The Marketing Spark

Defining Social Business

Social Business; for most of us it’s a relatively new term and still a bit of a mystery.

What does it mean?

When does an organization transform from just a business that uses social media to a social business?

What does a social business look like from the inside?
From the outside?

 “A Social Business isn’t a company that just has a Facebook page and a Twitter account. Social Business means that every department, from HR to marketing to product development to customer service to sales, uses social media the way it uses any other tool and channel to do its job.” – Sandy Carter, IBM’s Vice President of Social Business Evangelism via How to Build a Social Business on Forbes   

Social business often begins with an overhaul of how a business communicates. For many companies it ends up meaning a shift in operations and ideals is necessary before real change can happen. Some of these moves are obvious and at other times they require a new way of thinking.

Brian Solis argues that many who use social media are actually counterproductive in that they ultimately become more antisocial.

“While brands engage with customers in social networks, customers walk away with an experience that is the ultimate judgment of value. Here we are presented with an incredible opportunity to strengthen customers ties. We’re given a well of insight to put into action. We’re presented with a stage to show brand empathy and earn relevance through our actions and words. Are we embracing the opportunities before us or in the end, does our investment equate to traditional marketing in a new interactive design?” – Is Your Business Antisocial?

Many attempts at being social are earnest, but are poorly planned or under the direction of misinformed decision makers.

Social media campaigns are typically designed with marketing or PR objectives in mind. Social business argues that being social isn’t merely a campaign or adopting a new communication platform/tactic only because the competition is doing so, but a type of medium that can help all areas of business. It doesn’t start, stop, or end. It’s here for now and the foreseeable future for us to use as recklessly or as tastefully as we choose, either by free will or because of the (self-imposed?) boundaries set up within our company.

In larger organization social business might start from the top up through management or stem from the bottom via employees on the customer frontlines. Either way eventually there needs to be cooperation and an understood level of involvement through all departments. For smaller companies social business can take shape quickly once a commitment to do so is made

Social business is difficult to quantify not necessarily because it’s complex, but rather because it’s all encompassing. The return should be obvious, yet it won’t come without a real push of effort from within the company.

Coasting through social media is deceptively easy.
Blogging, Tweeting, Facebooking etc… these boxes aren’t difficult to put in place and check off.

Earning the trust of customers day in and day out through collaboration, targeted listening, relevant media, two way open communication, and a strong company culture is what separates a company that uses social media from one that embraces social business.

What side of the fence do you stand on?

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3 SEO Tips for Startups from the SEOMoz Webinar

SEOMoz recently released a great new webinar led by Tom Critchlow from Distilled that provides a lot of helpful tips on SEO for startups (pro-membership required). I wanted to share and discuss some of the top takeaways from the webinar. If you are not a SEOMoz Pro member yet, we highly recommend it and you can sign up for a free trial here.

1. Use Video

Tom talked about how video is one of the secret weapons of SEO because people not only link and share videos but they also show up in search results. A great example of this is the video by Chow.com on “how to cook bacon” which shows up prominently on the first page of results. I have found that videos can be a great way to rank highly for a competitive keyword phrase, mainly because there is much less competition.

2. Self-Host Your Videos

Instead of hosting your videos on YouTube, Tom recommends hosting the video on your own site for added SEO benefit. There are several good video hosting services like Wistia or Vimeo that will serve your videos for you for a modest fee. One advantage is this is that your site will get credit for any links to the video instead of YouTube. Additionally, when your video shows up in Google’s search results, the visitor will go to your site instead of YouTube when they click on the link to your video in the SERPs. This can bring a potential customer one step closer to conversion.

3. Creating remarkable content makes SEO easier

Tom states that when you create great content that people love then doing SEO is a lot easier. If you have awesome content that people would want to link to naturally, then it is just a matter of getting the content in front of the right people who can link to it or spread it. I think that if you don’t have any content on your site that is interesting or helpful to people, trying to get links can be very difficult.

You can learn more by watching SEOMoz’s webinar.

Charles Sipe is Director of Search at Sparkplug Digital, an online marketing firm providing SEO for startups and tech companies. You can contact him at charles(at)sparkplugdigital.com or follow him on Twitter at @charlessipe.

Photo by RocketSpace

Does StumbleUpon Drive Traffic?

Stumbleupon, one part social network – one part content discovery platform has just crossed over the milestone of 20 million members and is consistently ranking amongst the top 100 visited sites in the United States month after month. Compete.com is tracking Stumbleupon at over 12 million unique visitors last month, which may or may not be an entirely accurate estimate based upon a sudden spike in traffic between October and September, but nonetheless Stumbleupon is far outperforming Reddit, Digg, Delicious, and all of its other social bookmarking counterparts.

To Stumble or not to Stumble, that is the question.

Is Stumbleupon worth your time?
More importantly, can it drive traffic to your site?

The short answer is yes, but it largely depends on a couple of factors.

Is the content actually stumble worthy? In other words will it quickly catch and hold the attention of the Stumbleupon community. A clever, highly information, and detailed infographic is probably a safe bet. In contrast a long piece of generic site copy won’t receive much attention. Love it or hate it, it’s just the nature of the site.

European agency SimplyZesty recently revealed some surprising insights into the quality of their SU traffic. For an unknown reason Stumbleupon generated a large spike in traffic at some point in the day, but a careful look at Google Analytics showed that a strong majority of visitors had viewed the content and then left immediately. Although several thousand people landed on the page most of them stumbled off of it just as quickly as they came. The traffic was there, but it wasn’t anything worth getting excited over. SimplyZesty went on to say that a focus group revealed that many teenagers had said Stumbleupon was their favorite site and a “great way of wasting time.”

Fortunately Stumbleupon is more than just a flash in the pan game of chance, although a little bit of luck never hurts. Well composed how to articles, blog posts with large eye catching images, and lists of any nature tend to outperform other types of content. By using the site’s social networking components it is feasible to build a community of friends made up of likeminded stumblers who will promote your content, but doing so takes a large investment of time and ongoing commitment, to which the benefits often don’t outweigh the costs. There’s no harm in having a Stumbleupon button as part of a sharing widget or using the site for content discovery, but much of the hype around Stumbleupon needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Results may vary so experiment and take what it’ll give, but don’t get carried away with high expectations.

Image via Scott Beale / Laughing Squid


3 Reasons Why Your SEM Strategies Need to Align with Your Other Marketing Efforts

Whether your company’s Search Engine Marketing (SEM = SEO + PPC) work is done in-house or by an outside consultant, SEM efforts are all too often done in a silo with little knowledge of the company’s other marketing efforts (off-line advertising, in-store branding, events, social, etc.). There are many potential reasons for this: SEM roles tending to be dominated by data analysts and kept separate from other more traditional marketing functions; SEM efforts being outsourced to specialists that are solely focused on CTRs or moving your company up in organic search; or the good, old “lack of communication” between business functions in general. Regardless of the causes, having a disconnect between your SEM strategies and your other marketing efforts can be a recipe for disaster. Here are 3 reasons why:

1. Brand Consistency
Most successful companies spend a great deal of time and effort honing their brand image. Are you a low cost leader (Walmart)? A luxury brand (BMW)? Hip and urban (FUBU)? Functional and trustworthy (Tums)? Is excellent customer service your difference maker (Nordstrom’s)? Great brands usually have between one and three core brand attributes that help define it in potential customers’ eyes. Deviating from this core message can cause a customer to be confused and can hurt your brand’s creditability. Increasingly, the very first impression your brand makes with a potential customer is found on a Search Engine Results Page (SERP) and this needs to match up with the company’s core attributes, regardless of the temptation to improve CTR by claiming to be the lowest cost or producing a controversial infographic to improve SEO (if those attributes don’t match your brand).

2. Funnel Creativity
Even though SEM professionals tend to be on the data analysis side of things – many actually do enjoy the opportunity to be creative (infographics, catchy adwords ads, unique blog content, etc.). If your SEM people are “in-the-loop” about upcoming marketing efforts (a social media contest, a creative ad campaign, etc.), they can unleash their pent-up creativity in ways that can complement those other efforts while also improving upon their own key metrics (like CTR).

3. Congruent Goals
Lastly, a company may have differing goals for various aspects of their business or product lines. An appliance company may be a low cost leader that makes most of their profits later via service contracts. A software company may be transitioning away from its additional consulting services to concentrate on new product R & D. The more your SEM people understand your business model and revenue streams, the better they will be able to prioritize their efforts, be more efficient, and increase the company’s bottom line.

If you suspect that a disconnect indeed exists between your company’s SEM strategies and its other marketing efforts the obvious place to start is better communication, both from the top down and across marketing functions. If not easily done – encourage your SEM people to at least follow the company’s investor relations, press releases, CEO and CMO interviews, or perhaps sit in and observe an occasional higher-level marketing meeting. If you hire an outside SEM firm – look for ones that ask about your brand attributes, other marketing efforts and general business goals. If you already work with an outside SEM firm – make sure they fully understand these aspects about your business and keep them in-the-loop as your relationship continues.

Randy Brians is a Senior Online Marketing Consultant at Sparkplug Digital and welcomes questions and comments here or via e-mail at randy@sparkplugdigital.com

A Look at SocialBro, Twitter Analytics for Power Users

SocialBro is unlike any Twitter client currently on the market and considering it’s a free service, it’s even more surprising that it offers the depth of features that it does. At its core SocialBro is a tool for analyzing friends, followers, and Twitter activity. After synchronizing one or multiple Twitter accounts, SocialBro can determine users in your community who might be influential, a little too noisy, inactive, famous, or potential spammers. Unlike HootSuite or TweetDeck, SocialBro is less concerned with being a dashboard and more centered on tracking current followers and finding new ones. It’s a tool for power users and the most serious of account managers.

Best Time to Tweet

Among SocialBro’s most alluring capabilities is its ability to look at an account’s top 100 followers and determine when the best time to tweet might be. It’ll look at Twitter data and reveal what day and hour followers are most likely to be online, when the most ReTweet activity happens, and days and hours with the most potential reach. Some of the data is common sense (don’t Tweet at 3am on a Monday), but it’s  tailored to your individual accounts as opposed to being based on generic findings.


Do you know what percentage of your community Tweets in a langue other than English?
Or how many people are verified users?
How about the ratio of accounts that are public vs. private?

The insights in SocialBro reveal all of this plus much more.

Here’s a look at the map and total number of users based on location.


The search feature in SocialBro is nothing short of amazing. Filter users by amount of followers, tweets per day, time since their last tweet, age of account, language, and custom or default avatar. The advanced search feature lets a user search specifically by just location or profile bio. It’s ideal for building lists, cleaning up stale followers, analyzing competitors, and following keywords and hashtags. With SocialBro I was able to find out who Tweets in Seattle, has between 1000 to 10,000 followers, has an account over a year old, maintains a 0 to 1-2 follower to friend ratio and Tweets at least once per day. I was then able to add all of those people to a list wthout ever having to leave the application. Impressive isn’t a big enough word.

SocialBro is currently available as a dashboard application or as an extension for Chrome.

How Often Should a Brand Post to Facebook?

Apart from the actual content and voice of a page, frequency seems to be the next logical question when it comes to owning a branded Facebook account.
How often should we be posting?

The question is rooted in a couple of fears and concerns that page owners have, two of which are obvious and a third that is more frequent yet not as obvious.

The first is the real concern of under posting or neglect. Posting once a month, once every couple months, or never posting fall under this category. It’s more common than one would think and is due in part to adopting the mentality of we don’t have any news to share so we’re not going to share anything or an undervalued appreciation of Facebook as a medium. Many also take the set it and forget it approach, as in after a page is created they believe that the job is finished and Facebook doesn’t require any ongoing attention.

The 2nd scenario is over posting. Posting ever hour would be an extreme example. Posting every single day works for some brands, but not for all. Some brands mistakenly adopt the behavior that every piece of news or article related to them must be shared and find its way into the newsfeed. Eventually this leads to a wave of unlikes and loss of fans. In some cases a person may do a complete 180 and go from being a fan to turned off and annoyed by the brand.

A 3rd and seemingly the most common problem is inconsistency. This is when a page isn’t updated for three weeks and then is bombarded with updates. This is when a group of page admins aren’t communicating and nobody really knows with what frequency posting should happen and there’s a constant flux of updates mixed in with periods of inactivity.

If you’re seeking a one size fits all answer on how often to be posting, unfortunately it won’t be found in this article. It doesn’t exist. Every brand and fan base is unique and there really isn’t a magic number that sits between under sharing and oversharing. A lot of it is common sense. If you’re a small retail brand with only a few hundred likes it’s likely that fans won’t be as tolerant of your updates as they would be in comparison to Coca Cola or other household names. The answer partially hinges on what type of material you’re posting. If contests and giveaways are resonating with fans, keep posting them and do so frequently if possible. If you have a large fan base and are posting regularly and seeing no activity in the form of comments and likes, consider dialing back the posting frequency or changing the content.

How often a brand posts should be found through a process of experimentation and getting to know fans. One to three times a week is probably a good jumping off point, with adjustments being made over time in relation to fan response.

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Internet Marketers: Focus on Your Strengths

If you own a business, have a website, or are trying to push a product, idea, or service via the internet than like it or not marketing is part of your job. No matter what official job title you may have, to some degree or another you are a marketer. When it comes to internet marketing specifically there’s a common pitfall that surfaces often, from those of us who are cool and casual in our work, to the most obsessive and diligent, and every conceivable person in between.

It’s the problem of trying to do too much, too quickly, with too little resources.
And then expecting spectacular results.

We all have strengths and weaknesses, limitations and boundaries, things we’re really attracted to and things we’d rather not focus on unless absolutely necessary.

Instead of trying to be a jack of all trades, why not narrow in on what you’re good at and own it thoroughly?

I have a friend who is an analytical type of thinker, great with numbers, and thus enjoys doing all of his own bookkeeping for his business. When it comes to web design though, he’s far beyond clueless. After spending several hours a day for months trying to build a new site, eventually he caved and hired a talented designer who built him a pro looking site from scratch that was up in less than two weeks. With the site out of the way he was able to get back to business as usual and focus on the work he does best. Clearly for my friend it didn’t make sense to hire a bookkeeper, but it was a smart choice to hire a web designer.

What activity or activities are you doing that are best left to someone else?

What activity or activities are you doing that only you should be doing?

Does your company have a blog?
Yes. OK, but are you the one who should be writing?

Do you have a link building strategy?
Yes. OK, but do you know how to execute it?

Do you want to a launch a video series on YouTube?
Yes. OK, but do you have the creative vision?

Do you have a Facebook page?
Not yet. OK, do you know how to best use Facebook from a branding perspective?

What are your weaknesses?

Can they be improved through education, training, or a little bit of experience?

And if so, is it not better to pass it off to the experts?

These are the sometimes tough but necessary questions that I don’t see enough people asking. The alternative is that an overly ambitious team or individual tries to jump into an internet marketing campaign only to later fall flat on their face. It’s not a pretty sight.

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Scholarships and SEO: A Win-Win-Win Situation

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) involves a great number of tactics, each designed to help a given website improve upon their organic rankings in search results.  There are a countless number SEO tactics, ranging from on-page keyword placement, to avoiding 404 (page not found) messages, to creating “link bait” such as infographic, viral videos and great blog posts.  It is rare, however, for an SEO tactic to provide as many potential benefits to a business as that of starting a scholarship fund.  Here is why we consider scholarships and SEO a “Win-Win-Win Situation”:

Win # 1: SEO Benefits

“Link bait” like that mentioned above is created in order to entice other sites to link back to your web site so that the site benefits from the “link juice” those links pass on.  The key is to attract links from quality sites with lots of link juice.  Educational sites (.edu) and nonprofit organization sites (.org) tend to have great link juice due in large part to their authority on various topics, as well as their overall “trustworthiness” (other quality sites are more likely to link to them).  In addition, scholarship database sites and news sites often have good link juice as well.  All of these types of sites are often more than willing to link to information about a scholarship – which brings a LOT of link juice for a site.  Subsequent blog posts and articles can also highlight the often touching stories about scholarship recipients, which provides… even more great link bait!

Win # 2: Business Benefits

In addition to the SEO-benefits described above, a scholarship fund will provide businesses with a number of other benefits.   These business-related benefits include: enhancing the corporation’s reputation with consumers; creating a strong connection with future talent (scholars); improving employee morale; as well as potentially receiving tax benefits.

Win # 3: Philanthropic Benefits

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it feels great!   Helping students get their college degree is very satisfying, especially if the scholarship is geared towards those entering the field most associated with the business (because employees can identify with the scholars).

Regardless of which “winning” aspect above provides the most motivation to start a scholarship fund, it is clear that doing so will provide a number of potential benefits for those that employ this tactic.  Starting a scholarship is not without its costs though (the amount the scholarship, the time to set it up and potentially administer it, etc.) and should therefore be fully thought through before attempting.  Still, with so many potential “wins” for a business, its web site, and society as a whole, starting a scholarship fund should be high on any list of SEO tactics.

Randy Brians is a former scholarship program administrator and is currently a Senior Online Marketing Consultant at Sparkplug Digital. Randy welcomes questions or comments here or via e-mail at randy@sparkplugdigital.com

The Education of Millionaires Book Review

The Education of Millionaires, the 2nd full length release from Michael Ellsberg, is a book about redefining higher education, a hot topic that within the past year has received a considerable amount of attention. Instead of the traditional path of college learning, a common, highly advocated for, and century old life choice, Ellsberg offers an alternative perspective via higher learning outside the classroom. Much like the call of The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman and to some extent Linchpin by Godin, The Education of Millionaires is inadvertently a declaration against the “old way” of acquiring knowledge. It’s a subject that doesn’t come without controversy, but the mere conversation itself can prove to be beneficial in the right context.

One such example comes from the author himself, in which he lays out two different life scenarios, both of which hit close to home and are rich with detail. The first story is his own, we’ll call this the traditional route, in which he attends college, mingles through life looking for work, takes on some mediocre copywriting gigs, and eventually climbs towards his dream of making a living as a published author. The other scenario comes via his wife, who at a young age drops out of school, pursues her passion, surrounds herself with valuable information and people from which she learns the art of marketing and sales, and subsequently works hard and becomes a respected entrepreneur. Both people were successful, but in a striking conviction of honesty, Ellsberg ends up with mountains of college debt and his wife acquires over $500,000 worth of savings. Who do you think made the better choice?

This is the argument at the heart of The Education of Millionaires and it’s sold with gusto. Fortunately it doesn’t take long for Ellsberg to build a convincing case. Through stories and interviews, the reader meets entrepreneur after entrepreneur, some you’ve heard of, but many are people who’ve found success quietly through pursuing their passions and finding creative ways to prosper. Some are laptop warriors, while others are simply smart business people who break the status quo. It’s difficult to not applaud and root for these rogue entrepreneurs and Ellsberg brilliantly uses his writing chops to make it appear as if we’re sitting right next to them as they spill details on how they achieved more out of life. The reader is left attentively listening with the intent of absorbing as much as possible. Most of the bullet points are spelled out in easy to understand language and Ellsberg connects the dots for us by pulling out key attributes that perhaps we may choose to adopt for ourselves

As an internet marketing professional I found this to be a fun and fast read that packs a lot of useful nuggets within its 270 pages. If I sat down for drinks opposite Ellsberg I’d probably argue that having a diploma from Harvard or Stanford sure looks great on a resume and that the associated benefits can’t be ignored. Stats show that on average those of us that have college educations make more over a lifetime than those who don’t. Then again who says it’ll be that way forever? It’s certainly hard to argue against what’s possible when a person digs in and commits to alternative methods of acquiring knowledge. It’d be an understatement to say that books like this that are addressing these questions head-on are timely, appropriate, and dare I say, needed.

Social Media: Marketing vs. Communication

Social Media, is it marketing or communication?

Yes marketing can be considered a type of communication, but more specifically do you view social media as an avenue for promotion and selling or a medium for conversation via a brand and an individual or a brand and large number of people?  Can it be both at the same time?

Social media can be tricky to grasp in that it isn’t always clearly defined.
The edges are rough, often very rough.

No one department or segment of business has complete ownership of nor complete reliance on social media and much like how a telephone can be used to make an outgoing sales call or to receive an incoming customer service inquiry, social media as a tool covers a gauntlet of opportunities and can fulfill a variety of business objectives. That’s one of the reasons why it’s so alluring, yet still so difficult to quantify and measure.

If the organization I’m working with creates a product information video and puts it up on YouTube, one could easily classify that activity under the umbrella of marketing. If however after the video is posted a troubling number of viewers begin leaving negative feedback via the comments, should the video and marketing effort be considered a failure? What if the video uncovers opportunities for direct response?  What if valuable customer feedback can be gathered in the process?

Is marketing contradictory to the honest use of social media?

Here’s the big question in all of this, if social media is meant to establish a level of transparency and authenticity behind a brand, are we in the wrong as marketing professionals to be using it for the ultimate objective of increasing the bottom line.

Yes… and no

The problem is that social media is all too often taken advantage of and used from the wrong perspective. Social media isn’t a sell sell sell sell all of the time type of arrangement. In fact I’d argue that more often than not that social media is the ultimate soft sell. It defies logic at times. Imagine a door to door sales person who instead of walking up and knocking on doors and pitching his product decided to hang out in a room and shoot the breeze with other people all day and only mention his product if and only if the opportunity presented itself in accordance to the conversation at hand.

Marketing takes precedence, it’s what keeps the lights on and gets expenses paid, however social media is not end all be all from a marketing standpoint. Think of social media an add-on to already established objectives. It can be highly beneficial when used with poise, but it shouldn’t make or break a business. Social media is used for communication; sometimes that communication includes marketing and at other times it takes on the form of customer service and customer retention (both of which can also spill over into the realm of marketing).

Some additional thoughts via Chris Pirillo

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