Step Outside Your Social Media Echo Chamber

I was struck recently by a tweet from a social media guru, commenting on how staid and outdated he found the presentations at a healthcare conference because social media was so undervalued and unappreciated as a marketing vehicle.  That tweet really got under my skin.  It seemed pretentious to me, calling healthcare marketing outdated because they aren’t using the latest social media tactics.  But then I realized this ‘guru’ probably spends much of his time on social media blogs, following other social media gurus on Facebook, Twitter & Google+, and using all the latest ideas himself.  I’m sure he talks with hundreds of clients, helping them make the best use of social media for their businesses.  Of course he would think that healthcare professionals ‘just don’t get it.’  He, after all, lives in the social media echo chamber.

social media perspectiveIf you’re active in Social Media – any kind of media, in fact — you’re probably familiar with the echo chamber.  The echo chamber is what happens when you follow online communities or media sources you agree with, and before long, you find you’re listening only to like-minded people, you hear your own opinions constantly echoed back to you, and you’re further reinforced in your own belief system.  It goes a long way to explaining our currently polarized political system, where neither side can even hear the opposing side anymore, much less appreciate their point of view.

For many of us, the echo chamber also frames our business and personal discussions.  Do you find yourself bored from reading ever- similar story themes in your daily Facebook stream?  Do the tweets from people you follow all start to sound the same after a while?  Do you find the sources you read tend to cluster around certain repetitive themes?  If so, you’re in an echo chamber that was most likely crafted for you by Google or Facebook.  It’s a dangerous place to live for very long, because you’ll find after a time that your opinions become hardened, you start to think your views are ‘the truth’, and you gradually lose your ability to see other points of view.   Or, if you’re naturally more open-minded, you’ll find yourself becoming bored by the lack of diversity and new ideas you find online.

Remember those long-ago days when most people got their news from mass media, when we had to trust news editors to decide what was newsworthy and fit to print?  In those days, editors had to print a diversity of topics in order to satisfy their diverse readership.  Today, Google serves up a smorgasboard of information, making us feel like we’re exposed to endless diversity.  But it’s deceiving because Google tailors the delivery of that information in search results based on what it knows of our interests and previous behavior.  Facebook does the same, by favoring posts from people we interact with most.  And Twitter has the same effect, as we follow people we find interesting and then get drawn further into their circles of similar people.  Google+ alleviates the echo chamber somewhat by allowing you to deliberately create separate – and ever-widening — Circles of connections.  But it doesn’t do away entirely with the echo chamber.

In the world of social media, it takes work to keep an open mind and a broad perspective.  We’ve offloaded that job from the mass media news editor to the online individual.  It’s a heavy burden but an important responsibility – to yourself and others.  If you leave it to Google and Facebook, they will, over time, cocoon you in a well-padded chamber of echoes of your own voice.  If that is scary to you (it is to me!), you’ll need to keep a vigilant hand in the management of your social media circles.  Prune the list of who you’re following, what blogs you’re subscribed to, and what perspectives you’re reading.  If you feel the chamber walls narrowing, go out and find opposing viewpoints and subscribe to those.  Get active in their comments.  Engage with other perspectives. The old adage “don’t judge a man till you’ve walked a mile in his boots” could be updated to say “don’t form your opinions till you’ve ventured outside your own echo chamber”.

I have this nightmare image that, if we don’t keep ourselves vigilantly openminded online, we could become an entire nation that’s a macrocosm of our current Congress.  Now that’s a scary thought.

Just to keep things interesting and open-minded, here are 3 articles with quite different perspectives on the theme of this blog post.

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Small Biz Updates From Google

November 9, 2011 Filed under: Local Search,Social Media Marketing — Tags: ,

Google rolled out updates this week that will give searchers more direct access to your Place PageGoogle Local Search Update 2 in their search results — and a brand presence on their new social network, Google+.

Your Place Page Just Got Promoted

Instead of just a list of local businesses displayed next to a map, Google now brings your Place Page to the search surface, displaying your pictures and details right on the search results page.  When someone searches for your company name, your Place Page will display in the right column, giving them map, pictures, details and customer reviews, without requiring an additional click. When they search for your category (for example, ‘furniture’), you’ll see the traditional Map in the right column at first, but that changes to an abbreviated version of your Place Page as you mouse over the >> to the right of your listing (see picture).  Congratulations, Place Pages — you just got promoted to the search results page!

Google+ Pages Roll Out

The long-promised brand pages have now been rolled out on Google+.  Following Facebook’s lead,  Google+ has quickly evolved to a person-to-organization social network and now welcomes Google+ Pages to allow businesses to interact with followers through Circles, Hangouts, and other Google+ features.  There’s quite a lot of buzz in this first week and plenty of instruction available to help you create your Google+ Page (much easier than Facebook Pages).  See links below for some great tips for getting started.  Time will tell whether Google will be able to lure people and businesses away from Facebook.

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Which Social Media Channel is Best for Your Small Biz?

August 29, 2011 Filed under: Social Media Marketing — Tags: , , , ,
demographics of social media users

data from AdAge Blogs, May 16, 2011

There are plenty of companies today with an active presence on all the latest social media networks, taking full advantage of the exploding popularity and visibility of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and others.  But most small businesses simply don’t have the resources to engage effectively on more than one or two social channels.  If that’s the case for your business, you may be asking yourself which social media channel is likely to drive the best results for you. Or, perhaps you’ve dived into too many channels and, like the hamster on the spin wheel, you’re wondering how to step things down and better focus your efforts.

While there’s no standard profile for who should use which social media channel for what exact purposes, there are some distinctions that may help you decide which one(s) will be most effective for your business.   Start by defining your own goals, and then consider these differences between the social media options.

Twitter

Twitter usersThis cool infographic from BuySellAds.com gives lots of demographic information about Twitter users, including size of the user population, who uses it, why they use it, how they use it, how often, and more.  While Twitter has been around only 5 years, it has been credited with influencing – some even say inciting – significant newsworthy events, including the “Arab Spring” movements, the British riots, and relief efforts for numerous natural disasters.  But can you harness it effectively for your business?

Twitter allows you to broadcast 140-character tweets to a broad audience, and attract followers on the basis of your information value.  Twitter users tend to follow good information rather than personal connections, which is why it’s the channel most popular with media and news reporters, and favored by businesses who want to establish thought leadership.  If you have valuable, informative content to share, this may be your best choice – and it works particularly well for promoting your blog.   Also be sure to monitor what’s being said about your company on Twitter, and be quick to respond when any issues arise.  Given the popularity of Twitter among influentials, negative news has a way of travelling fast and can quickly spell disaster if you don’t manage it.

Facebook

Facebook usersAnother infographic, this from Digital Surgeons, shows how Facebook and Twitter demographics compare.  With over 700 million users, Facebook is the big daddy of social media channels.   But does that mean it’s a good choice for your business?

Most people use Facebook to chat informally with friends, so it tends to work best for consumer-facing companies – brands which consumers interact with as part of their daily life.  If you want consumers to follow your business on Facebook, be prepared to offer special deals, discounts or coupons, as that’s what most followers expect.  Also be prepared for honest customer feedback — and have a plan for responding to it – as consumers are known to engage most when they have something to complain about.  Some people say that having a company page shows you care what your customers say and think about you (see survey results) – implying that if you don’t, you don’t care.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn targets the business professional and acts as a networking hub, a sort of online rolodex.  It’s useful for job seekers and recruiters, and many users see it as a way to post their resume and credentials online.  There is also a fair amount of selling that goes on, especially by B2B service companies that are heavily relationship-dependent.  LinkedIn discussions have become popular forums in some industries, where idea-sharing and industry-focused meetups are valuable forms of networking.  LinkedIn has recently honed its professional focus even further by offering industry-related news feeds in LinkedIn Today.

If B2B relationship building is key to your business, you’ll want to have a presence on LinkedIn.  Beyond that, it’s a great way to stay in touch with colleagues, to discuss issues within an industry or professional group, or to network for sales or job hunting purposes.

Google+

This newest of the social media channels has had a meteoric start, gaining 25 million users in its first month.  The reviews have been somewhat mixed, with a lot of enthusiasm for features like Circles, Hangouts and Sparks that are missing on Facebook, and a lot of ‘wait and see’ pronouncements because so many of the early adopters are techies and not representative of average users.  Google has not yet rolled out the ‘business version’ of Google+, so it’s too early to characterize what it does best for a small biz.

What is your social media channel of choice?  And why?

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Why Now Is the Time to Ask For Customer Reviews

July 26, 2011 Filed under: Local Search — Tags: , ,

Google made some important changes to Place Pages last week, including a more focused approach to showing what your customers think in reviews.  In the past, your Google Place Page displayed customer reviews from across the web, showing full text of what your customers said on review sites like Yelp, InsiderPages, Yahoo, TripAdvisor and more.  In addition to full reviews, they were also including ‘snippets’ of reviews in the local search listings next to Google Maps.  As of last week, however, your Place Page will only display what people have said about you on Google, while reviews on other sites will be referenced only through a single link to Yelp, Yahoo, etc.  If you don’t already have lots of customer reviews filled out by Place Page visitors, this would be a good time to start collecting them.

Google Place Page old reviews

Place Pages used to display reviews from around the web...

Customer reviews on Google Place page - new

...now you'll see reviews from Google only.

Google’s recent changes

The recent changes to Place Pages make for a cleaner look and a clearer call to action (note the 2 glaring red buttons suggesting visitors “Write a review”), so Google is making your job easier.  They are also paving the way for what Google describes on its Maps blog as the long-term vision for local search:

  • Bringing you more personalized results when you search for local places — because we understand that information from the people you know is most meaningful;
  • Integrating some of the great information that’s been buried on Place pages into your web search experience across all Google platforms;
  • Giving you more ways to rate, discover and share places you love faster and easier than ever, wherever you are, and on whichever device you choose.

The timing of this change, coming so shortly on the heels of the recent Google+ social media introduction, suggests they’ll likely be integrating the 2 more closely as part of the “more personalized results” goal.  See my blog post on Google+ First Impressions for more speculation on this.

Why customer reviews are important

Trust in AdvertisingIn the Nielsen Global Online survey from Q1 2011 on consumers’ attitudes toward advertising, 76% of US internet consumers said they most trusted recommendations from personal acquaintances, while 49% trusted consumer opinions posted online (e.g. reviews) when they are looking for information on products they need and want.  That’s a strong endorsement for the value of customer reviews and a good motivator for local businesses to get their customers talking.  As Google starts to integrate its Google+ social media site with Place Pages, the trusted recommendations from people you know will likely find its way onto Place Pages as well (just picture being able to see which of your friends like a particular restaurant, for example).

NOTE:  despite the fact that Google is no longer displaying reviews from other sites, there’s no reason to believe they’ve stopped giving value to those reviews in their local ranking algorithm.  So, don’t discount the importance of having reviews in a variety of places.  See Mike Blumenthal’s post on this topic.

Getting your business reviewed

Every business loves to see happy customers write good reviews, unsolicited.  But you’re likely to get far better results if you go a step further and ASK your customers for a review.  Depending on your type of business and customer touchpoints, there are lots of ways to ask.  The first rule is to make it easy and comfortable.  Here are 8 approaches we’ve seen work for some of our clients.

  1. Thank-you email with a link. If you transact business online or otherwise collect your customer’s email as part of doing business, the simplest way to ask for a review is in a followup email, thanking them for their business and including a link to your Google Place Page.
  2. Card or sign at the register. If you have a retail business and don’t collect your customers’ email address, a friendly sign at the register or take-home card listing review sites can work.  If you offer home-delivery, consider leaving the card behind when you deliver the goods.

    Top customer review sites

    Don't forget these other sites for reviews

  3. Computer in your waiting room. If you typically ask customers (or patients) to wait for service, consider setting up a computer kiosk or laptop in your reception area.  It’ll give people something to do while they wait.
  4. Business card. Anytime a customer thanks you or tells you they appreciate your product or service, your reply should always include a suggestion to write their thoughts into a review.  Include your Google Place Page address on your business card in case they catch you on the run.
  5. Email or Tweet. Periodically, or when you have a new offer, send an email or tweet (or Facebook or Google+ post) to all customers and ask them for feedback via a customer review.
  6. Link on your website. Don’t expect customers to find you on review sites.  Send them directly with a link on your website – to your Place Page, to Yelp, or to other review sites your customers frequent.
  7. Digital signature. If you don’t feel comfortable asking customers directly for a review, you can place a link to review sites in your digital email or e-newsletter signature – a slightly more subtle suggestion.
  8. Provide an incentive.  This one is tricky, as you don’t want to be perceived as bribing people for their input.  But some businesses have been successful offering 5% off a next purchase or entry for a free drawing when people are willing to submit a review.

And what, you may ask, should a business owner do if customers say negative things and the whole world is watching?   Most review sites give you the opportunity to respond (publicly or privately) to reviews.  But before you do, read this Forbes article for a balanced view on customer reviews and this SearchEngineLand column for some sound advice on how to respond (or not).

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Roundup of Google+ First Impressions

Google+ pictureIf you follow anything about marketing or technology, you’ve probably heard about Google+.  The new social media channel, released to a limited invitation-only trial on June 28, has taken the tech world by storm.  Since there are plenty of news stories – and Google itself — to explain the new features, I’ll give you instead a roundup of the early impressions and opinions from early trial users.  It seems to be generating as much enthusiasm among Search gurus as HP and the DH2 is among Harry Potter fans.  Here’s what people are saying after the first 2 weeks:

Google+ Circles more like real relationships. The most talked-about new feature is Circles, which allow you to segment your social relationships more like people do in real life (define what circles you travel in socially, separate friends, work, family, etc.).  Wall St. Journal columnist Katherine Boehret, invited to test the Google+ trial, gives a clear overview here.

Targeted for Business. While Facebook was designed with college students in mind, Google+ seems a better fit for businesses.  Google has plans to start a test phase for businesses today, so expect more light to be shed soon on how business can make best use of it.  With high expectations and baited breath, many are waiting to see if and how Google is the social business network we’ve all been waiting for.  Read here about Google’s social business plans.

Game changing for small biz. Google+ Circles, a real-life way to segment your social connections online, will allow small businesses to ‘go social’ with their customers more easily, and will make it easy to join circles of your favorite local businesses through an integration with Google Place listings.  Andrew Shotland writes a great piece on Google Plus Google Places.

Plenty of hype & navel-gazing. Since the trial has been by invitation only, Google has heightened the mystery and gotten the pundits talking.  Like lots of big tech announcements, the initial hype may be a tad overblown. “Once Google+ users start discussing topics other than Google+ then it might get interesting…”  quipped one commenter on TechCrunch.

Google’s Trojan Horse. Devin Coldewey (TechCrunch) claims (convincingly) that the latest Google announcement is not only a replacement for Facebook and/or Twitter, but Google’s long-range plan to take over the Internet. “Sure, right now it seems like it’s aimed at Facebook and to a lesser extent Twitter, but when the stakes are this high, you better believe they’ve got guns pointed at everyone in the room.”  Yikes.

Inevitable Facebook comparisons.  Google has been widely rumored to have Facebook in its sights, so the comparisons are rampant.  Some of the more interesting include Rafe Needleman’s (CNet) claim that “Google+ Makes Me Happier Than Facebook,” Ryan Singel’s (Wired) preference for Google+ over Facebook on Privacy, …and Mashable’s Facebook Defectors survey results from voters who said “I’ve already left. Facebook is so dead to me” (24.4% of votes at this writing).

It’s still social media. While lots of pundits are saying it’s an improvement, Google+ still gives you the unending stream of comments from all your connections.  Here’s some early advice on how to manage it before it manages you.  Peter Meyers (SEOMoz) advises how to invest only 15 Minutes a Day on Google+.

If you’re not one of the early trial users, be sure to get on Google’s waiting list so you can discover Google+ for yourself!

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