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Why does Google get social content but not social networks?

It’s a running joke in the digital media space that Google+ is a ghost town. Not entirely accurate as companies such as Ford believe in the space and prominent bloggers still actively participate there, but it certainly didn’t meet the promise that many hoped for – to finally bring a direct competitor (with deep pockets) to Facebook. 50mm active users and 90mm registered users is nothing to sneeze at, but it’s certainly not where the Internet giant was hoping to be. This isn’t the first time Google’s tried to venture into social networks, there were the other Internet services, Buzz and Wave, which became fodder for Internet jokes before being shut down.

On the flip side, Google’s content creation engine consistently churns out compelling content that is shared far and wide and highly praised: think Google Doodles; April Fools jokes; and random Easter Eggs in products (e.g. Map Directions). They excel at it and appear to have a lot of fun doing it. So it should be only natural that if they are that good at creating content that people want to share they should understand how to build products that facilitate that sharing. Right?

Well, understanding the psychology of human sharing and interaction is different from creating cool things that people like to geek out to. Google, at its core, is full of incredibly smart engineers who look at problems logically and have a deep understanding of how the Internet works, how to create workflows, and how their own products can all be tied in together. These are the folks who brought us Gmail that revolutionized email, search which is the backbone of how people find information online, etc. etc.

But these products are all fundamentally purpose built, not discovery and interaction built.

I go to Gmail to read and respond to email. I use the search engine to find things I’m looking for, not to browse the web. I use Maps to get directions and find things. You get the picture. YouTube is different, but it wasn’t built in house, it was acquired after it was already successful and hasn’t really expanded much past it’s original purpose – to watch videos online.

The sticky social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr et al. are all about frictionless creation and sharing which is where the content that Google creates naturally spreads. Google+ is amazingly built. It has so many features that the other networks lack it should be a natural place to migrate our social interactions to. Except, all those features that make sense logically probably confuse the average user. Geeks get it, but geeks already have channels where their buddies are to share on. Circles are actually a really great idea, but the average person looks at that and says, whoa, way too much work! I’d hazard a guess that 9 out of 10 people on Facebook and Twitter haven’t set up lists either (the simplest versions of Circles). Ripples? What are those? Hangouts, which should have been the killer feature weren’t promoted properly (think about how Apple promoted Facetime for how it should have been done), and YouTube integration was an after-thought instead of a must have from day one. I could go on and on but you get the picture. When Google builds social networks they build them through their own incredibly logical lens instead of an average consumer lens.

So, what can they do? I’d suggest taking a look at why their content is so successful and how it spreads (psst, they have Google Analytics that recently added social networks tracking they could take a peek at for some insights). I’d also do a deep analysis of what their competitors are doing from a marketing lens, not a development one. Make it easy to import friends from other networks, make setting up a profile a snap, make it cool (and easy) to be there. Then, in the immortal words of start-ups: pivot…. Hell, even Zuckerberg pivoted by opening The Facebook to non-college kids.

In the meantime, keep the content coming, it’s really good!

Image credit: [Jennifer Horn @ Google]

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Speaking at SMX Toronto

I’ll be on a panel at SMX Toronto this Friday: Search and Social – Insight and Inspiration. The panel will be moderated by Alexa Clark and feature a cross-section of smart folks – Leona Hobbs from Social Media Group, Jeff Quipp of Search Engine People and Ilya Grigorik from Postrank.

I’ve always been passionate about the intersection of search and social and how the two can intersect to provide a rich, contextual experience for users. With the quality of people on the panel it’s sure to be a lively and informative discussion.

If you plan on attending, make sure to say hello!

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Analytics, focus and your digital presence

analytics, data, planning

Being present online these days is standard for any company whose customers can be found in this medium, be it with a website, or taking it further to the social media space. One aspect that remains mandatory, no matter how big or how small you are participating is understanding and being actionable with your website analytics data. Your site data is different from conversational data which comes into play and is layered on when you get involved in the social web.

Setting up your analytics and determining what and how to measure is a key first step in managing your focus and presence in the digital space. Having a strategy in place for reviewing and incorporating the insights gleaned is a must. Doing so up-front will save money and effort in the long-term.

What are some of the things your data can teach you?

  • What content are people the most focused on or drawn to? Does it align with your preconceptions of what was important? If not, what are you missing? How can you adapt? What can you do to increase engagement with the content you think should be a higher priority?
  • Are there frequently specific areas of abandonment on your website? Why? Is it as simple as a 404 error, or more complex – heavy load time, unclear navigation, mis-labled content, etc.
  • What content drives traffic but isn’t sticky? Review it with an open mind. Take off your marketing glasses and put on your consumer hat.
  • Where is your traffic coming from? Links? Do you know who the people are who are advocating your content? Are you present where your content is being shared? Are you optimized to encourage sharing?
  • What type of search engine traffic are you getting? Is it quality? Do you rank well for some terms and not for others? Are the engines indexing the pages the way you would want them to?
  • What are some of the keywords that are driving the most traffic from search engines as well as from social networks? Are they what you anticipated? Do they align with your content and focus? What can you do to adjust?

Taking the time to set a strategy in place can provide a goldmine of actionable data and, if included in review cycles, can continue to be a road map to how your digital presence is managed, and can help refine and focus your marketing initiatives. It’s a must.

[photo credit: jef_safi via Flickr]

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Upcoming event: Search Engine Strategies Toronto

This June 8 & 9th the Search Engine Strategies conference will return to Toronto. I had the pleasure of speaking at the event in 2007 and as the landscape continues to evolve, this year looks to have some great sessions on “what’s next” in search, along with the tried and true sessions about SEO & SEM. This year I’m covering SES right here on (3i). I hope to impart some of the goodness I’ll be learning over the two-days and if you have any particular sessions you’d like me to recap, let me know in the comments!

In addition to the keynote by the excellent Miss Rogue, Tara Hunt, author of The Whuffie Factor, the first day has some fantastic sessions, including:

 

  • Is PageRank Broken? The Future of Search
  • Universal and Blended Search: Comprehensive Visibility Challenges
  • Optimizing for Video Search: Virgin Territory?
  • SEO Then & Now: What’s the Same? What’s New? [I'll be featuring an interview with one of the panelists, Anne Kennedy, in the coming weeks on (3i). ]

 

Day 2 again features some terrific sessions in addition to the keynote by Emanuel Rosen, author of The Anatomy of Buzz Revisited:

 

  • Follow the Carrot: Cool Mobile Apps
  • Information Architecture, Site Performance Tuning and SEO
  • Social Media: Do Big Companies Get It?
  • How to Speak Geek: Working Collaboratively With Your IT Department to Get Things Done

 

If you are at the conference make sure to find me to say hi, or if you aren’t attending, follow along here and leave me a comment with your perspective on the hot issues being discussed!

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SMPRs: Who’s paying attention? Who should be?

As the Social Media Press Release reaches its second anniversary an interesting study was released recently by PR Week that gauges where, and how, bloggers and journalists like to receive company information. It’s a topic that’s picked up steam recently as the major news release companies and PR firms have gotten on-board with the notion of making their news “sharable” and “findable”.

Which brings me to the most recent report and then some thoughts on what “findable” really means on the interwebs as they stand today, and as they will organically move forward with Universal Search and the semantic web (aka Web 3.0). But first, the findings in the report:

Across the board, both traditional journalists and bloggers (approx. 85% respectively) received pitches from public relations folks.

No surprise there, but this is where things get interesting…

Traditional journalists rely primarily on a companies website (89%) for information when researching a story, followed by Google search (73.8%) and personal contact by a PR person (70.9) or press release. On the flip side, bloggers rely on a Google search and the company website almost equally (86.1% and 87.3% respectively) and are just tipping over 50% in the personal contact or press release department (54.4% and 57% respectively).

And then of course the question relating to the title of this post, how about the SMPR?

“What would the ideal pitch look like?” — A personal, concise email – 63.1% across the board, with the highest percentage being bloggers at 70.9%.

When asked about the social media release bloggers were slightly more receptive than the average at 17.7% vs. 7.1% in aggregate including traditional TV, radio and print journalists.

Now of course, no one wants to receive a traditional release with the abysmal stats of 2.5% for bloggers and 19.9% in aggregate.

Finally, video isn’t swaying many editors it seems with 70.1% aggregated journalists and bloggers (60.8%) stating that including video in a pitch doesn’t sway them.

So there are some stats here that make it pretty clear we have a long way to go in wide-spread adoption of the SMPR, although with the echo chamber noise about it, it seems the bubble effect keeps going and SMPRs are becoming major parts of a brand social media strategy but without any thought to the fundamentals about who is paying attention, and perhaps more importantly, how they are doing so.

No offense, but the way SMPRs are being presented range from a blog post format to a traditional ad-agency microsite format to a press release on the wire with some video and “share it” buttons. There is no consistency, and frankly, no context or long-term planning for the most part. It’s a bit ironic, but what I’m seeing happen with SMPRs is akin to the rampant use of microsites in the late 90s/ early 00s… lots of content thrown at the users, no contextual relevancy, no personalization, and an expiry date.

Let’s go back to web principles 101 here for a minute:

Everything you do should be intuitive, findable, and relevant (both in the immediate and in the archive). This is what drives the semantic web, what will drive the future of our online experience, and why tagging etc. has become a standard categorization method across all social media applications and tools.

So about the SMPR…

First off, and I cannot stress this enough, what ever you do online MUST be hosted on your own servers, with your own domain strategy in place, not exclusively on a newswires or an agency’s. Otherwise you are giving away your brand SEO juice and contextual content to a third-party and it provides absolutely no value to you unless that third-party has the built-in organic relevancy for your brand that you do (I cannot even imagine an example). Leaving aside the obvious SEO elements, from a conversational, and a web usage standpoint, search is where people go first to find information they’re looking for unless they are triggered by a friend’s recommendation or conversation. That’s where, if they’re searching, they want to find your information – in one of the top organic results. Why would you want to compete with anyone when you’re building an SMPR (especially yourself)? Your site has the brand equity of, for most corporations, a decade; build on it, don’t dilute it.

Secondly, using a newswire that’s enabled social sharing is a great idea as a supplement to sharing your content or news, but nothing beats one-to-one interaction, as the study further reinforces. There is no substitute for getting to know the community you are a part of. In addition, as multiple studies over the years have shown, when it comes to domain and branding strategy, simple and contextual is key to recall. Making sure your social content is part of your overall website and marketing strategy is crucial to maximizing visibility and interaction.

In the end, it ultimately comes back to being “findable” and “relevant” on a topic in the long term. Let’s also keep in mind that as much as an SMPR is a valuable tactic within social media, there is nothing inherently “social” about a “share this” button. The sociability comes in the interaction and the conversation over multiple channels and platforms.

And part of interaction, conversations, and what drives it all, context, is being accessible. Which leads us into universal search.

Universal search is a hot topic, and with it the reality that content is findable across a wide spectrum of properties using a single search term (a search for “Hyatt” could yield video, images, podcasts, as well as the corporate website and blog, etc.). Google, for example, is all about building a relevant experience for their users. If they know (because their algorithms look for patterns and context) that not only is the Hyatt video on YouTube hot, but it’s also embedded and linked to from the Hyatt Press Room that has historical and brand credibility, that contextually confirmed video will appear in the top results in most cases.

And that’s where the SMPR plays a valuable role: in your Media Centre/ Press Room, properly optimized for search.

The whole report really has some meaty stats and questions in terms of journalists views on the state of their industry, and how they work & bloggers take on their place in the eco-sphere – it’s worth a thorough read.

h/t on PRWeek report @dannysullivan via Twitter

[photo credit: monicutza80 via Flickr]

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