Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Small Organisation and the Social Media Part Six: Small Business SEO

Whilst not directly relevant to the social media, a strong understanding of SEO can, when implemented alongside a well thought out online presence, help to enhance the overall visibility of the organisation. Still considered by many to be a form of 'black magic', SEO has the capacity to significantly raise the number of leads obtained through a website by helping to ensure that the site in question places highly in the organic search results returned by the major search engines. Whilst appropriate development of an SEO strategy is an ongoing process, there are a handful of simple techniques which, if approached thoughtfully, can significantly raise the visibility of your site.

Be Content in your Content
Intelligent implementation of SEO knowledge can give a site a much needed boost in overall search engine visibility. Careful consideration of the site's composition; both in terms of content and design, can help search engines to more appropriately categorise the site. By ensuring that themes and subjects are clearly conveyed, the likelihood of the site appearing for relevant search queries increases significantly.

When developing content, it is important to understand those keywords that are most relevant to the business. Keywords are the basis for sound SEO, and without an understanding of how these words and phrases influence the business, it becomes near impossible to develop appropriate content. When developing a list of business relevant keywords, be aware of customer perceptions of both the organisation and the brand. Ask yourself whether internal and external brand perceptions match up. If not, then arguably the organisation should use external brand perceptions as the basis for its keyword selection; after all, it is almost certainly these keywords that will enable the customer to actually locate the business.

The Power of Keywords
Tools such as the Keyword Tool from Google AdWords enable search volumes for user defined words and phrases to be established whilst returning a list of additional keywords that may be relevant to the business. As an aside, I would recommend installing Google Analytics; a useful website reporting tool which can help to esablish how users have located the site. This tool can provide a number of useful insights into the site's performance, at no additional cost to the organisation. Each of these tools will empower the organisation to locate the keywords that are both relevant to the business, and likely to draw attention from the customer. These insights will also help in the subsequent development of a PPC campaign, should the organisation choose to engage in search engine marketing in the future.

Optimising the Site
By establishing a number of business relevant keywords, the organisation can begin to optimise the site. Through appropriate incorporation of keywords in both the content and the page's construction, the website's author can help the search engine spidering software to categorize the content of the page. Keywords should appear naturally in the text. As these keywords should naturally represent the business in which the organisation is involved, content should be developed to honestly and openly inform the user. Whilst this process will almost certainly occur organically, inserting the most relevant keywords into the page's composition is likely to prove more mechanical. Despite many of the major search engines attributing less significance now to page elements such as the meta description than was once the case, it is still advisable to include the keywords in the URL and the meta tags; including the meta description, the page titles and the meta keywords. Whilst these elements will not guarantee front page performance for the site, they will almost certainly facilitate the categorisation thereof.

SEO and the Social Media
The development of a social media presence is without doubt one of the more advisable methods for drawing attention to the organisation, though as we have seen over the course of the past week, resource constraints can impede an organisation's capacity to fully realise this goal. As social media best practice dictates that content should remain fresh, relevant and informative, producing social content is actually one of the more obvious means of improving site performance. Each of the major search engines associates regular content creation with site quality, thus the more regularly a page is updated, the greater the quality attributed by the search engines. As I suggested in opening, when employed alongside an ongoing social media strategy, intelligent SEO can help the organisation to achieve significant search visibility.

Is SEO unethical? That's clearly a subject for debate; a post for another day perhaps. What I would suggest though is that SEO is, by design, a means of drawing attention to information of relevance. Each of the major search engines has evolved to counter those more questionable SEO tactics, penalising the websites of those deemed to be 'gaming the system'. Whatever your stance on SEO, a simple awareness of how your site is composed can significantly increase the visibility of your site.

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Small Organisation and the Social Media Part Five; Online Awareness

When initiating a social presence, it is important that the organisation posesses a degree of knowledge about online perceptions of both the brand and the industry. The development of an uninformed strategy may result in the inappropriate allocation of resources, which in turn will almost certainly result in social media failure. This is true of both large and small organisations, and online research should comprise one of the core elements of any ongoing social media strategy. Whilst the task may appear daunting at first glance, many tools exist which have been designed to facilitate social awareness, allowing social media strategists to draw value from the 'cesspool of misinformation' that is the Internet.

Navigating the Maze
When looking to draw an understanding from the content available online, it is first necessary to recognize where references to both the brand and the industry are appearing. As user generated content causes the Internet to expand, the capacity of an individual or team to manually monitor this information would appear to be greatly impeded. In order to successfully navigate this content, references to specific terms need to be identified in the online sphere. As with traditional content, the easiest way to do this is to initiate a search. Whilst the prospect of monitoring each of the terms relevant to the business may seem like a significant undertaking, the ease with which specific phrases and keywords can be identified is surprisingly easy.

Whilst many of the generic search tools such as Google and MSN Live Search establishing the mood of relevant online conversations, their scope is often too broad. More specialised social media specific tools will almost certainly enable the organisation to glean a more accurate, and digestable, insight into the online conversation. Many of the more commonly used social search tools offer an insight into blogged and microblogged conversations.

Searching the Sphere
Google Blog Search and Technorati are two of the more commonly used blog searching facilities. Enabling users to search the blogosphere for terms relevant to both the organisation and the industry, these tools represent an efficient means of trawling user generated content for information of interest; whether this interest be positive or negative. The incorporation of RSS functionality means that users can have search results automatically delivered to their browsers. Whilst this functionality does not exclude the need to digest the content, it is often a good indication of online opinions at a given point in time. For those that continue to monitor the results obtained on an ongoing basis, these tools can also help to highlight blogs with a particular interest in either the organisation or their products, thereby illustrating social commentators of organisational significance; a useful insight in anyone's eyes. For those looking to obtain an insight into microblog conversations, Twitter Search offers similar functionality for obtaining an insight into the Twitter platform.

The Power of Insight
Whilst search tools such as those described above do not replace the need to manually scan the content for material that may damage the organisation, they can provide a number of useful insights into important brand perception considerations; including level of brand visibility, degree of brand relevancy, and the context in which the organisation's name is appearing. Used in conjunction with tools such as Google Alerts, a service which delivers an alert to the recipient's email to advise of new content containing a set word or keyphrase, the organisation is far better prepared to proactively develop an appropriate social media strategy.

There will invariaby be those who question the need for the small organisation to monitor the social media. This attitude is naive. Attempts to enter the social media will almost certainly draw comments from the community. Unfortunately for the organisation, the opposite is not true; an organisational absence from the social media does not necessarily mean that conversations concerning the brand will not apper online. Assume the worst. Monitor the social media and shape your strategy accordingly.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Small Organisation and the Social Media Part Four; Bringing Attention to the Presence

Whilst social bookmarking and micro blogging are two of the more practical community enhancing tools available to small businesses facing resource constraints, these efforts will prove meaningless if the organisation is not brought to the attention of consumers. As these businesses will, more often than not, lack a strong recognizable brand, the onus is upon the organisation to direct attention towards themselves. This is often easier said than done, and with ever increasing numbers of organisations vying for the attention of the consumer, the process quickly becomes resource intensive; if carried out ineffectively.

The New Media
One of the greatest assets of the social media lies within the very communities that comprise its number. As a relatively young media, knowledge surrounding this area is still very much the subject of debate. Community based knowledge development is common, and even the most prolific of social commentators are willing to both educate and be educated on the societal implications of the platforms unfolding before our very eyes. Relevant, informative contributions are actively encouraged, and many of the most popular social tools have incorporated comprehensive feedback systems so that two way conversation is facilitated.

Developing Together
How do user generated contributions help to drive awareness; by enabling users to demonstrate their insight into a given subject. As many articles within the social media actively promote community based knowledge development through comment, retweet and reply functionality, the introduction of useful insights help to enhance the debate instigated by the original post. As these social contributions routinely encourage content ownership, replying to the posts of others can represent one of the more viable methods of establishing oneself, or one's organisation, as a field expert.

Promoting the Presence
Admittedly, resource constraints can restrict an organisation's capacity to actively go out into the community and to establish itself as an expert. As such, the need to efficiently monitor the online environment is of paramount importance; a theme which I will be examining later this week. Whilst these constraints may prevent the organisation from establishing a presence to the extent which they might otherwise achieve, we should remember that strategic, well thought out efforts to engage the community will be acknowledged. Tools such as Twitter have, as previously discussed, enabled the community to draw value from the tweets contained therein. Retweets and other methods of echoing sentiment have enabled the community to decide where value does and doesn't lie. By ensuring the creation and distribution of relevant content, these tools have effectively enabled the organisation to employ the community as an extension of their own promotional strategy. Not bad given that all parties have gained from the exchange.

As awareness builds, the community may begin to enhance the organisation's own promotional efforts. As such, the importance of directing attention quickly becomes obvious. Thing is, this can only be carried out effectively if the organisation is aware of what's actually going on out there... Thanks for reading.


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Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Small Organisation and the Social Media Part Three; Microblogging

Blogs are a fantastic means of engaging the community. Enabling the author to regularly convey messages to an audience of interested recipients, the blog has quickly become one of the tools most readily associated with the social media. As most bloggers will tell you, whilst the blog has the capacity to help you achieve significant levels of recognition in your chosen field, the time and effort required to generate attention is a significant obligation. In order to gain and retain the attention of the online community, the blog must become a living breathing entity that develops progressively. As we discussed earlier in the week, our worsening economy has ensured that the importance of efficient resource allocation is paramount. As resources are increasingly diverted towards ensuring the simple day to day survival of the business, can the creation and maintenance of a blog really be justified? Perhaps not in the traditional sense…

Interest in micro blogging has grown significantly since the development of Twitter in 2006. The premise is simple; users post microblogs of 140 characters in length in response to the question 'What are you doing?'. As interest in Twitter has grown, the community has taken the development thereof upon themselves, shifting the focus of the posts from 'What are you doing?' to 'What will benefit the Community?'. This subtle shift is most notably visible through the number of tweets highlighting external articles of interest for the perusal of the community.

Headlining the Social Media
Though seemingly less immersive at first glance, micro blog posts have proven their value time and again in the few years since the introduction of the format. Intelligent use of the 140 character limit has led to the service adopting a ‘headline’ type appearance, whereby users post a miniature URL alongside a post designed to draw the attention of users. Used in collaboration with more standardized 140 character ‘tweets’; the Twitter term for a post, headlines have facilitated the sharing of knowledge throughout the community. Through this format, micro blogging has quickly enabled the proactive organization to establish itself as an authority within a given field.

Micro Blogging for the Business
How can small businesses adopt these practices? Simple. Small businesses can use micro blogging to highlight areas of both organisational and industry level interest. The number of these tweets needn't be excessive, perhaps ten to twenty in volume per day, and can simply draw attention to both internal and external sources of information; whether these be blog posts, articles or industry reports. The beauty of the tweet is that the organisation needn't feel obliged to produce significant volumes of new content on a regular basis. Whilst the production of new content should always be encouraged, for those organisations with limited resources, micro blogging can represent a more viable means of regularly engaging the community. Alongside these headlines, the organisation can insert tweets relevant to the business, thereby enhancing business familiarity whilst firmly associating the organisation with a specific product category.

Whilst social bookmarking and microblogging have the capacity to enhance feelings of community surrounding the organisation, before any of this is possible attention must be drawn to the existence of the organisation, and that's the theme for tomorrow's post.

Thanks for reading.


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The Small Organisation and the Social Media Part Two; Social Bookmarking

Yesterday, I discussed the small organisation and the social media, explaining that many proactive entrepreneurs may actually be causing greater harm than good to their organisation by devoting too many of their resources towards engaging the conversation. Though admirable, the development of an emersive social media presence can require a significant investment of both time and resources; both of which have become scarce as the economy has worsened. Should smaller businesses be discouraged from engaging the social media in favour of more business crucial functions, such as production and distribution? Again, this is likely to be debatable. As the ease with which a social presence can be created increases though, the opportunity for even the smallest of organisations to engage their customers through these tools and platforms rises similarly. They just need to plan their presence strategically.

Forget the Social Media Checklist!
As I discussed several months back, there is no such thing as a social media checklist; organisations should simply adopt those tools and platforms most appropriate to their individual needs. Blogs, microblogs and fan pages are only worth the investment if your customers are actively engaging these tools themselves, or if it is probable that they will adopt them at some stage in the future. Those that advise that a blog is imperative, or that a Facebook fanpage cannot be ignored are unrealistic; and given the current importance of resource allocation in the workplace, these suggestions can in fact result in negative repercussions. Is there a place for these tools in small businesses? Without question. What i'm trying to emphasise here though, is that these tools are never obligatory. Small businesses need to be intelligent about the tools which they select.

Community Development and Social Bookmarking
There are several simple steps which the smaller organisation can take in order to establish a sense of community around their products and brands; a number of which will be examined over the coming days here at the Lovable Rogue blog. The most obvious first step for community development involves implementing tagging buttons at the bottom of webpages of interest. Pages that provide an insight into either the organisation's products or industry may prove interesting to the customer base, some of whom may wish to share the content with their friends and acquaintances.

Sharing is Caring
The simple inclusion of a StumbleUpon, Digg or button can quickly introduce an element of interactivity to even the most basic of webpages. With tools such as the fantastic AddThis from Clearspring, the introduction of comprehensive social bookmarking functionality has never been easier. Whilst platforms such as these facilitate the development of community around the organisation, the resources required to maintain these functions are comparatively low. In fact, the organisation's sole obligation is to ensure that content on the site remains informative and relevant to the user. With all things considered though, this is a goal towards which the organisation should already be working.

Social Bookmarking is but one of the methods for establishing an online community around a small business. Tomorrow's post will examine microblogging, highlighting that whilst your small organisation may not have time to actively engage in the creation of a comprehensive blog, the introduction of microblogging platforms such as Twitter may offer an alternative solution. Thanks for reading.


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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Small Organisation and the Social Media

We are all aware of the critical importance of creating an active presence in the conversation. As our society becomes increasingly interconnected; a result of ever more engaging communications technologies, the need for organisations to create a presence within the resultant conversation has quickly emerged as a vital prerequisite for contemporary business success. Discussions concerning the social media presence have, to date, examined the issue primarily from the perspective of the large organisation. Whilst these online discussions provide a fantastic resource from which to craft an organisational social media strategy for the larger firm, time and resource constraints will almost certainly prevent the smaller organisation from adopting such an immersive strategy. It's time to consider the little guy.

The Social Obligation
Anyone who has developed an active presence within the social media will recognise the significant investment of time and effort required to succeed within the field. Efforts to remain relevant are ongoing, and those that fail to constantly engage their audience can find their subsequent efforts significantly affected. Such efforts often represent a full time commitment, particularly where brand monitoring efforts are concerned, and many social media commentators suggest that creating a presence is more an obligation than an option for those looking to protect their brand online. In the past, noteworthy bloggers such as Jacob Morgan have made the assessment that organisations need to consider employing their own Social Media Department in order to appropriately address the issue; a sentiment mirrored by many others in the field. The difficulties associated with creating an organisational presence raises the obvious concern; what happens to those organisations that hardly have the resources to spare?

Allocating Success
As the economy continues to worsen, owners of small businesses are increasingly having to make life altering decisions concerning the allocation of resources, both human and material. Many such organisations scarcely have the resources available to continue operating efficiently, let alone to engage the customer in conversation. With the introduction of the conversation as a crucial element for business success, I fear that many proactive entrepreneurs will engage the social media in an attempt to remain relevant within the minds of their customers. In the absense of suitably available resources, such an approach, whilst admirable, may prove catastrophic to the business, causing attention to be diverted away from the core actions required to continue driving the business forward.

It's Social Media; Only Smaller...!
Can smaller organisations afford to ignore the social media in favour of more specific action? Well, that's an interesting topic for debate. We should remember though that the social media has enabled organisations to engage the customer like never before. As these tools becoming ever more user friendly, the ease of establishing a degree of community based presence rises proportionately. Over the coming days, I will be examining a number of the solutions available to smaller businesses, emphasising that the social media need not detract from the day to day running of the business. The first of these will examine Social Bookmarking.

In the mean time, I would love to hear of your experiences of small businesses employing the social media, and how these have affected their operations; whether these experiences were positive or negative. For now, thanks for reading, and I hope to see you back here later in the week.


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