A Love/Hate relationship with Social Media Marketing

social media love affairIt seems like EVERYONE is in LOVE with social media marketing and I thoroughly understand the appeal. After all, most of the tools of the social media marketing trade are notoriously easy on the checkbook.

Anyone with a little web savvy, a sense of adventure and the willingness to put in the time and effort to learn the rules of the social media sandbox can make a lasting online impression with a minimal outlay of cash.

If you’re a bootstrapping entrepreneur who has more time than money, social media marketing might seem like answered prayer.

Chris Brogan likens using social media marketing to a popular non-prescription mother’s little helper ( a.k.a. Hamburger Helper) in his blog post Pirate Moves.

[Social Media Marketing is like Hamburger Helper because it’s] less expensive and it stretches everything out more. Nothing listed above costs more than a single advertisement placed in a mainstream magazine or large market newspaper.

Chris’ argument is flawless – yet it overlooks an important element – one skillfully addressed by Jason Cohen in his blog post, “Please stop saying social media marketing is free.” Jason writes:

Social media is expensive. In fact, it’s more expensive than traditional media. It just comes in the form of spending time instead of spending money.

Jason points out that for those who aren’t already up to speed on the basics of SEO and other realities of the web, that hiring the TALENT needed to make social media marketing work can be a VERY cash intensive expense.

In the beginning, when many solo entrepreneurs have more time than money as they’re building their business, many are willing to trade time for money.

Social media marketing may be the BEST investment you can make in the future of your business – but you have to make sure you do it RIGHT!  There is definitely a “dark side” to social media marketing!

Social Media Reality Check

It’s important to remember that the blog posts and comments you create today will live forever because the internet never forgets.

Brian Friedlander tells a compelling tale from the “Dark Ages” of social media of a marketing manager who left a blog comment on a blog post reviewing her company’s product. The blog post not only became a platform for discussion in the moment- it continues to get GREAT SERPS for the term [product + review] five years later. Brian writes in The Power of One Knowledgeable, Dedicated Social Media Marketer:

Katie followed the basic tenets of corporate social media:

  1. find where the conversation is happening
  2. listen
  3. get involved
  4. be transparent
  5. be helpful

These are GREAT rules for anyone who wants to participate in social media marketing to take to heart. If you follow them, you’ll find that blogging and other means of social media marketing will be the best thing since – well since Hamburger Helper for building your budding business.

However, it’s not always rainbows and buttercups when it comes to social media marketing.

In Social Media Marketing – What you don’t know CAN hurt you

For a lesson in what NOT to do when it comes to social media marketing – let’s take a look at a situation over at Sugarrae SEO Consulting.

A while ago, Rae Hoffman paid to have a WordPress plugin created and in the spirit of social media – offered the plug in for free to others who needed the functionality the plugin provided.

It’s said no good deed goes unpunished, and such is the case here.

Remember, Rae has a business to run and she’s providing this plug in FOR FREE. Despite preparing an EXCEPTIONAL FAQ for the plugin, she still gets email from people who expect her to hold their hand and walk them through the process of getting the plugin to work exactly as they want it to on their blog.

To quote the movie Mystery Men, “The mooch factor is high with this crowd.”

Remember when I said you needed a “sense of adventure” to succeed in social media? Well, there’s nothing more “adventurous” than crashing your blog and then rebuilding it! Does it suck? Of course it does! However, you’ll learn more in that experience than any 5 credit hour course can teach!  (If you have to PAY someone else to fix your crashed blog – well, then writing that check will be equally instructional in nature as well.)

Well, James Cook of Kawink didn’t want to get burned and asked for free help from Rae. When he didn’t find it forthcoming, he got angry. So despite the fact that Rae proudly declares in her header, “Never mess with a woman who can pull rank” James decided to throw down with Rae.

As a result, the preeminent conversation about James Cook of Kawink lies in the hands of a woman at whom he has hurled email insults and threats.

A Google search of [James Cook of Kawink] shows Rae’s blog post at #1 and #2 – above any content he carefully crafted in order to promote his start up business.

At the moment – I’m pretty sure James Cook is HATING watching the “laws” of social media marketing at work. He’s about to discover the new and exciting world of online reputation management.

I hope for his sake, the saying is true, “There’s no such thing as bad press” but I kind of doubt it. I can’t imagine anything WORSE for a top Google Serp on my name plus business than that particular blog post.

Cath Lawson says, You’re Nobody until You Get Hate Messages. If you’re tempted to send such a message, take a lesson from my Pest Control company, Truly Nolen. When you’re dealing with a blogger who can definitely pull rank (page rank that is) take the conversation OFF LINE.

Most blog owners just can not resist posting a nice, juicy bit of hate email – especially one riddled with grammatical and spelling errors. However, if at all possible, try to avoid sending such a hate message to someone who spends 10 hours a day eating/drinking/breathing SEO.

When you have a beef with someone who has a blog – it’s best to heed the wise words of Betsy Wuebker left in a comment on my post The shit fight is beginning- should you join in?

The big questions anyone has to answer when these situations arise are: what’s the hunt about and for; do I have a dog in it; if I do, how big is my dog; and finally, does my dog really and honestly hunt – to the best of its ability? :)

When Someone Steals Your Branding

One of the biggest problems with being a “service provider” is the you deal in intangibles – a world removed from the confines of the physical.

When you’re selling the intangible, the manner in which you describe and SELL your services is equally intangible.

As a result, many professional service providers rely on creating catch phrases to describe what they do  and how they do it.  They build their own personal “brand” around such “catch” phrases.

I have a client who did exactly that.  She literally crafted a unique term which richly describes exactly what she does and she created a thriving business providing those services to business owners.

Fortunately, and I do breath a HEAVY sigh of relief around this one, she did make the minimal investment and actually REGISTERED the domain name for this unique term around which she’s built her personal brand.

However, while she registered the domain name containing these keywords and even launched a blog on this domain name, she hasn’t had the time or desire to begin populating her blog with content – so the blog has sat for a while, sporting as its only content the “Hello World” post that comes standard with every brand new WordPress installation.

This weekend, this client did a Google search on her keyword term and saw something which made her physically ill and with good reason.

Someone else is ranking #1 on her beloved keyword term.

To make matters worse, this competitor was a client of hers from several years ago.  She worked with him as he was launching his own consulting business and he, in turn, decided to return the favor by offering services under her branded term.

The dirty thief stole her brand!

In her email to me, the pain was evident.  Here was someone with whom she had “performed her magic” and now he was not only offering “her” services but he was doing it using the keywords she thought she “owned”.

Unfortunately for her, he published an article on a PR4 site and now his article is beating her empty blog for her beloved keyword term.

It’s hard enough when you’re an expert in your field – bearing all the battle wounds and scars that come with earning such a distinction – to watch someone launch a competitive service.

It’s harder still when you’ve actually BUILT hundreds of boats to watch someone who read your book on “How to Build a Better Boat” promote their seminar on the subject.

If you let yourself – you can drive yourself insane with that kind of stuff.  “It’s obvious he’s never even HELD a hammer in his hands!  Look!!!  Not a single callous!  Who does he think he is?”  Who does he think he’s fooling?”

Well, he’s fooling everyone who’s never built a boat and signs up for his seminar – that’s who he’s fooling.

He may have read your book – but I’ll bet that even he would rather face the high seas in the craft YOU built rather than the one he keeps meaning to build.

I’ve had more than my fair share of “clients turned competitors” over the past 12 years.  One of the things I embrace in my life is trying to learn important life lessons from mistakes – preferably the mistakes of others!!!

PAINFUL BUSINESS LESSON #1:  IMITATION IS THE SINCEREST FORM OF FLATTERY

I don’t care how innovative your product or service is, if it’s even moderately successful you should expect imitators.  Someone is going to do it faster, cheaper and better if you’re not actively involved in learning how to deliver your goods faster, cheaper and better.

PAINFUL BUSINESS LESSON #2:THE VALUE OF BEING FIRST DIMINISHES OVER TIME

There’s a lot of value in being first with an idea – but if you don’t stake your claim then someone else will.  Bill Gates wasn’t the first person to create a way for computers and “regular” humans to communicate more efficiently – but he was the first to promote the idea to business owners.

As I said earlier, the one bright spot to this story is that my client registered the domain name containing the keywords of her personal branding phrase back in 2005.  She didn’t trademark it – but at least when the branding thief tried to steal her thunder – he couldn’t steal the domain name.

Unfortunately, being first with this phrase is losing it’s luster.  Now there are competitors who are taking this phrase and running with it.  Because my client owns the domain name – when her competitors use the term, they will be promoting HER blog – but that only works if she can get the blog populated with content.

PAINFUL BUSINESS LESSON #3: BUSINESSES ARE EITHER GROWING OR THEY’RE DYING

There is no such thing as being “stagnant” in business.  As I stated earlier – if you’re not actively involved in making your products or services better, faster and cheaper – then your business is not growing but is in the process of dying.   How long it takes for the final bell to toll is simply a function of the size of your business.  If you’re a US automaker, that death can take decades.  If you’re a small one person show – that process can take just a few months.

PAINFUL BUSINESS LESSON #4: WHEN YOU’RE SELLING INTANGIBLES – IMAGE IS EVERYTHING!

When you’re selling professional services – image is EVERYTHING!

I have complete and total sympathy for my client.   She was actively involved in PRACTICING her craft rather than promoting her image.  I get it.  She had more clients than she could possibly handle and has been struggling for the past two years on ways to expand her practice without sacrificing the quality of the work done.  Since so MUCH of the practice is predicated upon her “magic” – this has been a difficult undertaking.

She was busy practicing her craft rather than protecting her image.

Now, she’s discovering that even though her practice was full, she still should have been out there “protecting” her brand.   She’s discovering that a thief has been quietly working to steal her “thunder”. While she’s been struggling to protect the integrity of the services provided under her name – someone’s been stealing her “branding” term.

In my client’s defense – she knows what terms are important to her and she is aware that she needs to protect her “online stake” in those terms.  That puts her MILES ahead of many, many business owners today.

So now I’ll ask – what do YOU do to protect your branding?  My mind goes to registering domain names and launching blogs for protection…. while my client is contacting a trademark attorney.  Are there any other tactics I’m missing?

The shit fight is beginning- should you join in?

Social media is easy and it’s fun – but as social media’s popularity grows so does its impact.  Which is why it’s important to develop a social media strategy.

“When you don’t have a destination in mind, any road will get you there.”

As you use social media, you can expect at some point to see another social media primates start flinging shit at each other.  If you’re caught without a social media strategy – well, you won’t know whether to join in or run for cover.

I’ve found myself examining my social media strategy more often than not lately.  There have been plenty of opportunities to pick up the nearest pile and start flinging shit with the best of them.  Recently,  I happily joined in on both the Belkin Review Payola and the Cash4Gold social media firestorm.  Like most bloggers- when opportunity knocks I’m usually willing to answer!

If you don’t have a blog – then you should know that finding fresh content is a constant challenge for EVERY blogger.   A good old fashioned shit fight can provide WEEKS of content, not to mention currying inbound links and a bit of notoriety as added bonuses along the way.

Shit fights can be good for your blog – when used judiciously.

However, you not only have to decide which fights you’ll join but also where to draw the line.

Before either of these recent “social media disasters” appeared on the radar, another social media ruckus was brewing.  At the time, one of my fellow “social marketing primates” started throwing shit and I was faced with the decision of whether to join.

Since I wasn’t personally attacked, that meant I had a choice on whether or not to join.   When Jason Cohen found himself in the middle of a social media shit fight, he had no choice.  The shit was being flung DIRECTLY at him and he had no choice but to respond.  Fortunately, Jason’s a REALLY smart bear and defused the situation BRILLIANTLY!

When the shit is aimed you – you don’t have a choice.  However, when the shit isn’t flying directly your way, that’s when you’ve got a decision to make.

Do you join in or do you sit this one out?

I wasn’t named in the incident in question and now I have a choice to make.   When you’re faced with this choice, you can

  • ignore it.
  • report on it “objectively” and yet not include yourself directly in the line of fire.  You do this by NOT be naming names or disclosing URLS.  (See a great example of Darren Rowse doing this in Twitter is a Stage – Be Careful What You Say.  He doesn’t give link luv to his detractors.)
  • name names, list urls and make yourself a potential target.

Let it be known that there are times when joining in and naming names is EXACTLY what you should do.  That’s where your social media strategy comes into play.

It’s what Arlen Parsa did with regards to the Belkin Review Payola Scandal and  the choice Rob Cockerham made with the Cash4Gold blog post.  It’s a social media strategy that has paid off well for both of these bloggers.

However, on the other hand, I also advised my own client not to participate in a brewing shit storm as a part of HER developing social media strategy.

There is no “one size fits all” advice when it comes to social media strategy!

Unfortunately, when tempers flare in social media,  it leaves a lasting trail.  Unlike the footprints left in the sand at the beach – these footprints are cemented online forever.

Ask Ian Capstick of the Media Style blog.  He reports in his post Twitter Fight,  about an exchange which became heated on Twitter between reporter David George-Cosh  and  April Dunford, principle consultant with Rocket Launch media.  The portion of the “tiff” that happened “online” has left a trail of words set in stone.  At last count, the comments to the post numbered 85 and the trackbacks for the post were at 15 and counting.

One of those trackbacks is from the blog of Jennifer Leggio of ZD Net.   In A tale of two faux pas: When transparency meets bad behavior she writes:

My quick summary based on Capstick’s post: George-Cosh reached out to Dunford regarding a story he was working on and she took a day or so to get back to him. He was, according to Dunford’s Twitter stream, rude to her during the eventual call back, so she expressed frustration in a tweet. It was clear to George-Cosh, it seems, that she was talking about him since they’d just hung up the phone. Her defense was, and I paraphrase, “Dude, I didn’t say your name.” George-Cosh swore. A lot. She put on a show of trying to calm him. It ended… poorly.

Here’s the upside to this story – April is “social networking aware”.  She knew when the internet was talking about her and was able to post “her side” of the story.  She does so in a comment on Jennifer’s blog.

Another “bonus” is April’s online reputation was already well established when this occurred.  Because she was properly “inoculated” and her online reputation was already well established, this tussle is NOT the first that that comes up when you Google her name.

Unfortunately, David George-Cosh is not so lucky.  His Twitter feud with April comes in at #4 with the newspaper article Journalists are not above the rules of decorum when you search for his name on Google.

The National Post has apologized, but the damage is done. David’s name will be coloured by this event for a while. And the Post will be associated with it, too.

What’s your social media strategy?  How do you decide between “fight” or “flight” when it comes to social media?

Social Media – Information Moving in Real Time

What do the Cash4Gold Social Media Meltdown and the Belkin Social Media Payola Scandal have in common?  They both CLEARLY illustrate that when it comes to Social Media Marketing – what you don’t know CAN hurt you!

Monday Morning Quarterback- Social Media Edition

Social media is truly the natural result of information moving at the speed of thought.  Even a company with a superbly crafted social media strategy will find itself flying by the seat of it’s pants at times.

There are two paths you can take when managing your online reputation.  You can choose to manage your online reputation in a PROACTIVE manner, which is highly preferable to taking a REACTIVE approach to your online reputation management.

Ideally, you should begin managing your online reputation the moment you launch your business.  That would be the PROACTIVE approach to online reputation management.

Would you rather buy a smoke detector BEFORE you smell smoke – or after?  In the case of Cash4Gold and Belkin – there’s a 4 alarm fire raging and there’s the question of whether the fire can be contained.

When it comes to online reputation management, you can choose whether to be PROACTIVE or REACTIVE!

Because most of what’s been done has been done RE ACTIVELY thus far in the case of both companies mentioned above, any positive blog posts uncovered on either company’s behalf are going to be viewed with suspicion and the keyword auto-tweets are like throwing gasoline on a bonfire.

Long ago, when I was an Account Executive with a regional advertising agency, I had a client who came under a media attack.   My client was flipping out and  my wise mentor and boss, Joan Elias, shared these words of wisdom with me to share with my client:

“When you stir shit – it stinks.”

Shit happens – and when it does – sometimes it’s just best to let it lie.  Eventually, it will “dry out” and stop stinking – but only if you leave it alone!

There comes a time in every reputation management campaign to lie low and let the stink dissipate!

The time for Cash4Gold to begin proactively managing their online reputation was February 2008 – about 6 months after launching the website and before they began actively promoting the business. (see the Compete.com graph below)

(Notice – the graph above seems to “mirror” gasoline prices.  Maybe more advertising wasn’t the answer!)

I’m sure the predominate thinking around the Cash4Gold offices back in the first quarter of ’08 was: “Hey, we’re seeing a real window of opportunity here.  Gold prices are on the rise, gas is nearing $4 a gallon and those Hummer owners are going to want to be unloading their gold chains to support their SUV’s gasoline habit.”

Cash4Gold did some BRILLIANT marketing moves along the way.  One of the best was to make the call to action in their television ads for the viewer to visit their website for more information. This would have been the ideal time to begin “inoculating” their online reputation, not only by implementing basic internet marketing and SEO practices but also by setting up systems to  “track” the conversation online around important keywords.

Had there been such systems in place – the Cockeyed Citizen’s blog would have triggered a “hit” and Cash4Gold could have been there to respond.  (Just as Carbonite responded quickly to my online review of their service on this blog.)

As other blogs picked up the story, other “hits” would have registered and possibly alerted Cash4Gold that a SuperBowl ad buy may not be the smartest investment of capital.

One way to begin creating a positive online reputation would be to actively solicit positive feedback.  For example, when the checks were sent to reimburse customers for their gold, there could be a coupon enclosed which asked happy customers to go to the cash4goldreview.com  website.  “Be sure to let us know how we did there and claim your reward.”   When buyers arrive,  they can “rate” their transaction – eBay style.  When they’re done – there’s an online coupon which can be printed and redeemd during their NEXT Cash4Gold transaction.  A $10 “bonus” on their next transaction of $100 or more could have gone a LONG way to making friends and influencing people’s perception of the company.

Studies have shown when customers are encouraged to write postive reviews – they actually become more active “proponents” of the brand.  A little of this could have gone a LONG way in the case of Cash4Gold.

Let’s say that none of this helps.  Perhaps Cash4Gold deserves their ever deteriorating online reputation.   Let’s say that despite the best proactive efforts – a negative blog posts takes the #2 position on Google.  Now what?

If you EVER find yourself in this position, let me tell you what YOU SHOULD NOT DO!

DO NOT SEND AN EMAIL OFFERING TO BRIBE THE BLOG OWNER TO De-OPTIMIZE THE POST!!!!

Where would Matt Drudge be if he would have taken a Clinton aid up on such a bribe?  Heck, where would BLOGGING be if that had happened?

The Cash4Gold story is the blogosphere’s version of Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket with a winning lottery ticket on the side.

I’m sure Rob’s thinking went along the lines of, “You’re paying six figures for a SuperBowl ad and less than a week beforehand, you’re offering me a measly $3k to make my #2 SERP disappear?”

His next thought HAD to be, “Pinch me – I must be dreaming.”

The bribe ranks right up there with the best of the Dateline: To Catch a Predator moments.  In the land of social media – that was the equivalent of showing up at a child’s home with balloons, candy and sensual massage oil.

“People and businesses alike just don’t get it. This is not a pen and pencil, snail mail, wait until the 5:00 news world. Information moves in real time. ” –  Valerie Johnson

What would you do if you were bribed like this?  Would you take the money?  Would you report the bribe on your blog?

Cash4Gold and the Ensuing Social Media Firestorm

The tale of Cash4Gold SuperBowl ad buy should have been a storybook tale extolling of the value of effective advertising.  The Cash4Gold story could have read, “Business buys SuperBowl ad.  Traffic to website increases 10 fold  and justifies obscene ad cost.”

Instead, the Cash4Gold SuperBowl ad buy is a cautionary tale  which should serve as a warning to any business of how social media will “get you” if you or your business model are less than authentic.

Barry Hurd over at 123 Social Media began telling this tale on February 2nd when he warned in his first post Cash4Gold Superbowl $2.7 Million Online Reputation Nightmare

Chief Marketing Officers beware: before spending a hefty sum of your 2009 budget on having two celebrities do a 30 second Superbowl ad… make sure you clean up your online reputation first!

(Note – read on – because Cash4Gold tried to do exactly that – only they tried to “buy” their way out of the social media muck they found!)  Three days later, Barry continues the story in Cash4Gold – 72 Hours Later, Dugg to Death where he reports:

As of this morning: if you go to Google and do a search for “Cash4Gold” or “Cash 4 Gold” you will find the second search result to be an article titled “10 Confessions Of A Cash4Gold Employee” on the Consumerist. The article talks in-depth about how the Cash4Gold company works behind the scenes (and it is not a glowing review.)

It’s 48 hours after his 2nd post, I did as Barry suggests.  I did a search on Google for the term for “Cash4Gold” (without the hyphens – as “regular” people would do) and found the situation for Cash4Gold’s online reputation is even worse than Barry reported.

When I did my search – I was greeted with a Google Ad for Cash4Gold which reads: “Deal with Refiner – Maximum Payout! Request a FREE Kit. 100% Guarantee.”  Cash4Gold is definitely AWARE of the firestorm and has decided to try yet another way to “buy” themselves out of their continually deteriorating online reputation.

The organic search reveals why they’re having to spend money to get the top listing for their own domain name: the first organic search result which is an article in the LA Times Beneath Cash4Gold’s shiny veneer, a dull reality.

Guess you can’t count on people to skip the news stories and go straight to the the 2nd organic listing for the business name which is the Cash4Gold website so when in doubt, throw more money at the problem and hope it goes away.

Meanwhile, the list of blogs which have picked up the Cash4Gold story continues to grow.  When I did my search – next listing following the Cash4Gold website was an entry over at the blog Cockeyed Citizen: Cash4Gold Will Offer One-Third of the Actual Value for your Gold.

Turns out, this blog post is NOT something new.  Turns out, this blog post has been up for a while and was the first in a two part series written by Rob Cockerham.   According to Rob’s 2nd post, Cash4Gold did go on a “search and destroy” mission to try to clean up their online reputation before the airing of the SuperBowl ad.   Guess it took writing checks to Ed McMahon and MC Hammer, in addition to writing a check for the famously overpriced SuperBowl airtime for the execs at Cash4Gold to do a quick check to see what 30 million SuperBowl viewers might find if/when they did a Google search for the company.

In the 2nd blog post Cash 4 Gold would like to melt down and recast their reputation, Rob not only shares the emails received from Cash4Gold, he also shares the price they were willing to pay him to remove the posts.  It’s really WELL worth the read.

However, the efforts to buy their way out of this by Cash4Gold execs was too little, too late.  Way back in October, a time when no one would have IMAGINED that the Cardinals would be playing in the big game, the blog the Consumerist had already picked up the story and run How To Avoid Getting Ripped Off By Cash4Gold. They then ran a follow up post just before the SuperBowl ad aired in Cash4Gold Offers Blogger $3,000 To Remove Negative Post.

The first comment on the 2nd Consumerist post was by Cheesebubble: “suddenly, i hate everything …and i’m gonna blog about it!”

That, my friends, is the way of the new web.

Tom Volkar was venting the other day about being authentic.  He was authentically pissed off and he wrote:

A well-known social media expert recently tweeted something like this. “Don’t share anything here that you wouldn’t put up on billboards all over town.” Even that pissed me off, because he seemed to be saying, “wear the mask – don’t be real – be careful.” Bullshit to that! I wouldn’t pay to express my anger on a billboard but I’ll not run from it either.

Tom doesn’t have to buy a billboard to vent his anger because he’s got a blog, just as Rob Cockerham doesn’t need a billboard to share his experience with Cash4Gold.

Oh- did I  mention that YOUR customers don’t need to buy ad space either to vent THEIR anger?  This is Web 2.0 and the power is quickly shifting to the people.

Got a business?  Got Social Media Strategy?

I would venture to guess that 20 years ago, the Cash4Gold story never would gotten this big.  The question now isn’t will it get big – it’s how big will it get?

One thing is for certain – this is DEFINITELY bad news if your business model is threatened by the growing transparency of the new web.

Any chance you’ll mail your gold to Cash4Gold after reading this?  (Me neither.)