When social media impacts search – 3 areas to think about

Search button - now more social and influenced by word of mouthToday I attended an event hosted by WOMMA UK which covered the ways that word of mouth is impacting search and looked at how search and social media are overlapping more and more.

Search and social are becoming increasingly intertwined, especially with the arrival of Google+, a clear indication of the search giant’s intention to further develop and improve the social nature of search results.

There are several important areas brands should consider when thinking about how word of mouth affects their performance on search engines. Here are three areas that brands should keep in mind when looking at their social and search strategies:

1. Word of mouth drives search traffic - be ready

  • People that “hear” about your brand (online, face to face, or otherwise) will want to search for you, for convenience, for education and for learning about new opinions. This means you need to cater for all the various different ways people will search for your brand and cover all the possibilities that  misspellings or misperceptions may cause.
  • “Reviews” is a very popular search term, so hosting these on your own site is a great way to generate authenticity and long-tail search terms.

2. Social and your online reputation

  • Consider the implications for reputation management. Is “scam” a prominent result on the suggestions for your brand in Google? Nobody wants to see that, but instead of covering it up, ask yourself why this is such a dominant sentiment. Maybe there is a miscommunication and customers are not fully informed as to what your provide? Treat this as an opportunity to intercede and communicate.
  • You can be proactive by using third party sites such as Yahoo! Answers, which generally ranks well and gives you a neutral platform to respond to negative sentiment.

3. Conversions and social media

  • Retailers – price is no longer a USP. Your customers will be seeking deep content, such as user reviews and friend’s recommendations. It is important for users to trust your site, or they will go elsewhere to research and/or purchase.
  • Remember that peoples’ decision making can be rational, but is predominantly emotional. Having social recommendations appear in search results and on page will appease the latter.

Real-time research: the Mesh Planning experience

I went to the Espresso Briefing this morning from the Word of Mouth UK Marketing Association (WOM UK) at the lovely Bean ‘n’ Cup in Camden. Fiona Blades from Mesh Planning was presenting a case study of their Research for Lynx/AXE for the Boom Chicka Wah Wah campaign - a 360 campaign that started with the commercial below.

Fiona’s talk explained how Mesh used a real-time research method. Recruiting a network of boys and getting them to text every time they came into contact with one of four brands (including the Lynx brand to make the process more thorough) or one of four catchphrases. They also had to say how they felt each time they responded. This data was then expanded using an online diary and the entire data set provides a wealth of information on where and why people came in contact with the brand or slogan and how they felt about this.

This depth of information provides real-time feedback on the effectiveness of a campaign but also helps to measure advocacy - references on social networks or even in conversation with others were to be included and reported back.

The research shows one way in which you can use new technologies inventively to gain a greater depth of insight than traditional tools allow. Real-time surveying gets a more accurate observational record of what people see; combining this with a retrospective diary tool allows you to capture what people think. This combination is powerful and provides a richer data set - you can record peoples’ opinions before and after exposure to a campaign and then really understand how they came into contact with the brand and so start to explain why their attitudes change.

At FreshNetworks we use similar tools in our online research communities allowing us to track and monitor how peoples’ opinions change and then to understand why this might be the case. New techniques like this are expanding the power of research and increasing the depth of our understanding!

The future of marketing and advertising

What’s the future of Advertising? There is none.

So starts a great set of slides from Paul Isakson, about the future of marketing and advertising. Isakson’s thesis is that advertising is dead and that the future is about marketing and in particular ‘new marketing’ - where the customer is at the centre and not the brand.

This approach is one that we follow at FreshNetworks - the future of marketing is about creating brand fans, having an impact on their lives so that thye remember you. You create loyal advocates of your brand who are willing to do your marketing for you through word of mouth. To acheive this is not easy but digital methods make it easier to both engage with customers in this way, but critically also to understand what customers need and want - to gain insight.

We’re about advocacy and insight at FreshNetworks, and use new digital methods to acheive this and to explore innovations in both products and services. If you want to know more let me know. In the meantime, see Isakson’s excellent slides below.

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LinkedIn: less network, more community

At FreshNetworks we distinguish between Online Networks, which are centred on a ‘me’, and Online Communities, which are centred on an ‘us’. Whilst the two types of site may have similar features, the simple way to distinguish between them is that Networks tend to be organised by person - photos, messages etc (think of Facebook), whereas Communities are organised on issues, common themes or interests (think of Tripdvisor). Until today, LinkedIn fell firmly in the Network camp. It was a business social networking site that was very much about the ‘me’ - with profiles as virtual CVs and contacts as your virtual roledex.

But, today, LinkedIn took all the data and information it gathers and helped it to restructure how you use the site. It made it more of a community (see TechCrunch for the breaking news). The breakthrough is to structure LinkedIn by company and not individual. I can now search for company profiles. Based on data that individuals contribute to their own pages, but presented to me not as individuals but as the company as a whole.

On one hand this allows us to know data on the company’s employees. For instance I can tell you that the company I work for (FreshMinds) has employees with an average age of 26 and is 61% female (see our LinkedIn Company profile here). Of course I could probably have told you this by looking around the office. Of more interest might be to do the kind of analysis that the San Francisco Chronical has done (reported in the Social Media blog here), letting us know things such as the average age of Facebook employees (27) and the most popular destination for people who leave Yahoo! (Google).

Undoubtedly, this is a mine of useful information for researchers and recruiters alike (although it is only as accurate as the number of people from a particular company on LinkedIn allows) and Dan York explains his thoughts on this as a data mining tool here. I agree with this, but think it is a significant shift for LinkedIn in a different way. It is the start of a shift from the profile-based, personal-detail reliant Network style of navigation to one based on common interests. It is making LinkedIn more of a Community. It should make it easier to find and relate to colleagues (old and new). Companies can use the data to benchmark themselves against their peers, or indeed to find data on their own employees in a quick and easy fashion (how many keep accurate and detailed statistics on career routes after people leave). And recruiters can keep track of hires and promotions across their industry.

From a useful individual site; LinkedIn is developing into a powerful group tool.

Advocates of Advocacy

We’ve spent the last couple of days at an event in London which gets together Marketing Directors from across the UK to meet each other, discuss current issues they’re facing and explore some innovative solutions. It was a great opportunity for us to meet people across different industries and find out the issues they’re facing.

The one word that came up again and again during the day was ‘advocacy’. Two great examples from the day are Aga and Save the Children.

Aga are currently launching a campaing called ‘This is My Aga’ (see here) and encouraging people to join a community where they can log where their Aga is, chat with other owners and share ideas, news and stories. This kid of activity is a great way to allow passionate customers to contribute to the brand, feedback and it gives them a unique place to go to online. For Aga this is about building a network of passinate Aga owners who will discuss their product on the community and outside the community. Building advocacy for the brand and product in the wider communities they’re in. By letting owners connect and feel part of an exclusive community they create positive attitudes towards Aga, which can only be good.

In a different sector, Save the Children, want to educate people about what their work involves, who is helped and where. They need to build a network of people who understand this and spread the word - becoming advocates of their work. To help achieve this, they’ve built Kroo Bay, an online community that lets you see video tours of and connect with the Children of Kroo Bay in Sierra Leone. The purpose of this site (and the campaigns that will drive people here) is to let people see and understand first hand what life is like in Kroo Bay and the work that Save the Children are doing there. They believe that by interacting with people in this way they will build real knowledge, support and advocacy for their cause.

These two examples are jsut typical of the discussions I had over the two days. People from different sectors and with different needs are talking about advocacy. A need to engage in a deep and sustainable way with people (whether they’re customers, donors or just supporters). A way to make these people feel special and like insiders to your brand or cause. A way to involve them in your brand and to involve yourself in their’s. Something that’s at the core of what we do at FreshNetworks.