Better Communication for All: Must Know Phrases – Part 1

The key to success is not technology; although in today’s markets it typically plays some role. None the less, it’s still not the key. Nor is the key to success having the greatest idea ever; there are probably more exceptional ideas than there are stars in the sky. Innovation? Over-rated. Passion, dedication and execution? Oh. Now we’re getting warmer.

We are closer to the heart of the matter because regardless of what you might think the keys are, those contributors sit on the same foundation. The foundation for success is:

Culture + Communication + Collaboration

The best organizations understand the value of C+C+C, and are forever trying to curate and encourage it. A great idea without the proper support of C+C+C is probably doomed. Also, notice I referred to C+C+C as “it.” That’s because when properly assembled the whole (i.e., “it”) becomes greater than the sum of the parts. Just the same, if one is compromised, the other two will be negatively affected as well. C+C+C equals one.

Most importantly, above all else, C+C+C is about people. People make up your organization. You market and sell to other people. Put aside all the hype (e.g., innovation will bring you business salvation) and we’re left with one of life’s few absolute truths—cliche, yes—but still true: People make the world go round. In short, you can’t have innovation without C+C+C. You can’t have innovation without the right people brought together, at the right time, in the right way.

A robust set of tools for communication is what separates humans from the other creatures on God’s great earth. However, with power also come responsibility. Communication ain’t easy. Begin human is a full-time job; at least for me it is. No one will accuse me of being a great communicator. I try. I get it wrong more than I’d like to admit. We all do, don’t we? What I’m trying to say is: Within the context of C+C+C, Communication is the foundation of Culture and Collaboration. Without Communication we, as humans, have nothing.

Without Communication we, as humans, have nothing.

Ironically, much of this came up, in some form, during a series of lunch and post-work conversations I had with a trusted colleague. Finally, a couple weeks ago, I said to myself, as I’m fond of doing, “There’s got to be a better way.” A day or so later, while taking the train to NYC for a couple of meetings with clients, I sketched out a checklist that became the basis for this mini-series: Better Communication for All. Naturally, I want to share my finding with others. I hope you’re wanting to collaborate on this as well.

Please note: These are in no particular order. For now let’s get the ideas on the table, from there were can refine and reorder.

• “I see it differently.”

Often, in the course of a conversation, when we see a point to push back on we almost naturally default to, “I disagree with you,” or even “I think you’re wrong.” These are words of division. They don’t foster resolution. They fuel tension and bitterness.

Instead, “I see it differently” allows you to make your case without making it adversarial and personal (i.e., directed at the other person). Yes, you can dive into the minutiae of facts and figures later, but lead with your open-arms contribution first. Put another way, does it make sense to immediately alienate the person(s) you’re trying to sway?

Put another way, does it make sense to immediately alienate the person(s) you’re trying to sway?

Also, this simple phrase gives you a fail-safe should further discussion determine that you were wrong to say they were wrong. It’s easier to save face by saying, “Oh. I see it more completely now. Thanks. Yes, let’s…” Back peddling from “you’re wrong” might not be so easy. We are human, and things do go wrong sometimes. I’ll eventually cover that later in this series.

• “What do you mean by _____?”

We all know the knock on assume. Yet how often do we try to cut conversational corners and automatically fill in the blanks when clarity wanes? So rather than fall victim to assume, “What do you mean by” gives the message sender the benefit of the doubt. Assuming can be dangerous; while clarity mitigates human communication risk.

In addition, when a conversation escalates and perhaps even gets heated, this question slows things down. It not only offers the opportunity for clarity, but it can be used as a subtle way to derail the current trajectory. Perhaps there really is a misunderstanding somewhere along the line?

Who knows, it’s possible the sender isn’t completely sure either. “What do you mean by” is a great tool that buys needed pause, as well ensures everyone is closer to being on the same verbal page, so to speak.

Note: You can use this proactively as: “What I mean by ____ is…”

• “Why do you believe _____?”

As human to human communication goes, expressing what is relatively routine. Much of our day to day interactions are of the what variety. Ordering food or coffee is a what. On the other had, as they say, the devil is in the details. In the spirit of not assuming, often it helps to understand the why of the other(s). Perhaps their ideas are based on misinformation? Perhaps you’re trying to sell them on Z when their major concerns are P and Q? Perhaps they literally missed a memo?

On a more fundamental human level, done correctly, asking why also extends the olive branch of empathy. It’s taking the extra step to develop a deeper understanding and connection. Why is personal. But be careful, you don’t want to be interpreted as questioning the basis of their input. The purpose here is to build bridges (i.e., understanding and common ground), not walls.

Always be mindful not to assume you know why they are thinking what you think they are thinking.

Note: You can use this proactively as: “Let me explain. I believe _____ because…”

• “Can you show me an example?”

There’s a reason we have the cliche: A picture paints a thousand words; as well as: Seeing is believing. Some human minds are better than others with the abstract. And nearly all prefer real over theory. When in doubt, ask for an example.

Here’s a simple example. (See what I did there?) Someone says, “We want the logo to be blue.” Well, there’s sky blue, royal blue, midnight blue, etc. Asking for examples can eliminate a lot of guessing. Nothing is more exact than an example.

Note: You can use this proactively as: “Let me show you an example…”

The Pause is a Milestone

Time and time again the battle call is: Be more productive. Stop doing X, Y and/or Z so you can get more work done. (By the way, please let’s not be foolish enough to still believe multi-tasking is an answer. It’s not. It’s a fool’s game.)

News flash! The brain doesn’t work that way.

That is, the brain, like any muscle, has limits. There are real (i.e., scientific) reasons why there are times you feel like you just can’t think anymore. It’s because you actually can’t think any more.

The Pause is a Milestone

The reality is, to be more productive, less can, and very often is, more. Push harder against the rock your brain has become doesn’t make the rock movable. In fact, you’re probably only making matters worse. Or put another way, there are reasons why you have breakthrough ideas at what seem to be weird moments (e.g., in the shower). Sometimes the brain needs to catch its breath. Sometimes the brain needs silence.

Two related books I’ve read and recommend:

David Rock – “Your Brain at Work”

Daniel Goleman – “Focus”

Yes, Goleman is the “Emotional Intelligence” guy.

You may have also noticed that often breakthroughs come once you start to discuss a problem out loud (usually with a colleague). Verbalization changes how your brain processes the ideas, and sometimes that shift is enough to help see something that previous wasn’t as visible. Verbalizing helps you see the bottleneck differently.

The bottom line…Make time for the pause. Plan for the pause. Because the pause is a milestone.

Online Marketers: The Most Important Article You’ll Read All Year

If you follow my online business writing you’ll already know I’m a dedicated disciple of the ideals of the Avinash Kaushik School of Analytics. Not only does he understand the data and how best to derive information from it, but he’s also spot on when it comes to broader business and business culture issues that compromise the promise that analytics can deliver.

His monthly-ish blog articles are consistently exceptional. This one rises to the top of that:

Eight Silly Data Myths Marketing People Believe That Get Them Fired.

Highly recommended for all marketers—online or offline.

Daniel H. Pink and The Pixar Pitch

After randomly catching a couple intriguing interviews via podcast / radio (see below),  I picked up Daniel H. Pink’s (http://DanPink.com) latest book “To Sell Is Human (The Surprising Truth About Moving Others).” Perhaps you recognize Mr. Pink from one of his previous top-selling efforts, “Drive” or “A Whole New Mind”? To cut a short blog post even shorter, if you’re a fan of Mr. Malcolm Gladwell (http://Gladwell.com), you’ll enjoy Mr. Pink’s communication style.

NPR: Death Of The (Predatory) Salesman: These Days, It’s A Buyer’s Market

Spark (CBC Radio): 202: Selling, Thriving, Developing

Beyond that, I’m not making this effort to deliver an encompassing book review of Pink’s everyone-is-in-sales research-a-thon. There’s no need for that. I’m also not a critic. My intention is simple. I want to share my discovery of Chapter 7’s highlight, The Pixar Pitch.

The chapter begins by proposing that there are six successors to the classic 30 second elevator pitch. Evidently Pink saved the best for last because that’s when The Pixar Pitch is mentioned. Yes, in case you’re wondering, this Pixar is the Steve Jobs’ numberswiki.com

Pixar. Also, if you’re wondering about the other five hits of the post-elevator pitch era you’ll have to buy the book.

In any case, Pink’s proposition is that there are a half dozen optimal ways for making a (sales) pitch. The Pixar Pitch is the formula Pixar uses to craft the movies of its Oscar winning success.

The Pixar Pitch:

Once upon a time {fill in the blank}.

Every day {fill in the blank}.

One day {fill in the blank}.

Because of that {fill in the blank}.

Until finally {fill in the blank}.

Why do I think this simple exercise is brilliant?

As I see it, its potential goes well beyond Pink’s focus, the sales pitch. The Pixar Pitch is the basis for a press release. It’s the framework for brainstorming product development. It could guide the definition of the scope of a brand, website, WordPress plugin, etc. Admittedly, these too must be sold. I would just prefer to inject the Pixar approach further up stream. In other words, sooner rather than later.

The bottom line: The beauty of The Pixar Pitch is that its simple, focus and unavoidably highly effective. Done!

10 Quick Tips to Better Email Marketing

To the point, this is my reply to a question posted on Quora (http://Quora.com):

How can one reduce the chances of their emails being ignored?

  1. Realign your expectations. While you might believe your messages are relevant and uber important, it’s the receiver who decides that. No isn’t no. It’s just not now, perhaps later.
  2. Consider yourself not an emailer but a content provider or at least a marketing machine. The power of your brand to draw attention is a function of the ongoing relevance of what you distribute. You’re not sending emails, you’re building a reputable brand.
  3. That being said, it’s not – nor should it be – always about you. That is, if the content you distribute is in the context of all about you all the time, instead of the readers’ context (i.e., info of value to them), then you are, over time, going to lose readership.
  4. Test. Test & Test some more. From subject lines to day of week + time of broadcast – look for sweet spots and (dead) dogs. There is no magic bullet.
  5. Integrate other media channels. For example, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. Perhaps the combo of noticing a tweet + reading an email subject line will get you optimal results. It might (read: probably will) take multiple “touches” before you get an sort of reaction / interaction.
  6. Devote at least 10% of your budget to experimenting. Keep looking for the magic bullet (even if it doesn’t exist).
  7. Consider using a CRM. That is, those who reply (probably) expect a different ongoing conversation than those you are still trying to reach. A CRM – if used properly – should allow you to customize your relationships.
  8. Along the same lines, segment your list. Perhaps there are subtle or not so subtle difference in your target(s). For example, try different subject lines against different segments.
  9. Be mindful of the volume of information being forced upon the receivers. Far too many marketers believe theirs is the only brand in the information sea. Ha! Whether you believe it or not you are competing with the likes of soda adverts, car adverts, etc. The finite commodity is the receivers’ attention and in your case, the time / motivation to reply.
  10. Be creative. Given #9, perhaps the standard channels with the standard messages aren’t going to be enough. Send flowers. Send wine. Send a snail mail handwritten personal note. If you want to cut through the clutter – note: you are part of the clutter problem too – then you’re going to have to be creative.

Launch: Shanachie.com

Shanachie.comCongratulation to Shanachie Entertainment on the launch of their new & improved website Shanachie.com.

Full disclosure: The Shanachie project came to AU via Falco Design (http://FalcoDesign.com). FD worked with their client, created the design and was responsible for the (majority of the) front-end coding. AU’s responsibility was taking that input and making the CMS development magic happen with ExpressionEngine.

For some additional context,  you can read Shanachie’s press releases on Yahoo! News:

http://news.yahoo.com/celebrated-independent-record-label-shanachie-entertainment-relaunches-newly-110223373.html

Highlights of Phase 1

—Shanachie has full access and control of the website’s content. Text, images and video embeds are all managed with ExpressionEngine.

—Though the use of the EE add-on Playa (by Pixel & Tonic), different types of content can easily be related. For example, there is a Playa relationship between Artists and Tours. Once the relationship is established, the CMS (content management system) is coded to deliver the right content at the right time, as defined by the rules of the business.

—Entry categories are also utilized for suggesting appropriate content. For example, New Releases and Feature Releases can be quickly and easily defined by Shanachie by using ExpressionEngine’s categories.

—While SEO (search engine optimization) was not an emphasis of this phase, the site’s structure and URLs were architected to be “SEO friendly.”

AU’s Contribution

—ExpressionEngine web development.

—Extensive enhancement to a jquery plugin for list paging (e.g., the lower half of http://shanachie.com/videos/all-dvds). We were so pleased with the resulting plugin that we branded it ezPagination and will be launching a free-standing website (http://ezPagination) for it fairly soon.

Naturally, we’d like to thank Falco Design for choosing AU to handle the web development slice of this project.

As you can tell from the press release Shanachie is very happy. We are too.

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 4

Here we are again, face to face with social media and ROI. A question for the ages, is it not? The original plan was to introduce you to the Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder (Google Docs) spreadsheet in Part 4. I have since refactored the path to that goal. Instead (per a couple requests), I want to add a little bit more flesh to the bones of Part 2. Consider this Part 2 of Part 2, if you will. Since 2 + 2 = 4 let’s pretend we’re still on course.

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 1

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 2

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 3

There are tens if not hundreds or perhaps even thousands of opportunities where a link back to your website is shared. The more thorough you are in managing the tagging of the various sources of inbound traffic, the better you’ll be able to segment your data once that traffic arrives. As the great analytcis evangelist Avinash Kaushik (Kaushik.net/avinash) likes to say, “Segment or die.” (He also says, “Experiment or die.” If you don’t want to die—at the hands of Avinash?—then you should probably double-down on your daily dose of segmenting and experimenting. You’ve been warned.)

Just don’t over-think it. We’re looking to optimize this process. That doesn’t necessarily entail we perfect it. Typically, there’s too much flux and uncertainty for perfection. In other words, no matter how thorough you try to be there is going to be some traffic that will remain somewhat of a mystery. The objective is to force that slice of the pie to be as small as reasonably possible. The less unknowns the better.

Full disclosure: Writing this series has forced me to revisit and rethink my ideas, strategy and implementation of URL tagging. That said, I’m going to forge ahead warts and all, eventually share with you the spreadsheet mentioned, gather input and then re-execute. “Experiment or die”, right?

Some of you might be thinking, “But we don’t really share that many links in that many places.” To that I reply: Really? How about…Email signatures, leaving comments on industry blogs (both in the comment itself and via the avatar’s link), social media profiles (individuals/employees), social media status updates (individuals), social media page URL (in the info section), social media page status update, Flickr (i.e., in the photo’s caption), Pinterest, email blasts, guest blogging on other websites, QR codes, print ads, print brochures, web banner ads, links sent by sales to a prospect, and press releases. These were just the obvious ones that come to mind fairly quickly. Ideally, many of these strike you as Source and/or Medium for URL tagging.

Now imagine a Z dimension if you will. That is, you could have two or more employees participating in these numerous efforts. Without tagging you would just see a mish-mash of traffic in Google Analytics and not really have a firm idea where it came from or why. Helpful none the less? Probably. But far from optimal. On the other hand, if you take your tagging seriously you could—in theroy—see that:

  • Sue, the “average” employee in HR, was actually pulling on the most traffic to your site with her daily tweets. Not even marketing’s tweets were doing as well as Sue.
  • Bill, the guy on the pink slip bubble you caught “screwing around” on Pinterest last week, was sharing photos of company products that were actually resulting in leads and sales.
  • The QR code marketing paid uber top dollar to be published on the back cover of a local publication didn’t generate any meaningful traffic. In fact, the sales it did generate were low margin and high churn customer.
  • The company tweets on evenings and weekends actually produce a higher quality of traffic than the tweets what go out during normal business hours.
  • Posting multiple times per day to your company’s Facebook page does well. But the guest blog post you do one per quarter does twice as good. Actions: Perhaps pull back on Facebook; speak to the blog owner about doing a monthly article; seek other guest blogging opportunities.

Perhaps the URL Builder parameter Name could be employee name, or an assigned code? Or maybe you assign that identifier to Term or Content?

Granted, getting your entire operation to embrace URL tagging is easier said than done. Yes, perhaps that’s too high of an expectation? However, at the very least sales/marketing should be required to follow such a regiment. Also, difficult or not there might also be an opportunity to develop a process for URL tagging such that employees who participate are given an incentive to do and/or a reward based on the results they produce. Maybe “average” Sue isn’t so average after all?

Contrary to popular belief social media is not “free”. Time is being spent. Quite often money is being spent. There’s no doubt different activities by different people are going to product different traffic profiles on different days based on different messages, platforms, etc. URL tagging might not be Nirvana but it certainly has the potential to lower noise, increase clarity and identify opportunities for data-driven action.

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 3

Welcome back. Quickly, let’s recap. By the end of Part 1 you understood and embraced the value of tagging links with Google URL Builder. In Part 2 I drilled down, spread out and discussed the various tagging parameters. In addition I made suggestions and recommendation on developing a strategy for implementing those parameters within the context of how you might wish to measure your online marketing efforts.

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 1

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 2

Before I continue I want to emphasis that this level of thoroughness with the links you share does admittedly entail time, effort and dedication. At this point I presume you’ve also noticed in your social media marketing travels (since read Part 1) that the majority of links shared by brands—both large and small—are in fact not tagged. Conclusion: If you’re looking for a competitive advantage, as well as a deeper understanding of your online marketing efforts then there’s plenty of opportunity right in front of you. Like it or not, victory does not always come easy. Whether online or off the adage, “No pain. No gain.” is as true as ever.

Good news: After Part 3 we’ll be past the half way mark.

More good news: In Part 3 we move away from (what could be considered) the theoretical and into hands-on execution.

Still more good news: Part 3 is somewhat shorter than either of the previous two parts.

Today’s “insider secret” will add a tool know as a URL shortener to your toolbox of tricks for executing and measuring your online marketing efforts. For example, bit.ly and TinyURL.com are both URL shorteners. Chances are you’ve seen shared links using both of these shorteners. It doesn’t matter which URL shortener you use as long as the platform you select offers analytics on the links you shorten. In other words, we want to have access to data that tells us which of the shared links—whether back to your own site, or to any other site—has been clicked. My primary focus for the sake of this discussion will address using bit.ly.

“Why bit.ly?”

There are plenty of free/low cost URL shorteners. I’m going to focus on bit.ly mainly because of bit.ly pro. Wih pro, for the price of a domain name you can have your own vanity URL shortener. For example, Alchemy United’s AUtd.us is done via bit.ly pro. You don’t have to go pro. Nor do you have to go bit.ly. Perhaps I’ll do a round up of URL shorteners sometime soon?

By the way, yes it’s a lower case b in bit.ly. Also, please keep in mind that the only difference between plain vanilla bit.ly and your own bit.ly pro domain is the domain name. The back-end functionality and features are exactly the same. Think of your own domain when using pro as a “mask” or “alias” that just sits in front of  standard bit.ly. Therefore, when I write bit.ly, it’s really just short for saying, “bit.ly and bit.ly pro.” For all practical purposes they’re the same thing.

Now for the tip, tricks and caveats:

(1) When you shorten URLs with bit.ly the stats on that URL are accessible to anyone, not just you. All you or anyone has to do is take the bit.ly URL and add a “+” (without the quotes) to the end. For example, if the shortened URL is http://bit.ly/lo0k1tsShrt then to see the stats page you would use http://bit.ly/lo0k1tsShrt+. When bit.ly sees the “+” at the end it will redirect that request to the analytics page for that URL instead of redirecting you on to the web page of the de-shorten URL.

The concern is your competition could monitor your shortening activity pretty closely. That is, provided they know about the “+” trick. Frankly, most people don’t seem to be aware of this feature. It is however an important “feature” to consider.

(2) You do not own your data, bit.ly does. You get a free service. They get to monetize your data. It’s a fair trade?

(3) Getting your analytics data out of bit.ly isn’t easy. You can not simply export all the links you’ve shortened (with the associated click data, etc.) and then crunch that data locally. This means you have to look up each URL individually. I agree, in some/many cases that might not be practical. Sometimes using the free version of a service isn’t ideal, but in this case it’s a start and it’s better than nothing. bit.ly does give you day by day click stats at the link level so if you have nothing now at least a broad view at 50,000 feet is better than guessing in the darkness. It’s just not easy to get aggregated data without visiting the stats page for each link you’ve shortened.

I would like to mention that bit.ly does offer an API for accessing their data. However, (at this time) I do not know of any service that lets you upload a list of URLs, uses the API to grab the data for those URLs, and then returns what’s been grabbed to you in a consumable format (e.g., .CSV file). Perhaps I should add such building such a service to my to do list?

(4) Since harvesting the analytics data is less than ideal I recommend you use two different bit.ly accounts. One account would be specifically for links back to your own site. The other account would be for links to other sites. This way, when you log into each account your apples won’t be mixed with your oranges. This won’t get you to ground level granularity but at least it’ll drop you down to 40,000 feet from 50,000. Again, not perfect but certainly better than the guessing game you’re playing now.

Technically, your Google Analytics will be tracking any traffic that comes to your site from your tagged and shortened links. Therefore, the bit.ly stats might not be necessary. None the less, I still prefer to use bit.ly to get a quick bird’s eye view of what’s been shared and what’s been clicked. Let’s face it, shortening is good internet manners too. Nobody wants to be faced wit a long winder URL. Therefore, if you’re going to tag, shorten and share links not to your own site, you might as well shorten the tagged links to your site as well. What’s nice is shortening will to the untrained naked eye mask the fact that you’ve become a connoisseur of link tagging. Perhaps this is something you don’t wish to telegraph to your competition?

(5) When you take a shortened URL and post it directly on Facebook, Facebook will automatically de-shorten it (i.e., make it long again). This means that the page request won’t pass through bit.ly since it’s not really a bit.ly URL anymore. In other words, you won’t capture any click stats in bit.ly for those shares.

Not to worry, there’s a workaround for this. It’s simple. Don’t do your page’s updates (with shared links in them) directly on Facebook. Instead, you can sidestep the de-shortening problem by posting updates via the API (e.g., using a service like Postling.com) or by using the update via email option FB provides to pages. (To find the send to email address for your brand’s FB page, log into your page as the admin and then look under the mobile tab.)

(6) There are a couple other minor points but I am honestly trying hard to keep this brief. If possible, I’ll fit these other tips & tricks in before the end of this series.

Conclusion: If 1, 2 and 3 are a major concern then I recommend you strongly consider hosting your own URL shortener. For example, as an “experimental” side project, AU implemented VT802.us using the open source URL shortening PHP script from YOURLS.org. The primary advantage of setting up your own YOURLS.org install is that you retain complete control. It’s your site, your data and only you will see the analytics. You’d also have direct access to the backend database for exporting and more extensive crunching of your data.

Frankly, if I knew about YOURLS.org when I was signing up for AU’s bit.ly pro I probably would have gone with a YOURLS.org based solution. In my defense (if you will), it wasn’t until after using bit.ly for a while did some of these it’s-free-but-it’s-not-quite-perfect caveats come to light. As they say, live and learn. Lucky for you, I’m willing to share these insights. Obviously, if you’re interested in a YOURLS.org based shortener then you’ve come to the right place. We can do that. Else, run with the free version of bit.ly and make the best of it. bit.ly is a viable solution and it’s free. YOURLS’ is great but there are set up and maintenance costs involved.

If your social media marketing budget is $15,000 – $20,000 or more a year than the benefits (read: ROI) of a private YOURLS.org base shortener is in all likelihood easily justified. (Note: The budget figure includes time and well as hard dollars. If you value your time at just $50 per hour that’s approximately $1,500 per month. I trust you can do the math.) After all, if you’re not measuring, you’re not really marketing, yes? The internet and social media marketing is here to stay. The competition for people’s attention online is forever increasing. It’s going to take quality (and occasionally quantity) effort to rise above that fray. The analytics insights from a self-hosted shortener have the potential to be the difference between good and great.

Of course you could also market your public facing URL shortener as a branding tool. With some enhancing YOURL.org could be configured to disallow the stats of selected URLs from being exposed to the public.

So there you go. Imagine that…You share a link that goes to a site other than your own and you can tell how much engagement it pulled with your followers. If you tag that link—and we know you should—you’ll also be able to measure which platforms pulled best, which topics or end sites pulled best, or what day of week and/or time of day pulled best, and so on. It all depends on the parameters you use for tagging. Tagging and shortening adds time but it also adds significant value. On the other hand, not doing so tells you nothing. As they say, you can’t get something for nothing.

The tools are there. Now it’s up to you to use them. Please add your questions and comments below.

From bar napkin to zillionaire in 10 “easy” steps

Funny how these things happen sometimes. A friend of a colleague/friend read my “How YouTube and Facebook are Killing Innovation and Success” from a couple weeks back. She/he appreciated the insight and suggested we get together to discuss a collection of ideas she/he and a couple “partners” had been kicking around.

A day or so later we met. After an couple of hours of mostly highly discussion she/he popped the question: “Mark, what would you do?”

Below is a rough and obviously very high level synopsis of the answer that came off the top of my head then (and has been refined a bit since):

Note: Many of these are not silos. That is, the reality is they are interconnected and take form in an agile and interactive fashion. They tend not to happen in a nice and neat linear list as you see here.

  1. Develop your logo / brand identity. This includes domain name(s), social media profile handles, etc.
  2. Formalize your mission statement. Be clear and concise about your idea to the point that all partners agree and sign-off, be it informally or formally.
  3. Organize your collection ideas into a 10 slide “”pitch-deck”. There could be multiple versions of this pitch depending on the target audience. Regardless, each pitch should answer the target’s “What in it for me?” Note: This step is as much about aligning the partners as it is about organizing your pile of ideas and crafting your pitch(s).
  4. Sketch out a marketing plan and set some goals. For example, how many Twitter followers and Facebook “friends” equals “critical mass” and success.
  5. Set up social media accounts (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, etc.) and begin collecting followers. Track that against goals and regularly assess how much resources it’s going to take to hit your targets.
  6. Set up a basic / coming soon / sign-up-for-beta website. Use any of the above content to flesh that out. Ultimately, the site should get beta sign-ups, help add FB Likes, Twitter followers, etc. The fact is, with barriers to entry so low, cutting through the clutter is a very difficult task. Most non-marketers severely under-estimate how difficult engagement really is. In other words, you’re not the only outfit with a great idea trying to get people’s attention.—Be sure to use Google Analytcis on the site so you can monitor: traffic, nature of the visits, clicks, etc. in order to gauge the level of interest. GA is essential. Collect and analyze your all data in order to refine the sketch of your marketing plan.—I’d recommend a blog on the site to communicate ideas, show progress, collect comments, etc. A blog is also good for SEO. That said, content generation takes time. Who’s going to do that? Reply to comments, manage the social media accounts (correctly), etc.?
  7. With that said, define roles. Of the partners, who is responsible for what, when, etc. Don’t assume. In fact, never assume. Also, there’s a massive amount of truth to, “The devil is in the details.” You’d be surprised how easy it is to not  on executing once you get past the idea on a bar napkin stage.
  8. As that’s all moving along, refine your wants-list into real business needs, (fairly detailed) functionality, wireframes (hand-drawn is fine), etc. and begin to design and develop the brand’s website. Your critical mass goals, sign-up progress and traffic will help to dictate your timeline.—The current rule of thumb is to get in the game with a raw but solid idea and refine as you go. None the less, you have to have some framework to start with. Especially, if there are multiple decision makers. It goes without saying that personalities change as the bumps in the road come bigger and faster.
  9. As all that’s moving along, develop a network for press releases and other “good will” type channels. Contrary to popular belief, big dogs (e.g. Facebook) don’t exactly go viral. Once the angel investors and VCs kick in their part those players open up their “little black books” of media contacts to fan the fire of interest in their new investment. When someone tosses in 5, 6 or 7 figures they aren’t just sitting around praying for “viral”. They’re playing puppet master. If you’re more grassroots and boot strapped then you might be limited to praying for viral. It’s up to you.
  10. Discuss if not formalize an exit strategy. You’d be surprised how well defining the way out helps to determine the path(s) you take. Building a house to live in and building one to sell are usually two very different approaches.

And now for the Bonus Tip:

Don’t quit your day job until your have to. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Having your back up against the wall can be inspiring—provided the partners agree on who’s going to bear that burden.

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, I introduced the idea of link tagging (and Google URL Builder), why it matters to your website analytics, and how these tools are essential in the context of social media and measuring online marketing effectiveness. I also ended Part 1 suggesting the more curious check out these two Google resources:

Tool: Google URL Builder

Google Analytics Help: How do I tag my links?

Well, now the party is over. These two links are now required reading. No problem, I’ll wait.

Ready? Let’s go…

In short, by setting the various URL tagging parameters “correctly” you’ll be able to better analyze the traffic your link sharing efforts pull in. While Google only specifies that three of the parameters are required, I typically suggest you try to take advantage of all five. It’s rarely a bad idea to do so. Setting more of the parms means more data details to analyze.

What’s open to interpretation here is “correctly.” Let me explain. In order to tag your links correctly you have to develop a game plan for how you want to analyze this traffic once it arrives to your site and the resulting data into Google Analytics. Not ever business has the exact same needs. This is why correct is subjective and as much art as it is science. For example, do you want your Campaign Source to be social_media or perhaps you want Campaign Source at the social network platform level (e.g., facebook, twitter, etc.). It all depends on your reporting needs and how you might what to aggregate or dis-aggregate your traffic as it relates back to Source.

I’d like to mention that Google Analytics has many powerful custom reporting features. In many cases, the only limit is your imagination and your time. However, these power-user capabilities often require an added level of expertise. So (for example) while in theory it’s possible to aggregate multiple Sources into one or two buckets the process for doing so isn’t always as transparent (read: easy) as you might like it to be.

Therefore, I recommend you spend a reasonable amount of time upfront thinking about your tags, as well as doing some exploring of Google Analytics and how it lets you manipulate, pivot and parse the data from your website’s traffic. The better your tagging strategy is structured upfront, the easier it will be to pull the information you need from your GA data.

Important: If you’re looking for quick & easy then you might want to stop reading now and resign yourself to being yet another member of the legion of wanna-be online marketers who still believe you can fake it to make it. On the other hand, if you want to do this correctly (or at least strive for a higher level of thoroughness) and you appreciate the ROI from making the investment then please continue reading.

Ironic, isn’t it? To understand your marketing ROI, you have to invest time & effort in using and understanding the tools for doing so. If it were easy then everyone would be doing it.

Aside from Source, below are some ideas on the other link tagging parameters available. While it’s certainly not rocket science, there’s plenty to keep you busy and thinking hard as you’re developing your social media/emarketing URL tagging strategy. Trust me, it’s worth it. If your current employer doesn’t appreciate the attention to detail, your next one certainly will.

Campaign Medium – You could go with social_media_update for all links posted to any social media page (in the event you share a link to your site but the share is not on your own page). But in all likelihood you’d want to differentiate between links posted on your brand’s pages/accounts and links posted elsewhere. The nature of the traffic certainly could be different.

There’s also the possibility—which I’ll cover in Part 3—of shared links that go to other sites, not just your own, and being able to track engagement with your followers at a link clicked level for those shares. Obviously, that traffic isn’t going to show up in your Analytics. None the less, I’d still recommend you use different a Campaign Medium (or some other tagging parameter for identifying shared links pointing to other sites).

Note: The set of values for Campaign Medium is probably going to be selected from a finite and fairly static list. The same applies to Source. That is, there’s always room for a new value as your business needs evolve but you shouldn’t be making new ones up on the fly every time. It’s best to think about how you have been posting updates and sharing links and then reverse engineer those experiences into your URL tagging process.

Campaign Name – In terms of required parameters this is the third and final required tagging parm. Typically, I envision Campaign Name as being some sort of code. For example, you sell clothing and have an annual Spring Sale in April. A few weeks prior you rev up your marketing engines and begin to seed awareness. Those status updates and shares would be coded for that particular marketing effort (read: campaign).

Once you assign a unique code also be sure to log it somewhere. You not only want to be consistent as you’re running various campaigns but you’ll also need to matrix the code to your analytics data later. Yes, it’s certainly possible to have multiple campaigns running at the same time.

On the other hand, an example at the other extreme of granularity are the social media updates pushed out from the Alchemy United website. In this case, each article is treated like a unique marketing campaign. As a result, along with the other parms, Google Analytics is able to show which article via which social media channel pulled best. On another site I work on, blog article author ID and article category are both added to this mix. As you can imagine the vectors for crunching the data across just those various parameters is both robust and insightful.

Campaign Term – Again, sticking with the clothing example. Perhaps you’d like to track incoming traffic by the nature of the post. For example, gender, type of clothing (e.g., pants, tops, shoes, etc.) or nature of the post (e.g., new arrivals, sale, clearance, fashion tip, etc.) On the other hand, I’ve also seen Campaign Term assigned the time of day (i.e., morning, afternoon, etc.) an update was posted. The idea being, most social media updates have a very brief shelf-life. The client felt that time of update might be valuable to track. The jury for time of day is still out. It all depends on the project, the audience and what the you/the client believes is going to help them answer most of their marketing analytics question better.

Campaign Content – Similar to Campaign Term this too is fairly open ended. In one case we assigned (an encoded version of) the customer’s ID from the client’s database and used that to tag links via a mail merge over a series of mail blasts. As that campaign (of emails) went on, we were able to glean an understanding at a very granular level.

Another example might be for Campaign Content to be the product ID of the product/service mentioned in the post/update. Perhaps promoting Widget Q on social media has zero engagement. Perhaps promoting Widget X as increases (or decreases) sales of Widgets Y and Z. Or maybe mentioning Widget X leads to more conversions (e.g., sign up for email list). The point of setting any of these parameters is to attempt to turn parameter value into Google Analytics data, and then that data into useful marketing and business information. If you’re flying blind at the moment then things can only get better, right?

Finally, while it would be nice to think otherwise, this series is by no means capable of being the be all and end all on the subject of link tagging. Hopefully it’s raising your awareness, increasing your curiosity and inspiring you to progress beyond the usual social media guru cliches. You’ve made it this far, so please spend some time (between now and the next article) doing some digging on your own.

Also, as I mentioned, take inventory of your current social media usage and other online marketing initiatives up until this point. Consider the URL Builder parameters, how those relate to who, what, where, when, why, how, etc., and then mash that up with your marketing efforts and the questions you’ve been needing to answer. With each twist, iteration and jotted note your tagging strategy will take form. Social media ROI happiness is just around the bend.

In Part 3 I’m going to discuss how using a URL shortener (e.g., bit.ly) is going to supplement your linking tagging efforts.

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 1

Social media and online marketing in general continue to be the blessing and the curse of marketers big and small. The change is constant and the noise ever increasing. New this. UI change that. It’s endless—and exciting. If Sisyphis has a modern day cousin it’s the 21st century marketing aficionado. Yet regardless of who, when or where there is one question that seems to remain constant: How do I measure the effectiveness of my social media marketing well as other online marketing efforts?

The answer is simple: Tag your links using Google’s URL Builder*.

Before we continue let me add some additional context that should help make embracing this extra step a no brainer. In the pre-social media days, link tagging (with URL Builder) was primarily intended to help measure the effectiveness of banners ads on third party sites, as well as for email blast tracking. For example, you might have placed a number of banners across a number of different “partner” sites. By properly tagging the links associated with those banners you could slice & dice your website analytics to see which banners drew the most clicks, longest visits, most conversions, etc.

Think about it. What are links shared via social media but banners ads without the banners? Right? Right! They’re across different sites. Check. Over time they are advancing different messages and pages/content. Check. People (hopefully) click on them. Check. And finally, you’d like to understand the nature of those visits. Check. Check. Check!

True, there’s a loss of context with social media. That is, in most cases you won’t know gross impressions for a given shared link (i.e., status update). None the less, at least you’re gaining an understanding of the effectiveness your social media efforts are generating. Are you getting 5 clicks or 500 per status update? Is that traffic leading to 1 conversion of 100? Which status updates are getting the most clicks? Chances are that (even without the context of impressions) answers to these questions are a lot more than you know now.

Truth be told, it’s a pet peeve of mine—and a major emarketing faux pas—when brands will highlight a particular product, service or article and then try to lead me to it with a simple, “Check our website” and a link to their home page. No! I will not check your website. If you want to read a particular section of a book would you just toss the book at me and say, “Find it”? Of course not.

Perhaps for you it’s a given. You are already particular about the URLs you share. If not, in 2012, it’s time to stop being that brand. The one that still thinks it’s okay to waste my time, as well as screw-up their own analytics. Because if you’re not measuring then you’re not really marketing.

If it helps, think of link tagging as a way to make your analytics more granular and more filterable, if you will. So instead of just gleaning, “We got 500 visits from Facebook” with link tagging you’ll be able to segment that 500 by the status update (i.e., link shared) and when done correctly, even the social media platform that update was shared on. Sounds good, yes?

Finally, this is the first part of a series of articles on the topic of URL Tagging and how to use it in the context of (mostly) social media. If you’re the type who likes to explore and wants to get ahead of the curve a bit then you might want to check out these two links:

Tool: URL Builder

How do I tag my links?

Else, just sit tight and wait for the next release in this series. I’m going to drill down deeper, as well as share a spreadsheet I use for making the link tagging process easier. Naturally, if you have questions and comments in the meantime you can leave a comment below.

*Note: This article presumes you’re using Google Analytics as your website’s analytics tool. That said, similar tools often have some sort of equivalent tagging methodology. These concepts should still apply. You just might have to implement in a slightly different manner.

How YouTube and Facebook are Killing Innovation and Success

We’ve all heard the stories. The twenty-first century equivalents of Daniel Boone, Paul Bunyon and Paul Revere. Amazing and larger than life.

First, there’s YouTube. Three former Pay Pal employees sketch out an idea on the back of a bar napkin (so to speak). They proceed to pursue the idea. Why? Because they can and they’re the types to do so. They launch quickly, continue to tweak, etc. and the site goes viral before the word was in the mainstream lexicon. As the story goes, less than two years later they sold to Google for well over a 1.5 billion dollars. Billion,

And then there’s Facebook, as “documented” in the film “The Social Network.” Mark Zuckerburg & Co whip together an idea, or stole it depending on who you ask. From there they rocket from stuffy East Coast Harvard to West Coast “swimming pools and movie stars” and onto billionaires and millionaires in less than two hours of running film time. With a little help from naiveté and Sean Parker, of course.

Both stories are impressive and inspiring. In that context, it doesn’t get much better.

Unfortunately, they are also both an exception to the rule. And not just small exceptions but are probably at the extreme edge of the exception scale. Winning the Power Ball lottery or dating a super-model is probably going to happen to you sooner than your idea becomes the next (me-to?) YouTube or Facebook. Yes, these thing can and do happen. I’m not here to squash dreams. But is looking to score the equivalent of back to back to back hat tricks in the World Cup a wise and realistic use of your energy?

Presuming you’re going to put some life-saving on the line, add stress to your life and your family (where before there was none), etc. perhaps there’s a better way? Perhaps, a business plan, or at least the draft of one?

Please note: I’m not a big fan of a business plan, as a plan per se. On the other had, the process of: collecting ideas; writing them down; organizing them so they make sense; flipping them upside down to look for holes; fully vetting your ideas; a draft a mission statement; assessing the size of the market and how you’re going to motivate and communicate with that market; defining goals and success and how those will be measured; sketching wireframes (if it involves a website) or the offline equivalent; formally and thoroughly analyzing the competition; reasonable and objective estimates of the resources required (i.e., time, talent and money); best case(s) and worst case(s); showing this collection of organized ideas to colleagues; and then stepping back yourself to see if the reward warrants the risk…

Well, there’s something to be said for a business plan forcing you to accomplish that.

The point of this exercise it’s only to prove yourself right, it’s to prove yourself wrong. You’re probably going to go forward anyway—as most entrepreneurs do—just make sure you know what you’re up against. The fact is, plenty of top flight squads have swaggered onto the pitch presuming victory over a less  worthy opponent and gone home humbled and without the victory. Yes, over-thinking it can be dangerous. However, I’m willing to bet that the non-victorious under-think more than they over-think it. Do you believe there’s no scrapheap of failed YouTube, Facebook, etc. wannabes? Just because that heap isn’t good Hollywood material doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

That said, I’ll be the first to admit I have a soft-spot for spontaneity. I appreciate being quick to market. I embrace the agile mindset. When it’s time to run, I’m ready to go. Foolish! Hungry!! On the other hand, when it’s asked, “Nice. Which direction is this next YouTube/Facebook headed?” and “How are you going to get there?” the answer should be more than a couple pages of bullet points, most of which are the usual pages (e.g. About Us, Contact Us, etc.). Frankly, that type of swagger raises a red flag. Your opponent, the devil & his details, are probably smiling. The W is all but theirs.

The bottom line…Odds are you’re going to need to put the uber long-shot myths aside if you want Justin Timberlake in your “based on a true story” dream come true movie.

Finally, I’d like to end this with this thread from Quora.com:

http://www.quora.com/Startup-Advice-Strategy/As-first-time-entrepreneurs-what-part-of-the-process-are-people-often-completely-blind-to

Some serious food for thought in that one, yes?

Are you a big duck or a small talker?

In the course of doing some business yesterday, I stopped for a quick lunch. While I wasn’t intentionally trying to ease drop on the table next to me I heard one person say to the other, “…but we’re not a big company…” They all then proceeded to piss and moan about the symptoms of lack of process, lack of structure, wishy-washy management, etc.

I’m as agile and unstructured as the next guy/gal. On the other hand even I understand that there is a difference between the burdens of bureaucracy and adding value by working smart via appropriate process/structure. If a problem keeps bleeding, the answer is not to make excuses and let it keep bleeding. The answer is not to apply yet another temporary band-aid. The simple answer is to fix the problem. Yes, quite often that entails doing things you don’t normally like to do. But that’s why they call it work.

It’s easy to tell when something needs to be addressed or not. When the amount of time lost—note: time spent complaining is included here—exceeds the amount of time it would take to solve the problem, then you know you have a problem that needs to be solved sooner rather than later.

Naturally, you should also be willing to revisit that solution when necessary. In other words, yesterday’s best answer might not be the optimal answer for tomorrow. “That’s how we’ve always done things,” is not an acceptable answer.

The bottom line…

If you want to be a duck, then walk like one and talk like one.

The transformation follows the act(s), not the other way around.

In other words, successful small companies don’t become larger companies and then add the necessary bells & whistles. It’s actually quite the opposite. Successful small companies embrace the necessary bells & whistles as the means to becoming better (bigger) companies. Of course the bells & whistles are going to be a function of an organization’s culture, the personnel involved, etc. One size does not fit all all the time.

Fast. Cheap. Right. Pick Two and a Half

Anyone who has gotten within ten feet of a project of any size understands the classic adage:

—Fast

—Cheap

—Right

Pick two.

Let’s pretend for a moment that you go with Fast and Cheap. Fair enough, not every effort demands or allows for the premium package. F & C is also a sign of the times. Budgets are tight and markets are as fluid as ever. However, not picking Right does not mean you should abandon all sense of best practices and PM common sense.

For example, let’s say you decide to refinish a chair. The ultimate solution would be to take it to a professional with the proper experience and equipment and let him/her work their magic. Your next choice might be to get the right equipment yourself (or borrow it from a friend), buy a “Furniture Refinishing for Dummies” book and slot out a weekend to get the job done. But maybe its a chair of not much value and all the top choices would be overkill.

Again, fair enough. You just want to give the old chair some new life. None the less you probably shouldn’t ignore all sense of Right.  At the very least you should sand the chair down a bit, give it a thorough washing and possibly slap on at least one coat of primer before you repaint. Deciding to completely bypass Right and just paint the chair “as is” in most cases would be a mistake. The type of mistake that you will eventually regret. The type of mistake that will just have to be redone again the minimal Right way.

On a more practical level, let’s say you want a website and you want it Fast & Cheap. These things happen sometimes and you have to deal with the cards in front of you. But that doesn’t mean all sense of Right should be abandoned. In fact, in order to keep Fast & Cheap on target there still needs to be a minimum commitment to Right.

Here are a few rules I’ve come up with that will help your Fast & Cheap project shine:

Fast & Cheap Rule #1 – Remove as many unknowns as quickly as possible. This is essential. Looking at the map while you’re flying forward is dangerous. For example, if your core team is familiar with web host X, CMS Y and copy writer Z then stick with those. Unless there is some irrefutable and compelling reason to switch horses then stick with what you know as much as possible. If someone doesn’t have a working understanding of a particular tool or element, get them up to speed ASAP.  Mitigating unnecessary distractions is essential to efficiency. Avoid shiny new objects and any other unknowns as much as possible.

Fast & Cheap Rule #2 – Define the destination as quickly and as tightly as possible. There’s no sense embarking on a high-speed journey if you don’t know where you’re going and what provisions you might need to get there. Running fast for the sake of running fast might be fun in grade school gym class but it’s no way to get a quick & dirty project done on time and within budget. Be smart! Figure out where you’re going before you turn the key and stomp on the gas. One or two wrong turns at high-speed could result in undesirable and costly consequences

Fast & Cheap Rule #3 – Ask Why. Then ask What. Before you ask How. Obviously, closely related to Rule #2. For example, don’t start talking about the website’s design until there’s an agreed upon Why and What. For iproperty development the boilerplate I also recommend using is:

1) Who is the target audience?

2) What are their expectations?

3) What content and functionality is necessary to meet those expectations?

4) How does that correlate to the wants and needs of the brand?

Again, it doesn’t matter how Cheap and Fast you’re moving if you get to the wrong destination. It doesn’t matter if you pick a website design that looks nice if it’s ultimately inappropriate for the Why and What. You could get lucky. But why rely on luck when investing in a bit of time can do the trick? Yes, there is no doubt design is important. But its true value exists within the context of the business needs (i.e., Why and What). If you believe that defining the Why and What is too overwhelming then proceed at your own risk. Some might say, “We can’t afford the time for that.” No actually, the reality is you can’t afford the risk of not filling in these blanks. Ultimately the time invested now will be a bargain to what you pay later if you don’t get lucky.

Fast & Cheap Rule #4 – Listen to your able and trusted resources. Let’s say you take your car to the shop because you’re having a problem. The mechanic takes the car for a short drive and then puts the car up on the lift to have a closer look. Shortly thereafter he/she comes back and says you need services X, Y & Z. Do you say no thanks and then specify he/she replace A and/or B? Or do you ask for an explanation and then more likely than not proceed as recommended? At the risk of repeating myself a slight bit, unless there is some irrefutable and compelling reason not to listen to your able and trusted resources then stick with what they recommend as much as possible. A quality resource is not going to speak just to be heard. If the idea sounds feasible and their explanation reasonable then follow their path.

Fast & Cheap Rule #5 – Hit the expectations reboot button. Once you’ve run through the previous steps, do a quick loop back around and share what’s been documented in order to get everyone—resources and stakeholders—on the same page. It’s going to be worth reminding everyone that the meal is closer to fast-food than it is white table cloth fine dining. Even so, someone at some point is going to be tempted to discuss the wine list. Simply put, there is no wine list in this phase. Therefore, start a list for future enhancements. Not only will this list eventually come in handy, but it will also be a polite and positive way to say no not now.

Conclusion – Pardon me if this sounds a bit direct and honest but Fast & Cheap is not an acceptable excuse for being mindless. Sometimes cutting corners is necessary. But doing so with no seat belt on and while wearing a blindfold is foolish at best. Some times it’s necessary to be fast and be cheap but there’s no need to top that off with a stinky pile of hasty.

A Final Note – While this article focused on Fast & Cheap, the truth is many of these concepts apply no matter what two and a half options you pick from the list. And while you can’t have it all, the fact is there are smart ways to get the most from what you do have. All you have to do is look and think before you leap.

Client-friendly SEO guidelines – Part 3

If you missed either of the two previous installments you can start by catching up here:

Client-friendly SEO guidelines – Part 1

Client-friendly SEO guidelines – Part 2

And without further delay here is the conclusion to this three part beginners’ guide to search engine optimization basics.

8) Image File Names

Believe it or not, search engines also index the names of your image files. Therefore, it is wise to  take advantage of this and give your images file names that are relevant and informative. Don’t be cryptic or lazy. We already know that playing hard to get is not going to help the match maker work for you. The rules for naming image files are very similar to page URLs. That is, use keywords, be descriptive and use dashes (-).

For example—

Bad: photo225.jpg

Good: rose.jpg or flower.jpg

Better: flower-red-rose.jpg or red-rose-flower.jpg

If you have keywords that are sometimes misspelled, using the misspelled version within image files names is a good way to get those misspellings indexed and associated with your site. Since 99.99% of all visitors to your site probably aren’t going to view a page’s source code just to see your image file names, the risk of a misspelling reflecting negatively on your site/brand/company is next to none. While it’s unlikely this trick has a major impact on getting traffic to your site, it is none the less worth mentioning.

9) Analytics

In terms of free tools, the industry standard is Google Analytics. It might be free but it is very robust. So much so there are a countless number of books dedicated to Google Analytics, as well as thousands of people who’s profession it is to understand and use it. Don’t let that intimidate you. Start slow, make an effort to pick up the basics, and then expand your understanding of Google Analytics as you feel is necessary. It is also recommended you consider utilizing Google Webmaster Tools.

One of the main things to know about using Google Analytics is that it is very good at telling you what happened. On the other hand, it’s not very good at telling you why. When making decision based on analytics be sure to put some effort into trying to interpret and understand the why. Avoid jumping to conclusions, quite often you’ll find there are at least two sides to every story.

10) The Process – The conclusion is the beginning

Last but not least, always be mindful that SEO is not a set it and forget it project. While your pursuit of SEO has a start, it does not have an end. The possibilities are endless…Search engine indexing algorithms continues to evolve. A competitor launches a new website and/or makes a conscious effort to build in bound links. Or maybe your product mix changes. Whatever the case may be, change and SEO go hand in hand. This isn’t the end, it’s the beginning of your love affair with SEO.

Granted, you might not have the resources to obsess over SEO on a daily basis. However, it is recommended you consider scheduling different levels of commitment on a weekly, monthly and quarterly basis. For example, maybe you review Google Analytics weekly, and revisit your keywords quarterly.

SEO is like any relationship—it takes work to make it successful. Either you’re committed to it or you’re not. And what you get out will be direct function of what you put in. Don’t expect SEO to help you, if you’re not making time to help yourself.

Client-friendly SEO guidelines – Part 2

Welcome back to the middle portion of the Client-friendly SEO Guidelines show. If you missed Part 1 you can catch up here:

http://www.alchemyunited.com/2011/06/29/client-friendly-seo-guidelines-part-1

The one caveat I’d like to repeat from Part 1 is that the intention of this series is to build understanding and confidence—not paralyze a novice with perfectionist expert level details. If you feel there’s a flaw that’s too flawed given the context, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. Just please keep in mind the intention here is SEO 101 for the time constrained SMB and NPO.

4) Headline Tags

Sometimes referred to as “H tags” since they begin with an H and are then numbered 1 to 6. If you view a web page’s source code and see: <h1>some text here</h1> or <h2>some other text here</h2>, etc. those are headline tags. These tags are part of the page’s design and are applied to the content on a page to tell the search engine what’s most important (h1), a bit less so (h2), and so on. Contrary to popular belief, headline tags need not be used to set type display characteristics (e.g., font size, font color, etc.) Typically they are styled but that’s not their true intention.

Be aware that not everything can be equally uber important. If you get carried away with the Headline tags the search engines’ algorithm might just decide to ignore your headlines all together. Therefore, headline tags should be used with some discretion. It is always best to be objective and honest when tuning your site to be “search engine friendly.”

While h1 is typically applied to the visible (and often generic) page title, h1 might instead be better used if you also have a sub-headline that describes the page’s content in more objective detail that makes better use of your keywords. For example, the headline might be creative and somewhat subjective so it catches a reader’s eye. While the sub-headline would be more objective and thus more “search engine friendly.”

If the design of your site doesn’t include a sub-headline or short page description, then you probably want to consider it. You might not feel you need it, but if it’s written and tagged properly Google will appreciate it. Headline tags are a tool to help make your content friendlier to your match makers. And again, keep in mind that there need not be any correlation between what you define for search engines as h1 and how that h1 is styled for the human reader. Regardless, your site’s first priority is to be user friendly. SEO friendly is second.

Although they can be applied more broadly, there should also be correlation and consistency between page URL, page title and the headline tags. These parameters don’t have to line up perfectly but they should be reasonably close. On the other hand, you do want to have a sense that you’re creating a general impression, a cloud if you will. That cloud is made up of various keywords and content that accurately reflects your site/brand/company as well as the content of a particular page. Hopefully, you’re starting to get a feel for how search engines “think” and how you can use that awareness to tip things in your favor. Be precise. Be specific. But also keep in mind that sometimes “long tail” keywords are effective too.

5) Page Description

The page meta description does not appear on your site. When you do a search, it does however appear in the list of search engine results pages results (SERPs) that are returned for the searcher to read. The page meta description should be honest and objective but none the less a bit enticing. If you have something the searcher is interested in, you want them to read your description and click through to your site. Don’t over promise, but don’t be too understated either. For example, if price is a critical decision point then be sure to address that in your page description.

The standard recommendation is to keep the page description to less than 160 character. This is going to be read by real humans so do use proper English. You can exceed 160 characters, however most SERPs will only display the first 160 characters. Evidently, matchmakers prefer brevity, as do most searchers.

6) Page Content

Rule number one is that your content should be written to be read by real people. Writing copy that is search engine friendly but user unfriendly is a no-no. In fact the latest release of Google’s indexing algorithm (code named: Panda) will penalize context it believes is unnatural.

When writing your content, refer back to your keyword list and be sure to also use the lower priority keywords. Search engines are not going to match you to searches unless your site contains those words too. Feel free to repeat keywords you have used in the previous steps but don’t over do it. In 2011, “stuffing” your content with keywords is also a no-no. If you’re interested in more depth in this area do a search for: “SEO keyword density.”

7) Link Anchor Test

Link anchor text are the words within a link that are clickable. Yes Virginia, these words matter to search engines. The search engines assume that if the words are part of a link to a page, then they are important and also descriptive of the page receiving that link.

Whether linking within your site or out to other sites try to avoid things such as “To do ‘blank’ click here” where “here” is the only anchor text in the link. Try to use wording that is descriptive of the site/page being linked to, and be sure that wording is part of the link anchor text.

And while we’re on the subject of links, it’s worth mentioning that the best way to improve your SEO impact is building in-bound links. That is, links from other sites to your site. Since that’s not always something you can have a direct and immediate impact on, it is considered to be outside the scope of these guidelines. None the less, building in-bound links is something to be aware of as you add tools to your SEO tool box.

Alright then, that’s it for Part 2. Hopefully you’ll share this with your friends and colleagues. Part 3 should be published some time next week.

Client-friendly SEO guidelines – Part 1

A few weeks back I was commissioned to create a brief but through set of user-friendly SEO guidelines. The objective was not to explore every nook and cranny to the Nth degree. (In other words, there are some known imperfections in this list.)

Instead the goal was  a bit less ambitious. This set of guidelines would keep the ideas bite-sized and layman/laywoman friendly. In doing so the hope was that the majority of desired actions would be more likely to take place. “Build understanding and confidence—not paralyze with perfectionist expert level details,” was the directive.

I’ve been given permission to republish this and have decided to break it into three parts. Here is Part 1 of 3:

Introduction

SEO is an acronym for Search Engine Optimization. Broadly, the intention of SEO is to optimize a website’s structure and content in order to increase the accuracy of a search engine’s indexing of that site. Metaphorically, it is helpful to envision a search engine as a match maker. A suitor searches with a keyword/phrase with the intention of finding something. It is up to the match maker to interpret those needs, compare the stated needs to its massive number of indexed pages, and then based on a top secret algorithm pull out the pages that seem to matter most. The match maker then returns a list of results to the suitor with its best guess for a match at the top of the list, second best guess is the next one down, and so on.

If the person searching is in fact looking for a site such as yours then it is in your best interest to help the match maker make that connection. There is nothing to be gained in playing hard to get. The more “search engine friendly” a website is, the more likely it is for that site to be listed on relevant search engine results pages (also know as SERPs).

Overview

SEO is as much of an art as it is a science. Since the algorithms that search engines (e.g., Google, Bing, etc.) use are highly proprietary, much of what is understood about SEO is based on reverse engineering that black box. In other words, Google (for example) does not publish a document that specifies exactly what matters and what does not. Instead, there is a whole industry built around trying to decode the black box and then providing services based on that distilled knowledge. To further complicate matters, search engines are constantly refining their algorithms. So while there are quite a few knowns (read: best practices), the nature of SEO is such that there are also always a certain number of unknowns.

Rather than get bogged down in technical details and other advanced concepts, the intention of this list is to provide a high level overview of the some key elements of SEO—SEO 101 if you will. This guide is by no means every trick in the SEO book. It’s meant to be a simple but thorough primer so there’s no need to feel intimidated.

If this all sounds like extra work, think again. The fact is most of this list involves things that need to be done regardless. For example, no matter how you cut it your site is going to need content. You can’t launch with blank pages. Your pages will need titles and they will need URLs too. With this in mind, the purpose of these guidelines is to help you look your best with a minimal amount of extra effort.

1) Keywords

As they say, content is king. Start by making a list of keywords and key phrases that you would ideally want to be associated with your site/brand/company. (Note: Throughout the rest of this discussion, the word “keywords” will be used as a short substitute for “keywords and keyword phrases.”) In other words, when people search using these keywords ultimately they would probably be interested in finding your website. These keywords could be the type of services you offer, the geographic areas you serve, or even specific brands or products you sell/service.

Just keep in mind they should be searcher-centric. Ultimately, this is about making yourself more attractive to them. Not showing up unshowered with a take it or leave it disposition. If you don’t want to prepare for the date (i.e., doing more business) then don’t bother trying to fake it. It doesn’t work that way.

If you want to take it a step further, Google also offers a keyword tool that helps you determine the approximate number of times a given keyword has been used in a search.

https://adwords.google.com/o/Targeting/Explorer?__c=1000000000&__u=1000000000&ideaRequestType=KEYWORD_IDEAS#search.none

Yes, this tool can be helpful. However, you should be aware that in most cases keywords with a high number of searches are typically broad (i.e., not focused), as well as have quite a bit of competition associated with them. That is, you probably won’t be the only site wishing to be connected with such high exposure words.

More importantly, a high number of search does not necessarily mean all those people would be interested in your site/brand/company. This is especially true of broad keywords. For example, “web design.” Is the person using that keyword looking to learn web design, hire a web design outfit, see examples of web design, buy a web design book, looking for a web design job, or maybe even researching web bots? Broad, high traffic keywords are necessary, just be sure to understand the limitations inherent in their vagueness.

Depending on the nature of your business you might wish to consider geography as part of your keyword selection. For example, you might be more interested in being strongly tied to “web design nj” or “web design princeton” or “web design princeton  nj.” The number of searches for these keywords aren’t going to be as high but the objective of this exercise is quality and not quantity. If you’re a Jersey based guy then a California girl might not be a good match for you.

Once you compile your list, identify the primary keywords, verses what should be considered secondary. Having this list prioritized is going to help as you move forward.

2) Page URL

Search engines like URLs. The logic being, if the word(s) is in the URL then it must be important and somehow directly connected to the content of the page. Therefore, be reasonably descriptive and use relevant and appropriate keywords in your Page URLs. Also you can’t use spaces in a URL. Instead be sure to use a dash (-) and not an underscore ( _ ) between the words. SEO industry experts say dashes, also known as hyphens, perform better.

Most people don’t bother to read the URLs. Therefore, you can often take advantage of this opportunity and be hyper-descriptive. You also do not have to worry about proper English either.

For example—

Bad: FauxHonda.com/service_dept

Good: FauxHonda.com/service-dept

Better: FauxHonda.com/car-repair or possibly FauxHonda.com/car-repair-nj

So while the links to that page and the text on the page might say Service Department, the URL can be a bit less site user friendly and more search engine friendly. That being said, if you have a page where you often share the URL with others, you might want to be sensitive to that fact and make that URL user friendly and possibly shorter. You have to find a balance, and that is part of the art mentioned earlier.

Finally, don’t over do it. Google likes focus. Trying to make it seem like your page is everything under the sun is not helpful. KISS (i.e., Keep it simple stupid) is a good rule of thumb for SEO 101ers.

3) Page Title

Similar to the page URL is the page Title, also known as the page meta title. This text doesn’t display on your site per se, but it does display in your browser. Typically, at the very top of the screen you’ll see what often looks like a brief description. That is the page meta title.

Your page title should be no more than 60 to 70 characters—depending on who you ask—and spaces are allowed. Longer page titles are acceptable but search engines only look at the first 60 to 70 characters. The rule of thumb is that search engines consider the words on the left to be more important than the words further out in the “sentence”. Stick to this approach the best you can. Proper English isn’t required but in terms of aesthetics it’s probably a good practice to try to follow. It is frequent enough that people do read page titles. You don’t want to look or sound unprofessional.

There should also be a fair amount of correlation and consistency between page URL and page title. The search engines are assuming that anything in the title is also important and highly relevant to the content of the page. One should reinforce the other and vice versa.

That wraps up Part 1. Part 2 will roll out in about a week and then finally Part 3 about week after that. Naturally, if you have any questions or comments in the mean time please feel free to ask.

Maximizing The ROI From Your FB Fan Page

“70% of Local Businesses Use Facebook For Marketing” by John Paul Titlow (ReadWriteWeb.com, 8 March 2011). It’s safe to say I spend quite a bit of time online. Reading, looking, analyzing, working, searching, testing, conversing, evaluating, collaborating, etc. I am a champion of technology and innovation as a means to enabling David to take on Goliath. Or at least to let David be less of a dull boy in the sense of what all work and no play can do.

That said, I am also a believer in the fundamentals—both online and offline. My philosophy is that technology and innovation are tools. They are a means to an ends, not the ends itself. While occasional they can be panacea-esque game changers, the majority of the time using any given means is much more basic than that. Often it comes down to two things: finding the right tool and using that tool correctly to its full potential.

Based on my experience of interacting with brands on Facebook, I am willing to say that the title of John Paul’s article should instead be, “70% of Local Businesses Use Facebook for Messaging. 10% of Those Are Actually Marketing. The Other 90% Are Probably Wasting A Lot of Time.”

Coincidently,  a couple days ago I decided to check up on the FB Page of a local e-commerce company that I have had some discussions with over the last year or so. The initial meeting centered on technical changes they were making to their CDN and from there they were planning to ramp up their marketing. “We want to be in the Internet Retailer Top 100,” I was told by the owner of the company. A noble and impressive goal indeed.

The time had come to check on their progress.

Facebook Fan Page 101 - Screen shot 1Sadly, this outfit is a text book example of the 90% who are not actually marketing. At the very least they are not using the tool to its full potential in spite of having a significant number of Fans (i.e., people who Like them), as well as (from what I recall) sizable revenue.

It’s time for a free AU makeover:

Recommendation #1—The Page’s profile image should always be the brand’s logo. That image, as small as it might be, is what catches people’s eye when Page status updates show up in a fan’s News feed. Marketing 101: The logo should be consistently associated with every message delivered by the brand.

On the other hand, if the primary image is always in flux then there is no easy and consistent way for a FB News feed skimmer—we skim updates in Facebook, and then we read, don’t we?—to pick out this brand from that stream.

Recommendation #2—Don’t assume that people are taking the time to visit your page. It’s better to assume most people are digesting their fire hose of updates via their News feed. That is, what FB plops in front of them once they login. When they spot something worth stopping for they do, else they just keep scrolling. Unless there’s a good reason for them to go to your actual Page chances are good they aren’t going to make that extra effort. It’s just not necessary.

Here is a representative sample of Status updates I pulled from the Page:

Facebook Fan Page 101 - Screen shot 5Facebook Fan Page 101 - Screen shot 4Facebook Fan Page 101 - Screen shot 3Recommendation #3—Always provide a link back to the specific page/product being mentioned in the message. Since this company uses Google Analytics on their website they should also be using Google URL Builder to tag their links. I am of the belief that each URL that is pushed out is a “campaign” and should be treated as such.

As it stands now it is almost impossible to measure the effectiveness of their Facebook Page as a sales/marketing tool. Analytics might show Facebook at the source but that’s too vague. By definition, no measuring means they are not marketing. At best they are merely messaging. (Note: In the not to distance future I am going to do an article on how I like to use Google URL Builder.)

Recommendation #4—Stop doing Status updates and instead post Photos. The caption to a photos doubles as status update. The benefits are two fold. First, when you post a photo to a Fan Page, Facebook also includes the Share link when that photo shows up in a fan’s News feed. Making it easy for people to Share your brand’s message forward to their friends is one of the most powerful tool of social media in an online marketer’s tool box. Second, this is where flyers and other special one-off images can be distributed (instead of using the page’s profile photo). For example, in the first Status update above, there should be a photo of the Everywhere Knit Pant.

Recommendation #5—Adopt the usage of a third party tool (e.g., Postling) so Status updates can be scheduled to be pushed out throughout the day. One and done isn’t ideal. It appears as if someone is doing an update first thing in their East Coast morning and then that’s it. It easy to imagine that a fairly high percentage of their fans probably aren’t even seeing their messages.

Also, depending on how they decide to use URL Builder, this company could make the hour scheduled one of the tag values. This would allow them to identify the most productive time(s) to post. Maybe lunch time and/or evenings maximize results? Maybe there’s a time of day that generates less clicks but more sales?

Facebook Fan Page 101 - Screen shot 2

Recommendation #6—I would give serious consideration to reducing the number of times the exclamation point is used. I am a passionate and excitable person by nature and even I found the excessive usage to be tiring. Based on what I understand their target market to be I would add that exclaiming almost everything is probably inappropriate as well.

Recommendation #7—There’s got to be a more inspiring tag line than, “Happy Shopping!”

Recommendation #8—Also adopt the use Twitter. It certainly can’t hurt. Worst case it would add a minute or two per message being sent. Yes, those URLs should be tagged such that Twitter campaigns can be differentiated from FB campaigns. That extra step takes some time but it’s the different between truly marketing and merely messaging.

As you can see there is significant opportunity for improvement. The good news is, most of these recommendations can be done with minimal additional investments in time. That said, an outfit of this size and brand of this stature should probably have someone dedicated to being responsible for their social media marketing efforts. I’m not suggesting that this is worthy of a full-time position. At this point there’s probably not enough incremental sales to justify that amount of budget. On the other hand, I am suggesting that just winging it for a couple minutes a day is leaving quite a bit of sales on the table.

Make Your Next Website Your Best Website

“Tips for Successfully Managing a Website Redesign” by Phil Edelstein (WebsiteMagazine.com, February 2011). At this point there are plenty of organizations that are on their second, third or maybe even fourth iteration of their website. What’s interesting is that there still seems to be a noticeable number who are not satisfied with the results they are getting. This article on Website Magazine makes a number of good points. However, I’d like to take a moment to supplement and refine Phil’s recommendations.

First, let’s start with the idea of redesign itself. To simplify what is now such an essential tool to be just a matter of “design” is understating the context and significance of the matter. While I’m certainly not going to belittle the skills and education of my design colleagues and friends, developing an effective iproperty in 2011 takes much more than attractive aesthetics. I would suggest using a term like “re-launch” or “re-architecting” over the misleading “redesign”.

Once you have embraced that shift in mindset, inventory your business needs, expectations and short and long term objectives. Phil suggest you figure out what you want. Frankly, I’m not a fan of wants. There are plenty of organizations that got what they wanted but not what they needed. I firmly believe the goal is to figure out what you need.  Remember, this next investment isn’t just about design. This means that your resources—both on your internal team, as well as anyone from the outside you might engage—should be capable of defining and discussing business needs. It is also ideal that you have some internal discussion and agreement about needs before you reach out to anyone else. The list you compile will serve you well when you’re building your team.

However, don’t do too much before you pull in a vendor. Ideally the vendor you hire should be able to add value by being both objective as well as offering new ideas. They shouldn’t just listen and take notes (i.e., about your wants). They should be able to participate and help you move past wants and define your needs. The better your business needs are understood and universally agreed upon, the more likely they are to be met. There’s no panacea here other than communication and collaboration. This step is essential so don’t focus on how long it takes. Focus on getting it right, whether that’s two weeks or two months.

For the sake of brevity, I’m going to skip over the idea of wireframes and how that fits into the process prior to actual design. I will say, yes do wireframe. Even if they are sketches on the back of the proverbial envelope. Nowhere is it written that wireframes have to be formalized in Visio or a similar tool. The point is to take your needs and render them visually without being distracted by a formal design. Sure, there are some great tools for testing the actual interactions but let’s not go there today.

At some point things will progress and you’ll be ready to discuss and define the design slice. Some of you might scold me for saying this but don’t be afraid to look at the gazillion templates and themes that are already available. I’m not suggesting you purchase some generic off the shelf design. I agree that brand and branding is important. However, I am suggesting that it makes sense to collect multiple reference points and give your creative proper direction. They should have to start in a complete void. Be sure to look at site in other industries as well. Quite often you can pick up an idea or two that will help. And finally, when evaluating a design don’t look at it from your perspective, look at it how others are going to see and use it. Often you might be making a first impression. For example, the flashy Flash intro might be cool but those get tired pretty quick.

Most of all, be available, be willing to participate and communicate, and never lose sight of the fact that you are making an investment. This isn’t going to just happen overnight, nor is it going to be all fun and games all the time. Chances are good you’ll have other priorities you’ll have to juggle. There will be some difficult decisions and probably even some rattling of swords. But this is serious business with what should be a fairly healthy budget investment behind it. Don’t underestimate the need for teamwork, agility, participation and communications. Ultimately, you’ll only get out what you’re willing to put in.

In most cases a website is marketing and/or selling something. It might be a product. It might be a service. It might an idea or a non-profit’s mission. But ultimately, it’s selling. In order to get your ideal salesperson and/or marketing manager you’d invest a reasonable if not significant amount of time. You’d be thorough and diligent. You wouldn’t just take the first person that walks in off the street. Nor would you just throw your new hire at a desk and say, “Okay, get to work.” Start your relaunch process with the hope of hiring the employee you never had but always wanted. There’s no doubt that’s going to take more than just “design.”

Dispelling Myths About Facebook Fan Pages

“Facebook Fan Pages: 7 Dos and 7 Don’ts for effective Community Development” by Dimitris Zotos (WebSEOAnalytics.com, 24 January 2011). A couple days ago this article popped up in an RSS feed. I read it, left a somewhat skeptical comment, and moved on.

However, over the last couple days I realized that wasn’t enough. In my quest to rid the world of misinformation and myth as generated by “social media gurus” I felt a more thorough response was in order. Please note, I’m not trying to discredit Dimitris as much help others not be misled. With that said, let me run right down his list:

7 DOs for Facebook Community Development

1. Focus on the Content – Upload images, videos, texts and other media types around your brand, focusing on the interests of the community you want to build.

Yes of course. Focus on keeping it relevant and don’t over do it. Yes Virginia, you can tweet too much. If you’re a smaller one-man/one-woman show don’t mix personal with business. For example, if you the person wants to tweet then have a separate account for that. Business feeds that chatter about the weather, lunch, etc. are annoying.

2. Encourage Discussions – Try to engage users by asking and answering on various updates. People are more likely to interact to a human tone of voice instead of a cold corporate talking. Tip: Use @ before a user name to mention specific users –like twitter).

Yes, but again don’t over do it. For example, Mashable uses the old ask a question trick with each and every update on Facebook. After a while that gets tired and in turn counterproductive. If your public wants to chat they’ll chat. But don’t judge success by the amount of small talk you inspire. If people are following you to satisfy certain information needs and you’re doing that, they very well might not have anything to say. They’re busy too, remember

3. Setup Contests and games – Be creative! Motivate people to participate and add entertainment value to their online experience.

Again, another overused cliche so be careful. If you elect to try this out make sure you stay true to your brand. Make sure the contest/game is relevant to your brand and the expectations of your community. People might not embrace your brand to be entertained.

4. Reward your fans – Why should I hit the “Like” button? Do you offer only information for your company and products? A way to attract more “Like” thumbs is to offer something special for your fans. (Vouchers, special offers etc).

I strongly disagree. A Like is ubiquitous and vague as it is. If you want to trade Likes for some special offer that’s fine. Just understand that that changes the meaning of Like. If you start to get disLikes will that mean they don’t like you? Or is it someone you baited to Like you and now they’re just returning to where they should have been in the first place? Don’t believe the hype, a Like is a pretty meaningless measurement.

5. Promote your Fan Page – Add your Fan Page’s link in your website, blog, e-mail signatures newsletters and printed media.

Yes, of course. But also be mindful that Facebook might not be around forever. For example, look at MySpace. A lot people invested quite a bit of time and energy in their MySpace presence. Once that bottom dropped out that investment was gone. You should have an overall web presence with a hub (i.e., your own freestanding website) and social media should be the spokes that feed that hub. Not the other way around.

6. Create Custom Tabs – Create custom tabs with compelling images or videos. This could be a presentation of your company, a contest announcement or even an application.

See point #1 about content. This might be a great idea, or it might be a waste of time. Add value, not novelty.

7. Be prepared to respond to negative reviews – These days people are more likely to express their negative reviews and comments straight to the brand. You should always be prepared to respond a negative review and you should not just try to hide it by deleting the post. This requires a specific policy and the right.

The better recommendation would be, “Be prepared to listen.” The new paradigm is about conversation. Naturally, there are going to be things you’re not going to want to hear. Should this happen then learn from that interaction. Chances are good that if the person was truly dissatisfied they wouldn’t have said anything to you/your brand at all. They have something to say so listen. In most cases you’ll be happy you heard from them.

7 Don’ts for Facebook Community Development

1. Don’t invite all of your friends – You should not invite all of your friends but only the ones you believe that are interested in the page. It is really annoying to receive notifications and invitations from things you are not interested in or even dislike.

Actually, not really. First, in the context of some of the Dos it sounds awkward. Baiting with a contest is okay but inviting friends is not? Aside from that, the beauty of FB, etc. is that the receiver is empowered to decide. In other words, invite them and let them Like you, or not. Or maybe they’ll Like you today and then unLike you tomorrow. It doesn’t matter since an invite is far more authentic than baiting.

2. Don’t leave the spam posts – Don’t let spam posts and links within Fan Page’s wall. This kind of moderation is not against freedom but it ensures that users will respect the community members.

Translation: Use a service like Posting (www.Postling.com) to help monitor and manage your Internet presence.

3. Don’t post from the same source – Don’t keep on posting only your website’s feed, even if you have a news media website.

Do what you feel most comfortable with and let your fans be the judge. Ultimately, quality and relevance is more important than source.

4. Don’t spam your users – Don’t send promotional notifications every day. It is not effective but annoying.

Agree 100%, finally.

5. Don’t forget the Privacy issues – Don’t upload images or videos and don’t tag users without a given permission. Privacy is a sensitive part that you must be extra careful.

Yes, it’s a fine line. But again, people can police when they have been tagged and detag themselves. If the photo is of questionable value (read: it’s risqué) then maybe your brand shouldn’t be posting it to begin with.If you’re not sure how your community might react just tag a couple photos and see what kind of feedback (or not) you get. And of course, if you do decide to be proactive expect an occasional complaint.

6. Don’t create fake accounts – Don’t create fake accounts to represent or support brands. Your target in a social media campaign is not to collect tons of fans or friends but to build relationships.

Should you have faux identities to post on your own page? No, of course not. On the other hand, be aware that when you are the admin of a page you can not interact with that page as your own identity. For example, if a small biz owner sets up a page for his/her business then that owner’s comments on the Page will always appear to be coming from the Page (not the person). If that person/brand promotes “personal service” then the expectation might be to see interaction coming directly from the owner. If that is the case then a second faux account should be used to set up the Page. Note: Faux accounts are a violation for the FB terms of service so be careful. Maybe your “newborn” or “great great grandmother” needs a page. Understand?

7. Don’t be so serious – For the community managers: Don’t take yourself so serious. People always enjoy a cool attitude.

Disagree! What you should be is brand appropriate. Humor is similar to politics and sports, in that it can be easily misinterpreted. The goal is to be authentic, and don’t confuse “business casual” with bogus attempts at being “cool”.  I certainly wouldn’t want my lawyer or my doctor to be focused on having a “cool attitude”. Would you?

Bottom line…Once you jump into the social networking and social media pool there are plenty of “experts” out there with snake oil to sell. Always be on the lookout for new ideas. But also be aware of the fact that there is plenty of noise as well, and don’t assume that just because you read it on the Internet that it’s true.