Social Media Caps the Search Summit

This column took a long time to put together. As frustrating as it was, it got a great response, which is always a relief, especially since I wasn’t 100% sure about the end result. I think one of the problems was that this tied together a lot of ideas I’ve discussed in columns, in the blog, and in person, and I wanted to make sure I wasn’t repeating myself, the panel that inspired it, or more eloquent voices out there.

Ultimately though, there are some big ideas here that I’m glad I could get in print, and I welcome your take on any of them. This is also the first time I made a prediction jumping 50 years in the future. We’ll see how well it holds up (my future grandkids can hold me accountable). The column is in the extended entry below; you can also read more at MediaPost.

Social Media Caps the Search Summit

By David Berkowitz

One of the last sessions of MediaPost’s Search Insider Summit last
week in Palm Springs, Calif. wound up a personal favorite, with
Pressfeed’s Sally Falkow, Pheedo’s Bill Flitter and Social Media Club’s
Chris Heuer leading a discussion on how social media impacts search. A
number of these issues involving social media are just now coming to
the forefront and should affect search marketing for years to come.
I’ll review some of them below.

1) Conduct blog search audits to review buzz about your brand. Blog search engines such as Technorati, Blogpulse, and IceRocket are great places to start. You can also try searching blog sites such as Blogger. As for the general search engines, Google Blog Search
does a far better job at indexing current blog entries than its main
site. Searching any of these sites can give you great dirt on your
company, competitors and industry. They can also trigger some marketing
ideas. For instance, if the blog search results don’t capture the best
image of your company, it might be time to engage in blogger relations,
or perhaps even start a blog yourself.

  2) Social media spawns search engines. MySpace, YouTube,
Flickr, Second Life, and Wikipedia are some of the newest engines. You
can even consider the Xbox, which connects users online for multiplayer
gaming, as a new potential search device, especially if it becomes an
onramp to gamers’ online experience. Could XLO (Xbox Live Optimization)
emerge as a new strategy?

3) Respond fast or die. If you’re hit with a scandal, you
can’t wait for it to blow over. Silence implies guilt, and the
implication of guilt will lead to even more negative feedback from
bloggers and social media producers. There are three ways to mitigate
such a crisis. One is to engage in continuous search engine
optimization so that as many pages of your sites are positioned to tell
your story, even if critical links pop up in the future. When negative
buzz hits, buy relevant keywords to get your message out. Lastly, step
up blogger relations and make sure any blogger with any readership at
all hears your side of the story.

4) Social media is forever. This is one of the scariest
concepts in general for how search will change our lives, and it’s
especially prevalent for social media. It’s impossible to predict what
the Internet will look like in fifty years, but I’ll make two bets:
like TV, many of the basic tenets of the medium will still hold true
decades from now (including, for the Internet, the ease of
self-publishing, pervasive hyperlinks, and convenient access to porn),
and secondly, it will have a very long memory. It’s quite possible that
in 2056, analysts of General Electric will be able to see what people
were saying about it in our era, and my grandkids will find cached
pages of contents of my MySpace profile (only to discover their PopPop
was a far bigger dork than they ever imagined). More and more, search
engine optimization will require social media optimization, a term
coined by Rohit Bhargava.

5) Create a community, or tap into an existing one. No matter your target audience, you can bet that they’re organizing online. Delve into social network blogs like Mashable,
scan discussions on Meetup, or just spend a while with your favorite
search engine trying queries like “chocoholic blogs,” “chocoholic
forums,” “chocoholic social network,” and “chocoholic community” (both
Hershey’s and Weight Watchers could benefit from those specific
searches). If you can’t find any community that works for you, start
it. You could do a lightly branded resource (see Nike’s Sneakerplay – the first social network for footwear), start a branded community (e.g., Carnival Connections from the cruise line), or launch a private invite-only forum through partners such as Communispace.

6) Everyone has something to say, but only 10% will say it.
Some of the discussion at the Search Insider Summit addressed how the
human need to be heard will fuel the continuing growth of social media.
While I won’t refute the trend of increased self expression and
communal participation online, we should still temper our expectations
that everyone will be a producer or contributor. Most people remain
passive, or “lurkers,” as Jakob Nielsen writes. He said in a report last month,
“In most online communities, 90% of users are lurkers who never
contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account
for almost all the action… With blogs, the rule is more like 95-5-0.1.”

Nielsen provides some guidelines on how to appeal to that 1% or
0.1% without alienating the rest–a challenge that every marketer will
need to address going forward. The search engines will face similar
challenges, as a tiny percentage of sites create most of the links and
thus influence the rankings of other sites (an issue addressed in my “Aristocracy of Relevance” column in May).

As for social media today, search affects every layer of it.
Consumers search on social media sites, they find social media sites
through search engines, and search engines are populated with the
social content produced on these sites. Over the long haul, expect the
most successful search marketers to be social marketers.

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