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Social Media Strategies for Facebook and Twitter

Alison Kawa - Saturday, July 02, 2011

Businesses often aren't sure how to engage customers on Facebook and Twitter. What can you say to compete with the latest lolcat or pictures from the party showing up in the news feed next to your post? Every business has a different voice, different audience, and different mission, so it’s hard to recommend just one strategy. Here are some basic tips for retaining and entertaining fans.

See what your customers are saying. What are they talking about? How are they talking about it? What terminology are they using? What do they like or dislike most? These are the subjects upon which your posts and tweets should focus.

Join the existing conversation.
Customers are already talking about your industry – possibly even your brand. They want to tell you how to make your service or product better. Ask them questions about topics already being discussed, and give them an opportunity to develop a dialog with you. Find them on other message boards, forums, and fan pages and invite them to become a fan or follower so they can share their wisdom.

Stay true.
In every interaction with a customer, whether it’s an email, phone call, blog post, tweet, or Facebook post, maintain your voice. If you are a doctor, people expect you to be serious so they can trust you with their health. The same goes for bankers. If your key audience wants to have fun, have it with them.

The Dish on Yelp

Alison Kawa - Saturday, June 25, 2011

For my entire life, I have always heard, "the customer is always right." This used to be a general saying meaning businesses would do what they could, within reason, to keep their customers happy and returning to their store. I don't know about you, but I have noticed lately that a lot of employees seem to know nothing about customer service. They are so far removed from the owners or management that the importance of customer loyalty means nothing.

Enter Yelp.

Yelp is a website that allows you, the consumer, to enter a review of a company. If Company A made you the happiest girl on earth, you can shout to the world that they made your day. If Company B gave you the worst service you've ever had, you can warn the masses to stay away from them. The hope is that enough honest reviews would be given so you could tell from the high number or good (or bad) reviews whether you should spend your money at that store.

Initially, Yelp did not allow store owners to respond to customer complaints on their site. Yelp would monitor postings to make sure that they were truly reviews, and not users fighting back and forth about whether a company actually was a good or bad place to shop. I did watch one of those fights go down once. My hair stylist's former landlord wrote some pretty nasty things on her personal Yelp listing once. A few users jumped in to defend the stylist. Yelp quickly removed all of the posts.

I have not had personal experience with what I am about to say, but I have had more than one person tell me a similar story so I believe it to be true. Some business owners claim that if they wanted to remove negative reviews from their listing, Yelp would tell them they had to pay a monthly fee. Business owners claimed it was extortion. A lawsuit seems to have changed how Yelp is doing business. Store owners are now more regularly responding to reviews. To most, it sounds like a great idea.

In my eyes, it opened up a whole new can of worms.

Last year, a group of friends and I went to a restaurant/bar for happy hour (we call ourselves the Mojito Girls). We usually meet up once a month for social hour after work. We often go to the same restaurant. They have 3-1/2 stars out of five on Yelp, with 462 reviews. To me, that's pretty good. They offer great specials, have delicious food and amazing drinks. This particular night, we had a terrible time. We started out on the wrong foot with the hostess and just continued downhill from there. I wrote them an email about our experience and did not receive a response (look here, businesses, if you're going to list an email address on your website, you really should monitor it and respond to emails). So I wrote a Yelp review -- a not so friendly one.

The owner responded pretty quickly and asked us to give them another chance. She offered a credit of $75 in food and drinks if we would return. So we did -- and we were treated like royalty. The chef sent out free samples of new recipes he was testing. The Bacardi girls were there and brought around free drinks to try. We received shirts and fun necklaces. It was a little over the top and we realized they were overcompensating because the entire staff knew we were "the complainers." But, by the end, we were happy campers. I thanked the owner for their hospitality and updated my review to let people know that we were again satisfied with their service.

A few months later, another restaurant gave us HORRIBLE service. I wrote a Yelp review and, within a week, I had $50 in gift certificates to that restaurant.

I realized I could be sitting on a GOLD MINE! If I wanted to go around writing bad reviews of restaurants, it looked like I could be eating free all the time! That kind of bothered me. I stopped writing bad reviews. I feel like Yelp is a great idea in theory, but I also recognize how easy it is for people to "buy" good reviews. I still read Yelp reviews, but I also take every review with a grain of salt. For most companies, you will find someone who loved them and someone who hated them. I usually scan the reviews, read a few one star reviews, read a few five star reviews, and then make my own choice. I recognize that you cannot make everyone happy all of the time. I also hope that companies are checking out the profiles of those customers writing bad reviews to make sure they are not serial complainers before they offer up freebies in exchange for a better review. Otherwise, some might be eating well for free every night of the week.

lolorashel lives in the bay area, where she tweets, posts, and twirls about Twirly Girl Pole Fitness: women of all shapes, sizes and abilities can flourish, get their sweat on and still feel sexy!

How Does Google Think? The Principles of Search Engine Rankings

Alison Kawa - Saturday, June 18, 2011

Everyone talks about the specific methods of getting your site highly ranked in natural searches, but the algorithms Google and other search engines use are constantly changing. While it's sure to remain some combination of placement and number of keywords, number of pages, and number of strategic links to and from other sites, it might be a better strategy to think about natural search from Google's point of view.

They want to return relevant information from a user's query so that person will return to search again on Google. Here is a list of questions Google engineers keep in mind when they tweak the algorithm:

  • Would you trust the information presented in this article?
  • Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
  • Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
  • Would you be comfortable giving your credit card information to this site?
  • Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
  • Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
  • Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
  • Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
  • How much quality control is done on content?
  • Does the article describe both sides of a story?
  • Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
  • Is the content mass-produced by or outsourced to a large number of creators, or spread across a large network of sites, so that individual pages or sites don't get as much attention or care?
  • Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
  • For a health related query, would you trust information from this site?
  • Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?
  • Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
  • Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
  • Is this the sort of page you'd want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
  • Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
  • Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
  • Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
  • Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?
  • Would users complain when they see pages from this site?

You can find more details on Google's blog.

In short, it's not how you get your site ranked high, it's why. Please feel free to comment or contact us if you have more insights or questions about natural search.

Is It Time to Get Your Groupon?

Social Sonar - Saturday, June 11, 2011

Every day I get e-mails offering me discounts on items and services... Mamapedia, Schwaggle, Yelp, Living Social, Facebook, CBS, and the biggie...GROUPON. Everyone seems to be putting together their own version of the discount group deal.

The basic premise is the company offers your service or item at a HUGE discount You are e-mailed to their entire mailing list and (hopefully) come out with new customers. The catch is that, after discounting your product heavily, they take half as their fee, leaving you with some small percentage of what you would normally charge.

Twirly Girls Pole Fitness received an offer from Groupon last year. We were so excited. In our eyes, it meant Twirly Girls was a reputable company. We thought the owner Bel might get 30, 40, maybe 50 new Twirly Girls out of it. Clearly, we understood that not EVERY person who did the Groupon would continue on as a student. But even if 10 girls stayed on, that would be great money for Bel.

Bel wanted to offer her taster class (a one-time class to let people try out pole dancing), which normally costs $25. Groupon usually cuts the cost in half (so, we're down to $12.50), then pays you half ($6.25). Groupon pushed for more -- they wanted her to offer a month of classes. Bel normally charges $120 for a month of regular classes. Groupon offered the deal at $49, which means Bel received $24.50. That breaks down to around $6 per person per class.

The day of the Groupon offer, some of us sat excitedly around our computers and watched the "sold" number on the website skyrocket. By the end of the day, over 300 people had signed up to take a month of Twirly Girls classes. We couldn't believe it. Bel has a small operation -- just her and one other instructor, both only working part-time. It was a little overwhelming (but exciting) in the beginning. Calls started coming in immediately and Bel was then tasked with finding space to fit all of the new students into classes appropriate for their beginner level.

If a normal student pays $120 per month for four pole classes, each class costs $30. Bel tries to keep those classes light, so one girl to a pole. If six girls are in a class, she makes $180 for each 75 minute class. For the Groupon classes, if she required girls to share a pole, there would be 12 girls in a class. If they are each only paying $6 per class, she makes $72. She's doing twice the work for half the pay. In fact, it was hard to schedule 12 girls in any given class, so she really was only making about $35 per class. If Bel paid the other instructor to do the class, she was actually out-of-pocket money.

Another issue is that people have up to a year to use their Groupon. Bel was flooded in the beginning. This Groupon expires in November 2011. She said there is a large number of people who have not turned in their certificate. This means when the end draws near, she may be flooded again. Or, possibly, some number of people will never turn theirs in and that would be cash in Bel's pocket to make up for the "hit" she's already taken.

Although I know Bel appreciated the experience, and met some wonderful people (Hello to the visual pole girls -- Bel's all deaf class), I know she would do a few things differently. For one thing, she may want to stick with just offering the one-time taster class. I also believe she would not want to leave the offer open for an entire year. Of course, she did gain some new students, and that's what the Groupon is really about -- getting new students/customers.

In the end, for a company to decide if Groupon (or any other group deal) is right for them, they really have to decide if using the Groupon-type service will result in returning customers. I know some people who just snap up these deals and will never return to a store/company again, regardless of the service or product offered. Make sure your company is ready to deal with the onslaught of new customers and that your employees are adept at selling whatever you are offering to maintain some of those customers after the deal is done.

lolorashel lives in the bay area, where she tweets, posts, and twirls about Twirly Girl Pole Fitness: women of all shapes, sizes and abilities can flourish, get their sweat on and still feel sexy!

Are You Twitterpated Yet?

Social Sonar - Saturday, June 04, 2011

When I first heard about Twitter, I thought it was a pointless website. Who would want to read a bunch of Facebook status updates? At least if I had to hear about what you ate for breakfast, I should also be able to see pictures of your adorable kids and dogs too.

I realized later that it could useful for businesses. Imagine a flight is going to be late. The airline can send one simple message (a "tweet") to let their followers know. Or maybe a retailer could offer specials to their loyal customers. Still, I refused to join.

Then I decided to brand myself. I didn't know what I was going to do with my brand but I wanted to own everything lolorashel. That meant getting a Twitter account. I told myself I didn't need to use it; I just needed to reserve my name. I initially added celebrities, hoping to see some public Twitter fights go down firsthand. Then I started adding some fitness fanatics, hoping for a few weight loss tips. Finally I realized there are a lot of my fellow pole fitness enthusiasts out there. So I started adding them too.

I would occasionally tweet the random Facebook status update but, for the most part, I used it to tweet links to my blog posts. I started to really pay attention to who I was following and who was following me. I started interacting with other tweeters, thereby creating relationships and they started including me in "Follow Friday" (#FF; a day where tweeters inform their followers of people they should also follow). I noticed that within minutes of posting a link to my blog, I'd already have five or six clicks (a lot for me and just something fun to track since I'm not trying to sell anything). I started really trying to understand and properly use the hash tags (#NotTooCoolForTwitterAnymore) to mark posts, which is also how they spot trending topics. Suddenly I started to understand the power of Twitter.

Twitter is not a bunch of Facebook status updates. Properly managed, it is a very powerful tool to reach millions of people you might never have had access to before. Unlike Facebook, users do not necessarily be your friend (or follower) to read your tweets. If you use hash tags to mark your topics properly, people searching for that very topic can easily find you. People also have the power to re-tweet your message, passing along your information to all of their followers with the simple click of a button.

My blog entries used to get 10-20 hits each time I posted. I only have 49 actual followers of my blog. I have over 500 friends on Facebook (where I also post my blog links). I also manage several fan pages on Facebook, which gives me access to a larger audience -- strangers who are not already on my friends list. I only have around 400 followers on Twitter. Yet somehow once I started posting blog links to Twitter, the clicks on my blog went up drastically. Some days I'm getting 80 clicks. I've had almost 15,000 hits on my blog in the last year and a half, and I'm not even really trying. Pretty decent for a girl who is just writing about her crazy little life.

I am now using the information I learned about Twitter to promote Twirly Girls Pole Fitness, a pole dancing studio in Pleasanton, California. I can quickly and easily post about events, workshops, classes or specials. I groomed the list of people Twirly Girls follows to be pole dancers and fitness tweeters. I also keep an eye out for people in the San Francisco Bay Area that are interested in fitness and dancing. The hope in adding these people is that they will follow me back. I don't exclude people who live far away because Twitter makes the world much smaller and you never know if someone will re-tweet your message and that will reach someone that is interested in your services.

It has been a fun experience learning about Twitter. Certainly a business would not expect any social network to be it's only marketing source. However it is a fast, easy and inexpensive way to connect with a new audience.

lolorashel lives in the bay area, where she tweets, posts, and twirls about Twirly Girl Pole Fitness: women of all shapes, sizes and abilities can flourish, get their sweat on and still feel sexy!

How a Blog Benefits Natural Search

Alison Kawa - Saturday, May 28, 2011

Having a blog is a serious time investment, and every word is worth it. Here's why.

Relevant keywords / number and placement of keywords

Blogging enables you to mention multiple keywords that can be relevant to a search. Every time you blog, you increase the number of times the keywords are mentioned. Often times keywords will end up in the title of your blog, increasing their importance in the Google ranking algorithm and making your site more likely to be returned in the results of a search.

Number of pages on a website

Having a lot of pages indicates to Google that you have a lot of information. Since Google’s mission is to connect users with the information they seek, having a blog positions you as an industry expert whose site is valuable. Each time you write a blog post, a page for that post is automatically created, increasing the number of pages on your site and increasing your Google ranking.

Frequency of site changes

Google wants to provide its users with the most up-to-date information. The logic is, the more often you change your site, the more current your information is. Google’s crawlers will re-visit your website and, if you have made edits since the last time it was crawled, the crawler will make a note of it and return more frequently. If you continually update your site, it will be crawled more and more often, and the information you post will be catalogued closer to real-time. Every blog post counts as an update to your site, and will increase your search engine ranking, as well as the frequency of your crawling.

Why Having a Blog Is Crucial for Your Business

Social Sonar - Saturday, May 21, 2011

It raises your natural search engine ranking.

WordPress LogoWe'll use Google as an example of a search engine, since it holds 80% of the market share. Google determines the ranking of a website with the following:

  • relevant keywords to the search
  • number and placement of the keywords
  • number of pages on the website
  • frequency of site changes
  • and many more (secret) methods

Every time you write a blog post, you:

  • increase the number of keywords on your site.
  • automatically create a page for each post, thus increasing the number of pages.
  • change your website and creating something new for the crawler to find during the next visit.

See the pattern?

It complements your SEM strategy.

Having a high natural search ranking actually increases your ranking for paid search, as well. By keeping your site relevant and timely with a blog, your ads will appear higher on the page and cost less per impression.

It gives you something to talk about.

Facebook and Twitter posts are great for a short format. If you have a big idea that warrants some explaining, a blog post is a great way to offer added value to your customer.

It's free advertising.

Blog posts are easy to share. By setting yourself up as an industry expert with a lot of experience, people are likely to listen to what you have to say, and share this information with friends and co-workers.

How to Master Search Engine Optimization

Alison Kawa - Saturday, May 14, 2011

How do you rank high in natural search?

The answer is simple and refreshing: Be useful. Have content people want to read. Not only will you be helping your customers, you will also increase your natural search ranking.

Many people create content with a blog. A blog is a great way to talk to your customers in a more informal tone. They get a better feel for you and your company, and they often find additional, useful information. In talking about your business, you are bound to use keywords that rank you higher in natural search results.

Make lots of friends. The more sites that link to you, the more important search engines think you are. It’s just like people. The more people have heard of you, the more important people think you are. The quality of the websites that link to you, however, is really important. A link from a major website like the BBC is much more important to your ranking than links from one hundred really small websites.

Have a lot of information. The more pages you have on your website, the higher your ranking in natural search.

Avoid Flash with every ounce of strength you have. Flash “breaks” your website for search engines. If you look at the code of a website using Flash, it simply states, “Must have Flash player to view this site”. It doesn’t tell the search engines anything about your website, or why it is relevant to the search.

Do your business a favor and focus on natural search from the beginning. Your money will be well-invested!

How Natural Search Works and Why It's Important

Alison Kawa - Saturday, May 07, 2011

How does natural search work?

Search engines like Google want to return useful information when you search so you will use their services again. Search engines send out "crawlers", "bots" or "spiders" to look through websites and catalog their content. The search engines keep track of "keywords", or words commonly used to search for things, on the website. When a person searches for something in a search engine, the search engine displays the results according to how useful they are to the person searching. In other words, how closely the keywords on the website match the words in the search.

As a small business owner, you want to make sure your website is listed as high as possible in natural search rankings. Search engine optimization, or, making it easy for search engines to find and catalog the keywords on your site, is crucial to getting a high ranking in the natural results of a search.

For example, if you are a wedding photographer, you want to have the words "wedding photography" on your site, as well as your location. "Chicago", for instance. When someone searches for "wedding photography" in the Chicago area, Google can tell what location the search originated from, so it returns results relevant to Chicago. The more times you mention keywords and your location, the more relevant Google thinks your website is for the person searching.

Can't you just list keywords over and over again on a separate page on your website?

In the early days of search engines, it was simple to trick Google into thinking your site was useful for the searcher. People would do things like put keywords in white on a white background so people couldn't see them on the website, but crawlers would catalog them. But search engines are smart and adapt quickly. Nowadays, websites are punished for using cheap tricks like the one mentioned. Their ranking is actually lower than it could be if all the content was original and contained the same number of keywords.

Why is natural search important?

Natural search is non-stop, relatively cheap advertising. Your only cost is creating content. Lots of people have paid search programs with services like AdWords. In order to have your ad appear on the right side of the search results, you have to continue putting money into the program. If you don't pay your AdWords bill, your ad no longer appear on the right side. When you invest money and time in search engine optimization, the investment stays with you. Even if you turn off your paid search program, your ranking in natural search will still be there.

Natural search actually works in tandem with paid search. Google displays ads not only according to how much money the person paid for the ad, but also how relevant the website is to the search. You could pay less and be ranked higher than the next company down if the search engine thinks your website is more useful.

Welcome to Social Sonar

Alison Kawa - Saturday, April 30, 2011

For years we have been working with small businesses to craft beautiful, usable websites optimized for natural search. But a website and high search engine rankings are only part of an online media strategy. Consumers aren't just using Google to find things anymore. Increasingly, their first stop is an online review site like Yelp or social media site like Facebook or Twitter.

We like to save small business owners time. We have always set up websites to be editable without paying a designer to update the code. While most of our clients could find the time to update content, and even write the occasional blog post or email newsletter, it seemed there was never enough time to monitor all the social media and online review sites. Yelp and Facebook pages stood empty, and blog posts, which are a great tool for ranking higher in search results, fell by the wayside.

Most small business owners don't have the resources to hire someone full time, so we developed a suite of services to maintain the pillars of a good online reputation:

  • Responding quickly to Yelp reviews, Facebook posts, and Twitter tweets.
  • Actively tweeting on Twitter and promoting your business on Facebook with relevant conversations about your business and promotions you're running.
  • Regular blogging and email newsletters featuring information relevant to the happenings of your business.
  • Incorporating your website into your social media strategy by encouraging reviews on key sites and displaying social commentary about your business on your site.
  • Helping businesses identify key social influencers and encourage interaction with them.

We're always open to new ideas and suggestions from clients and new friends. Hope to hear from you soon!

Best Wishes,
The Social Sonar Team