page format:

1. The Timeline

Timeline for Pages serves the same purpose it does for personal profiles – it tells your story. How little or much you wish to share is up to you, but it’s important to consider what your friends or fans would be interested in seeing. Content that is emotive tends to do well, so leveraging key milestones and dates of your life and your community is suggested, particularly when highlighted in a unique, creative way. There is a heavy emphasis on visual storytelling as photo albums appear more prominently in the timeline, and select images or posts can be “starred” and expanded across the entire width of the timeline.

Additionally, your connections’ interactions with a brand now populate that brand’s Timeline. Users can have a more relevant and personal experience by being able to see how their friends are engaging.

2. Cover and Profile Images

The cover image is one of the first things your fans will see. However, Facebook has emphasized that that space is NOT be used for promotions, call to actions, or advertising, so keep that in mind as you create your cover photo and develop an engagement strategy.

3. Say Good-Bye To Default Landing Tabs

Customized landing tabs have been used in many ways on brand Pages, but have most commonly been used as default landing pages to drive new “likes” and give new users a “controlled” first experience. It also usually included some sort of incentivized call to action that instructed users to “like” the Page to get exclusive content.

With the elimination of this feature, brands can now reposition tabs at the top of the timeline to highlight those they want their followers to engage with and then use regular content updates to draw attention to those tabs. The only way you can create a default landing tab is to invest in Facebook ads with the custom tab as the URL.

4. The Pin is IN

You can now pin a post so it appears as the first post people see for seven days. After that, it will be pushed down the timeline as other content is added. Pinning content on Facebook allows brands to keep popular posts top of mind and prevents them from getting lost in the conversation.

This allows brands to highlight important or campaign-specific content and ensure a higher level of visibility for this content. A weekly content strategy will become more important in order to full maximize this feature.

This will also change the way you set up your editorial calendar. While some manage their content “on the fly,” this requires more in-depth content strategy to create a balance of daily content and specific pinned posts that are the most likely to receive high levels of engagement from a brand’s audience. Pinning an item at the top of your feed might be important to you if you want to draw attention to a tab that normally you would’ve had as default. Additionally, all pinned posts can be geotargeted, allowing for more localized content, which will hopefully turn into more engagement.

Here’s a screenshot of The New York Times’ Timeline with Pinned Posts highlighted:

New york times facebook

5. It’s About Engagement

Several changes to the admin panel support the notion that success on Facebook will be brought on by creating engaging, smart content rather than simply launching classic advertising campaigns. Fans of Pages can now interact with the Page through private messages. Though you can no longer restrict your wall view to show only posts from the Page, you can now manually approve every post from fans before they are published.

If you click the “likes” tab on any brand timeline Page, you’ll see more public analytics than before:

stats

This increased access to analytics assists with determining how your brand’s Page stacks up against its competitors. Additionally, it continues the trend of emphasizing overall engagement on a Page as opposed to strictly qualitative data such as the number of “Likes” a Page has amassed.

The screenshot above is for Subway, and this example of Page metrics for a location are a little different than a brand in that they include total number of photos tagged at that location, most visited week, and largest party (highest number of people who checked into a place at a single time).

There are still a number of other new changes that are being rolled out on the Facebook platform, but the overall takeaway is that your brand or organization needs to commit to storytelling of past, present, and future as the most effective way to see success on Facebook. Visually compelling content and effective storytelling will always win out over static broadcasting.

These changes go into effect for all brand Pages on March 30, but many brands have already made the switch. When will your brand?

Image credit: niallkennedy

Trust Barometer and Its Implications for Social Media

This post studies the implications for social media as revealed in the 2012 Trust Barometer, focusing on specific examples for businesses in Australia. The post was originally published on the Edelman Australia blog.

The Trust Barometer findings presents interesting implications for businesses in the area of social media. Below are four aspects of the report that we thought are worth highlighting that should help justify an increased spend in the area of social for your business or organisation.

Listening to Customer Needs and Feedback

Expectations-for-business

As the above graphic highlights, listening to customer needs and providing feedback is the best way to build trust among the general public in Australia. Social media is one of the most effective ways to do this. If you are not listening and responding to the conversations occurring in the social space around your brand you may be missing one of the most effective ways to grow your brand’s or organisation’s trust.

CEOs are Least Trusted Company Spokespeople

CEO-vs-People-Like-me

Trust in CEOs as a company spokesperson has fallen, whilst ‘a person like me’ has risen. This is an ongoing trend that the Trust Barometer has been highlighting for some years. Community managers and normal employees speaking on behalf of organisations in social media are an effective way of building trust in your brand, especially in times of crisis.

Limiting your spokespeople to handful of very senior people is not the most effective way to build trust.  The days of control communication are over. Open up your communication channels so a wide range of ordinary employees can speak on behalf of your your brand within social media. Of course that is not to say training and governance for people commenting on your brand/organisation in social media is not necessary.

Trust in Social Media as a Credible Source of Information has Doubled

Growth-in-social-media-trust

Social media as a trusted source of information about a company has consistently risen over recent years. The 13% above are people that listed the fact they trust information they find about a company on social media ‘a great deal’. It does not mean that 87% of people don’t trust information they read about a company within social media.

If you haven’t already, the time to take the jump is here. People are on social media researching your company and are trusting what they read. If you aren’t present you are missing an opportunity to influence and grow trust.

Repetition Overcomes Skepticism

Repitition-overcomes-skepticism

Australians need to be exposed to the same message multiple times before they will trust the information. If you are simply relying on traditional channels you are missing opportunities to repeat your message.

Social media is one of the most cost effective means of communicating frequently. Take advantage of it.

What are Your Thoughts?

Does the above make sense, does it align with your experience of implementing social media and growing trust within your organisation?

Image credit: nixter

How To Be A Social Media Self-Righteous Jerk

This post was originally published on David Armano’s blog Logic + Emotion.

The scale below shows the many stages one has to go through in order to become a bona fide self-righteous jerk in social media. Still, there are many people who aspire to reach this peak, but fall short in executing against it. Given this observation, I thought it would be worthwhile to piece together a few best practices which will ensure your status as a social media self-righteous jerk (or SMSRJ). In no particular order:

1. Join The Klout Gestapo

All social media SMSRJ’s know that Klout is simply evil incarnate and requires a organized force to take on this evil axis of influence wherever it resides. A true SMSRJ will never-ever create a Klout profile and lash out against anyone who dares do so. If Klout is the Devil, then Klout Perks is the Devil’s spawn. Perks are to be shunned, banished and those who recieve them should be branded with a scarlet “K”.

2. Unfollow Offensive Twitter Followers In Public

Only seekers un-follow people or companies who they no longer derive value from quietly. It is the true SMSRJ who announces it out loud in some fashion or another. Tactics here can range from a thinly veiled post or an all out campaign. Make sure you get a few social media gurus on your side to link to your public posts and shout your discontent from the rooftops. A SMSRJ really knows how to make a public spectacle of their personal dissatisfaction.

3. Target Social Media Gurus

While on the topic of social media gurus, ignore the fact that while almost no true social media gurus actually call themselves that—they are the conduit to becoming a guru yourself. Take them down, one by one. Call them social media gurus every chance you get. Make sure all your social networks know you are doing real work. Tweets like “I’m still at the office knee deep in spreadsheets” will establish your credibility as a non guru. On your non-guru social media blog, write at least one post a month taking on a clearly identified guru in any subject you wish to establish authority in. If you’re really lucky, they might even link to you.

4. Analyze Social Media Influencer Lists

A new social media influencer list comes out about once a week. Make sure you find them and when you do, interrogate the creator on their methodology. Be sure to use your own made up metrics to throw them off the fact that you’re actually upset that you’re not on the list. 

5. Use The #Humblebrag Hash Tag At Will

If it looks like a humblebrag and acts like one—it’s a humblebrag and any SMSRJ has the responsibility to use the hash tag to combat this perverse social media behavior. After a few good uses, be sure to celebrate on your next vacation by relentlessly publishing pictures of beaches, mountains and gourmet food on Facebook. Hey, everybody’s doing it #humblebrag.

6. Take Up The Cause Against Personal Brands & Corporate Cheerleaders

A true SMSRJ creates social media feeds which reek of authenticity. However, shameless promoters are out there at every corner. They need to be dealt with. Let them know when their personal brands have gotten out of control. Or even worse, if they talk about their jobs and promote the companies who support their families. Take a zero tolerance stance pointing out that neither is acceptable. A handful of SMSRJ’s have even built successful personal brands pointing out how dangerous personal brands really are. Learn from this and you too can be internet famous in an ethical, respectable and admired fashion.

7. Call Out The Book Promoters

Let’s face it. Every author out there is using social media to promote their books. Unacceptable. Out them, blacklist them and once you have enough material to write a book yourself, make sure you mention your book in one out of every five social media posts. Just enough to promote it, but not enough to arise suspicion from non-author SMSRJ’s.

8. Engage (And Let Everyone Know How Engaging You Are)

So many people are out there using social media as a broadcast channel—they never even talk to anyone else. Blasphemy! Make sure that you spend most of your activity engaging with others. Make sure they know you’re engaging them. Remind them to engage back. Engage to the point where you risk work deadlines or real world relationships. Social media requires sacrifice. Bring your offerings to the alter of engagement and make sure everyone knows it.

9. Embrace Two Colors: Black And White

Nuance is for the weak. The SMSRJ sees only two shades—black and white, right and wrong. There is only one way to do social media right—see steps 1-8 for instruction.

10. Direct Your Energy Toward The Unenlightened

Spend the majority of your time watching others. Obsess over their social media habits and dissect their transgressions. It takes ten thousand hours to perfect any craft and this goes double for the committed SMSRJ. Don’t be distracted by your own initiatives but stay focused on what others do and allow their behavior to drive your mission in social media—to rectify social media injustices around the world.

*This post designed to make you think. Social media guru not required.

Image credit: MattersOfGrey

The Implications of Paywalls – SEO & Social Sharing

As the media world continues to evolve with new communication platforms, traditional outlets are increasingly making the transition to digital resulting in a shift in user consumption behavior. While the significance of print media is diminishing, the robust environment of digital content creation and sharing has driven search to become a major player in terms of media power.

Social media now plays a huge role in how we search for content, with the unveiling of Google’s Search Plus Your World proving that web search engine is not just serving index search results but increasingly based on personal preference and social history. Content that sits behind a paywall and thus cannot be shared out is missing a chance to strength SEO as it is lowering the opportunity for discovery as it inhibits the ease of social sharing.

But You Didn’t Charge Me Before?!

As consumers, for years we grown accustomed to the fact that many online information points do not normally charge us for their service. Instead of buying a magazine for a product review many consumers will turn to trusted blog source for advice or opinion pieces. This said, there is still a line between ‘freebie’ content and the value of something you should pay for. In recent Forbes article: ‘No you can’t pick my brain, it costs too much’, a blogger spells out why it is not fair that “people automatically assume that you have to provide information for free”.

This raises the question, should we be paying for information we once paid for when offline? And if so, what must these companies do to convince us that the content is worth paying for? We have seen an increasing amount of content move online: novels going straight to e-books, national newspapers increasing their digital presence, most magazine articles ending with an obligatory ‘read more online’ and other media channels such as TV and radio moving continuously towards onto online streaming and downloading.

We cannot deny that the digital world is currently our oyster in terms of internet browsing, but if so much content is moving online, how long can we expect it to be given away for free? If more sites do start charging for their content, what does this mean in terms of user engagement and consumption?

Thoughts from the Crowd

To get a sense of what people thought about the implications of paywalls I asked the people of Twitter what they thought and the response was a rather mixed one: Edelman colleague @LukeMackay said “paywalls aren’t the problem. Users need to be convinced of the value of the content then the experience has to be easy (e.g. iTunes).” Another example of a successful pay-for-content method is Spotify, whereby users are offered content tiers and can pick which specifically suits them.

Fellow digital friend @marcelloalessi said he’d happily pay but not, say, for a whole issue when I’m interested in one particular article. Micro-payments would help.” It appears that many don’t mind paying for content if it is exclusive, easy to access and they are given a level of choice to how much or little content they sign up for.

On the other hand, social media marketer @ChelseyJo made the point that “If people have to pay, they will look elsewhere to get it for free. Might as well keep them on your page.” This raises the point that user engagement should be valued as much as the hard cash.

Exclusive Content

The only way in which paying for content makes sense is if the content is exclusive or you are paying for something that you can’t easily get anyway else. For example, a customer would not buy a book and if they had already read parts of it elsewhere for free. Paywalls work for people who have a particular individual they follow (such as Caitlin Moran’s articles for The Times) which asks the question whether users are following sites based on the overall content, or individual contributors. Due to individuals really making their mark online by freely publishing their content in other places as well as the traditional media houses, the ‘value’ or exclusivity of content on a specific websites may be down to the byline of the author, not the website itself.

Edelman colleague Marshall Manson made a similar point on the Edelman podcast ‘SOPA & content rights’ that discusses how the information marketplace is changing. He gave the example that if business editor Robert Peston was to move elsewhere from the BBC, he would probably continue following his posts, as it is Peston’s own POV that brings the value. This suggests that individuals can now publish their own content and amass their own followings independent of the organization that used to pull in the audiences.

We Create Content Too!

An issue that comes hand in hand with paywalling content is the fact that as individuals we co-create, share and are often the inspiration behind content. Take Huffington Post bloggers for example; these bloggers go unpaid, however are a main source of content providers. Clay Shirky’s TED Talk on ‘why SOPA is a bad idea’ brings up the issue that comes with bills such as PIPA: ‘we don’t like only to consume…. We like to produce and we like to share’. Paywalls inhibit the consumers’ right to share and produce. This puts a barrier up between ‘site’ and ‘user’ and does not allow for any sort of collaboration or sharing. These media sites are therefore missing out of opportunities for users to be carriers of the content and to share with their wider networks.

It’s All About Engagement

The key issue with paywalls is that it inhibits the natural instinct for users to share what they have read. Reading something and then wanting to pass it on is a key part of how people behave online, not to mention increasing engagement levels via organic user activity. Clicking on links on social networks that have paywalls may end up deterring users from clicking on that particular site again. ‘Sharing’ is a metric that is being monitored with greater frequency, the ‘share’ button on Facebook has just as much, if not more kudos on Facebook as the ‘like’ button on wall posts. ‘Sharing’ means getting further into the users newsfeeds. In terms of Twitter, millions of links are shared daily and studies show that links are shortlived showing that links in fact have a “half life of 2.8 hours.”

The social media editors of paywalled sites are also changing their online engagement strategy. Instead of being able to share best content with all readers, Chris Snider makes the point that they have to start acting ‘more like marketers than journalists’ as they try to convince the community to pay for the content instead of just sharing engaging tweets.

Image credit: Allanran 917

Writing Content for Search Engines

This post originally appeared on Social Web Thing as Part Three in a series exploring search engine optimization and content creation. Part Two can be found here.

This post is the third and final in my series looking at writing content for search engines. With a break from the previous format and to bring the series to its conclusion, I’ve written in more depth about less topics in this post and it contains some tips to consider, rather than immediately act upon. Nonetheless, I’m confident the issues covered will provide PRs with food for thought.

Incidentally, it seems fitting that in the middle of penning this guide, the BBC’s Rory Cellan Jones asked if mastering Google’s search algorithm and Wikipedia’s editing system are essential skills for the modern PR executive or lobbyist? Rory is nearly right. A solid grasp of search and an understanding of how to go about ethically editing a Wikipedia entry are two attributes in the ever-expanding digital skill-set. Whilst, these are standard skills for digital PRs, I’m unconvinced if they will become more widely adopted.

However, it’s hugely significant that Cellan Jones mentioned both Google and Wikipedia. They are interlinked. If Google is the first place people go to search, then Wikipedia is often the first thing people find. And I remember back in 2008 Stephen Davies proclaimed Google as ‘your new corporate homepage.’

Understand the Long Tail

To really make the best use of keywords and search budget, you need to understand the Long Tail. Ian Lurie, CEO of Portent hits the nail on the head when he describes the Long Tail as: “specific, niche search phrases, usually more than 2 words in length, that offer a low competition, low search volume and high searcher intent.” In short, it makes good business sense to understand and focus on Long Tail keywords to increase search visibility. There are several reasons for this.

  • Firstly, the couple of keywords you aspire to rank #1 for are likely to be very competitive and therefore more expensive.
  • Secondly, Long Tail searches are more specific and the lower volume actually adds up to a larger figure than the Short Tail – a widely quoted statistic from SEOMOZ says Long Tail comprises 70% of all search queries.
  • Thirdly, given the descriptive nature of Long Tail phrases, they often convert better into sales as people know exactly what they are searching for e.g. ‘jacket with red stripes’ is much more specific than just ‘jacket’.

Recognise the growing relationship between social and search

For the last couple of years we’ve been hearing about the impact social media is going to have on search results. The starting pistol to deepen the relationship was fired when Tweets began appearing in Google results and Facebook ‘Likes’ on Bing, but Google’s recent ‘Search Plus Your World’ which integrates normal search results with content that has been shared on Google+ represents the biggest convergence of social and search to date.

The full impact of Google+ on search is yet to be felt, but this play by Google shows the definition of search (or at least what it encompasses) is expanding. Future SEO campaigns will need to be more social with a focus on great content, as well as incorporating traditional (perhaps fundamental is more apt) search techniques, such as page names, meta tags, headings, anchor text etc.

Social is important for search as it provides the most natural platform for humans to link, vote, and endorse content and its inclusion into search algorithms adds a layer of human verification that is more difficult to game, resulting in better results for users, as Google continue their search for the perfect search engine.

Image credit: MoneyBlogNewz

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