When a big event occurs, Twitter has become the go-to source for up to date information. I see two problems with relying on Twitter in such situations.
The Sensitivity Issue
There is always someone who feels obliged to monitor other people’s tweets for “sensitivity” to an event. Often someone will berate a tweeter for tweeting something that is unrelated to the hot topic of the day as if it was a social gaffe.
It’s as if a news event is the only thing anyone can be thinking about. Bombings, explosions, tornadoes, shootings, deaths, protests – yes, those things are important. There are people who hang on to TV news, read every tweet, and generally dwell for hours inside the drama during an event. And they tweet and retweet everything they see about the news of the day.
The problem is when they demand that everyone else do exactly the same thing.
A culture has grown around this phenomenon of single-mindedness during a breaking news event. That culture dictates that you shouldn’t show an interest in anything but the event or you will be branded insensitive, unaware, uncool, and out of touch. People respond to this social ostracism by shutting down scheduled tweets, keeping silent about whatever normal life they are living in deference to the news, and not tweeting except retweets of the day’s news.
I think this culture of “sensitivity” is a problem. Sometimes the news is so painful (for example, the Newtown shootings) that even thinking about it, much less obsessively tweeting and retweeting about it, is damaging to the soul. Tuning out and attending to normal life is a defense against the pain. People should be allowed to respond to horrific events this way, and should not be labeled idiots for tweeting about something unrelated. There’s no one right way to react to news.
The Misinformation Issue
It’s human to be interested in dramatic events. On Twitter, it’s human to retweet things that relate to an ongoing event.
We end up with a flood of tweets, many unverified and unchecked, that spread misinformation with the remarkable power of the retweet.
I’m not suggesting that people on the scene with real information should not tweet. I’m not suggesting that early reports such as “there was an explosion during the Boston Marathon” should not be retweeted. I am suggesting that retweeting everything without evaluating whether or not it is true is a problem.
Indiscriminate retweeting overwhelms people who are trying to sift out the truth from a flood of rumors, errors, and misinformation. Even worse, rumors and errors get picked up by major media – TV and radio news mention these things as if they were actual news. Granted, major media is acting no better that a Twitter user who retweets without vetting information in this situation. There may be thousands of tweets per second during big news events. Think of the manpower needed by a news organization or police department to sift through all those tweets trying to verify the truth, or find the right lead.
What I am suggesting is that concentrating exclusively on dramatic news events creates issues with an overwhelming flood of bad information among the valuable information.
If you don’t really know what’s going on, why retweet as if you do? Why not keep silent about the event instead? Why not (gasp) tweet about your normal life even in the midst of the media circus?
The Twitter culture of framing anyone who isn’t “sensitive” to the news as an idiot or a fool needs to stop. Judging others is akin to bullying and isn’t the business of the Twitter culture police.
If you’re marketing websites, scary as it may sound, you need to learn about social media.
So what changed?
Even before Panda and Penguin, how Google determined the relevancy of any given web page was changing. Traditionally, the main relevancy signals that search engines looked at were:
Trust and authority
With minor changes, Google still looks at on-page factors and the trust / authority of pages similarly to how they always have. But links are a different story. As part of Google’s original algorithm (and what made it such a great search engine), they treated links as a vote of confidence for a page. Their PageRank algorithm was and still is sophisticated enough to also understand that not all links are created equal. Google is able to consider the importance of the page that a link is on to decide how much credit (or credibility) that link should pass to the page it’s linking to.
And this worked fairly well for quite a while.
But website owners being greedy and SEOs being…well…SEOs, links became a commodity to be bought and sold in order to provide higher rankings for web pages. One consequence of that was the scarcity of people linking to stuff they liked just because they liked it. Links pages that most websites used to have in order to provide additional resources for their site visitors are now thought of as “spammy” and rarely exist anymore. Sure, bloggers might still mention other sites that they like and even provide links to them, but many blog platforms automatically add the NoFollow attribute to those links, causing them to not be counted by Google. Plus, bloggers also understand the value of a link and don’t always disclose whether any money or gifts exchanged hands.
Beyond the gaming of links, however, the trouble with counting links as votes is that not everyone has a website or a blog. How do you count the votes of the average teenager or mom or business manager?
This is where social media comes into play.
It’s simple. Anyone can quickly and easily tweet, Facebook, Google+, Reddit, or Yelp their opinions about anything and everything.
With the ability to discuss news articles, blog posts, websites, business establishments, brands, universities, restaurants, and just life in general at the tip of the average person’s fingertips, it would be ridiculous for search engines not to pay attention.
This is why my 2008 quote is even truer today than it was when I wrote it. If you’re marketing a business, having a strong social media presence is no longer optional. It is essential.
But just like links, not all social media signals or mentions are created equal. Don’t think that you can just create social media accounts, hook them up to the RSS feeds of your content and be done with it. The social media links back to your content (which generally have the NoFollow attribute on them) won’t provide any sort of signal to Google unless you truly participate.
If you want your “vote” to count in social media, here are a few tips you need to remember:
Be selective in whom you follow.
If you follow back everyone who follows you, your profiles will be less likely to be trusted. Just as Google’s PageRank algorithm can determine trustworthy pages based on who links to them, Google can also determine trustworthy social media accounts in the same way. If you’re following spambots, you’re not paying attention. And if you’re not paying attention, why should Google trust you?
Be selective in what you recommend.
If you tweet or retweet low-quality content (be it your own or others’) it’s going to be noticed. Perhaps not by Google, but certainly by authority accounts who might otherwise have followed you. Which leads me to the next tip:
Your accounts must be followed by other authorities in your space.
Authorities don’t get to be authorities by following just anyone. They pick and choose based on who they themselves feel are qualified and trustworthy. Therefore, if other highly trustworthy people follow you, there’s a good chance you’re trustworthy as well.
Have a byline and use Rel=Author on all your content.
It’s imperative to associate a name and face with all of the content on your website these days, in order to ensure that Google knows it’s trustworthy. If you haven’t already, get your site up to speed with the Google Authorship program as soon as possible.
Install Twitter Card code on your content pages.
If your target audience is on Twitter, you should definitely be participating there. And if you are, then you also need to add the Twitter Card code to your site. This adds more information and images to any content that you or others promote from your site. Right now, Twitter Cards give you a huge advantage over your competitors who aren’t yet using it (it’s fairly new). If you use WordPress, I highly recommend the Yoast WordPress SEO Plugin for this feature as well as the Rel=Author attribute mentioned above (and lots of other features as well!).
While it can take a lot of time to build up trustworthy social media profiles, in the long run it will be well worth it. Think about it. If your profiles are considered trustworthy, then every piece of content you mention will surely have a better chance of being noticed by Google. Of course, your mention alone isn’t going to provide much weight, especially if you’re talking about your own content. But if other trustworthy social media profiles are also citing that same content, you can be certain that it will be a very strong signal to Google.
Now, I can’t tell you with 100% certainty that this is what Google is doing today. But if they’re not, surely they will be very soon. In fact, in Google’s Distinguished Engineer Matt Cutts’ latest Webmaster Video, “What should we expect in the next few months in terms of SEO for Google?,” he said that they were “working on a completely different system that does more sophisticated link analysis.”
Feel free to draw your own conclusion as to what that means!
Jill Whalen has been an SEO Consultant and the CEO of High Rankings, a Boston area SEO Company since 1995. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalen
Amanda Palmer’s TED Talk about learning to ask contains good advice for just about any kind of artist who wants to connect with a community with a sense of give and take. I think this includes code artists. Maybe all of us introverted geekie folks leaning over our computers all day could learn a little something from the touchie feelie types?
After posting this I saw a tweet from Chris Coyier at CSS Tricks. He wanted to screen cast a complete web design makeover. He asked for $3500 in help on Kickstarter. Look what happened. Learn to ask.
I’ve never heard Sharma Kabani speak, but I can almost feel her voice reaching out of this book: an enthusiastic and very present voice that inspires listeners to make the leap into social media marketing. She’s full of encouraging quotes, examples of success, and tips to help marketers understand various social media sites and how to use them to best advantage. The book feels as if it was created from her speaking engagements and carries a vibe that feels like she’s right in front of you with a set of slides.
Kabani begins by explaining basics like the need for a website and/or a blog. She talks about SEO and what social media marketing is and is not. Then she goes through a series of chapters about Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+. These chapters about specific social media sites are all organized in the same way. She explains,
why the site is important
how to set up your presence on the site and how to use the site’s various features
how to build your presence on the site
dos and don’ts of marketing on the site
The chapters about individual sites provide both basic how-to information and tips on marketing that are valuable and specific.
The book also has chapters about using video, about creating a social media policy, social media case studies from real businesses and advertising on social media.
Kabani made occasional statements that seemed a bit arbitrary to me, for example, you should blog twice a week, or you should synchronize all your social media efforts with ping.fm. I think she would certainly be more nuanced than these statements appear if you could engage in a Q&A with her.
Summary: A helpful guide for marketers who are unfamiliar with social media marketing and strategy.
A review by Virginia DeBolt of The Zen of Social Media Marketing (rating: 4 stars)
Disclosure: The publisher provided a review copy of this book, but my opinions are my own.
Alexandra Wrote talks about when the personal becomes political and the power of having a platform in Blog the Change: Social Media Good in 2012. By the way, if you are interested in learning about how to use Pinterest to support your blog and to gain more blog traffic, Alexandra Wrote is an excellent example to study.