Interesting times for Digital Marketers

interestingSome weeks very little changes across the platforms we use to reach our customers and prospects. Those are what I think of as good weeks. The only certainty however is change, and this week has seen a whole heap of changes from Google and Facebook. Here’s a little about each and some links where you can read more in depth analysis.

Google Places becomes Google+ Local

Google are beating the Google+ drum hard, despite the weak engagement numbers, and have given their local business product the Plus treatment with this overhaul of features and functionality. TheNextWeb concentrate on what Google+ Local means for users while Google Local expert Mike Blumenthal covers how the Google+ Local changes affect businesses.

Google kills etailers free traffic source, Google Products/Shopping

After a decade in beta, the trouble-prone (setting and letting it run never worked very well, with the constant data format and required field changes) Google Base/Products/Shopping part of Google is going away. When it worked it could be a reasonable source of traffic, but now Google have laid to waste the comparison shopping sites it was intended to compete with, by way of the Panda updates, they’re free to start raking in the cash by making it a purely pay to play deal. If you want your products to appear in the SERPs like they used to it’s time to crank up the Ad budget.

UK Price Comparison Websites traffic trends since 2009

Facebook finally doing something for their real customers

Facebook, reeling from the reality check of their post-IPO stock slump, have rolled out a couple of long overdue new features for the people who ultimately keep the lights on: their advertisers. Page admins now have some shiny new abilities that will make managing a page just a little bit easier. First up is scheduled posts. Sure you’ve been able to do that before with third party services (and these services remain useful still, particularly ones that allow you to post an RSS feed to Facebook, but now you can schedule a post in the future. Mashable have a little bit of a kvetch about the interface  whilst AllFacebook set out how to use it.

Secondly, something that third party tools weren’t ideally placed to provide – you can now assign different levels of admin roles, all the way from ‘Insight Analyst’ – someone who can’t make or comment on posts (other than as their own personal account) all the way up to Manager, with each subsequent level gaining the ability to comment, add posts and finally the ability to assign admin privileges to others. AllFacebook has the details.

Keeping abreast of comments on your Facebook Page

Ever since Facebook opened up every Facebook Page to comments (and not just from people who like the page) keeping tabs on your Page’s comments can be a tricky thing to do.

There are how-to guides online that suggest you can get alerts directly from Facebook when someone posts on your Page. The interface to do that seems to have been dropped in one of Facebook’s many re-imaginings of how we should be able to administer our pages.

Why would you want to?

Customers now expect companies to treat Facebook (and Twitter) like the telephone. It rings, you answer, simple right? Except posting on a company’s Facebook Page is more like driving up to their head office and yelling at them in the hope that someone will hear you. Aside from that, you don’t want any graffiti on your Facebook Page!

What does Facebook provide?

Facebook provide summaries of your Page’s activity every week, or you can get notifications as an RSS Feed. You could subscribe to that in a reader, and manually monitor that, or send it through a service that emails you any time there’s something new, but that tends to a paid-for option with most services (such as Feed My Inbox) with the free version only providing once daily summaries.

There must be a better way?

There’s a Facebook app called PageNotifier. I tried it and it didn’t work as I wanted and aesthetically it’s not too pleasing (fussy aren’t I?) and I’d rather keep the number of apps on my Facebook account to a minimum, not least because of how much information they require you to disclose. Next I found a few third party services but the ‘as soon as it happens’ option was again not part of the free offering. Finally, thanks to a post by Social Media expert and author, Mari Smith, I was turned on to Hyper Alerts, easily the best Facebook Page Notifications service. It looks great and works perfectly – set it to as soon as possible and literally within seconds of a new post or comment on your Page, you get an email. The best part, it’s free, at least for now.

Here’s a screenshot:

Hyper Alerts screenshot

Dear Facebook…

Facebook ConferenceQuit messing with the user experience and go after Google already!

Seriously, is this the best you’ve got?

You hold your annual conference, just a day or so after Google throws open the doors on Google+, aimed square at you, and all you fire back with are some changes to the news feed, a Twitter inspired subscribe feature, music sharing stuff, convincing some media sites to allow more of their content to appear within your walls, and a gaming platform update?

Man up and pick a real fight

In Q1 of 2011 Google generated $2.43 billion of revenue from their Adsense program, from which they paid $1.7 billion to Adsense publishers. Annualised, their profit on their Adsense business is nearly $3 billion. Facebook’s estimated ad revenue for the whole of 2011 is $3.8 billion. Getting a piece of that content-partner action could make a big difference to those numbers.

You know why Google are launching things left and right in a bid to create their own mass-adopted social network? It’s because they’re scared of Facebook, scared of the time people spend there, scared of how much Facebook knows about their users. They would LOVE to know everyone’s age and hometown and marital status. You know why they’d love to know it? So they can advertise to them. Google knows this is coming and that’s why we have Google+.

Instead of futzing around with the user experience, Facebook should go head to head with Google’s Adsense programme and show ads on partner sites, splitting revenue 70/30 (as it appears Google does, in general) with publishers. You can leave the fundamental Facebook experience alone for a while and nobody would complain – it’s only when you change things that people are up in arms about it. The one thing Facebook do surprisingly well is the advertising interface – it’s clean, straightforward and easy enough for small businesses to use self-serve to create ads. Just add a ‘content partners’ checkbox (but do make it opt-in, don’t want to appear ‘evil’ and opt people in without their consent – I’m looking at you, big G). Later you can add some refinements allowing advertisers to pick and choose the site their ads appear on but right now it’s not important.

People realise that Facebook know what websites they’re on – we’ve all seen the Like buttons that tell us how many of our friends like something, or the recent items liked and shared on Mashable or TechCrunch by our friends. At this point will anyone really care that the ads seem uncannily well targeted? Hey, Google are going for this exact thing with their behavioural targeting in Adwords.

Go all in

Don’t go at this half-assed like you did with Facebook Places and Deals, a nightmare to administer as a business owner, especially with multiple locations. Go for this with all your might. This is where you get to take Google down a peg or two, by taking the fight to them.

Maybe you will

Ben Parr of Mashable ‘has seen the future’ and apparently it changes everything. Maybe Facebook will step into Google’s territory or maybe it’s all going to be ’emotional’. Here’s hoping there’s more to it than that because right now everything Facebook has put out is weak sauce compared to the rocks Google has been slinging.


Image credit: Thos003 via Creative Commons on Flickr

Learning from Others’ Mistakes

Prague Food Festival took place for the 4th time back in late May of this year. It had been in a number of different locations over the four years and this year it was in arguably the most prestigious – the Royal Gardens of Prague Castle.

The weather co-operated and the sun shone throughout. Many of the city’s top restaurants were there serving tasting-size portions of their best dishes.

All sounds great apart from the fact that the organisers made some basic mistakes that led to much disgruntlement amongst visitors to the festival. As opposed to previous years there was very little in the way of ‘built-in’ furniture for sitting on at the venue. The grass was off limits even for walking on and there were nowhere near enough tables. Nobody thought to co-ordinate with the restaurants leading to lots of places serving very similar dishes. When the whole point of such an event is to try out lots of different things this was a disappointment for many. Other organisational mis-steps were cited, such as requiring advance ticket purchasers to go to one specific entrance, where the queue was longer than for people purchasing on the day, and a lack of toilet facilities. These concerns were all posted on the PFF’s Facebook page (some of them were removed to, a whole other level of fail) along with annoyance at how the prices for dishes had become excessive – though they were little changed from the previous year. The overriding criticism was that the organisers of PFF were only in it for the money and didn’t care about the visitor experience.

Marquees at Prague Food FestivalThis weekend saw the first FoodParade – an alternative to Prague Food Festival, featuring some of the same restaurants as PFF and whole load more from outside the central square mile of the city – up and coming places, or places with strong followings of locals but with a desire to expand their customer base. The festival was located out of the centre of the city but still just as accessible by public transport. As a visitor to both the difference can only be described as like night & day:

  • The odd PFF practice of giving you a set of chromed plastic knife & fork when you enter, that you are supposed to re-use (or find somewhere to wash, incidentally not very easy), gave way to an altogether more sensible ‘metal cutlery available at every stand’ approach.
  • The festival currency, “chefs”, had a conversion rate of 1 chef to 10 crowns, which was printed on each ‘chef’ whereas at PFF, each “grand” was worth 25kc, which you had to remember. A little touch that was aimed to be more transparent about how much dishes were costing you.
  • Tables were conspicuous by their abundance not absence.
  • All the restaurants and food retailers were treating the event as they should – a marketing exercise rather than trying to make out like bandits. Some even gave coupons for money off when you go to their restaurant.
  • The weather forecast on Sunday predicted rain. In anticipation of this the organisers put up marquees and posted pictures of the marquees to their Facebook page so people could visit without worrying about getting rained on while they ate.
  • FoodParade’s Facebook page is full of enthusiastic compliments from visitors, already looking forward to next years.

Without a doubt FoodParade’s organisers saw what was wrong with PFF and have put together an enjoyable event that stands as a true festival of food.

The marketing takeaway?

Keep an eye on what your competitors’ customers are saying in social channels:

  • Watch their Facebook pages (you can subscribe to a Page’s updates as an RSS feed)
  • Create saved Twitter searches
  • Set up Google alerts for their company names or product names + words like review, complaint, feedback.

And of course you’ve already got this kind of monitoring set up for your own brands and products haven’t you?

Five Useful Free iPhone apps for Local Business Marketers

iPhone in handThe iPhone is a handy little business too for business local marketing, here are just a few apps, all free, that can help you create content, spy on your competition and keep up with what your customers are saying about you.

Share 360 degree views with Photosynth

Creating 360 degree interactive panoramas used to cost lots of money and take lots of time. The only places you’d see them would be fancy hotel and real estate websites. Armed with just an iPhone 4 and a copy of Microsoft’s (yes, I was surprised too!) free Photosynth app, and a Windows Live account (Hotmail, etc) you can shoot, upload and embed on your own website a very neat 360 panorama. The embedding part requires you to log in to with your Windows Live account to get the embed code. Any business that has a physical location they want to show off has no excuse now!

Keep your finger on the pulse with Twitter

For instantly updating your Twitter stream, posting news and specials, keeping up with what your followers are doing, or checking up on your saved searches. Make sure to turn on notifications for mentions and replies to maintain a decent response time to enquiries too.

Spy on the competition with Foursquare

Foursquare might not have hit the mainstream in terms of user numbers, but those that do use it are very much the vocal minority. As a business owner you should claim your listing, make sure your business is correctly classified and run specials anyway as the app draws attention to anywhere offering a special. So why would you want to use the iPhone app itself, when you really shouldn’t be checking in to your own location? A few reasons:

1. Keeping track of any new comments by Foursquare users (especially complaints!) at your own business but also your competitors.
2. Finding out who your (Foursquare using) regulars are, and maybe following/friending them
3. Keeping tabs on any specials your competitors are offering
4. Seeing where’s hot nearby right now (places with lots of people checking in)
5. Posting photos of your location – you can upload photos directly from the iPhone app, and places with photos get more attention

Update your Facebook page on the go

Whilst the Facebook app doesn’t make it easy to update your Facebook Page status on the go (a menu item for ‘Your Pages’ would be nice!) all you need to do is search for your Page then when you’ve found it, add it to Favorites, then it will appear on the second page of your Facebook app’s menu. Once there, getting into it is simple. Anything you post via the Facebook app will get attributed to the Page, not your personal account.

Create video slideshows with Animoto

With the Animoto app and a free Animoto account you can create 30 second videos by picking photos from your iPhone Photo Library, choosing a soundtrack from Animoto’s categorised collections then share that video on Facebook, Twitter, by email and more. Paid accounts are available that lift the time restriction and for a per video fee you can create higher resolution versions. Creating a video slideshow like this is a fun thing to do when you have a special event. You can get something up on Facebook within minutes.


image credit: John Karakatsanis via Creative Commons on Flickr.

Getting an RSS Feed to post to your Facebook Page’s wall

Sounds so easy doesn’t it?

Here’s what I learnt in trying to get a custom-created RSS feed (not one generated by blog software) to appear as posts/status updates on the wall of a Facebook Page. This information applies to all kinds of RSS feeds though. If you’re using WordPress, there are several plugins that purport to offer this functionality. In my experience they can be unreliable, usually through no fault of the plugin author or WordPress, rather Facebook changing something that breaks the plugin.

The purpose of the exercise was to get the latest special offers on an e-commerce site appearing on the company’s Facebook Page wall.

Facebook Notes – not quite what we’re looking for

The most straightforward option should be the one provided by Facebook, right? Notes offers the ability to import a blog/RSS feed into the Notes tab of your Facebook page and in so doing post an announcement for each ‘note’ to the Wall. Sounds great but what you get in practice is a link from the Wall to the individual note, which appears in it’s entirety. The objective was to take a user from the Facebook Wall post straight to product page on the e-commerce site, so this clumsy and unnecessary intermediate step means Notes doesn’t do it for us.

RSS Tab for Pages – does what it says on the tin, but no more

This application, which creates an RSS tab on the Facebook Page imports the feed just fine, and if that’s all you need then it’s all gravy. It is supposed to also post items to the Wall, but that feature doesn’t work.

Social RSS – Fell at the first hurdle

With a score of 2.3 out of 5, and the latest post referring to the fact that things are broken, this one didn’t merit a try.

RSS for Pages – Disappointing

I’d expected more from Involver, “the web’s most trusted social marketing platform”. RSS for Pages doesn’t deliver, or at least, it didn’t work how I’d hoped. It created a ‘News’ tab with my RSS feed on, but there wasn’t anywhere to specify that items should be posted to the Wall (and none of the items were), even though automatic posting to the wall is mentioned as a feature (though that may be in the paid for version only) and the suggestion that I upgrade to get a refresh time of better than once a day, with zero information on cost, had me searching for an alternative.

RSS Graffiti – We have a winner!

RSS Graffiti works almost exactly how I want (I wouldn’t mind being able to remove the ‘via RSS Grafitti’ annotation, but that’s probably a compulsory thing, and the Source and Published lines seem like overkill). The main thing is the user clicks the link and goes to the page you want, not some interstitial page. There’s no unnecessary tab added to the page, the settings for how it works all make sense, and you have a fair degree of control, including the ability to post to the Wall items dated in the past – handy if you need to get some older items posted.

If you’ve found any other solutions that work well, please share them in the comments.

image credit: jovike via Creative Commons on Flickr

Using your Facebook Page Wall Posts on your website

Polevkarna's Facebook WallUpdating things in two places can be a pain, in terms of just the time it takes, or because your own website isn’t built on a content management system that can handle quick updates.

I’ve seen a lot of businesses recently with what looks like an unloved website, but a very active Facebook presence. Sure Facebook has 500 million users and counting but not everyone’s on Facebook and not everyone thinks to go there for the latest info.

Why not display your Facebook wall on your page?

The easy way

Facebook make this easy, with a widget: the Like Box is the one you’re after. You can alter how it looks a little but if that’s not what you’re after, there’s always…

The not so easy way

If you want more control over your how feed is displayed, you can make use of your page’s RSS feed, which only shows the page’s own wall posts, not those of people who ‘like’ your page (formerly ‘fans’). You’ll need to look at the source code of your page to find the feed address, then use some software on your own website to handle that feed. Most CMS platforms have capabilities, either natively or through plugins to read and reformat RSS feeds as required.

One advantage of the not-so-easy way is that most of these plugins will include the text right in the page code, rather than using an iframe like the Facebook Like Box does, so you get an SEO benefit of having updated relevant content on your site and therefore indexed by search engines.

OK, so you’re remarkable, now what?

Why local business and tourist venues should enable customers to remark about them

Purple CowWhy local business and tourist venues should enable customers to remark about them

We should by now all be aware of the importance of being remarkable, but one thing that’s often missing is making it REALLY easy for people to share that “remarkability” with their friends with the simple act of giving them a free wifi connection.

Mobile devices are getting smarter, more capable, high-speed mobile data is becoming more widespread, but that doesn’t mean businesses are off the hook when it comes to hooking their customers up to a fast, free internet connection (yes, I’m looking at you Hilton, Marriot and any other short-sighted money grubbing hotel that bilks their customers up to $20 a day for internet access). In fact sometimes the free wifi in itself is remarkable enough for a mention.

Given that very few data plans remain unlimited and in many cases a lot of people at a venue may be from out-of-country so have no data plan or desire to rack up huge roaming charges, it’s the very least you can do to be a good host.

If you’re responsible for the marketing of a local business, tourist attraction or pretty much anywhere people go and have an experience that you’re confident enough in that you want them to talk about, how about handing them that megaphone?

You want people shooting video, taking pictures, geotagging it and uploading it to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Youtube and all the other social media sites. You want people checking in on Foursquare, Gowalla, Loopt or whatever (bonus points for making sure that your wifi access point has been submitted to SkyHook Wireless to give accurate geolocation). Enabling this is a matter of installing a public-access wireless network (segregated from your internal one) on a decent internet connection.

You can DIY it if you wish, taking care to block file-sharing ports and the like, or have a consultant install it for you if your needs are more complex. It may cost a few hundred dollars or pounds (up to a few thousand for a multiple access point setup for larger locations) but it’s a lot cheaper and more effective to have your customers spread the word than what you spend on interruption marketing.

Image credit: sunclover via Creative Commons on Flickr

What privacy? You’re all for sale

tentaclesThat’s the message we take from this weeks various privacy issues, from Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s recent comments to Facebook’s ‘new, simpler privacy settings’ where they recommend you open your Facebook status updates to the world.

The Google situation is expertly summed up in this long, all-encompassing and very brave post by Aaron Wall highlighting Google’s hypocrisy when it comes to privacy (and others intellectual property for that matter). This is immensely brave because he’s an SEO expert, he has to ‘work’ with Google all the time. As Google’s ranking parameters get broader, Aaron exposes himself to censure by the big G.

Dan York examines the Facebook privacy changes over on his Disruptive Conversations blog.

Read both of these for background, they’re the two best blog posts I’ve read all week (and I read a lot, so you don’t have to).

My take on the Google situation is that their latest moves are just some of the more obvious steps they’re taking on the road to monetizing everything that you do.

8 out of 10 cats
Personalised search, so that if you ‘express a preference’ for results from a couple of websites when you search, those sites float to the top, isn’t intended to make your life easier. There may be more relevant results that don’t get shown because you’ve previously been to other sites that were amongst the found set for that query. You miss out on a new, maybe more appropriate result. How does a new player in a market break into your preference for shopping for music at HMV, Play or Amazon? They advertise of course. Google are moving away from ‘create great content’ to get to the top of the organic results to entrenching the position of incumbents. The strange thing is they could have presented the ‘results from sites you go to a lot’ as another section of the page or a ‘mode’ but that would have tipped too many people off to the fact that Google was watching them, whether they’d logged in or not.

The jealous older brother
Facebook’s move to hoodwink nudge people into opening up their status updates to the whole world has nothing to do with simplifying privacy and everything to do with their envy of Twitter. With Twitter’s recent deals to give Google and Bing access to the ‘firehose’ and the attendant press coverage, Facebook is like the jealous older brother sulking in his room when it’s his sibling’s birthday and all the relatives are round, showering little Timmy with gifts and attention.

Here’s the thing – Twitter was never meant to be private – sure you can set your account up so that nobody can follow you until you approve them. Almost nobody is using it that way, that’s just not the point of Twitter. This is why Twitter has become so important amongst brands – monitor for mentions, participate in conversations.

Brands have better and deeper engagement tools on Facebook, but that’s not enough; Facebook want their 350m users to be available to marketers in the same way that Twitter users are. Facebook users didn’t sign up for that though. They don’t want or expect to be ‘listened to’. Facebook is a walled garden, with adverts confined to subtle, easily ignored elements in the sidebar. Facebook need to get over their Twitter envy and work out better ways to monetise than attempting to gull their users into opening up more than they ought.

It all comes down to money

In both cases these aren’t moves to make the user’s life better or easier, they are ways for companies to monetise their visitors. Don’t hold it against them – Google is a company, not your friend. They have shareholders, those shareholders expect growth every quarter. You don’t grow like Google has without upsetting some people. First it was other search engines, then advertisers, then publishers, finally the next pips to be squeezed are the users. As a user all you can do is take it under advisement that Google don’t have your best interests at heart.

Facebook wants attention, it is privately held but doing everything possible to increase the valuation for when they do go public. Attention is how you do that. Twitter has attention, Facebook want some, so Facebook think copying Twitter is how you get it. Childish really but there you go.

Image credit: brunkfordbraun via Creative Commons on Flickr.

Optimising your web pages for being shared on facebook

Sharing links on Facebook is a growth activity. Is your website optimised for it?

Have you noticed when you share a link on Facebook, you can choose a thumbnail image. Facebook get the list of images by scanning the URL you want to share for any images that are placed on the page. Sometimes that works well, other times it doesn’t pick the image you want.

How would you like to be able to choose what image is selected as the thumbnail for your page when it’s shared?

Facebook’s page of advice on how to best format your page for sharing on their site – recommends putting in the head are of the html document something like the following:

<link rel=”image_src” href=”images/my-thumbnail.jpg” />

There are further options for multiple media types and they’re worth looking into if your site is sharing audio or video files.

If your pages aren’t hand-coded (and whose are), press your CMS/eCommerce site provider to give you control to decide which image on a page should be the chosen thumbnail, or set a site-wide default (your logo perhaps?).

If you’re using WordPress and your theme makes use of the (new since WordPress 2.9) post thumbnail feature, there’s a handy plugin that makes sure your post thumbnail is the image that shows up.