With your closest friends, is social media a wonder or a wedge?

Photo by Mark Singleton

When I counsel my Internet Marketing clients on starting their social media efforts in support of their business, I tell them unless they have a team at the ready, they should pick just a couple sites and “go deep.” In that I mean, it’s better to create just a Facebook and Twitter account and excel at engaging your audience and providing them value rather than set up half a dozen sites and not have the ability to keep them maintained and fresh. Then it occurred to me. That same guideline rings true for your friends. I am 46 years old and have a pretty wide swath of friends I know and keep in occasional touch with. But with the emergence of the web as a social interaction tool, it seems far too easy to let your friendship communication slide into the lax mode of just the occasional Facebook comment, brief Tweet or “Thumbs up.”

The media seems to be covering more and more of this effect. The effect that people may be even more isolated and alone yet unknowingly maintain a facade that they have 126 friends on social media and so that must mean they have a thriving personal life And support structure. But most of us know that when it comes to really personal things and not-so-happy events occurring in our lives, social media just doesn’t seem the right place to get help and support. I had had an old school buddy that shared his upcoming marriage breakup and subsequent custody challenges on his Facebook account. Though I found the news heart breaking, I also felt I couldn’t offer him any help and that maybe he shouldn’t throw such personal tragedies out via that medium. Then,  of course, that could just be me.

But as I see social media giving the impression of virtual friends, I feel we are better off holding on to a few close friends and really connecting with them. Pick up the phone and call them, set up a time to meet and grab some grub, but stay genuinely focused and engaged with those who you feel closest to. It’s far too easy to let online communication place a veil over what makes us happy when we really take time to share with one another. It means so much more to both parties when you do it by voice or eye to eye, rather than some text quickly tapped out while stopped at a red light.

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The Dark Side of Social Media

A lot is said these days about the wonderful, all-powerful and amazing things that social media can do for us all. From Facebook connections, to tweeting the latest news or finding old coworkers through LinkedIn, we always hear how beneficial these online tools are. But I believe it’s not all rosy under the digital covers.

A few months ago, my 11-year-old daughter spent a full day at a Red Cross camp for young people who want to learn basic safety when they are babysitters. She was very excited to go to this. There were three other young girls with her that day, all between 11 and 13 years old. My daughter came home from the camp that afternoon, and I asked her if she had any fun. She looked up at me and told me how each time there was a break in the program, she would try and talk with the other girls, but they would always spend those breaks texting and tweeting on their smart phones. My daughter couldn’t understand why. She felt hurt as if they didn’t want to talk with her for some unknown reason. As I looked into her eyes, I reassured her that it wasn’t her fault. That it was just because the other girls were excited to have cell phones. The truth is I wasn’t really sure what to tell her, because I was at a loss too.

Social media is a great set of communication tools, and I enjoy speaking and training on it’s benefits. However, I believe it’s dark side comes out when people use it too much or rely on it instead of relating to people in person. My daughter felt that painful sting first hand. The question is will social media help us become closer to others since we can connect via shared interests around the globe? Or will it actually drive a wedge between people who are actually physically close to each other.  I don’t know the answer. I hope for now that people learn to use Facebook, Twitter and the others in moderation. And if you happen to be standing next to someone waiting for a bus or standing in line at the store, I recommend just putting down your iPhone and just say hello.

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Social Media… Just a Passing Fad?

You seem to hear it all the time now. Things like: “Did you read such and such’s  Facebook update?” Or “Just follow their twitter feed to find out more” or “Before we consider you for the position, send us your LinkedIn profile URL.” It seems the whole world has gone “social.” So is this all a fad? Will sites like these be gone in five years?

No way.

The reason why this new communication medium is around to stay is the fact that it gives people power. Power to congregate virtually in groups around shared interests. Sure they also now have a voice to tell their friends about their camping trips and new shoes, but well beyond that is the global way people can join others on shared topics. You like organic gardening? Thousands of people with that same desire are talking right now and sharing their knowledge. In moments you can be part of it and gaining from the discussions, not to mention adding to it when you get good at it. I for one like Star Trek (the original series with Captain Kirk and the green female aliens). With social media, I can “join” others who share my strange passion for antiquated science fiction. It really is fun. To no one’s surprise, people like fun.

So of course companies are wondering how to use social media to increase their bottom line. And actually, if done carefully, it can help businesses connect with and gain customers. But it forces each company to genuinely interact with people without the plastic veil of traditional marketing. If their product or service really does help folks or fill a need, they can work to gain people’s trust by giving away free information and adding to groups conversing around their topic (for example, a fishing lure company can join and add valuable tips to Facebook groups on fly fishing).

Now that people have this new way to share common interests and stay in touch with each other, there’s no way social media will get old. The tools we use will no doubt change over time but the flame of desire to share and gather with others is in no danger of being extinguished. Now excuse me while I go join the heated battle of who’s the best caption, Kirk or Picard.

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The Bike Man Giveth… and well… That’s It!

Sometimes you meet a person who astounds you. A person who is all about giving to others, not just on the surface, but in their very being. A couple weeks ago (just before Christmas), my wife and I decided to donate our 2 bikes to charity. At first, we though of Goodwill. But then my wife said had heard of a local Durham, NC man who collects old bicycles and gives them to needy children on Christmas morning. He was even featured on ABC national news a few years back. They called him the Bike Man.I did some web hunting and found where he (Lewis Days) lived. I grabbed the phone and called him up. Within a few hours, I was driving up to his modest house in an older neighborhood of Durham, my bikes jammed in the back of our van. As we unloaded the 2 bikes, I began talk with kind, older man. He was 78 years old and had, I would estimate, over a hundred bikes in his back yard. He did indeed fix them up for young kids, but also, he told me, for some older folks in the neighborhood. He had a smile that, well, makes you want to smile back. And I did.

What struck me most of all was that this man, who was not well off by any means, was devoting all his days to helping others. He gently guided me over to his house, showed me 2 classic Schwinn bikes standing proudly on his front porch. Even inside his house, it was full of bikes being repaired. I have to say it made me take a look at myself and how I could be doing more for others. Those few minutes talking with this man will always stay with me. My hope is those of you who use social media to reach out to others can remember to stay true to the Bike Man’s goal: help others and don’t expect anything in return. It works in social media like it works in life.

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Thanks but No Thanks! How Social Media Can Sabotage Your Job Hunt

After working as an Internet geek for the past decade or so, I’m still amazed at the amount of wacky updates folks post to their social media profiles. And since many people are on the lookout for that next good job, it’s important to think about what potential employers will gather about you when they scour the social media sphere for info on their potential new team member.

Four Things Not To Do:

  1. Bad Mouthing Your Past Or Current Employer. Basically companies are going to wonder if you rant and complain about old bosses and companies, will you do the same to theirs. I mean, we all have troubles that get under our skin, but posting them on the web look bad. Keep it under the radar.
  2. Wacky/Unprofessional Status Updates. The sad truth is, employers want white-bread impressions of folks. They don’t want to read about your extreme political views or how quickly you toss around four letter words. I have read a few hilarious Facebook updates that had some pretty colorful language. But if that corporation you’re trying to get a foothold in reads that, they will not come away with a positive impression of your communications skills.
  3. Going On and On About Your Flaws. Tweets like “Zzzzz! Having another focus breakdown today, my third one. Heading for the coffee machine to stay alive” don’t give a glamorous impression of your work habits. Or worse yet, posting something like “Just enjoyed my favorite microbrew at lunch. Man, a few Pale Ales sure can ease the pain of a long work day.” Sure it may be true, but why highlight for all to see (and judge)?
  4. An Unflattering Profile Picture. We’ve all seen those profile pictures that make you wince. Within milliseconds, potential employers judge who you are when they see that image. So why not post one that doesn’t put you in a bad light. I’m guilty of this one myself, since for a while I used Homer Simpson holding a frosty beer as my profile picture on Facebook.

So to get a handle on how you look to the employers out there, do a quick Google search on your name and see what comes up. Go ahead and clean up your social networking profiles while you’re at it. If you happen to have your own personal web site, you can optimize it to rank for the career keywords you are after. And to boost your professionalism, it doesn’t hurt to have a completed LinkedIn profile. Just try to look at yourself from your potential employers eyes, and if you see anything that seems off-kilter or puts you in a bad light, change it. Change it now!

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Give, Give, Give – For the Holidays and for Higher Rankings

“It Is Better to Give Than to Receive.” How many times have we been told that little nugget of wisdom. Sure, it’s fun to tear through that festive wrapping paper and lay your eyes on a cool gift, but there is something more rewarding, more deeply satisfying that happens when you give something valuable to another person. Funny thing, it’s also very true when you’re trying to gather together a larger audience for your web site. Social media sites now allow you a conduit to “give” to your audience. And when you “give” enough over time, you will “get” in return.

Let me explain.

Say a website offers home security systems. If the Facebook fan page for the company regularly offers tips and resources on how to keep your house safe, then that would be valuable information for typical homeowners. If that same company also has a series of videos on YouTube related to how to evacuate your house in case of a fire, that again would be a great help for folks in general. Over time, the fact that this company offers free, valuable content to its audiences will garner it a positive reputation. This always translates into more people going over to their website and investigating the company further. A sense of trust and appreciation has been built. So “giving” to your audience (without asking for anything in return) will eventually result in your company “getting” people’s trust and their business.

Who’d have thought “It’s Better to Give than to Receive” would hold true on the Internet as in real-life. But when you’re trying to attract a larger audience, it surely does.

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The Chewy, Gooey Center of Your SEO Efforts

Many people think Twitter and Facebook are now the best things to happen to Internet Marketing since deep fried Oreos (which, if you haven’t tried them, are awesome). These two sites are a great way to spread the news and gather people to your new and cool web site, but what would happen if you used one of these sites for your main SEO effort, and then it had a huge issue and disappeared? (Not likely but who would have thought Charlie Sheen had Tiger Blood?) You would be in trouble, that’s what.

Having done the SEO thing since 1997, I can tell you that it’s best to stay with the core internet ranking tactics that have long been stable over the long haul. These tactics are creating super web site content that genuinely helps your audience, having a site structure that is easy to use and navigate around, and finally gathering numerous inbound links from solid, reputable sites. This is the stuff you must do to have long lasting success with internet marketing. Once you have done these things well, then sure, go ahead and leverage the heck out of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Sites like these not only help you get inbound links but they really help you get the word out to other humans on the planet that what you have is the greatest stuff since, well, that deep fried stuff previously mentioned. That fact is, social media is a wonderful new way to help people communicate and part of that is the ability to tell others about the best web sites out there on the interwebs. Know how to use these sites, but don’t let them be your whole SEO pie. The core tactics are where the power lies.

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The Lure of Being Bad: Black Hat Search Engine Marketing

In late 2010, JC Penny was caught using underhanded search engine marketing tactics to artificially inflate their online exposure for hundreds of words and phrases. The process is known as link spamming. A New York Times reporter did the investigating that exposed this issue. This guy found that JCPenney was ranking very well for common phrases such as “furniture” and “shower curtains”. JCPenney was even out-ranking Samsonite luggage for the phrase “Samsonite luggage”!
Let’s take a look at the tactic that was in employed in this underhanded scheme. Search engines read the text and link as a hint about what the target webpage is about. Well, hundreds of content -sparse websites are on the Internet and the JCPenney search marketing contractor was using these small sites to plant inbound for these hundreds of phrases and words. The tactic can be successful because it is difficult to scan the smaller sites and identify whether they are genuine or simply in place to artificially generate link votes. Once Google was alerted to the impropriety, they did a “manual adjustments” of their search algorithm so that JCPenney would be placed lower for these phrases. Within hours of the algorithm, the rankings quickly plummeted.
All the while, JCPenney maintained that they were unaware that the tactic was going on. I find it very hard to believe that the people directing the contracting company in charge of search marketing were blind to this unethical process. BMW’s Germany site was also caught using black hat technique back in February of 2006. In their case, they were using a tactic called cloaking which means they were serving up one version of their home page for the search engine spiders to scan and a different one for human visitors. In a nutshell, that’s a well-known black hat technique called cloaking. I’m not sure if I’ll be doing any purchasing from by their JCPenney or BMW anytime soon.

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The Quicker Way to Search Engine Rankings

When you have to have quick exposure in the search engines, there’s only one way to go, pay per click advertising (also called paid placement). Many people use Google Adwords since it is the Big Player On The Block. Now having fast exposure in the search engines doesn’t mean you will automatically get qualified traffic. Most people like to look through the organic (the natural) search results first. Not so many look to those sponsored listings (which is where your pay per click advertising will show up). The only way to get high rankings in the natural search results area is to do the long term search engine marketing tactics that I speak about at events around the country. These include leveraging the increasing power of social media sites like FaceBook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Other critical tactics include sculpting meta tag information for each of your web pages, adding targeted phrases to your text content, and increasing your incoming links from other sites. If you use organic search engine marketing processes like these, you will have a much better chance to get to the top of the rankings.
But if you need quick exposure in the engines before your organic efforts gain traction, then by all means I recommend using pay per click advertising. Just remember that this type of exposure costs you money,. Each and every time a person clicks on your ad, you are dropping some coin (it may not be a lot but it adds up. Tip: Make sure you do your keyword analysis first since you need to know what phrases to tie your ads to. This is the foundation of your pay per click advertising campaign. And get your organic search engine optimization cranking since you may want to scale back your pay per click budget and if so, you want your rankings to remain strong.

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Inbound Marketing: Put the Megaphone Down

The more I learn about how cool and useful inbound marketing is, the more I see old marketing as an annoyance. Inbound marketing is letting people come to you (due to the obvious value you provide) as opposed to outbound (traditional) marketing where the object is to interrupt a lot of people and hope a small percentage buy your product or service.

With new technologies like DVR’s, caller ID and iPods, we no longer have to be bombarded with these interruptions. We fast forward through commercials. We let unknown callers go to voice mail. We choose iTunes over commercial radio.

Inbound marketing for websites is now the most effective way to capture your audience’s attention. With it, you open up a real dialogue, and people truly appreciate that. Blogs and social media are two big ways to leverage inbound marketing. It’s a revolution, so put down the megaphone and strike up a conversation instead.

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