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Awhile back, I posted my thoughts on the hot topic in the Internet marketing world for that week, namely Twitter. Although I jumped the gun with assumptions about the course this fad would take, I maintain my general position on the matter. I came across a post containing a bunch of reasons to use Twitter, and this sparked my motivation to post yet again about the topic. I must state that the following is only my opinion, based on my experience in the Social Media Optimization world.

While I don’t intend to mention all of the reasons along with my opinion of each, there are a few I’ve chosen which, I believe, the writer is directing toward businesses, rather than individuals. As I failed to make clear in my previous post about Twitter, my opinion was concerning the use of Twitter for business Internet marketing efforts, not those of one person or a small group of people.

Competitive – to track what competitors are doing and thinking (watch their tweets, who they’re conversing with, and so forth). Gain insights!

This is a good idea, but why use Twitter? While the idea behind competitive intelligence is to learn secrets, many companies may overlook that which is out in the open. A lot of companies utilize Twitter to market special deals, new products, and more. This is valuable information that may not be available through more conventional CI practices – information that may help other companies figure out how to market their products.

Employee Tracking – See where your employees are, and even what they’re doing. eg. If you’re a service company with contractors on the road, some have used Twitter to reveal where all their contractors are around a city, which indicates how close they are to their next service call.

Most companies that require this kind of information to operate will likely have a method of tracking already. Whether it’s a “push-to-talk” cellular service or a computer system networked into handheld devices which employees carry on them at all times, there are plenty of ways that businesses track their employees, and other things, which can carry far more responsibility than Twitter can. However, some businesses may find it beneficial to utilize Twitter for simple tasks, such as those mentioned above. It all depends on the company and how they run their business.

Branding – To build awareness, trust, and possibly loyalty. If a company Twitters good information routinely, and isn’t overly self-promotional, the profile will gather followers. The profile is then associated with quality industry news and integrity. Frequency and quality of posts then breed familiarity, and eventually trust.

While the effort put into regular Twitter posts would may be more effectively spent on blogging, there is an advantage to the micro-blogging that Twitter offers. In many cases, posting to Twitter to a loyal following makes it easier, not just for the business to get the information out there, but for all of those potential customers to find it. Utilizing Twitter broadcasts and feeds on company websites, blogs, and other SM profiles make it easy to put that information in sight of thousands, instantly. However, any company planning to use the Twitter service to reach users should be careful of how often they post, and what they post about. The key here is regular, consistant information. Like anything in the social media realm, offers go a long way, and good information is priceless when compared to the mundane onslaught of Twitterers posting about what they ate for breakfast.

Reputation Management – to learn about issues and problems people are having with your company, so that they can be corrected. I’m a firm advocate that every problem is an opportunity, when viewed from the right perspective.

Again, the effort put into reputation management would likely be better spent on other means, but a company large enough to have a lot of Twitter users bashing it’s good name might do well to solve the problem before it leaves Twitter. However, the last thing a company needs for its reputation is one who supposedly represents the company arguing with a group of Twitterers about whether or not they were correct in their opinion about said company. Opinions are out there, and always will be – while a company cannot correct every false one, they can make efforts to put the right one in as many places on the Internet as possible – and Twitter is one large group of people to which it makes sense to get the word out.

Twitter is a valuable tool for friends, families and aquaintences to utilize in order to keep in touch and up to date, as well as it can be for businesses. We should never forget that there are plenty of opportunities elsewhere that have been proven to be effective, but where appropriate, Twitter can be used effectively. Just don’t push those boundries too far, or Twitter may eventually suffer the same fate as SM sites before it’s time. The target audience for your business marketing efforts on Twitter is made up of users, not other companies, so if companies abuse the Twitter service like many have been abused before, users are likely to switch to the next big micro-blogging site, and leave the companies to re-tweet themselves.

As the writer of the aforementioned article states: “…the key is in showing restraint in the initial months so that one does not ‘burn out’ on the experience.”

Just from observation, it’s easy to tell the difference between an experienced, professional business versus one that consists of amateurs. Generally, the place of business will be an indicator, or those that work there are a dead giveaway that they either do or don’t know what they are doing.

Unfortunately, in the world of Internet business, specifically Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, (since that seems to be a trend for those just starting out), it’s not always so easy to know who you can trust. A professional looking website is relatively easy to make for anyone with a background in web design and coding, and ad copy can be paraphrased, but there are some on-site indications of an amateur that can be dug up if one were to look for the right things.

  • Site Copy– A lot of beginner SEO’s can piece together a good looking website and a few decent lines of content for that site, but one sign of an amateur will be the lack of that content. A general description of services and how they work for their clients is a good sign that they lack the experience and knowledge to perform the job right. A site with a lot of gibberish can also be an indication of an amateur, but this is not always easily discernible from a site with a wealth of quality information about their services. If the latter of these situations is encountered, the best idea is to contact the firm by phone and get a feel for their potential by talking with them about their services. A solid group of professionals will be happy to answer any questions concerning the work that they do.
  • Prices– Everyone is familiar with the saying “if it seems too good to be true, it probably isn’t true”, but not all the time do they go with their gut instinct. It happens with products that sell for less than others – the ones that break after a minimal number of uses. It is in these situations that we wish we had spent a little extra for the higher quality product that would likely last for a much longer time. The same concept applies to services as well, and especially SEO services which are not only considered valuable for the money that is spent, but also the time. A solid SEO campaign takes months, years even, to achieve desired results, so spending money on an amateur campaign that reaps little to no results is not only a waste of that money, but the time put into that campaign – time that your business could have been found by many potential clients or customers. A lot of amateur SEO firms will provide their services for a very low price to sucker in businesses that want to spend less for more on advertising, but the results of an SEO campaign, coupled with the experience of a professional Internet marketing firm, are in direct proportion to the amount of time and money put into it.
  • Communication – While not an on-site factor, the communication between an Internet marketing firmand its clients is the cornerstone of the success of any SEO campaign. How a firm communicates its intentions to the client is crucial to the client’s understanding of how their money is being spent. If you, as a client, are not convinced that a given firm is taking the right steps to increase your chances of success, you should always feel free to ask questions, and have the firm address your concerns. A firm that avoids confrontation involving what they do for their clients  is likely not providing valuable services, but rather implementing a few simple tasks that will do little or nothing for your business.

There’s no doubt, the Social Media is alive and well. Everyone from the independent musician to the corporate giants utilize the Social Media to accomplish otherwise difficult or impossible marketing strategies, and it looks like this aspect of the Internet marketing world is here to stay, at least for awhile.

When engaging in a campaign that targets and utilizes the Social Media, it is important not to jump the gun. As quickly as a brand or name can be rocketed to the top, it can be crushed before it ever gets a foot out the door. For this reason, preparation can be the difference between success and defeat. In the same regard, it’s not just about what you do or how you do it, but what order you decide to accomplish each leg of the journey to Social Media Marketing success. Here are some tips:

  • Cover Your Bases– A lot of people have the tendency to jump into every Social Media site they can find and try to make friends, send messages, join groups, etc. The problem with this approach is that the best impression should be your first impression. If you plan to have any lasting standing with the people you encounter on these sites, you need to have something to offer. Depending on your niche, it may be handy advice, a free download, or maybe even a how-to guide. It really comes down to the people who would be interested in you or your business, and what they can get from the connection. Take the time to set up your own site, populate it with rich, valueable content, and make sure your best foot is forward. You wouldn’t show to a wedding wearing half of your tux or dress – don’t show up to the Social Media party unprepared!
  • Choose your Friends Wisely – There are a lot of tools available online that one can utilize to track what people are saying about them. Sites like Twitter are a lot easier to track, when they’re all about the talk, but you will never know what is being said before it is said, posted and set in “stone”. Blogs are a large part of the Social media, and everyone has one these days. If you upset the wrong person, they can ruin you, easily. After that, you may have a world of Reputation Management in front of you, but it’s better not to let it get to that point. Be courteous on the sites you join, and be responsive to those who are interested in what you do or have to offer. It’s important to filter out users that it wont benefit you to interact with, and it’s equally important to keep up the communication with those that will.
  • You Have To Earn Trust– Every business starts somewhere, and generally, an up-and-coming business, large or small, earns their reputation and much of their clientele from word of mouth, but more specifically, from providing good service and/or products. Likewise, your “image” on the web will have a lot to do with you. If you want your name to be recognized and associated with good opinions, interact in kind. In time, users will stumble on your name and know it because their friend told them about you, or because they saw it on another site. Whatever the case, the best way to brand is by doing what you do, not necessarily better than anyone else, just better than most people would expect. This leaves quite the impression and can make a Social Media effort much easier. SMO is not meant to replace all other forms of advertising, branding and customer relations – it is simply a catalyst for more leads, exposure and ultimately, sales.
  • Put In The Time– It may be a no brain-er, but what you get out of your Social Media campaign is what goes in, and time is no exception. For many, time is a luxury, one which that many cannot afford to dedicate enough of to a self-propelled SMO campaign. For a lot of businesses, hiring an Internet Marketing Firm is the way to go, since not only will this save the business the time that goes into it, but these are trained professionals that have experience and knowledge to get the job done right.

Search Engine Marketing may not be a science, but it can be viewed as the sum of it’s contributors, and their effect on your online marketing success. Too often, people view all of the separate Internet Marketing efforts in their own light, and fail to bring all factors into one whole focus. When it comes to maximizing your ROI, it may be tricky to determine whether a paid search campaign would benefit over a one geared towards natural search, or whether it would be better to analyze the competition than it would be to focus on expanding your own network. Whatever the case may be, the answer will likely be to test all the water.

It’s no secret that a Pay Per Click campaign can have an effect on of of natural search, and such an effect might benefit or hurt the other, but more than likely, your business will see better oportunities when its Internet Marketing efforts branch out.

The Social Media offers a network of users, and therefore potential customers or clients, that have already presented information about themselves and their interests that traditional advertisors would pay big money for. Targeting users on the Internet is easier than ever – which only means that more people are doing it – and it is therefore that much more important to expand efforts into all online marketing areas.

However, this does necessarily mean it will do you much good to pick 3 of these areas and run with them. Marketing your business online is as much about prior knowledge as it is about gathered information, which means that slow and steady will often win the race.

Let’s compare two businesses like the tortoise and the hare.

The first business wraps its efforts around a search and content driven PPC campaign, a natural search effort, the Social Media spectrum, and safeguards itself with reputation management, all the while gathering information about it’s top competitors. After a few months, they will see which effort is paying off the most, and focus primarily on that. However, they can utilize the others to support their main campaign, and during this time, they can see how various strategies affect eachother, and optimize accordingly. Additionally, their presence in the Social Media has established a brand for them, so when users see their ads, or their name in natural search results, they are more likely to visit their site.

The second business decides to pour its budget into a PPC campaign, and gathers information about their competitors. Seeing how their competition bids has given them the advantage to take that number one spot on sponsored search results, but they lack the online presence. Their click-through rate on ads is decent, but once on the site, users will generally decide to check out the other results before making a decision. Their bounce rate is high and visitor loyalty is rather low, since more than often, users will find the first business and recognize their name.

This model is just one scenario, but it illustrates the need to exapand efforts. The tortoise and the hare is a well-known story for a good reason – there is truth to the concept of taking one’s time, thinking things through, and making informed decisions.