How to Use Content to Gain Social Media Success

November 29, 2011

The last year has seen the rise of ‘social’ within search. The huge growth of social media, together with search engines now increasingly focussing on providing the best possible user experience, has resulted in a greater prominence being given to social platforms when search engines return results.

Google, Yahoo and Bing now index social comments and use this information to tailor and personalise users’ search results. Google’s ‘+1’ button now has a large impact on page rank, while Bing has partnered with Facebook to display data from the Facebook ‘Like’ button as well as users’ profiles.

One of the most important effects of this shift towards social is the impact content now has on improving your brand’s online visibility. The phrase being constantly repeated is that ‘content is king’.

Brands therefore need to devise a highly effective social media content plan that takes into consideration the importance of search optimisation. This means creating fresh content which is optimised with relevant keywords and encourages people to share, retweet and engage with it across the social web.

Yet, competition is fierce. There are 27 million pieces of online content shared daily and 1 in 5 social media messages include links to content on the web.

So, as a brand, how do you stand out? With SEO success focusing increasingly on a brand’s social presence it is not enough to just ‘have’ content.

Your content needs to provide something unique and valuable to your audience. Ask yourself: does it convey your brand accurately and provide value to your audience?

The aim is to create active content so that your audience are participating and interacting. Onsite this could be encouraging them to comment on posts and rate articles, while offsite you need to maximise the number of social reactions, such as Facebook ‘Likes’ and tweets.

Here are my recommendations on key considerations when creating content:

WHERE you say it

Social media offers a range of tools that will provide unique insights which allow you to understand your audience. It’s vital you use these tools to research, monitor, understand your audience and make sure that you are where your audience are and using the most relevant and effective platforms.

Your social media content plan should reflect this. It also needs to be continuous and flexible as well as multi-channel. Brands must leverage a range of relevant channels. Twitter and Facebook seem the obvious choices but there are several channels that will help boost your SEO – these could include blogs, LinkedIn, Q&As, podcasts as well as virtual events. Also consider creating a presence on video sites, photo sites, social bookmarking sites and review sites. These will all help to boost the amount of ‘high quality’ content you have and boost your search optimisation.

WHAT you have to say

When creating content, think about the user’s online journey – how will they find your content? This is where search engine optimisation is vital. With the rise of social search, investing in original, quality content is essential to your SEO success.

Google itself has stated that their algorithms are aimed at helping users easily find high quality content. The launch this year of Google Panda, a major upgrade of their ranking algorithm, has resulted in what can be seen as a transformation in search optimisation.

Preference is now given to websites that publish high quality, original content on an ongoing basis. There is also a new focus on social mentions so that the more times people retweet, +1, ‘Like’ or share your online content the higher it ranks.

It means that brands must have a strategy in place for creating regular, relevant and optimised new content as well as growing and engaging your presence on social media networks.

Keywords, meta-tags, alt tags, anchor tags, page titles and heading structures all need to be optimised with the keywords that are most relevant for your brand. It is also vital to be aware of what your competitors are doing and what keywords they rank for and bid on. Putting in place an effective content marketing strategy that is fully optimised and continually updated will have a significant effect on your ranking position on search engines.

However, remember that optimisation of your content shouldn’t be to the detriment of the quality of the user experience or how compelling the content is – it needs to be both optimised so that search engines will find it and compelling enough that your audience will read and share it.

HOW OFTEN you say it

It’s often said that the secret to social media is timing. This means that you must schedule your social media activity and make sure you post at the optimum times for your audience.

Brands often ask how frequently they should post on their Facebook Page and when is the best time to post. The answer is that each campaign and brand is different. As a rule of thumb early mornings as the working day commences, lunchtimes and early evenings straight after work provide the most engagement. Facebook’s Insights data provide an invaluable understanding of how often and when your fans are engaging with your content – and help to ensure that you connect with your audience at the optimum times. Posting at these peak times will have an impact on the viralability of your content, with people more likely to connect with it and share it.

When it comes to frequency there is a delicate balance to be found: post too often and, though you will see an immediate increase in impressions, you will also see a loss in fan numbers. Post too infrequently and you will miss out on opportunities to reach your fans. In general, tweeting 1 – 4 times per hour and posting at least once a day on Facebook will provide the best results.

HOW you say it

As a brand you will have a tone of voice that permeates your organisation. When you create a social media content plan you need to consistently communicate this tone of voice across all platforms.

There are several fundamental factors and ideas that you should focus on when creating your content plan: use your brand narrative to tell a story through social channels. And present this story in a fresh and interesting way by using a range of media – videos, polls, photos as well as text.

One of the most important things, and one that many brands often seem to forget, is that social media is about having conversations. Be engaging, start conversations with your audience and build a real community – this will make your audience much more receptive to your brand and more likely to share and comment upon the content that you are posting.

You must use your content to associate your brand with specific topics and segments that are relevant to your brand and will position you as the experts within your field. It must also be entertaining, informative, and deliver some quantifiable value such as exclusive deals or products.

Quality AND quantity

The rise in the importance of social media to search requires brands to devise a content strategy that provides both quality AND quantity. The real time nature of social media means that content has to be posted frequently in order to stay ahead of your competitors. However, if you want to really stand out your content must also be compelling enough for your audience to engage with it.

Creating optimised content that is tailored both for your audience and for search engines will result in conversations, sharing and high visibility on search engines – in other words, social media success for your brand.

Building communities or bubbles?

June 14, 2011

The increasing personalisation of the web has been heralded as a great leap forward – it offers a personalised online experience, using search history and cookies to provide online users with highly relevant content that has been customised just for them. The effects of this can already be seen with social media and search now giving users a streamlined experience based on their unique interests.

However, this positive view has been challenged. According to a fascinating extract from ‘The Filter Bubble’ by Eli Pariser in the Guardian article at the weekend, “the race to know as much as possible about you has become the central battle of the era for internet giants like Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft.”

He argues this is creating a blinkered view of the world based on narrow interests and just your own personal tastes.  These ‘internet giants’ are ‘prediction engines’ who look at your online activity and try to create a personalised experience which they feel reflects these interests and ‘Likes’. From Facebook’s newsfeed to retargeted ads this is happening throughout the web:

  • Facebook: Facebook’s EdgeRank uses the information that Facebook has on users to provide a personalised newsfeed based on how often they interact with certain people and Pages (read our post on ‘Top 5 Tips for improving your Facebook EdgeRankhere). With personalised news feeds becoming a primary news source for many people this will have a big effect on the news they receive.
  • Google: Google use 57 signals – from where you log in from to what your searched history – to try to predict what kinds of sites you’d like. To put it simply, there is no set Google search any more – it is all based on that user’s unique activity.
  • Amazon: the online retailer sells billions of dollars by using its algorithms to predict what each customer is interested in and putting it on their own personal homepage.
  • Retargeting: cookies allow businesses to store and track information such as age, location, passwords and other personal data. They can then embed this data and target the user with personalised, relevant content and ads. This is why if you search for a pair of shoes you will see the same shoes in banner ads as you browse the web.

The main problem of all this customisation to Pariser is that “As a consumer, it’s hard to argue with blotting out the irrelevant and unlikable. But what is good for consumers is not necessarily good for citizens. What I seem to like may not be what I actually want, let alone what I need to know to be an informed member of my community or country.”  Furthermore, he also states that you create your own vacuum where “more and more, your computer monitor is a kind of one-way mirror, reflecting your own interests while algorithmic observers watch what you click.”

While Pariser puts forward an interesting argument and articulates it very well, personalisation has always been the holy grail of the internet. As Yahoo Vice President Tapan Bhat has stated: “The future of the web is about personalisation.  It’s about weaving the web together in a way that is smart and personalised for the user.”

This is the point. Providing the user with a personalised online experience makes it more relevant, more efficient and, therefore, more enjoyable. It is certainly a much better experience than the previous scattergun approach where adverts bore no relation to what the user was interested in.

Of course, there needs to be a balance between this and presenting people with an unknowingly self-serving version of the internet which presents to you views which you already hold. However, if this balance is achieved then social media and search can provide an incredibly useful and powerful way to find what you want in an environment in which people can contribute, interact and shape the conversation themselves.

Google +1 and the rise of social search

March 31, 2011

Yesterday, Google announced the launch of their ‘+1’ button. ‘+1’ is a continuation of Google’s desire to make social features more central to a user’s search experience and also challenge Facebook’s ‘Like’ platform . The button will allow anyone with a Google Profile to ‘+1’ their favourite sites and provides the ‘social search’ that Google has long been talking about.

What does the ‘+1’ button offer? Like the Facebook ‘Like’ button, users will have the ability to ‘+1′ different Google items.  All they have to do is log in to their Google Profile, click ‘+1’ on a webpage or ad you find useful and it will then start appearing in Google’s search results by friends, contacts and others on the web. (If you can’t yet see the +1 button in your search results you can enable it in Google experimental.)

These social results promise to be more relevant to the user searching through thousands or millions of results.  Google claim that “The beauty of +1s is their relevance—you get the right recommendations (because they come from people who matter to you), at the right time (when you are actually looking for information about that topic) and in the right format (your search results).”

The +1 button goes beyond showing up in search results – and this is where it will prove even more useful to brands’ online visibility. Google will attempt to rival Facebook’s ‘Like’ button by offering publishers a +1 button that lets users +1 something without leaving the business’ site. The appeal of utilising this is that the search giant has stated that +1 data will directly influence its market share dominating search rankings.

Where is social search heading?

It has been claimed that with the changes that Google are implementing search engine optimisation as we know it will be transformed. +1 is a clear indication that Google view the integration of social and search as the future – and that their search results will become more and more weighted by social interaction.

‘+1s’, Likes, comments and Tweets are going to become increasingly important when it comes to site optimisation and ensuring your business ranks highly. It is therefore crucial that brands engage across social platforms. Businesses must drive engagement and encourage people to share content in order to optimise their site and generate organic traffic.

By increasing social media functionality and interaction in what they offer Google is changing the face of search and how the user will experience it. For businesses this means they must engage with people on social spaces and get people to ‘+1’ their content in order to optimise their presence on Google.

The growth of social search

March 2, 2011

The rise in importance of social media was demonstrated this month with the announcement that Google were giving increasing prominence to results from social networks.

On February 17th Google launched major updates to Social Search, integrating information from Twitter, Flickr and Quora throughout its search engine – with Facebook conspicuous by its absence. This is undoubtedly because of partnership agreed between Microsoft and Facebook that brings “Like” data and profile search to Bing. This means Google doesn’t receive Facebook data that happens on personal Facebook walls in the way that Bing has been getting from Facebook. Google still doesn’t even have access to Facebook Like data because it objects to some of Facebook’s terms and conditions for having access to this information.

Indeed, it is almost certainly because of this rivalry and the competition posed by Facebook that Google has launched so many updates over the last few years in an effort to unite social and search. These reasons also mean that there will be a lot more updates from Google in the future to keep pace with the growing popularity of social media.

In summary: what the new changes mean

The new changes provide the ability to see results based on what the people you follow, and are connected to, are viewing and sharing. This means that if you are logged into your Google Account you may begin to see listings shared by your connections within organic search results.

Here are the most important aspects of these changes and how they will change your Google experience:

  • Possibly the most important result of Google’s changes is that there will be a huge increase in social media’s appearance in search – now any content shared by your friends on Twitter, Flickr and new Q&A site Quora may now appear in your search results.
  • The outcome of this is that different people will see different results. That’s because results will now be based on your individual relationship with the people who have shared content. The stronger your connection, the higher it will be found in the organic listings.
  • By allowing users to connect their social profiles to their Google accounts the search giant can judge the strength of your connections by cross referencing your friends on Google’s network of sites and seeing if that list matches your friend list on other social networks such as Twitter. This will in turn influence your search results.

So, social search results will now be found with all other results, not just along the bottom of the page. However, it will be easy to spot which results are taken from social networks – they will be indicated by a sentence underneath the URL which will tell you which of your connections shared the link.  As you can see below (click on the image to make it larger):

Much has been made of the battle between social and search but it seems that they are becoming more and more closely integrated. The question is: will Google and Facebook ever be able to resolve their differences?

What does the future hold for Google?

September 27, 2010

Happy birthday Google! The search giant officially turns 12 today and to celebrate they have replaced their regular logo with an image of a cake. As the long undisputed king of the web they have a lot to celebrate.

However, Google has recently faced its biggest challenge – the growing threat of Facebook. Some have described the battle between social media and search giants as one which will decide who has ultimate control of the internet. While this may merely be hyperbole, it’s clear there is intense competition between the two. So, what does the future hold as Google heads towards the terrible teens?

At first glance the rivalry between the two seems strange, as they have opposite goals: Google’s to send you to another site as soon as possible; Facebook’s to keep you engaged for as long as possible. However, while the two have contrary aims, online advertising is the issue over which they have clashed.

The targeted nature of Facebook’s advertising service threatens Google’s business model. Facebook offers advertisers a unique platform to target specific individuals as it has unparalleled access to personal information about every user. Facebook’s now ubiquitous ‘Like’ button also reveals lots of interesting data about online consumers. All these features add up to a very attractive proposition for brands.

Google has already dipped its toe into social media with Google Buzz and it will launch an even more comprehensive service called ‘Google Me’ this autumn. However, it seems Google Me will be a new layer on top of existing Google products and paid search ads will remain the cornerstone of Google’s offering.

So, which will prove to be the victor – social media or search? Both offer powerful opportunities. Search ads provide the reassurance that you will have a user who is looking for something related to your brand. Yet, for the first time social media is beating search in the battle for our web time, so Facebook advertising obviously holds a powerful advantage when advertisers are wondering where to spend their budget.

It seems clear that the one who emerges victorious will be the one who can best target an audience and ensure that brands know exactly who their advertising will be engaging with. In the end it could prove that a combination of social media and search will provide the greatest effectiveness for brands – mixing consumer insight with optimisation.