Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tweeting: It's Just Like Thinking and Talking In #

This blog entry discusses milk, and I thought about naming it "Twitter Does a Body Good." But the milk branding campaign is kind of played out, and besides, it's not every day that I encounter the opportunity to put the pound sign (#) in a blog headline.

This Thursday night my cat hadn't seen me in nearly four days, and whenever I'm gone for an extended time, she retreats to a very small world underneath my bed. Yesterday was no different, and sure enough, there she was. Upon hearing her name, she crawled up to me for a few pats, and I asked her, "Would you like some pound milk?"


Has Twitter wormed itself so far into my head that I'm now speaking in tweets—even to my cat? Yes, it has. But that's OK, and you ought to aspire to reach this level of oneness with Twitter, because tweeting is pretty much like thinking and then talking. (All of social media is, actually—but why should I write a book when I can just write a blog entry?) It's just that there's a big quirk: pound signs. And once you've learned to think in pound, tweeting should become second nature to you.

Twitter Code

By code, I don't mean computer code. You don't need to know that to know Twitter. Seasoned Twitter users will understand that I'm talking about hashtags. For the uninitiated, a Twitter hashtag is the pound sign on your keyboard. Placing it immediately before any word in a tweet automatically notifies the entire Twitterverse that you're tweeting about something relevant to the hashtag.

Do you want your tweets to be found in the Twitterverse? Then use hashtags. They're highly searchable on Twitter, a social network that, in ways, emulates a vast search engine of what people are talking about.

The Nuts & Bolts of Hashtags

Not all hashtags are recognizable as one word. Often, the hashtag will be several words strung together as one. That's because Twitter automatically makes a link out of any unbroken string of characters immediately preceded by a pound sign. Place no space between the hashtag and the string of unbroken characters immediately following it. Then, once the tweet is tweeted, watch the entire entity become a hyperlink. Afterward, clicking on that hyperlink will show you every tweet that's been tweeted with that hashtag.

Still more hashtags aren't words at all, or at least not per se. For instance, I recently attended the 2011 HR Demo Show, all about human resources technologies. SharedXpertise Media, LLC, the parent organization, was definitely on its game, alerting its tech-savvy attendees to two hashtags associated with the event: #HRDemo and (for concurrent HRO Summits, thrown by SharedXpertise's HRO Today magazine) #HROToday

Hashtags & Hybrid Networking

Why did SharedXpertise announce these hashtags? Well, both provided a way for all tweeting attendees to participate in a parallel, often equally compelling conversation in the Twitterverse. Employment of hashtags helps Twitter exponentially foster networking and the sharing of information at a brick-and-mortar event.

Smart Branding & Piggybacking

Using a hashtag in this way is also an exercise in smart branding, and a physical gathering of likeminded individuals provides fertile ground to plant the beginnings of a new hashtag brand through the cultivation of spontaneous, endorsed partner channels:

At the same event, (TMT), an online property newly acquired by ShareXpertise, launched and heavily promoted its own hashtag, #TMTech, piggybacking SharedXpertise's other branded, show-related hashtags, as well as other attendees' own branded hashtags (e.g. "#TChat," short for "Talent Chat," the weekly Twitter conversation hosted by Talent Culture) and generic hashtags around which TMT's target audiences congregate and search within Twitter (e.g. #hrtech).

Developing Twitter Clout

Through prolific tweeting at HR Demo, TMT's objective, clearly, was to promote general awareness of itself as an online destination and to attract the attention of its marketplace's leading denizens and thought leaders. By attending several more large HR-related events and employing this hashtag at every turn, with every tweet, TMT will be embracing a solid tactic to expand its sphere of influence on Twitter and thus promote awareness of itself and develop clout—and maybe even "Klout" (see a future blog entry).

Back to My Cat...

To know I was about to pour some for her, did my cat need me to speak the pound sign immediately before milk the other night? No, and in this way, speaking to a cat is different than tweeting to people (or cats). But tweeting is still pretty much like thinking and talking—and, yeah, about being noticed. Once you understand this, watch out: You'll find yourself speaking "#," too.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

SEO Is Hard

Have you ever felt like the world of search engine optimization is an uninviting one, the domain of the techie who bathes daily in a deep pool of seemingly arcane rules inscrutable to just about anyone except his or her fellow techies? Well, guess what: That's kind of true.

Sorry. You might have thought the turn of phrase was going to be that SEO is actually easy to master. But it's not. Maybe you were hoping that a few easily understood secrets would be all you needed to succeed, or that you could just sort of fix your SEO once and then be on your merry way. None of this is the case. SEO is hard.

But this is changing, and it's because search engines are getting smarter. At first, that might seem counterintuitive: If a search engine is smarter, wouldn't the need grow for ever–technically savvier SEO practitioners? Not necessarily—the smarter the search engine becomes, the better able it is interpret, catalogue and rank content without the aid of cues in the computer script.

Academics now freely flout SEO techies' expertise and even see SEO as primarily the domain not of the techie, but of the public relations practitioner, with reputation management and a focus on written content poised to eclipse technical SEO tweaks in their ability to influence search engine rankings. That's probably a bit of hyperbole—maybe even some PR for the PR profession—but the perennial importance of good content (of all kinds), which transcends all but perhaps the most technical of professions, remains one of the biggest factors in SEO.

Sourcing and retaining a long-term partner to develop content of various kinds (e.g. video, audio, written, etc.) is perhaps the single most important move an organization can take to make SEO a fruitful endeavor over the long haul. After all the hard work of technical SEO is conducted, and even as efforts continue not only to evolve a keyword strategy, but also to manage relationships and thus score backlinks from respected sources, the writing, video production, and more still needs to happen—and even if your internal team is strong and your organization's horsepower robust, it might not.

You Have No Fans on Facebook, and Nobody's Following You on Twitter

Sure, you may have hundreds, even thousands of fans or followers, but your fans on Facebook aren't really your fans, and your followers on Twitter aren't really your followers. It's just too easy to become a fan or to follow online. It they're on your roster, you can rest assured that they're ignoring you unless you have evidence to the contrary. And it won't change till you do something different, engaging and interesting. So drop the fantastical notion that you're a celebrity on Facebook; you're not. And lose the positive paranoia that tells you all your followers on Twitter hang on your every tweet; they don't.

Power Twitter users, with several tens of thousands, or even millions, of followers are probably succeeding at Twitter. But this isn't about them. Say you have 2,500-ish followers. Does it matter? Where did they come from? Did most of them follow you after meeting you? Or did they read just one tweet about a blog post and decide to click on the follow button?

It's too easy to click on that button, and in and of itself, it means nothing. A small, focused following on Twitter, one that's paying attention, is much better than a large following. Each follower is a potential emissary telling others about you. Nurture this following. Make it your core. Then, the organic growth of your followership will be strong, and their connection to you tight.

What about your Facebook fans? Sure, they've been "likes" for a while, but we still like to call them fans. Are they really your fans? Or were they on autopilot one day and just clicked on your like button almost out of habit? I hate to break it to you, but again, it's too easy to click on that button, and your fans aren't your fans, because fans hang on every word and activity of the object of their fandom.

Followers and fans on social media are nothing but static numbers until you do something to prompt those followers and fans to start acting like actual followers and fans. Be interesting and make frequent visits to your profiles a rewarding experience. This means volume of content. It means dedicating a team to the effort. And it means having the patience and stick-to-it-ness to see that effort through.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

News Releases Cut Up The Dance Floor

The slow, inexorable decline of news continues. It's not that, really, but the decline of traditional news reporting as a single-play, profitable endeavor has been undeniable for a long time. That's what people think when they think news: conventional publishing, the advertising model to support it, and the ham-fisted attempts to migrate that model to the Web. Contributing to that decline has been the online environment created by search and social media, and some have surveyed the landscape and called for the death of the news release. But news and the news releases that give rise to it are very much alive, and on search engines and social media, news is cutting up the dance floor as we look for and share information.

What else can we make of the apparent trends reported in a Washington Post article last week looking at social media's impact on the sharing of news online? Google is the 800-pound gorilla on the Internet, sending around 30 percent of traffic to all news sites. And that gorilla has an up-and-coming competitor, Facebook. A large primate feeding every day, all day, on Muscle Milk™ and who knows what else, all in an effort to bulk up and match Google's fighting weight, Facebook sends as much as 8 percent of online traffic to some news sites.

These are all significant numbers, and let's focus on social media for a moment: Any casual or not-so-casual Facebook user can attest that news links are popular attractions. Look in the home feed at any time of the day, and a good half of all status updates come in the form of a comment about a link to some news story. These typically draw conversations, and you want people talking about your news.

Does this appetite for news mean people are hungry for news releases? Certainly not, if those news releases are stuffy, boring affairs intended solely for the press. But news releases aren't that anymore, and notice that lots of people now call it a news release, not a press release.

Business Wire says making news releases ready for social media and search engines goes a long way in helping to spread your news. The problem is that, even now, few folks are doing so. Applying SEO to a news release is a subject well covered, and yet, "Only 18 Percent of News Release Headlines Are Optimized For SEO," according to a study reported by Business Insider seven months ago, when mainstream efforts to capitalize on the combination of news releases and social media had just gotten underway -- e.g. PitchEngine's launch of an app to place newsrooms on Facebook.

News itself is all around, and just like rock 'n' roll, it will never die. That's a cliché worth repeating, and news, as a currency, remains the same. Make your news releases interesting, findable and shareable. We humans have a tendency to search for interesting information, and once we find it, we have a propensity to share.