Archive for the ‘Online Advertising’ Category

It’s A Fatal Mistake To Copy Successful Web Sites

Monday, March 1st, 2010

At a search engine marketing conference, several of us gave a session on website usability topics ranging from usability and SEO to site architecture and requirements gathering. Afterward, there was time for questions by the audience. Someone asked, “Why don’t we all just copy Amazon.com?” I replied, “Never, ever copy what Amazon does.” The audience responded with surprise, thinking I was not a fan of Amazon.

Not true. The reason you don’t want to copy a successful site like Amazon is that their website requirements are not likely to be the same as your site requirements. Their users may have different characteristics than your site visitors. Their customers’ needs may be completely different. You don’t have the user, traffic analysis and usability testing data they’ve collected over the years that they use as a base for their user interface, information architecture and content delivery.

Your website is unique

Today, with blog templates or content management system software being the design foundation for many sites, web page layouts are fairly consistent and come with no surprises. We’ll find two or three columns, a header, footer, sidebar navigation and a picture or two. The logo typically goes into the top upper left corner. It would be unusual to find a page beginning with a copyright year, privacy policy and company address. Arriving to a solo column page with no header would be odd.

One wonders what creativity we’ve lost out on because we’re afraid to change the status quo. Usability folks like to promote consistency and user habits for design considerations. This is because anytime we are forced to re-learn where items are customarily placed, it slows us down. There is a risk of user confusion. We’re told that it takes only a few seconds to lose your visitor, so why take any chances?

Many web designers have been creating product navigation menus the way Amazon has been doing it, believing that if Amazon’s way is making them a profit, it ought to do the same for their sites too. Why wouldn’t this work?

Understanding mental models

Amazon has expert knowledge of their customers’ mental model. This means they know how their visitors search and browse their site. They know what their users want to find, or learn, before they add an item to the cart. They know how what words are chosen most often to locate certain products, so their information architects can then create their entire information architecture based on user language, keyword choices, and traffic patterns.

When someone says they will make your website easier to use, ask them what mental model they are referring to. Are they going to make it easier for search engines to crawl and rank it? This is a searcher mental model and one an SEO is more likely to be focused on. An information architect wants to know the mental model of your target users. What are your customer needs? What types of behaviors can you expect from them? Many websites have different user paths on one website.

For example, colleges provide different types of information for students, parents, alumni, staff and teachers. Each type of person has a different mental model, with their own needs and expectations. A common mistake is to design identical user paths for everyone, ignoring the specific financial, emotional and practical needs of each user group. Remember that your website is unique. The better you understand what motivates and interests your site visitors, the more competitive your site will be.

Findability and manageability

Information architecture supports findability and usability. It can also support organic SEO practices related to on-page content and word usage. One area that Amazon has helped to pioneer is user management of information. Their customers are recognized by the use of cookies and purchase history. There are different user types for them to track. Some people are affiliates. Some arrive for the first time because they received a gift certificate. Others are regular customers, so Amazon has a chance to study the kinds of products they like. Amazon users can manage their own wish lists, accounts, leave book reviews, send gifts and follow author blogs. Do you know your site visitors this well?

Information architects use terms such as taxonomies and semantics to help describe what they do. Simply put, they organize categories of information into something that makes logical sense. A usability oriented person is interested in the same thing because words can create momentum or promote frustration.

For example, which one of these category links is the best choice to find online specials?

  • Closeout Sale
  • Gift Ideas
  • International
  • New Releases
  • Top Sellers
  • Today’s Sales

What if your customer wants to find sales or new releases by product category? Can they tell, by looking at these links, if they can sort by price? What types of products does this site offer? There are no clues offered in these link labels. By “today”, when is the cut-off time? What does “international” mean?

Interestingly, the website that uses these category links has all of its customer service information at the very bottom of the homepage, lumped into a box as if an afterthought. What message does this send to customers? Was any user testing performed? Apparently not. However, there was attention put on the searcher mental model as far as search engine queries go. Unfortunately, the site owner learned that search results did not equal conversions. In their case, they required both a rebuilt information architecture as well as usability adjustments to increase and support conversions.

A 360 degree team effort

Your website is and should be the manifestation of your own vision. Sure, it’s fun and helpful to study other websites. But those sites should inspire you to try new ideas or even have the courage to think outside the box. Surround yourself with those who have the technical skills to implement your vision. These people will be your project managers, search engine marketers, social media marketers, information architects, usability and user experience consultants, web designers and developers. Ask them questions about where they acquire their inspiration. Test site designs on people. Research, with and without search engines, the language and terms your site visitors use to find your products or services. Be sure to write out your specific site requirements and business goals. Write guidelines to be sure everyone on your team sticks to the game plan.

And know that nobody understands your customers better than you do. Not even Amazon.

–Kim Krause Berg

SEO Priorities – Task ROI

Friday, February 26th, 2010

I was going to sit down and write a post with my usual brand of geekiness. You know, some more eye-watering patent or IR paper analysis that the search world uses to get to sleep at night?  Then I thought of something worth getting off my chest that seems not to get enough attention out there…Since this is a ‘Search Biz’ article, right?

You see, I recently co-hosted a chat session (in zee Dojo) with the lovely Dana Lookadoo on ‘the Business of SEO’ which the gang seemed to be quite keen on. It is interesting that we don’t talk more about it. As we were musing (about a wide variety of topics from proposals to contracts), I touched on what I lovingly term; Task ROI. And it seems to often be an alien concept…or at least one not openly discussed.

So, if you will spare a few moments, allow me to share…

What is Task ROI?

Search engine optimization is never in a void. It is never a best case scenario. As long as there are budgets (clients, in-house, agency) there are going to be limitations to any SEO program. If you read the blog-o-sphere, took some courses, no matter how you keep on top of things, it is generally the whole ball of wax approach. This can be a flawed business model.

What I mean by that is if you did every possible SEO tactic that we hear about; would it really be an effective use of time? When we do business in this thing of ours, we must always be cognisant of the budgets in play and try to get the most bang from the buck.

Consider:

  • Sure, you could spend all day tweaking semantic phrase relations on some third tier pages or you could be working on new content to attract links on core target terms. Which are you going to do?
  • You could re-write the entire content management system to get a some slightly better architecture or URL structure. But is it worth the cost?
  • We could spend weeks crafting crap hat link wheels or spend that time working content strategy and doing outreach for links instead?

Getting the idea here? And even those situations are not always straight forward. With different sites of different ages, different sizes, will require different answers. What you should always bear in mind is that each activity will have a cost (in time and resources) and efficacy.

Know your site: Know your SERPs

Now that we have the concept, it is time to implement it in the most effective way. This is where SEO becomes more of an art. You will need to be intimate with the site you are working on to know where the strengths and weaknesses are. Each and every site is unique. There is no catch-all solution nor tactic that is going to be best suited to every situation.

I cannot do that for you…. This is where experience comes into play.

You need to assess each situation inclusive of budgetary limitations and create a program that gets the most for the least. Some elements worth considering include;

  1. Implementation schedule – how easily can the change be made?
  2. Value of activity – what are the expected (SEO) outcomes from the activity?
  3. Conversion potential – will it increase primary or secondary conversions?
  4. Cost v reward – what portion of the budget for what results?
  5. Future proofing– does the activity stand up over time? (more here)

This can be particularly important these days with the increase in local/universal search as well as the spectre of social search. Where does one invest their time in these? What content strategies are needed to make use of them and how will we get the investment back? Personally real-time/social search hasn’t made the kind of inroads that would support specific targeting unless there were active PR/social programs already in place.

This helps to highlight the concepts to be considered for each action taken.

Provide a service of value

And so the next time you are reading about some SEO theory… considering implementing a given strategy, stop for a moment. You need to weigh the resources at hand and the potential benefit from any optimization tactic. You simply cannot operate from the void and start being an SEO sheeple and doing everything some blog said was ‘good SEO’. That simply isn’t realistic.

You might also want to stop and consider the advice given in the SEO world without qualification. Your situation is unique… thus your programming must be as well. When deciding which tactics to use, which changes to implement; always think Task ROI. It cannot be stressed enough that many times the success of a given SEO program (from a investment standpoint) is going to be dependent on the decisions you make along the way.

–David Harry

8 Significant Developments in Social Media You Should Watch

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

While I don’t have a crystal ball, here are some developments that I think are worthy of our attention and will affect how we do things in the social mediasphere over the next few years. Many of the things on this list will not be news to the very well-informed social media consultant types who live and breathe this stuff. But for the rest of us, there are seeds of opportunity here that should not be missed.

  1. MySpace: CEO Leaves; MySpace will die. Last year, I was telling my clients “We are cautiously optimistic that MySpace (GigaOM Pro company profile) will make a comeback because their new CEO is aFacebook co-founder.” Scratch that. I think MySpace is about to go the way of Friendster,although it is still a player in the entertainment space. Because Facebook doesn’t allow flexbility and customization, I’m going to miss MySpace. But now I wonder: Who is going to be the next MySpace? VirbBebo? (And don’t underestimate LinkedIn.)
  2. Virtual Goods: Insane, but insanely popular. The creation and selling of virtual goods and gifts makes absolutely no sense to people who just use the Internet as a basic communications tool. Try telling someone who isn’t really into Facebook that they could buy a virtual bouquet of flowers for 99 cents and send them to a friend — they’d look at you like you were mad. But with virtual goods as an industry already raking in the billions of dollars worldwide and over a billion in the U.S. alone (source: “Inside Virtual Goods: The US Virtual Goods Market, 2009 – 2010?), how can anyone ignore them? I’m not saying everyone needs to make and use virtual goods, but there is opportunity here for both marketing and revenue. Have you even thought about how you might be able to leverage virtual goods? Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): How the Next Zynga Could Reinvent Social Gaming
  3. Gaming: Not just for kids anymore. I think the very fact that the largest player base of passive online games is women flies in the face of the typical view that games are for kids. According to Nielsen Entertainment in August 2009, of the 117 million active gamers in the U.S., 56 percent play games online and 64 percent of those online gamers are female. And the revenues generated from online games is enormous and growing. Do not underestimate the power of games and gaming — and not just the marketing and revenue opportunities, but also the learning opportunities as well in the form of fun quizzes and polls. Have you used gaming yet in a social media marketing campaign?
  4. Twitter: Still transforming communications. Back in 2008, I wrote about Twitter’s impact on the fundamental ways we communicate and the way new tools and applications are being developed, but it continues to grow and evolve. How has Twitter helped you lately?
  5. Niche networks: A marketer’s secret weapon. Whether you choose Ning.com orKickApps or any of the other “white label” customizable social network-building platforms, the concept of creating a “gated”online community that is narrow in focus is smart and potentially powerful. The concept isn’t really that far removed from hosting an online messaging board in the early days of the web. If you held the keys to the gate of a more private, closed or niche community, you had everything from an instant focus group to a band of passionate buzz agents on your hands — if you knew how to properly leverage the community participation. Fast forward to today and the tools ca now give your members integrated communications, networking, publishing and social tools — brilliant.What niche networks are you participating in or do you run?
  6. Augmented reality. Sounds sci-fi, but it’s really here. I’m having a hard time describing Augmented Reality to people who haven’t seen it (if you haven’t seen it in action, these infographics from GigaOM might help). The reaction isn’t just “what in the world?” but “who cares about that stuff?” AR uses simply boggle the mind, and I plan to explore more of that in this column soon. I do wish we had a better term for it, though (like “data overlay” or “overscreen view”) so it didn’t have such a sci-fi feel to it. What potential uses for AR are getting you fired up? Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.):Augmented Reality: Lots of Promise, Lots of Hurdles.
  7. Google Buzz: Pay attention, even if you don’t care. I am one of the gazillion people who currently do not care about Google Buzz, apart from the fact that just because Google did this it means something in terms of the tools we’ll be using in the coming years. Right now, I feel like Google has the means to just throw tech spaghetti on the virtual walls of our work and lives to see what sticks. Anything it does has major significance and impact, even if it fails. So pay attention as you scratch your head. How is Google Buzz changing the way you communicate, or is it? Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): Google Buzz’s True Home Is in the Enterprise
  8. Mobile: Be there. I don’t know about you, but I consider my iPhone to be a mini computer and Wi-Fi device first and phone a distant second. I’m never normally an early early adopter because I’m too busy to keep up most of the time, but I will be one of the first to buy the iPad, because it looks to me like a bigger iPhone, and I rely on my iPhone in ways I have never relied on my computer or my regular cell phone. My entire concept of connectivity and my access to everything has changed so dramatically since I got a smartphone that I know I can never go back to the old ways. What forays into mobile marketing are on your radar for 2010? Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): Web Tablet Survey: Apple’s iPad Hits Right Notes

–Aliza Sherman

Choosing a Marketing Plan: Traditional or Social Media?

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

EPC CIGAR COMPANY manufactures and distributes cigars that are hand-rolled in the Dominican Republic from Ecuadorean, Nicaraguan and Dominican tobacco. It has been in business since April, although the family that owns it previously ran a successful cigar company that was sold to Swedish Match in 1999.

THE CHALLENGE To develop a cost-effective and efficient marketing strategy to promote the company and its new brand, E. P. Carrillo, while building on the family’s legacy.

THE BACKGROUND EPC Cigar, based in Miami, is owned and operated by the Perez-Carrillo family, whose Cuban-born patriarch, Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, established El Credito Cigars in 1968; its best-known brand was La Gloria Cubana. After Mr. Perez-Carrillo’s death, his son, Ernesto Perez-Carrillo Jr., sold El Credito to Swedish Match in 1999, working there until March 2009. Mr. Perez-Carrillo Jr., 58, remains a big deal in the cigar world.

He was encouraged to start EPC Cigar by his daughter, Lissette, 36, a lawyer based in Miami, and his son, Ernesto Perez-Carrillo III, 28, a management consultant based in New York, both of whom had worked for El Credito while growing up. The three family members run the company, which employs 34 people in Miami and the Dominican Republic.

Its first product was a $13 limited-edition inaugural cigar released in December; it will be followed this spring by the core E. P. Carrillo line, which will be available in five sizes priced from $6 to $8.

Last year, Mr. Perez-Carrillo III, who oversees the company’s marketing, hired an advertising agency, DeVito/Verdi, to develop a logo, labels, packaging and a marketing campaign to introduce the new company and its cigars. Mr. Perez-Carrillo III estimates that EPC Cigar will spend $300,000 on the campaign, which began in April 2009 and will run through December.

THE OPTIONS DeVito/Verdi suggested a range of traditional and new-media marketing strategies.

The traditional options included taxi-top advertising in New York City; commercials on cable channels like Comedy Central, Spike and VH1; radio ads in cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago; and print ads in publications like The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fortune, Yachting, Golf Digest, Wine Spectator and Cigar Aficionado. With the exception of Cigar Aficionado, these promotions would aim at casual cigar smokers and even nonsmokers willing to try the company’s cigars.

The social media options included three Web site concepts: one involved a collage on the company Web site of live, online mentions of the company and Ernesto Perez-Carrillo Jr.; a second featured a world map (from Google Maps) on the Web site that showed the origin of real-time Twitter messages about cigars; and a third would use a Facebook page as the company’s main online presence. In any case, the digital strategy would involve the use of Twitter, Facebook and Flickr.

THE DECISION Ultimately, Mr. Perez-Carrillo III decided to take DeVito/Verdi’s advice and emphasize the Internet and social media initiatives. Ellis Verdi, president of the agency, calls social media “a natural place to go when you want to show something real,” adding, “If you say it’s real, people won’t believe you, but the Internet lets you show it.”

Mr. Perez-Carrillo III said his primary objection to traditional media outlets was the expense. “For the first go-around,” he said, “we put them off the table.” The company, according to Mr. Perez-Carrillo III, will spend $40,000 on digital-media initiatives between 2009 and 2010, with the remaining $260,000 of its marketing budget going to trade shows, cigar-enthusiast events, point-of-sale material and some traditional media.

Social media allow the company to communicate directly with cigar buyers, retailers, tobacco growers and others with whom it does business, according to both EPC Cigar and its agency. This is particularly important as the popularity of once-fashionable cigar bars wanes and public smoking bans proliferate.

At the agency’s recommendation, the Perez-Carrillos chose the Web concept based on Google Maps and Twitter. Thus, on the home page, Twitter messages about cigars — regardless of whether they are about EPC Cigar or raise health concerns about cigar smoking — appear on a world map that rotates to show where the messages originated.

The site’s “About Us” section uses another world map to show places where EPC Cigar conducts business or has roots, thus honoring the family’s history. The section also offers photographs and videos, including a vintage, black-and-white snapshot of Mr. Perez-Carrillo Jr. as a child in Cuba and modern videos of a Nicaraguan tobacco farm.

The site lists retailers that sell the company’s cigars, with Google Maps indicating theirlocations, and more than 1,000 places to smoke, with recommendations contributed by visitors and by Cigar Places, a Web site for cigar enthusiasts. DeVito/Verdi is in the process of developing an iPhone application that will feature these cigar-friendly places.

The agency has encouraged Mr. Perez-Carrillo Jr. — and not his son — to use Twitter to build and communicate with the company’s following. It is Mr. Perez-Carrillo Jr., said Tyler DeAngelo, interactive creative director of DeVito/Verdi, who is “the face of the brand.”

While Mr. Perez-Carrillo Jr. posts Twitter messages almost daily, Mr. Perez-Carrillo III maintains the company’s Facebook page, where he posts articles and reviews and encourages fans to comment. There are also links on the page to the company’s Twitter feed, YouTube videos and Flickr photos. Similarly, there is a box that pops up from the home page of its Web site that lets visitors “follow Ernesto” on all four social media channels.

THE RESULTS So far, only about 250 people are following EPC Cigar through Twitter and about 700 are Facebook fans. These numbers notwithstanding, the Perez-Carrillo family and DeVito/Verdi say they are satisfied with the campaign’s impact.

“To have a lot of people talk about the limited-edition cigar after only a few months, in a market that’s challenged, in an industry that’s not really growing, is very exciting,” Mr. Verdi said.

The campaign has “generated a lot of buzz so far,” Mr. Perez-Carrillo III said. “When we talk to retailers, to the end consumer, everyone pretty much knows Ernesto’s gone on his own. They can’t wait for him to come out with the core line.”

One unexpected benefit is that Mr. Perez-Carrillo III has been using Google Analytics to track how many people visit the Web site and where they come from. He has discovered that almost one-third of the visitors do not live in the United States. “I’m talking to foreign distributors far more quickly than I expected I would,” he said.

The 25,000 limited-edition cigars that EPC Cigar has been releasing monthly since December “are selling extremely quickly,” Mr. Perez-Carrillo III said. He projects sales of $1.5 million this year.

–JANE L. LEVERE

Ten emerging Enterprise 2.0 technologies to watch

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Two significant and closely related trends in enterprise computing this year are the growth of Software-as-a-service (SaaS) and social computing. By most accounts, both are gaining ground quite rapidly while still not being used for core business functions or mission critical applications in most large firms, at least not yet.

The reality is that broader social and cloud computing trends continue to evolve faster than most enterprises are able to absorb. It may be years before many organizations are comfortable with and ready to adopt either of these technologies strategically despite apparent benefits.

However, that doesn’t mean that it’s not important for organizations to closely track both of these leading computing trends (both have solid double digit industry growth) and understand the emergi

ng technologies that are likely to shape their use in key business functions in the near future. In fact, quite the contrary, particularly when it comes to Enterprise 2.0.

The potential overall impact of enterprise social computing (aka Enterprise 2.0) is significant for most organizations, at least in the medium term. The business functions that are likely to be affected and transformed by these new social business models (and its associated delivery model, SaaS) includes general purpose communication and collaborationproduct developmentcustomer relationship management,marketingoperations, and business productivity solutions. And certainly, ad hoc use and early adopters have already being doing this for years, but as we’ll see, many Enterprise 2.0 technologies are only now becoming a reality. What then, are the areas to watch and build competency in this year?

Keeping social technology in perspective

In terms of innovation, 2010 is shaping up to be another important one in the early development of social technologies in general. To get a sense of this, you can read my recent exploration of what’s happening this year with the latest consumer-oriented Social Web technologies and standards. Though the enterprise aspects of these are often far behind, that hasn’t stopped the industry from moving quickly ahead in terms of creating actual products and new business-ready solutions based on the latest lessons learned.

For organizations looking to keep current, both good timing and judicious application of new Enterprise 2.0 technologies will be needed as organizations increasingly look at their future in terms of a social computing driven knowledge economy. To do this though, we have to put them in the context of the big picture.

When I encounter a successful E2.0 project, it’s one where the process of managing the changes entailed are equally balanced with the savvy application of technology. It’s the concepts behind social computing and their application to economic activity, aka social business, that are the ultimately driver of success with Enterprise 2.0. A full solution is achieved when these ideas combine well with the technology — which is an enabler and not an end in itself — though it is important not to forget that technology does strongly shape and define the art of the possible when it comes to social computing, both in the consumer space and the enterprise.

However I still encounter tool myopia in many discussions of social computing and Enterprise 2.0. It’s sometimes too easy to focus on the specifics, like social tools and their technologies, instead of more difficult and less tangible concerns like driving usage or measuring ROI. Fortunately, this seems less pronounced than a year ago and the “soft” issues surrounding adoption and long-term success, such as community management and other important practices are now getting their due on equal footing with the often flashier and attention-grabbing social tools and technologies themselves.

Now, on to the latest developments…

Ten strategic technologies for enterprise social computing

Below are ten social computing technologies that I believe will be actively developing or maturing this year and either worth exploring or otherwise watching closely for 2010 and beyond. Note that many of these technologies are not based on standards or for which standards often don’t exist, which will be problematic for some organizations. Many of the technologies listed here are primarily embodied in new product categories and for now are represented primarily by commercial products. It likely won’t be long, however, before open source and open standards enter and play an instrumental role in many of these spaces.

  1. Community management tools. One of the signature realizations of the Enterprise 2.0 community in the last year and a half has been theimportance of community management in driving the success of the endeavor. Now, you don’t necessarily need tools to successfully manage an online community, but it can genuinely helps in terms of acquiring good practices as well as automating and scaling the many routine tasks that already harried and frequently overworked community managers are faced with today. The latter is because many enterprises are still learning about social computing requirements and are frequently under-budgeting this essential role. Commercial software is the norm in this space and some of the top solutions include RollstreameModerationTempero, and Essentia.
  2. Open identity. There are many issues swirling around enterprise identity and consumer Web identity at the moment. I’ve postulated in the past that OpenID will actually become a viable vehicle for enterprises to create a single sign-on across the Web for their workers, giving them centralized administration and control of worker identity on the Web and social media (as appropriate), especially in B2B scenarios. But is this actually starting to happen despite folks from large software companies like SAP making the business case? No, not yet, and enterprises are as much as fault as anyone for not demanding better identity integration. Instead, off-premises SaaS and cloud computing offerings are offering basic synchronization with LDAP and other corporate identity repositories. Also becoming more and more important is identity authenticity (which Twitter tried to address with Verified Accounts). Watch for a raft of social identity issues to accumulate and for new enterprise open identity solutions to attempt to address them as our identities on the Social Web increasingly compete and conflict with our enterprise identities.
  3. Microblogging. While wikis have been one of the more common Enterprise 2.0 tools, more popular than blogs by quite a bit from my experience, microblogs are now seen as potentially achieving a higher level of overall traction than both their heavier-weight brethren. There’s a lot to like about microblogs in business settings, along with the valuable activity streams that they generate. Gartner went on record recently saying that they believe integrated microblogging will be in 50% of enterprises in two years, though they are much less sanguine about individual, standalone microblogs. I did a detailed round-up of the space a little while back and came away with the finding that microblogs do make enterprise social media both time efficient and focused while still preserving most or all of what makes Enterprise 2.0 special.
  4. Social CRM. Applying social computing approaches to customer relationship management is getting quite a bit of attention these days. Services such as GetSatisfactionHelpstreamLithium, and many others are aimed at helping enterprises engage with their customers using social tools in new and innovative ways that can reduce support costs and improve customer satisfaction. Along the way Social CRM is also changing the very nature of the relationship that businesses have with their customers and the marketplace, from customer support or contact management processes like they exist today, to one that is more like a long-term partnership of contributing equals. Like so many Enterprise 2.0 subject areas, the big vendors haven’t really arrived in force in this domain and many firms are just opting to use tools like Twitter and Facebook for now to engage with customers while the technologies and products mature. But make no mistake, this space is approaching prime time after a couple of strong years of development and growth.
  5. Enterprise platforms gaining a social layer. As we’re seeing withMicrosoft SharePoint and with Salesforce Chatter, enterprise software vendors are starting to incorporate social computing features within their products at the platform level. This has a number of advantages including providing a consistent, integrated social experience in and across existing apps, unifying security and identity, and so on. For many scenarios, close integration can be more useful than standaloneEnterprise 2.0 products which might not be as connected to actual business activities. However there are disadvantages too, in that there’s often little choice in such models in terms of picking and choosing best-of-breed social capabilities. But the stage is set and social features are increasingly perceived as standard fare in modern software. Expect most large software vendors to have Enterprise 2.0 features of some kind across their products lines in the next year or two at most, which will lead to a discussion of the advent of social operating systems. For now, open source is not a real player in this space, but will likely be in the future.
  6. Activity streams. The output of most online social interactions is a reverse chronological list of activity, such as status updates, posted photos or videos, or shared links. The result is called an activity stream. It’s what you see when you look at a Twitter feeds, your Facebook news feed, or what your co-workers are doing on your enterprise social network home page. There are now standards developing around activity streams, and this will help the business tap into the value they offer. This includes capturing them, archiving them, and using them to further business objectives using a wide variety of practices including social analytics, community management, and compliance monitoring. Look for activity streams to become increasingly popular in enterprises as communication, learning, and situational awareness tools. I expect that standards support to make them interoperable will be of growing importance. Unfortunately, like so many Social Web developments, there are no specific standards for enterprise activity streams yet, though I do believe they will be created at some point in the near future.
  7. Social search, analytics, and filtering. As Enterprise 2.0 makes a much larger volume of actionable information available within organizations, there will be the growing challenge of keeping track of it and finding what you need. While we don’t want to stop this flow of information, we do need to make it manageable and useful. Unfortunately, search, analysis, and filtering tools for social computing environments are still in their infancy and few strong technical solutions exist. But as enterprises realize that employees are going to potentially spend even more time to find the information they need to do their work, some will begin seeking out and applying solutions. For social search, companies such as Coveo and Baynote are starting to offer useful enterprise products. Enterprise social analytics is finally coming in its own and some of the leading offerings include Ingage NetworksConnotate’s Enterprise 2.0 BI and IBM’s new Smart Analytics Cloud.
  8. Enterprise social media workflow. Those that use social media know that there’s a general workflow to the activities, from preparing content and publishing it, then promoting it, tracking the results, and participating in all the conversation that ensues. With multiple channels it can become burdensome to do all of this manually, and while consumer social media have had basic workflow automation tools for some time now, such as Ping.fm and tarpipe, only now are we seeing enterprise-class versions of these same tools. These are often getting added to existing content management workflow tools such as those from HP and the workflow and social networking capabilities of Microsoft SharePoint 2010.
  9. Automated compliance monitoring. One of the less discussed but more important (and often unstated) objections to Enterprise 2.0, especially for public companies and regulated industries, is ensuring that their use is compliant with all local and foreign laws, rules, and regulations. When any worker can easily disseminate information across an entire organization, or even across the world, some organizations want to be aware of problematic situations before they occur. While social media policy for workers has evolved steadily to provide upfront guidance, many companies still want to ensure they can detect compliance violations as quickly as possible before they become an actual problem. Unfortunately, it’s all too common for FRCP, Sarbanes-Oxley, European Union Privacy Laws, HIPAA, eDiscovery, etc. to be somewhat neglected in E2.0 discussions, where most of the focus initially is on benefit and not potential risk. The good news is that even though most large firms using social media today don’t actively police their users (IBM is a good example of this), I do find that most firms that already have automated compliance tools like CompliantPro are usually covered. However, expect that compliance will become an increasingly important feature of Enterprise 2.0 platforms, and firms like Blogtronix actively advertise their E2.0 apps are compliance-friendly for individual industries, like finance.
  10. Next-generation unified communication. Just when enterprise communication was about to get truly unified, social media showed up and fragmented it again. While instant messaging and even SMS is now usually integrated in many enterprises, microblogging, wikis, social networks, and other channels are mostly not, even from leading vendors that get social computing, like Cisco. IBM remains one of the few large vendors that has addressed this and currently supports some Enterprise 2.0 channels in its Lotus SameTime product. Relatively soon, I expect to see a new wave of enterprise unified communication products that include Enterprise 2.0 as a first class citizen. I believe that when this happens, these next-generation unified communications products may actually become a powerful driver of social computing adoption in the enterprise.

While there are certainly other interesting Enterprise 2.0 technologies, in my opinion these seem to be some of the most interesting and/or under-appreciated areas that are worth paying close attention for the near future. While I still find that so much actual Enterprise 2.0 adoption is surprisingly grassroots or otherwise local, the fact that many of these technologies above are just starting to emerge from infancy is also a major reason that social tools are taking longer to appear in the workplace than in the consumer world. Consequently, I do think most of these technologies will genuinely begin to address this disparity.

–Dion Hinchcliffe

Online Shopper Intelligence Study Released

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

From instant price comparisons, to first hand consumer reviews, to video demonstrations, shoppers have a plethora of information about any product only a click away.  And indeed, consumers are taking advantage of this wealth of information.   For instance, every month, over 80 million consumers use shopping comparison sites; some sites, like CnetBizrate, and Yahoo! Shopping each attract over 20 million shoppers.  In fact, only 6% of consumers surveyed as part of the Online Shopper Intelligence™ study indicated that they conducted no research prior to their last online purchase.  So, among the myriads of online resources available, which do shoppers use most often?

Overwhelmingly, consumers depend on one resource more than others to help them shop online—search engines.   3 out of 5 shoppers said that they always or often use search engines when shopping online.  More consumers use search engines than they do coupon sites, retailer emails, consumer reviews, or shopping comparison sites.

More interesting than what sources consumers use in general is the variability of use across industry.  For instance, sales assistants, both in store and on web chat, are utilized by online shoe shoppers more than any other shoppers.  Online kitchenware & household appliance purchasers are among the most reliant on in store product displays.   The differences in consumer behavior across various industries have vast implications for retailers within each sector.

Take the apparel industry for example.  Apparel shoppers are the least likely to use search engines.  Only 1 out of 10 apparel shoppers stated that they used a search engine for their last online purchase.  Instead, apparel shoppers rely on retailer emails and catalogs to learn about products.  That means consumers are more likely to purchase from apparel retailers they have purchased from in the past and are less likely to discover new retailers.   Retailers looking to acquire new customers have to work harder to find and woo consumers.

Electronic shoppers, on the other hand, actively seek out new products and manufactures.  Search engines, professional reviews, social generated reviews, and recommendations from family and friends were among the top 5 resources used.  Electronic manufactures can, therefore, reach and influence these consumers more easily and though a variety of mediums.

It is essential for retailers to understand how consumers in their space shop online in order to effectively retain and acquire customers.  Instead of trying to utilize all available outlets, retailers should understand their particular customer niche and develop strategies unique to them.  In an environment with tight consumer wallets and even tighter marketing budgets, retailers can’t afford to invest their money in resources their customers don’t use.

–Debra Miller

In the Game: The New Rules of Social Media Part 3

Friday, February 19th, 2010

By now you’ve read all the myriad ways to start marketing through social media in Part 1 (In the Game: New Rules for Social Media) and Part 2 (In the Game: New Rules for Social Media Part 2) of our debut In the Gamecolumn.

But with all these ideas comes one fairly sizeable risk: fear of wasting too much time on social networking—in addition to uncertainty over the effectiveness of that networking—has kept many advisors who are interested in using social media on the sidelines. But like anything else, once you know how to use social media efficiently, you will start seeing results. Here, in our final look into the rules of social media under FINRA’s new guidelines we reveal how to avoid the major faux pas of adding social networking into your marketing plan—the time suck.

AVOIDING THE TIME SUCK

To avoid wasting time on social media, advisors should focus on their target market and centers of influence, not just catch up with old college buddies. One way to make sure of this is to see whether your clients are online—and if they are, which sites they’re using. After all, there’s no point in having a Facebook profile if none of your target market uses that site. One tip to keep in mind, however: Women over the age of 60 are the fastest-growing demographic on Facebook right now, says Kristen Luke, principal of Wealth Management Marketing. Surprised?

You can begin to find out if your clients are social networking by simply asking them in their quarterly meetings or by adding a question to your annual client surveys. If you don’t feel comfortable asking clients if they participate, let them take the reins by adding links to your Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn profiles to your monthly client newsletter.

Just how long should you be spending on social media? To get started, Allie Herzog, president of Integrate PR, recommends spending an hour each day across all of the sites getting comfortable with the conversations, joining industry groups and trying out the different tools. Once you feel comfortable on each of the sites—this could take a few weeks—spending just three hours a week on social media efforts can provide significant results, Herzog says. That’s not so bad now, is it?

To keep track of the amount of time spent using social media, Luke suggests setting aside an hour one day a week, say every Monday, to read an interesting article and post about it on a LinkedIn group’s discussion board and on Twitter. Luke also recommends using applications like Hoot Tweet, which allows users to schedule all their Tweets for the week.

PATIENCE IS KEY

Like all good marketing plans, results are important. But experts insist on being patient with seeing results from social networking—and to expect opportunities to acquire clients, rather than direct referrals.

“Even those who are great at this say it can take a year to get a client,” Luke says.

That’s how long it took for one of Luke’s clients who has heavily integrated social media into her firm’s marketing plan to acquire a client directly from her efforts. However, thanks to the online presence she built for herself, the client was asked to speak at several industry events and was quoted in various magazine articles—all of which produced a bevy of new clientele. See, patience really is key; all you have to do is stay open to the opportunities that may arise through social media.

Patience was also important for Carl Richards (Movers and Shakers 2010). Richards, founder of planning firm Prasada Capital, is now a staunch believer in the power of social media, which he equates to “going to lunch with 1,000 people any time you want.” Not long ago, Richards emailed The New York Times columnist Ron Leiber and told him he appreciated the work he was doing for the planning industry. After several email exchanges—and a quick look at Richards’ Twitter account (@behaviorgap) and blog,www.BehaviorGap.com, Leiber offered him an opportunity to be a guest expert on the NYT’s “Bucks” blog. Today, Richards is quickly climbing the ranks of the social media universe and is one of the leaders in this space amongst financial planners.

“All you have to do is start saying things you passionately believe in,” Richards says. “I’ve been doing this for five years, pretty heavily for two, and for the first one and a half years it was cricketville—not a word. Then, slowly, one to two people started communicating. It’s amazing what you can accomplish.”

Make Your Web Site a Search Engine Magnet

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Right now, somewhere, a potential customer is searching for your products. But, who will they find first – your company or your competitors? Search engine marketing is all about getting in front of prospects at the moment they are searching for your capabilities on Google.

But how do you take full advantage of search engine marketing and outshine your competition? The following tips will put you on the path to search engine marketing success.

Choose the Best Keyword Phrases
The most critical step in search engine marketing is selecting the most important keyword phrases for your company. If you do not perform this step properly, your search engine marketing campaign is destined for failure.

When choosing the best keywords, it is critical to choose phrases that are relevant to your business and searched most often by your customers. Begin by getting inside the heads of your customers and brainstorm about potential terms your customers use when thinking about your products. Ask your salespeople, customer service people and best customers what phrases they think are most important. Then, turn to keyword research tools like Wordtracker or Google Adwords’ Keyword Tool to create a list of highly searched terms that will drive targeted traffic to your Web site.

Make Your Web site Attractive to Google
Now that we know your most important keywords, let’s put them to work. You need to make sure your Web site content and coding is optimized to take advantage of these phrases. Begin with your Web site copy – the information people can read on your site. Make sure you skillfully write your copy to effectively market your company, while using your important keywords in a relevant fashion.

Next, focus on your Web site structure – the code under the hood of your Web site that search engines see when they visit. Use your keyword phrases in page title tags, heading tags, director names, file names, alt tags and meta tags. Please note: while the ‘keywords’ meta tag is no longer relevant, the ‘description’ meta tag is very important. This description will show up in the search results below your link, providing a great opportunity to entice the searcher to visit your Web site.

Attract Quality Links to Your Web site
Link building involves gaining links to your Web site from other relevant and popular Web sites. The more quality inbound links you have, the more popular your Web site is in the eyes of Google. And, these links can have a dramatic effect on your search ranking.

A good place to start is to make your Web site content link-worthy. Good content attracts links, so fill your Web site with enlightening content such as best practices articles or a blog about trends in your industry. Next, get your Web site listed in online directories. Look first to important directories within your industry. Then, focus on general purpose directories like Business.com. You can also garner links from vendors, business partners and trade associations. Finally, leverage online public relations and distribute press releases and articles online. By consistently applying these link building strategies, you will dramatically boost your link popularity and your ranking on Google.

Run a Results-focus Paid Search Campaign
Pay-per-click advertising (PPC) in the sponsored links section of the search results offers a compelling ROI-driven marketing opportunity. Unlike traditional advertising, where you ‘pay for exposure’ regardless of the results, with PPC you are not paying to be listed in the search results. You only pay if someone clicks on your ad and visits your Web site, providing a compelling ‘pay for performance’ mode of advertising. To manage an ROI-driven PPC campaign, first, bid on the most relevant keywords. Don’t pick terms based on popularity. Make sure your offering will be of interest to the searcher. Second, tie your bidding strategy to results. Think cost-per-lead and cost-per-sale, instead of just cost-per-click. Finally, include a compelling ‘call to action’ in the ad and send traffic to a relevant landing page tied to the ad. A compelling and relevant offer will help lift response and boost your ROI.

Measure Your Search Engine Marketing Success
As with all marketing activities, you must measure success to judge your past performance, as well as identify strategies to improve your results in the future. Since search engine marketing is all about attracting targeted traffic, begin by leveraging Web analytics to monitor traffic increases from search, as well as the phrases peoples are using to visit your Web site.

To make sure the volume of visitors continues to increase, you should also monitor your ranking in the search results. On a regular basis, check your position in the search engines for your keyword phrases to see that you are trending toward a top 10 ranking. Finally, to measure success of your PPC advertising efforts, harness the measurable nature of the Web to track the cost-per-visit, cost-per-lead, and cost-per-sale for your PPC ads.

Bob DeStefano

2010: The Year Of Small Business Resurgence & (Finally!) Mobile Advertising

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

No one needs a new survey, study or pundit to tell them how important mobile devices have become to consumers. Just look down the street where everyone from teens to corner-office suits appears sidetracked by communication on the go—texting, talking, thumbs jumping across tiny keyboards in a hurried attempt to reply-all.

This is the audience of the future. And 2010 may just be the year for advertisers to tip the scale in reaching it. The technology powerhouses (i.e. Microsoft, Google, Yahoo! and Apple) are finally diving into mobile advertising in a huge way, recognizing the

approach of critical mass.

None of this is new. The market has been predicting that mobile will explode for years. Somehow, it hasn’t. Not yet, anyway. But that is all about to change—partly because of the dissolution of advertising in traditional media, but mostly because consumers are beginning to demand it.

The “smart” in smart phones is finally proving itself. And the businesses that have the most to gain from this newfound demand will be local, small business advertisers offering what consumers want to buy right now. In our experience, restaurant takeout, florists or home/consumer services such as carpet cleaning, self storage or auto repair are good examples of business categories that are particularly well suited for mobile campaigns.

An improving economy is bringing about a resurgence of small businesses—make that local businesses. Businesses with traditionally shallow advertising pockets, but all the more need for exposure.

High conversion rates, low cost and the ability to target highly local audiences will push mobile advertising into the spotlight this year. We have experimented with a number of mobile ad offerings and while we can’t give out all the secrets, we can say that we’ve had significant success with mobile search and increasing click-to-call ratios with mobile landing page optimization. Some best practices around succeeding with mobile include building campaign architectures and keywords specifically for the mobile user. This may include shorter keyword phrases, acronyms and even slang terms. Marketers should also consider the landing page for mobile campaigns – while iPhones and Droid phones are able to view full HTML pages, at least 85 percent of the market (according to a 2009 comScore study) still use other types of phones where mobile-friendly landing pages are a must for effective viewing.

A recent New York Times article made similar points, noting a prediction from Juniper Research that mobile ad spending worldwide will more than quadruple, to $6 billion, by 2014. Analyst Windsor Holden goes on to say that, while everyone has been hoping for the past five years that mobile advertising will take off, this will actually be the year it finally gets significant traction.

The first rule of business: give customers what they want when they want it. For example, a busy working mom who needs to send a bouquet can easily use her mobile device to find a florist. But her smart phone might go beyond mere directory search to display geo-targeted ads that only show results near her location, and then present a local florist’s phone number that she only has to tap or click to call.

Highly specific targeting, including leveraging aggregated consumer-related information, will also aid in the advent of mass mobile advertising. Much like paid-search ads, that local florist’s ad might appear on the working mom’s smart phone reminding her of a special occasion. Additionally, seeing the florist’s ad on a smart phone allows the working mom to easily store the business’ name and number for future reference, increasing the likelihood of repeat business.

Not only are the conversion rates generally high with mobile ads, the cost of entry is incredibly low compared to traditional local advertising. Mobile advertising campaigns are comparatively easy to set up as well. In fact, there’s an argument to be made that the time for taking full advantage of mobile ad inventory is now, while the costs are artificially low as a result of many advertisers still spending their budgets on PC ads. According to eMarketer, only 1 percent of total U.S. advertising spend is directed towards mobile. Of that 1 percent, the bulk is used for SMS advertising, which generally is harder to make work for local.

With the power of search at their fingertips, consumers have become increasingly dependent on information on the go. Advertisers can capitalize on this trend and offer their potential customers service with convenience via mobile advertising.

–Tom Leung

Is it Becoming Less Critical For Businesses to Have Websites?

Monday, February 15th, 2010

I don’t think there’s any question that you need a web presence to survive in today’s business climate. But do you still need a traditional website, or has the web moved on in that regard?

Do you still need a website to be succesful online? Share your thoughts.

First off, let me be perfectly clear in that I’m not advising anybody not to have a website. That said, there are a lot of ways to have a web presence without actually having a site, and let’s face it – maintaining a site (let alone a successful one) takes time, money, and resources.

According to data from Compete, Facebook has become a bigger traffic source than Google for some sites, and for many others, it is right up there with Google as a major traffic source. If it can drive the traffic, then that means the people are already at Facebook. You can be on Facebook without having your own website. Businesses can build a Facebook Pages, complete with analytics provided by Facebook itself, and they can spend time making that page a good one. Here are some tips on how to do that. Facebook pages are perfectly capable of being found in search engines. In fact, they are often right on the first results page.

You know what else is often right on the first page? A set of local search results from Google Maps, courtesy of Google’ Universal Search integration. Within those results (which are very often right at the top of the SERP) are links to individual businesses’ “Place Pages”. From here, users can find coupons, reviews, store hours, etc. There is a very good chance users will find this before they find your site anyway.

Google is actually going to great lengths to get people using these Place Pages. They are even sending out stickers with barcodes for stores to hang on their windows. When a user scans this barcode with their mobile phone, they will be taken to the business’ Place Page. Social media profiles can also appear on these pages (although so can website links of course).

I probably don’t have to tell you that the web is rapidly becoming more mobile. Smartphone usage and mobile broadband subscriptions continue to accelerate, and people are using a variety of devices, operating systems, browsers, and apps. Making sure you have a site that looks right across all of these is no easy task. This is not so much of a worry when it comes to Facebook pages, Google Place Pages, and other third-party entities.

In many cases, it seems that small business sites are becoming harder to find through organic search. If you look you can find them, but users want convenience, and they are probably not going to look too hard if they can find what they are looking for on the first search results page (or right within Facebook where they’re already spending their time).

Social profiles show in up in search, and often early. The very nature of social media is viral. If one Facebook users becomes a fan of your Facebook page, that user’s friends are going to see it. Then, maybe a couple of them also become fans. Then maybe a couple of their friends become fans, and that trend can continue on and on. The more people who become fans, and the more exposure that page gets, the more chance that page has of acquiring links, which of course can lead to better search engine rankings, not to mention a larger presence on Facebook itself, where a large percentage of Internet users are already spending a great deal of their time. Your reputation and following within the social networks themselves may do your profile well in the eyes of Google too.

If you sell things online, there are obviously many different options out there without having to sell from your own site. In fact, even Facebook and e-commerce are on the road to becoming more and more closely attached. People can buy/sell physical goods through Facebook.

A great deal of focus has been placed on Facebook in this article for the simple fact that it is the world’s most popular social network. That could all change in time. But that doesn’t mean the points would not sill apply to other services. Google is going to be placing a lot of emphasis on Google Buzz this year, and it’s going to become integrated with more and more Google products. Currently, Google profiles are kind of the central place for a Buzz presence. Users can include any links they wish right into that profile (Facebook page, Twitter account, blog, eBay/Amazon listings, etc.)There’s no telling how big Buzz can be, and there’s always the possibility that something else will come along and take the world by storm. And that is one of the reasons…

Why it Still Pays to Have a Site

Can you be successful without a site? I think so. However, having a site gives you a more stable foundation, and still creates more opportunities than if you didn’t have one. When you have a site, you have control. You don’t have to adhere to the policy guidelines of any third-party platform. If Facebook decides to shut its Pages down (as Yahoo did with GeoCities, for example), you still have your own site that they can’t touch. For that matter,having your own site certainly lends credibility to your brand.

Still, social networks continue to work on making data more freely able to flow among one another via a number of open standards like Activity Streams, AtomPub, OAuth, PubSubHubbub, Salmon and WebFinger. “The idea is that someday, any host on the web should be able to implement these open protocols and send messages back and forth in real time with users from any network, without any one company in the middle,” says Google software engineer DeWitt Clinton. “The web contains the social graph, the protocols are standard web protocols, the messages can contain whatever crazy stuff people think to put in them. Google Buzz will be just another node (a very good node, I hope) among many peers. Users of any two systems should be able to send updates back and forth, federate comments, share photos, send @replies, etc., without needing Google in the middle and without using a Google-specific protocol or format.”

Google itself, even has its own site dedicated to making user data for its various products exportable. That’s just Google, but the web in general appears to be moving more in this direction.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have a site, or even that you don’t need one, but I think it’s an interesting discussion. For now, I’m going to say having your own site is still in your best interest, but has a more social Internet with more portable data made a standalone site less critical? Is having a website going to be less important in the future? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the subject. Comment here.

–Chris Crum