OK, Class, What’s the First Word in “Social Media?”

PizzaPapa John’s had some PR issues recently when an employee used a racial slur to describe a customer. This post is only peripherally about that. Instead, this post is mainly about yet another company that doesn’t understand the power of engaging your customers and still views marketing as only a way to push their own agenda.

Now, I freely admit to being a fan of Papa John’s. It may not be the world’s greatest pizza, but it’s convenient, affordable, and I like it.

A few evenings ago, though, several things transpired to make me less of a fan. First, their mobile website is annoyingly complicated. (I don’t think it always was.) I started to order in the hopes that the food would be there shortly after I returned home, but it was so complicated I gave up.

When I did get home, I went online and placed the order. It arrived on time and was hot and fresh. But they’d started something new (at least since the last time I ordered) with their chicken strips. Now, not only do you get a container with the sauce of your choice, but sauce is also dumped over them. I thought they might like to hear how consumers felt about this new offering, so I looked them up on Facebook.

Now, this is an organization with over 2 million fans, so you’d hope they have a pretty good handle on using Facebook. But not really; this is what I found:

  • They post fairly frequently and even make a few attempts to engage their followers by asking questions or setting up polls. The problem? Despite the fact that their posts fairly routinely get hundreds of responses, Papa John’s virtually never interacts with their customers beyond the initial post.
    So, you’ve convinced several million people to connect with you on Facebook, and then you completely ignore everything they have to say? Nice going, Papa John’s.
  • And there’s no avenue, as far as I can tell, for a customer to share an opinion, like I wanted to about their chicken strips. (I tried posting to their wall but it was immediately deleted.)
  • Perhaps most egregious of their social media fails, though, was not addressing fans who responded to their apology post for the racial slur incident. To their credit, Papa John’s did post an apology, which wasn’t a bad start. Unfortunately, it shouldn’t have been the end, and it was, on Facebook at least. While I didn’t read through all 979 comments to their apology, I scrolled through them and saw no responses whatsoever from Papa John’s. Not one. Not even to customers who were complaining about other issues.
    (A Papa John’s employee named Ashley – a self described “phone girl” who takes orders – did attempt to right the perception that all Papa John’s employees were racist. A valiant effort, but, frankly, not her job.)

A Social Media Intervention
I really want to report this flawed use of social media to Gary Vaynerchuk, so he goes on one of his infamous rants. Short of that, here’s my own, much less animated, rant:

Social media (e.g., Facebook) is about interacting with your customer base, not about pushing your message all the time. While Papa John’s has some great promotions and is actively using Facebook, they’re not really engaging. (Lest you think that Papa John’s just isn’t paying attention, that’s not the case either. They were so thoughtful as to thank Beth Ann & Jessica’s Helpful Savings Facebook Page for posting about them, so they’re not completely in the dark, just not responsive.)

Papa John’s could easily turn this around by recognizing that social media is about engagement. It’s not a commercial or an ad, and it’s not just a way for you to offer specials. Customers are increasingly expecting to get a response from organizations when they ask a question or make a comment online. In fact, a UK study found that 25% of social media users expect a response within an hour of posting a request for support. By ignoring their customers, Papa John’s is missing a huge opportunity to connect with them, which likely leads to angry former customers.

Regardless of whether you’re a small business or a large one, for profit or not, you need to adjust to the new world in which we live. Social media is here to stay, and you need to learn to use it effectively.

Content Strategy & Your Goals

Sheriff BadgeI recently read a great article on Content Strategy over on the Smashing Magazine site (one of my favorites!). I found myself chuckling at some of the examples, in that all-too-familiar kind of way.

And, although this wasn’t exactly what they were writing about, the article got me thinking about how to reframe the way I work with clients. Because I deal with small businesses, I’m very conscious about maximizing the use of their resources, including their time. It’s tempting to assume I know what they want and just forge ahead, but experience has taught me that there are no shortcuts in the process of creating and executing a digital marketing strategy. Knowledge is key to the success of any project or campaign, and that should start right at the outset. No one knows your business better than you, and an agency or digital marketing consultant cannot effectively ‘create’ without truly understanding your business and its goals.

A Familiar Problem
I knew I had to keep reading the Smashing Magazine article when I got to How to Get Started: The First Step is the Longest. In that section, the author, Brad Shorr, gives an example of an imaginary conversation between a project manager, a designer and a writer at an agency. The project manager announces the need for a landing page for a client, the designer says he can’t start the design without content, and the writer says she can’t start writing without seeing a design. A conundrum already, and they’re barely out of the gate.

This is amusing to me because I run into the same issue frequently with the small business clients with whom I work. They want to ‘see’ something before they can take a step forward, and they’re optimistic that they’ll have more time to devote to the project sometime in the future. But it’s like shooting in the dark for me if I don’t have something to start with, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s foolish – and basically arrogant – for me to think that I know what they need without them telling me.

So I’m laying down the law. :)

When you work with me, you can expect 110% effort on my part. Making you successful is my goal. The best way for us to get you where you want to go is to be clear about where that is from the start.

Thus, I’m asking all future potential clients to agree to a strategy meeting upfront. This may take a while, and you may think it’s unnecessary, but I want to understand everything you’re doing and everything you’d like to achieve before launching a one-off project for you. (Don’t worry, I’ll bring the coffee.)

You should also expect the tough questions. What else are you doing to market or promote your product or service? Do you know where you’re getting customers currently? Do you know how many convert? The average profit per sale? The lifetime value of a customer? (It’s OK if you don’t; we’ll work on it.) What has worked in the past? What hasn’t? Who’s your ideal customer?

My Confession
Though this has always been the ideal scenario, I’ve been willing to be ‘flexible’ in the past. A prospective client who is super-busy and just needs some SEO work done, feels like they don’t really have time to do a complete overview of all their marketing efforts. The issue for me is that, even if my work for them leads to success, could it have been better if I’d known ‘the rest of the story?’

The Smashing Magazine article helped me see that maximizing my client’s success means being a little inflexible on this front. All in the name of greater success!

Google Places and Local Search – Messy, Messy, Messy

As mentioned in a previous post on local search, I’ve been working with a client who needs to improve their local search results. I’m trying to document the process in the hopes it might be helpful to other small businesses who find themselves in a similar situation.

Step One – What Is Going On Here!?
When I started looking into my client’s local listings, I saw two things that concerned me (beyond just the fact that the client wasn’t ranking well in local and should be):

  • a listing with an address and phone number that were no longer accurate for this business because they had closed that location
  • more importantly – a lot of map spam

Dealing with the ‘extra’ listing is time-consuming but relatively straightforward. I can do a search on the ‘old’ phone number and correct (or at least attempt to correct) it in all the places it appears online. Notwithstanding the sadly not-so-occasional site that’s impossible to update, the steps to correct the problem are pretty clear: register (if the client hasn’t already), claim the listing(s), and delete or modify the outdated one.

But… What About the Rest of This Mess?
I know Google’s been on a mission to clean up map spam, but there’s obviously still a way to go. For this particular client, there are competitors using a slight variation of his actual business name, competitors who have multiple listings, and completely off-topic listings in the Places results.

There are listings with no reviews and just a Places page (no website) that outrank him for some search terms. There are listings with incomplete Places profiles and a non-local 877 phone number that outrank him!

One of his more aggressive competitors outranks him with a link to a site that has nothing to do with the service they provide. (It’s a Little League site.)

Beyond the Places Results
And this illogical mess extends beyond just Places. In the organic results on a search for the exact <business name city state> of that aggressive competitor, a listing on Bloglines is in the #1 position! The only reasonable explanation for that is a review said competitor did on Merchant Circle that shows up on the Bloglines profile. Why that justifies a top ranking is beyond me.

Interestingly, the #2 and the #3 listings for that search <competitor business name city state> are also from Merchant Circle. The #4 listing is my client (?) and #5 is the actual business’ website. So that means I was so specific as to type the exact name of the business and the city and state, and the site I was looking for shows up at #5!

Taking a look at a search for my client’s exact <business name city state>. In the Places results, a one-pack shows up, featuring the Little League listing connected to his competitor mentioned above! This may be because Google Places has somehow conflated an outdated listing for my client (who is no longer at the address provided) with something else, because the address on this listing is my client’s old one.

In the natural results, my client shows up at #1. (Phew!!!)

What I’m Doing to Clear This Up
Though I’m always a little ambivalent about ‘reporting’ other sites, in this case I don’t really see any alternative. The Places information is so messed up that Google clearly needs some help to straighten it out. So, I’m reporting a problem on the local listings that are inaccurate; I’m not too optimistic that they’ll resolve the issue quickly, but it’s the best I can do for right now.

Here’s how to report a problem with a Google Places listing:

  1. Go to the Places listing
  2. Scroll down to the bottom of the page
  3. Click on Report a Problem
  4. A popup appears for you to identify what the problem is
  5. You should explain the problem as clearly (and briefly) as possible in the Comments box
  6. I’d recommend choosing the option to be emailed when the problem is reviewed so you’ll know when (if) that happens.

I’m also working to build up more citations for my client.

Finally, I’m working to focus their attention on getting reviews on Google. Now that Google has stopped pulling in reviews from third-party sources like Yelp and TripAdviser, it’s important to encourage satisfied customers to leave reviews directly in Places.

Google – Please Get Places Fixed!
I know Google has been struggling to keep up with all the confusion and outright spam in Places, and I give them credit for trying. That said, the usefulness of these local listings is obviously dependent upon them being correct. Accuracy becomes even more important when you consider that these results may be showing up for someone using a mobile device while trying to find a certain business; it’s very frustrating to show up at the correct address and discover the business you want isn’t there.

Of course, I’m well aware that I’m not the only Internet marketer venting my frustration about this. Catalyst eMarketing did a post on MAJOR Google Places problems back in March. Blumenthals.com did a great overview of a recent Places review scam that impacted hundreds of moving companies across the U.S.

One hope is that, like with the J.C Penney link-buying shcme and the review-quality-not-important issue, perhaps now that the New York Times has written an article about mapspam for locksmith listings, Google will get it together and finally make the Places results relevant again.

At least one can hope.

Integrate Your Marketing to Maximize Success

One of my excellent former students wrote me recently asking for advice. How should she handle a client who took her (very good) advice about managing an integrated digital marketing program and turned it into a separate ‘silo’ for each channel?

Particularly among small businesses that don’t have time to become digital marketing experts, it can be easy to see the various marketing channels as stand-alone operations. I need a print ad; I’ll call my graphic designer. I need more online traffic; I’ll call the AdWords specialist and the SEO provider. I should probably reach out to my email list; I’ll call the email provider.

This has often happened organically. Business owners get advice (or decide) to embark on something new that their existing provider(s) don’t offer, so they bring someone else in. And then someone else, and someone else. The problem is that no one is really coordinating it all.

Small Businesses NEED To Integrate All Their Marketing Efforts
But that has to stop. If you need Internet marketing (and you probably do), then you need to see the bigger picture. That doesn’t mean that you may not have different providers for different things, but you (or someone on your behalf) needs to see how all those efforts fit together into a cohesive whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. As long as someone is steering the ship, it can get to where it’s trying to go.

Part of the problem for smaller businesses is that they frequently don’t have an ‘agency’ to coordinate all their efforts. Much of the marketing success of many big organizations should be attributed to their outside advisers – advertising agencies, marketing consultants, etc. But small businesses can’t afford the services of big agencies.

However, there are providers who can help SMBs build a comprehensive strategy AND implement it, and you should take advantage of their services. (Oh, hey… have you met me?)

Shameless self-promotion aside, I think small businesses really are going to need to focus more on strategy instead of just tactics. If you have a solid strategy that will take you where you want to go, your tactics can easily be outsourced (if you want) while you still maintain control of the overall direction your marketing efforts take.

On the other hand, without an integrated marketing strategy, all your well-executed tactics may not be working together to maximize your success.


Does Your Business Really Need a Website? (Round 2)

Small business owners are often faced with making difficult financial choices about how to invest their money. One expense that they sometimes question is whether they really need a website.

Almost three years ago, I wrote an article for Insight Magazine, which I’ve republished on this blog, called Does Your Business Really Need a Website? In it, I answered the question at the time with “…no, depending on the industry you’re in, at least for now.”

Now, however, I’d have to disagree…

I think that virtually any business that wants to grow or that needs a steady stream of new clients really does need a website.

Your customers are going online searching for the products or services they need. If you’re not there, you’re not getting their business. If you consider that even a recent survey commissioned by a group formerly known as the Yellow Pages Association showed that more people used search engines than print yellow pages, it’s not hard to see the value in being able to be found online.

But Aren’t There Alternatives to Investing in a Site?
It’s possible to build an online presence using avenues other than a website, including:

Google Places
Yahoo! Local
Bing Local
Facebook Fan Pages
Wordpress (or other) free blogging platforms

In many ways, that’s not an unreasonable strategy. For small business owners with some time and patience, it’s possible to do all of that yourself – and none of it costs anything!

However, I think that may be a risky strategy. I’m quoted in a post on Search Engine Land answering their question, “Does every business need a website?” My response is essentially this: The limitations posed by social media and ‘local’ channels are hard to overcome. You have to abide by their ‘rules’ and it’s hard to really differentiate yourself. Even more problematic, though, in my opinion is the lack of control. I essentially have 100% control over what happens on my own website, but when Facebook decides to make a change to the platform I’m forced to accommodate it whether I like it or not.

There are plenty of affordable options for creating a website, so make the investment, SMBs. Hire a good designer/developer or learn how to do it yourself. It’s an investment that will almost certainly reap benefits for your business.