It seems like there's something new on the internet everyday. The phrase "have you seen this?" was never used as much as it is today. It's a time full of exciting things. But, in the midst of these new services, many of them failing, it's hard not to be cynical about online trends. "It's dead" or "It's a fad" reflects how many people feel about any online phenomenon. But, even when something has seen it's last good use, or is really just a fad, it still contributes to the big picture.
Services like Twitter, Digg, and Sidewiki may or may not establish a lasting presence on the web. Then again, neither did many of the search engines that paved the way for Google.
Passing trends and failed businesses hold valuable lessons. Not every service lasts, but the ideas they introduce are the foundation for future innovation.
I'm always fascinated by how people express their entrepreneurial vision, and recently I came across a great example from the TV personality, Alton Brown.
Alton Brown got started like most entrepreneurs. He didn't like something and thought he could do it better. In his case, the object of his scorn was cooking shows. To Alton, cooking shows were boring and didn't teach the scientific foundations of cooking. So he started thinking about doing his own cooking show.
The first thing he did was define his vision. He wrote down three names: Julia Child, Mr. Wizard & Monty Python. His show would be part Cooking Show, part Science Class and part Sketch Comedy Show.
This simple, concrete vision allowed him to create some of the most unique television around. There's power in creating a simple vision that's easily communicated and understood. Forget the sky high mission statements and take a lesson from Alton Brown, if you can't communicate your vision in a simple statement, there's a good chance that it won't be fulfilled.
The agency-client relationship is a fragile thing. Like any relationship, the best is brought out when both parties understand what they can do to bring out the best in the other party. With that in mind, here are some tips that will help search engine optimization (SEO) agencies and their clients have more harmonious relationships.
- Listen to your agency, and follow their expertise. Ask questions, but, when in doubt, trust. If you can't trust them, you shouldn't pay them.
- Get involved. Most clients wouldn't tell a traditional agency "We want a television campaign. Do what you want to make it good. Run it wherever you want, and spend however much you want to get it done." The same goes for SEO. Just like many other forms of marketing, SEO campaigns require that the client is engaged in the process from start to finish.
- Focus on the objectives. The goal of SEO isn't to rank for certain terms, or even to drive traffic. The goal is to make companies more successful through improved visibility. For most clients that means an increase in sales, but for many it may mean something different such as brand awareness or thought leadership. If you don't define success before you start, losing sight of the real goal is all too easy.
- Communicate. Your clients will trust you more and give you better feedback. Better communication is also the only way to rid SEO of the cloud of mystery that many clients perceive to hang over it .
- Respect your client. Whether you disagree about certain objectives and tactics, or if you are just having a hard time communicating, remember that they are the ones paying you. Remember the dentist who lectured you on oral hygiene or the insurance agent on safe driving? Haven't you ever thought, wait, I'm paying you. There's a place for educating the client, just remember to do it in a way that makes them glad to hear from you.
- Do your research. If you don't understand your client inside and out, how can you be successful? You may be able to make technical recommendations without understanding their industry, but when you start getting creative with content and off-the-page strategies, you'll be lost in the dark.
These are just a few of the things that agencies and their clients can do to help each other. I've written them specifically with SEO in mind, but many of them can be adjusted to fit a variety of services that agencies provide. What do you think? What are some of the best ways clients and agencies can have more harmonious and effective relationships?
picture courtesy of Danny Hammontree
Whenever a new technology rolls around, people try to answer two important questions:
- Why should I use this?
- How should I use this?
The problem with this second question is that it buys into the idea that there is only one right way to use any technology. Instead of asking "How should I use this?" try asking "How can I use this?". It's easy to be comfortable implementing tactics and strategies made safe by others, but conformity often comes at the price of success. It's good to listen to industry experts, to take their opinions and weigh them against the data, but ultimately we have to be willing to blaze our own trails.
Dell's most talked about Twitter account, among the many they have, offers discounts exclusively to the people following Dell on Twitter. This strategy captures the essence of Twitter's ability to drive sales. If you're looking for case studies on how to make money from Twitter, this should be one of your first stops. But, while there may be others following in Dell's footsteps, there are also plenty of people who don't think Twitter is made for such direct marketing tactics.
Some people think that Twitter is all about customer service, and for those people Comcast's service account serves as a paradigm to be followed. Frank Eliason has done an excellent job running the account in a way that is genuinely human, courteous, and customer focused. Since starting their social media initiative, Comcast has seen a large upturn in customer feedback and positive discussion associated with the brand. As a pioneer of the industry, Comcast has shown that there is a place for personal engagement and individual attention on Twitter.
Dell and Comcast are both excellent examples of how to use Twitter, but neither of the approaches mentioned above is a good solution for every company. There is no recipe for success that will automatically generate results from your social media campaign. To say that Twitter should only be used for customer service, or for driving sales, or even at all, is to limit our thinking to uncreative formulas. It gives us an easy stance to get behind and a mantra we can chant, but it leaves us with little credibility as marketers.
There's only one right way to use Twitter: the way that works for you. Whether that means helping customers, building awareness, or driving sales, as long as Twitter is helping you accomplish your goals, then you're doing just fine.
Word of mouth is a force to be reckoned with, but it isn't a new force. People have always talked about the products they use. The tweeting, chatting, e-mailing, and all-around instantaneous forms of communication, that's new, and it has brought our attention back to the power of word of mouth, and consequently the power of designing products that get talked about. If companies do a better job creating products that are valuable and remarkable, will that render advertising useless? It depends on what you mean by advertising, but paying for a place in media will remain far from useless.
While changes in the business landscape may render traditional advertising less valuable, there are other ways that companies pay to be seen. For example, the work that fills and surrounds websites revolves around the need for companies to change perceptions, build brands, and drive sales. While interactive marketing is often less disruptive than a thirty second tv spot, it's nevertheless paid for. The user may not see it as advertising, but when they find a brand on Google it's because of SEO (or PPC). When they get a message from a brand on Facebook, it's from someone who is getting paid to send those messages. When a user reads content on a brand website, that content is written with marketing objectives in mind.
Ultimately, the question is: what is advertising? If you mean the thirty second television spot and radio ads, it may be dead. It's cheaper to build a good product and let people talk about it than spend your way to market share with these types of advertisements. But, if you mean paying to change perceptions, to get attention, and to drive sales, well, that isn't going anywhere.