Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tips from Jennifer Shinn on Search

A weekly conference with Jennifer Shinn allows me to get a better understanding of the search world and how to effectively manage my divisions search campaign. Jennifer has enriched my knowledge of search engine marketing (SEM) and how to apply these best practices to various projects. That being said, I eagerly asked her to do a Q&A for my blog since she has an extensive background in this field. Jennifer is the VP of Client Services for The JAR Group, a strategic and creative agency with its foundation in SEO intelligence. “Big agency thinking with big search marketing services” is the JAR promise. She began her career in the Finance and Investment vertical working in marketing, reporting and sales which quickly evolved into management. Her strong desire to find quicker and better solutions for her clients brought her to the Internet. For the past 11 years, Jennifer has been using the Internet to solve problems for her clients.

Jennifer Shinn has a Bachelors of Business Administration from Western Michigan University focusing on Marketing and Finance. Since traditional educational institutions don't foster the in-depth knowledge needed to keep up with the ever changing Internet, Jennifer turns to industry conferences, online web casts and social media groups to keep pace. She has worked on both big brand international sites (Novartis, Fairmont) and small local ones. Her knowledge covers online Market Research, Analytics, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Content Strategy crossing many industries and verticals.

Below you’ll find some key insights on how Jennifer and her team tackle the digital world when it comes to SEO and SEM.
Although most of us know why a search campaign is so important for companies and brands, can you please remind us why conducting research and using search are crucial tools for brands today?
You bet. Research is the backbone of every online marketing project. Without research Brands won’t really know how people search for their product or service. In order to connect with people you need to know how they search, specifically you need to know what keywords they use to try and find what you offer. At The JAR Group we start every engagement with online market research. Research will tell a Brand how to connect with their customers.

Searching via Google or Yahoo is not a new activity for many people. However, it seems as though people think about SEO and SEM differently now then they might have in the past. What are some of the new ways that people think about search now?
Many people see Social Media as new way to connect with people online. It is still a big buzz word that seems to change meaning depending on the person discussing the topic. Since there is no clear definition of what Social Media is, so many of our clients struggle with how to capitalize it. They think they have to have a Face book page or Twitter account because their competitor has one. Honestly, without clear marketing goals for setting up these strategies they often fail. Since online marketing is measureable. It’s important to spend a little time setting up clear goals before jumping in.

Do you think this will change in the future? Likewise, do you think more companies and brands will be mandating that search be included in their marketing campaigns?
Oh yes! The only thing certain with online marketing is change. It changes everyday. The internet never sits still and brands have to be ready to adapt. We’re seeing more and more brands committing dollars to online campaigns. Given the current state of the economy, overall marketing budgets are shrinking, so the total dollars going into online marketing are decreasing. But, from what I’m seeing with our clients, search is getting a good percentage of the overall budget.

Let’s say that a new client comes to you for help with SEO and SEM. What are your first steps?
Our first step is to understand the client’s problem. Do they want to increase online sales? Do they sell advertising space and need more visitors? Once we understand the client’s challenges we can start looking for solutions to help them. We also do a free site review. Our SEO team reviews the site to understand the organic search opportunity. Then, we pull in the Market Research team, Affiliate and SEM specialists get involved. This is so we can outline a clear go forward strategy for the client. It’s really a collaborative team effort at The JAR Group. In the end, we offer our client’s the best solutions to meet their goals, yet stay within budget.

Can you tell us the secret sauce behind JAR’s Methodology when it comes to market, keyword and competitive research?
The secret sauce is really no secret. People are very open and incredibly honest when it comes to the information they seek. They use specific keywords to find what exactly what it is their looking for. Our research taps this data. We organize the keywords people use to search, look at how many of them use the same types of keywords and draw conclusions on how to best connect with them. It’s really that simple.

Can you give an example of how insights gleaned from market research and SEO can help to create a powerful strategy?
Sure. One of The JAR Group’s current clients is Dollar Days International. They’re an online wholesale distributor and closeout company helping small businesses and entrepreneurs compete against larger enterprises. We are doing in depth keyword research for Dollar Days and have optimized over 850 pages for them. Dollar Days is seeing a 95% increase in year over year organic search visitors and search traffic now drives over 33% of Dollar Days total online revenue. Marc Joseph, the President, is extremely happy with the results and has extended our engagement.

Can you give a few guidelines or best practices when trying to figure out the best SEO or SEM strategy to use in this fast-paced digital world?
Test, test, test. It is fast paced. What works today might not work tomorrow. You have to constantly be testing new ideas to keep pushing your web presence forward. There is no one right answer when it comes to your online marketing strategy. You have to set a budget and blend SEO with SEM and other online strategies to reach your goals.

To learn more about how The JAR Group can help you with your online marketing efforts check out their website at http://www.thejargroup.com/. You can also contact Jennifer Shinn directly at jennifer.shinn@thejargroup.com or call her at 602-820-5534.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Bloggers Beware of Big Brother

Many marketers have been increasing their budgets when it comes to social media and word-of-mouth marketing. In fact, marketers like Ford, Microsoft, and Pepsi spend billions on social media and word-of-mouth marketing. Additionally, PQ Media projects that marketers will spend $3.7 billion on word-of-mouth marketing in 2011. However, using well-known bloggers to boast about a brand or sending products to influencers to spread the good word could be scrutinized by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the near future.

According to an article in Ad Age, the FTC is proposing that word-of-mouth marketers and bloggers, as well as people on social-media sites such as Facebook, be held liable for any false statements they make about a product they're promoting, along with the product's marketer. Roberta Jacobs-Meadway, a partner at Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, a Pittsburgh law firm, said: "The FTC is ... putting out guidelines to make it clear to people who are involved in social media and viral marketing that the same rules apply in this context as they do in the more formal context of paid advertising and infomercials." There are no legal implications for social-media sites such as Facebook or marketer sites such as Amazon, where consumers often post product reviews. However, Ms. Jacobs-Meadway said, paid endorsers who post on those sites can be held liable if they do not identify themselves as such.

It is evident that it has taken awhile for rules and regulations to speed up to the realities that exist in 2009. Rich Cleland, assistant director of the FTC's advertising-practices division, said the commission is updating the guidelines to stay in step with evolving marketing practices. "The commission is attempting to update guidelines that are 30 years old so that they address current marketing techniques," he said, "and in particular to address the issue of whether or not the safe harbor that's currently allowed for 'result not typical'-type disclaimers is still warranted."

But will these rules and regulations be enforced in the near future? It turns out the FTC will review all public comments and concerns before the final vote. Organizations such as the American Association of Advertising Agencies, American Advertising Federation, and Personal Care Products Council have plenty of reservations. In its comment, the 4A's said while it and the American Advertising Federation want to ensure nondeceptive endorsements and testimonials, it "strongly urges the commission to reconsider the proposed, overly stringent amendments that will likely result in advertisers abandoning longstanding legitimate advertising techniques, such as consumer testimonials, and rejecting new media forms, such as blogs and viral marketing."

If the FTC passes the proposed plan, advertisers and agencies will be held responsible to understand the rules and inform their bloggers and promoters that they must comply. But could this actually be a catalyst in bringing a new array of problems that transpires when the government steps in, which may change the face of the advertising industry?

While many people fear the proposed plan because of Big Brother’s overarching presence, others feel that it will bring more credibility to word-of-mouth and social-media marketing. Jim Nail, chief marketing officer of TNS Media Intelligence and a WOMMA board member said "The thing that makes word-of-mouth marketing powerful is people believing they are getting truthful and honest opinions from real users. If people start disbelieving word-of-mouth marketing as much as they disbelieve advertising, we are in deep trouble."

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Be Careful When You Twitter…

In a previous blog post labeled “Social Media and the Workplace,” I mentioned Heather Rast, an avid member of the social networking space, Twitter, who described her real-life story of how social media involvement affected her corporate career. While management at her current job supports her blogging and Twittering, her previous management team did not and she learned the hard way. Since various sites such as Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube are becoming important means of communication between individuals and businesses, it is crucial to know the boundaries.

In Beware: Your ‘tweet’ on Twitter Could be Trouble, an article written by Tresa Baldas of The National Law Journal, we’re reminded that Twittering the wrong information could get you or your employer into a heap of trouble. Lawyers caution that Twitter carries a number of legal risks.

The article lists a few possible issues to take note of:

  • Users posting tweets from corporate networks could expose company secrets. These conversations are legally binding and subject to the legal rules of electronic discovery, which means tweets could be subpoenaed in a lawsuit.
  • Twitter also raises invasion of privacy and defamation issues. Trademark violations could also be alleged if Twitter users appear to have a relationship with a company or product when one does not exist or post tweets to dilute a trademarked name.
  • Twitter could also trigger more workplace retaliation and wrongful termination claims, whereby users will claim that they were retaliated against or fired over protected information they tweeted, such as being harassed at work or disclosing a safety violation.

It’s easy to say “Don’t Twitter about work related things.” However, it’s probably more realistic to be mindful in general when using Twitter. Douglas E. Winter, an attorney who heads the electronic discovery unit at Bryan Cave, advises companies about emerging technologies. “Twitter, like any electronic communication tool, is subject to a wide range of potential liability,” he said. “I basically tell people that, yes, it’s a new tool, and it’s very trendy. But no electronic tool should be treated any differently as they emerge.”

Posting a tweet is really no different than sending emails or texting messages. They are short, instantaneous and sometimes not well-thought out which can lead to misinterpretation. Additionally, they can be monitored and tracked by employees and can be used in a court of law since it’s a permanent record on the Internet. So it’s important to know what your company guidelines are, and if you are not sure of what they are, it’s a smart idea to ask your superior. People have to be aware of what their own company guidelines are and think twice before they publish information for the world to read in the social networking space. Furthermore, if you’re going to use Twitter, it’s wise to educate yourself on its terms of service.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

An Interview with Cindy Manalo, Account Director at Time Inc.

A close friend, a colleague and an Account Director within my division are just some of the ways that I would describe Cindy Manalo. As such, I thought it would be a great idea to get her perspective on what is happening in the digital world and what her client requests sound like these days. Cindy is responsible for helping to launch and develop new business projects for Time Inc. Content Solutions (TICS). In her role as Account Director, she is responsible in managing all aspects relating to the production of a communications project from content development through the final distribution phase. Prior to joining TICS, Cindy spent 7 years in the advertising industry in Account Management at various agencies that included McCann Amster Yard, BBDO, Bozell and Ammirati Puris Lintas.

Below you’ll find Cindy’s view on the advertising world, the changing landscape and how she handles client’s needs and concerns in this networked society.

Throughout your career in advertising I am sure that you have handled many client requests. What are the major differences that you are seeing now versus a few years ago?
There definitely seems to be more interest in return on investment (ROI) these days. Given the economy lately, I think companies want to make sure they’re putting their money in the right place – they can’t afford to be wasteful. And given all the media platforms out there, companies need to make sure their messages are being heard in the right venue – whether it’s print, digital, etc – and they want proof that their marketing dollars are working. So more and more, marketers are asking, “what’s my ROI?”. They need to be accountable for their budgets, and now agencies are taking part in that accountability too.

What do you think the biggest challenge is for companies and brands today?
I think the biggest challenge for brands today is creating communication pieces that are engaging to their target audience. Marketing in today’s world goes beyond just TV, print and radio advertising. There’s much more fragmentation given that the digital world has opened up many new ways to communicate, i.e. mobile devices, social networking, podcasts, blog, etc. The consumer still only has 24 hours in a day but now has many more ways of receiving information so time spent with any one media outlet is now much more limited. For a brand to stand out and attract customers in this fragmented world, they need to engage each member of their audience enough to have them slow down and pay attention. Not an easy task in a 24/7 society.

Are you seeing more requests that are focused around digital initiatives?
Definitely. I think almost every one of my Clients has some sort of digital initiative, whether it be an e-newsletter, microsite, blog or just basic content that we’ve created for their main website, there are definitely more requests around digital initiatives. And given that our expertise is creating engaging content for our clients, it’s easy enough to take that content and either print it for a communications piece or digitize it for an online presence. Clients are realizing the world of content is not just defined to a magazine or direct mail piece, engaging content is becoming more and more of a necessity online.

Are clients asking you about social networking, widgets and websites like Facebook and Twitter? What is your suggestion for clients that are interested?
There have been requests by some of my Clients for social networking but I wouldn’t recommend it for all Clients, only for those that can tie it into their product or brand where it makes sense. A few months ago, we created a fun styling tool that appeared on Facebook for a Client that makes razors for men. It was a widget that people can download which then let them “try on” different facial hair styles on their profile pictures. It really tied in nicely to what the brand stood for and what Facebook is about. If it’s an organic fit, then I would recommend it to a Client, otherwise it could feel too forced and the audience would see right through it.
Many consumers turn to the web for their news and information. Likewise, the adverting industry has seen a shift since many companies are shifting dollars around to incorporate digital initiatives.

What is your point of view on brands using print mediums versus digital initiatives? Do you think one is more important than the other?
I think both print and digital have their place and don’t necessarily think one is more important than the other. I also think you sometimes need print to drive people to their messages online. Just because there’s a website out there doesn’t mean, if you build it, they will come. The print medium can help drive people online for more info or for more interactivity that you can’t get in print, i.e. video, photo galleries, blog updates, etc. I do believe both mediums can live independently of each other, but there could also be a nice interdependent relationship as well.

Can you give a few guidelines or best practices when trying to figure out the best strategy to use in this fast-paced digital world?
I would say there are 3 things a marketer should do that are important to succeed in the digital world:
1) Have clear objectives. Know what you want to accomplish online whether it’s increasing awareness, driving behavior, or building brand loyalty, having clear objectives will keep you focused.
2) Create engaging content. No one will care what your site is about unless you have content that is engaging. It can’t just be more marketing speak. People are coming to your site willingly so be relevant to your audience.
3) Give them a reason to come back for more. Don’t be static; refresh 1-2 pages often so people will see there’s new content. People don’t want to come back and read the same thing over and over again. Surprise and delight and they will want to come back for more.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Need a Job? Join Twitter

If you’ve read some of my blog posts, you might have guessed that I’ve been cynical towards Twitter, the popular social networking site that allows people to send “Tweets.” However, as I read about the site’s popularity and listen to my colleagues opinions, and the benefits, I am starting to embrace it.

I came across an article on Forbes.com that demonstrated another important use — finding a job. The article indicates that while there are many social networking sites out there, Twitter especially has helped one lucky sole. Kyle Flaherty left his marketing position in Boston last spring determined to find an in-house public relations job. He tweeted about his decision and included a link to his professional blog, where he described the kind of work he was looking for. Within days his tweet was retweeted. That is, an acquaintance forwarded it--to his current boss. "I don't think I would have gotten this if not for Twitter," says Flaherty, who moved from Boston to Austin, Texas, for the new job last year with his then-pregnant wife and 2-year-old son.

Obviously not everyone will find their dream job by tweeting about it. But if people use Twitter and other sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn as a way to network with peers or hiring managers it would be a smart move. While many people use Twitter to tell others about their trivial activities and ramblings, there are clever ways it can be used to one’s advantage. The most clever Twitterers use it to comment on happenings in their professions. They follow industry leaders' tweets and even build informal relationships by following one another.

To get a better idea of how to use Twitter to find employment opportunities, Tara Weiss give her top tips:
1. Open an account and include something about your profession in your user name. Since users can search tweets by topic, that's one way of making your feed more visible.
2. Don’t blast people with a message saying that you’re out of work.
3. uild momentum slowly.
4. In the profile section, put a few lines about what you do professionally--that also helps your searchability.
5. Before you start tweeting, search for leaders in your industry, companies you'd like to work for and other potential professional contacts. Follow them. Many companies--especially in marketing, public relations and technology--use Twitter to post job openings, and a lot of hiring managers tweet too.
6. Start tweeting. Offer your opinion on news, industry happenings and seminars. If someone you follow, particularly an industry leader, says something controversial or interesting, retweet (forward) it, or send the person a direct response. That can be an ideal way to get a casual but more personal conversation going.
7. If you're following a hiring manager at a company you'd like to work for, observe what he or she writes and then tailor your tweets to comment on similar things.

For the millions of people looking for work, besides looking at Career Builder and the NY Times Job listings section, Twitter is one site you might want to check out. For more tips on how to use Twitter to your advantage in order to find work, check out the article here.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Corporate Culture Embraces Digital

Many world class brands are doing everything in their power to adapt to the digital world and various technologies. Additionally, many corporate organizations are doing their best to implement digital initiatives such as blogs, wikis and social networks. This seems like a no brainer. However, getting used to and embracing a digital mind-set is a different story for more traditional companies and upper management. Recently, at Ad Age’s Digital Conference in New York, top executives participated in a panel moderated by Nielsen Online's Pete Blackshaw to discuss the ways in which technology has changed their companies from both an internal and external standpoint.

According to Ad Age, the “How Technology Changes Your Company, Inside and Out” panel consisted of Josh Weiss, Managing Director, Delta.com, Self Service; Bob Kraut, VP Marketing Communications, Pizza Hut, Inc.; Pete Blackshaw, EVP Digital Strategic Services, Nielsen; and Michele Azar, VP, Emerging Channels, Best Buy. Each executive went into detail about how they have embraced various technologies, the steps to get approval and the outcomes.

Each executive had compelling ideas to share, which are worth noting. If traditional companies and top executives are not willing to adjust their mindset, then they are setting themselves up for failure. Case in point, Mr. Weiss was trying to help Delta move forward by creating a strong online presence. "That meant having a totally unconstrained area on the site where consumers could come and talk about our product good and bad and hopefully make helpful suggestions about our product," he said. For his efforts Mr. Weiss met with senior counsel and the head of communications and marketing, who were concerned that consumers could say anything they wanted about the airline. His retort: They already are, so why not be part of the conversation? "At that point we were just not ready for it from a corporate culture standpoint to have unfettered social media on delta.com," Mr. Weiss said. "So we ended up with a blog where we talk about our services and offerings. And we do have customer-posted feedback. So we got [management] there eventually but definitely not without hitting some bumps along the way."

In addition to listening to customers, it is crucial to listen to employees. Employees are also concerned about the overall success of the organization. As such, if they’re educated on new policies and digital initiatives, they can be your best cheerleaders. There are benefits to employees and senior executives if they are involved in an internal digital platform. Company leaders can be in contact with employees on the most local level so they can share best practices and real-time information about internal and consumer interactions. However, in order for brands and companies to interact via digital technologies there must be active participation and meaningful involvement. Ultimately, this means not only listening to customers and employees but taking action.

Check out Ad Age for more details on the other executive’s strategies and outcomes.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Beware: Social Networking is on the Rise

Does it seem like everyone and their mother is talking about social networking? Well, to me it does. Even my 60-year-old father asked me about Twitter and its purpose. The truth is that people are talking about it, using the websites, and referring friends to sign up. As a result, social networking among US broadband users has grown an impressive 93% since 2006, and has increased the amount of time people spend communicating online 18%, to 32% of total online time, according to a new report from Netpop Research, LLC that delves into social networking trends and habits, reports MarketingCharts.

The "Netpop Connect: Social Networkers US" report also reveals that at the same time as online communications has increased, the time spent on traditional forms of online entertainment has declined 29%, and is now down to 19% of total online time:

This, Netpop said, is changing the face of how entertainment is defined, and giving rise to a new form of leisure built around talking, sharing, and providing opinions and perspectives.

Today, some of the most popular social networking activities include sending emails, sending instant messages, sharing photos, commenting on messages, engaging in blogs, and posting “Tweets.” As a result, it is not enough for companies to have a strong digital strategy, it is also important to be relevant in this social media world. Magazines have tried diligently to maintain their relevance and ultimately, have migrated content to the Web to capture more eyeballs. More companies are starting a blog and asking employees to be involved in order to make it active and engaging to consumers. Additionally, management is looking for feedback from blogs. Furthermore, we’ve also seen brands put up Facebook pages.

So what is next? Social networking is growing. The research estimates that 105 million American broadband users (76%) now contribute to social media. As websites give more space to user-generated content it will be interesting to see how companies track and monitor the conversation with consumers. Other popular websites and applications such as Digg, Flickr, LinkedIn, Twitter, Yelp and YouTube will likely become more popular as well. Ultimately, this means that if you don’t like social networking, you better get used to it because more and more companies are likely to jump in on the fun. Likewise, if you don’t know about these sites or understand the purpose, it is probably in your best interest to get up to speed.