I began working for a particular type of traditional business industry recently, and I noticed that a great many of the small businesses operating within it were still proceeding as though it were pre-Internet days. They did promotions as though they were a one-way transmission instead of a dialogue.
Unfortunately, that’s not the only industry where this mindset persists. In order to achieve better sales, attract more potential customers, and, yes, improve your search engine rankings, you need to incorporate “Conversational Marketing” as a primary tactic.
The Cluetrain Manifesto came out in 1999, after the commercialization of the Internet had been active long enough to identify a number of commonalities and trends.
In that manifesto, authors Christopher Locke, Rick Levine, Doc Searls and David Weinberger said that markets were historically places where people had conversations, up until a period in the early three-quarters of the 20th century when mass media took hold and was controlled by large organizations. During that mass media period, marketers promoted products more by “shouting” at consumers, who had no forum for talking back to companies (or each other). When the Internet gained steam, however, that situation changed in a massive way.
Business Consumer Interaction
Unfortunately, many traditional industries have been very slow to realize that the days of one-way-only promotional messages are pretty well over. Various Internet media channels now allow individual consumers to rapidly connect with many other consumers; these channels also provide consumers with a means of speaking directly to businesses and potentially being heard by the general public when they do.
Blogging, email lists, forums, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, Flickr, Tumblr and many other channels not only provide options for communication but also enable a consumer’s voice to become magnified — sometimes to the point of having just as great an impact as the public relations arm of a major corporation.
There are so many examples of this effect that you don’t have to look far to understand how it works. Just a few choice examples include:
- The Kryptonite blogstorm that erupted in 2005, after people discovered (and shared) that Kryptonite locks could be picked by using a Bic pen
- The YouTube video created in 2009 by musician, Dave Carroll, to express his displeasure over United Airlines breaking his guitar during a trip and then failing to remunerate him for the loss — his music video detailing the events went viral was heard by over three million afterward
- Just this year, when both FTD and 1-800-FLOWERS took heat from hundreds of complaints about messed-up orders posted on Facebook and Twitter
From assessing many small, local retailers, I can see that many are continuing to utterly ignore conversational marketing, despite well-publicized, dramatic episodes which have accelerated via social media (as in the examples above).
Zeno Group’s Digital Readiness Survey showed that over one-third of CEOs fail to consider their company’s online reputation when making business decisions. Additionally, more than 10% of organizations will not take any action to address a damaging article or social media post, and smaller firms are much less likely than larger companies to ignore social media.
Why You Need Social Media
Avoiding social media doesn’t actually make your business invisible to online consumers, nor does it keep you from being a target of potential negativity online. All it does is leave you vulnerable to a situation in which top-ranking pages for you brand name are dominated by Web properties you don’t control.
Even if the necessity of proactive reputation management does not motivate you to incorporate social media more fully, there is another reason why your company should engage: the search engines are paying attention to the dialogue that is the basis of the conversational marketplace.
Trying to keep your social media presence on the down-low — whether it’s because your CEO doesn’t get it, you don’t want to spend the money, or some other reason — will only result in stunting your ability to achieve strong local search rankings.
Social Media Can Boost Local Rankings
The question of whether or not social media is good for business has generally been answered; almost without exception, it is! Aside from the fact that active social media use allows you to engage in conversational marketing and manage your brand reputation, both Bing and Google have acknowledged that they consider social media signals as a factor in search engine rankings. Because of all this, marketers generally recommend that businesses — even small, local ones — incorporate social media.
These days, the mere act of having a blog and accounts on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter will not cut it. Many businesses that have begun using Facebook and Twitter are still approaching it primarily as a means for shouting out promotional messages to consumers — not likely to help your business achieve high authority in search engines.
Google’s patents around Author Rank and Agent Rank indicate that they may now be assessing how influential specific individuals are — the more authoritative and influential, the greater their impact on search rankings for pages they have endorsed. Without taking the time to make your online presence more conversational, as opposed to merely broadcasting, your social efforts may bear little fruit in terms of aiding your rankings.
In a similar vein, while citations or mentions of a business are something we like to attain in hopes of improving a local business’s rankings, not all mentions are alike. The days of just getting static webpages and online directories to list your business as a means of obtaining citations for ranking purposes may be coming to an end. If those business listings do not have other social signals associated with them to indicate some level of interest and popularity, Google may be counting these less and less.
Conversational Marketing Tips
If you find yourself in the category of being weak at conversational marketing, here are a few basic tips:
- First, ask yourself if your company has a presence in all the top social media platforms that are relevant to your industry. Consumers are looking for companies on Facebook and Twitter more and more, so those may be table stakes.
- Having a blog makes sense for most companies, even if you are unable post frequently. Not only is it handy for providing your business with a place to communicate if a reputation crisis occurs, it can also serve as the foundation for connecting all of your other social media presences.
- Businesses whose product or service offerings lend themselves to visual content may find it worthwhile to develop a presence on sites like Pinterest, Flickr, and Instagram.
- Social media sites can be used as channels for distributing “press release”-type posts and promotional messages; but realize that it should go beyond that. Are you listening for posts mentioning your brand? Are you posting things that are of interest to your audience? Are you discussing engaging topics with your audience in addition to beaming out ads and other self-promotions?
- Try to develop your influence. Activities that encourage responses from your followers are beneficial for this, as well as actions that increase an interested, engaged audience.
- Monitor your work in this arena– there are a number of analytics tools that are useful for this. You can also check how influential your social media presence is with ranking systems like Klout and Kred.
- Don’t leave it to the youngest, newest or lowest-paid employee in your company! That may seem like an easy solution, but less experienced and less responsible can make disastrous mistakes in this arena. There are too many examples of interns damaging the reputations of companies to risk going this route. Your social media representative effectively becomes the voice/face of your organization online — make sure they represent you in a mature, professional manner and that they know how to handle customer interactions.
- If you seek training, make sure the training includes a public relations component and not just the mechanics of how to use social media software.
- Consider hiring professionals to handle your online presence if you don’t know how to do it or don’t have sufficient time to devote to it. Remember, a high level of familiarity with social media is necessary to avoid getting tripped up by simple mistakes.
If you haven’t being incorporating social media into your marketing plan — or haven’t been doing so in a conversational manner — then it’s definitely the time to evolve. Not only is it valuable for your online reputation management, it’s also becoming increasingly vital for your local search rankings.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.