What Google’s Real-Time Search Means for Brands

Google recently announced a new search engine ingredient: Real-time search. In addition to traditional search results — Web pages, photos, videos, maps, blog posts, articles, and news stories — Google’s universal search now streams real-time results from Twitter and from public pages on MySpace, Facebook, and other sources.

Google’s real-time search is poised to have a significant effect on brands in the social media space. In the past, it may have taken several minutes for content to be indexed by the search engine. There’s no waiting period any more — the instant an item is posted and linked, it’s searchable via Google.

Here’s a quick demo video:

(If you can’t see the video, you can view it here.)

How Google’s real-time search impacts brands:

  • Every customer experience is public — and magnified. Everyone has the potential to be influential more than ever before. It doesn’t matter whether someone has thousands of Twitter followers or just a handful — they have the ability to impact the conversations around them, in real life and online. If a customer has a negative brand experience, they may vent to their friends and followers. Brands that are highly engaged in the social space will reach out. The brands that are not as engaged may let those issues linger and/or not even be aware that a problem exists.

This should be a wake-up call for brands vis a vis reputation management, since customer complaints can quickly become public. The issues that are communicated by customers are now searchable, and negative brand experiences may appear on the first page of a Google search for your company. Companies with a commitment to social media engagement, a solid digital PR strategy, and great customer service will reap long-term benefits.

  • Social media presences for brands and companies are now in the spotlight. Many companies are educating consumers, building relationships with their audiences, and being brand advocates in the social space. They are engaged in the conversation about their brand. Many other brands, though, are not engaging, whether it’s because they feel it’s too risky or because they lack expertise.

Companies of every size need to create an active presence on the social Web — it doesn’t make any difference if your social media monitoring efforts tell you that there are 9 or 900,000 relevant conversations each month about your brand, products, or employees. The more content a brand creates, the more frequently that content will appear in Google’s real-time search results. Your “social brand” is now front and center, with the potential to drive top-line results for people who are searching for your product. Maybe it’s time to rethink letting an intern manage your Facebook Page and corporate Twitter account.

  • Content will emerge  quickly through your audience. Remember that great viral video you created several years ago that you couldn’t get anybody to watch? It can now be found more easily.

A big part of social media planning revolves around content: What will your brand say, and when? How do your brand’s objectives inform the content of your YouTube channel? How will you promote your new Facebook contest? As brands work to develop sustainable content plans, it’s important that they keep their audience in mind — brands are dependent on them.

  • Search engine optimization (SEO) is now even more closely connected to social media. Up to now, SEO experts have been using social media like blog posts and YouTube content to drive organic search rankings, forge relationships, and generate backlinks. They’ve also been leveraging social bookmarking sites to drive traffic and links.

SEO will now play an even bigger role in real-time search. For example, hashtags will now appear in search results, and those tagged conversations can drive additional awareness and coverage of the tagged topic.

What other ways will Google’s real-time search impact brands? Please share your thoughts!

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Enhance Your Brand: Create a Facebook Page

A large and growing number of some of the most valuable demographic groups are devoting more of their attention to Facebook versus other media channels. With 300 million active users and counting (plus 500,000 new users every day), Facebook is no longer just a virtual community for college students to share photos and news with their friends. Adults and professionals from around the globe have embraced the platform, including 90 million in the U.S.

This has businesses large and small asking themselves: Will Facebook really help my business? Does my company need a Facebook Page?

Why is Facebook Important to Marketers?

Facebook offers a unique marketing opportunity for businesses. More and more people are migrating to social networks, and that’s where they’re choosing to research companies, products, and services. Marketing on Facebook has a viral effect, as it does on most social media sites.

Microsoft’s recent partnership with Facebook to integrate Facebook updates with Bing paves the way for more real-time search results. Google likely will do the same with Facebook in the near future. So having an understanding of Facebook can open up new ways for marketers to reach out to their audiences and brand themselves.

Consider some of the benefits of using Facebook as a business branding tool:

  • Customer acquisition: As people become fans of a company’s Facebook page or post comments on it, they get a notice posted on the wall of their own page — where their networks see it. This increases visibility, and the viral aspect often leads to new fans. Facebook pages can also be linked to other social networking sites, increasing a brand’s reach.
  • Customer interaction: Facebook provides a forum for dialogue between a brand and its customers. This enables companies to build better relationships and to demonstrate to their customers that they care about what they think.
  • Reputation management: Direct contact with customers via comments and feedback helps companies gain a deeper understanding of  how their brand is perceived online and offers an avenue for brand enhancement and, if need be, damage control.
  • Traffic generation: As traffic increases on a company’s Facebook fan page, traffic to the its Web site increases, too. Facebook Pages also appear in search results.
  • Targeted advertising: Facebook ads enable businesses to advertise an event, a Web site, a product – any content, really. Companies can target the reach of their ads by gender, age, interests, and location. With custom filters, Facebook automatically updates the count of people who fit the criteria and gauges the size of the target market on Facebook.
  • Increased exposure: An important reason to invest time in creating an engaging page is that all the activity of your fans (from becoming a fan to posting a comment) is shared with a greater network.
  • Branding: In addition to a company’s Web site, a good Facebook Page can create brand awareness for new audiences and reinforce it for current customers by sharing valuable information with its fans and emphasizing the company’s position in its industry. Developing and nurturing an active community enhances a brand.
  • It’s free: What’s not to like about using a new, viral channel for customer interaction without paying a cent?

Here are some brands that have embraced the Facebook Pages platform and successfully leveraged it to engage their audiences and create a real community for their fans:

Coca-Cola (4 million  fans)

Starbucks (5 million fans)

Pizza Hut (1 million fans)

Sears (148,000 fans)

Best Buy (1 million fans)

Walmart (55,000 fans)

Nutella (3.3 million fans)

Pringles (2.8 million fans)

9 Things to Think About As You Create a Facebook Presence For Your Business:

  1. Start with a strategy: Just like any kind of marketing, having a solid strategy in hand from the beginning is key. What is your message? Who are you targeting? What’s in it for them? How will you reach them?
  2. Be creative: You need to have a strong creative execution. What is exciting or interesting to your customers/friends/fans? How does your page content add value? Creative execution includes sharing photos and videos, running contests and promotions, having lively conversations with members, and doing things that are just plain interesting that will keep your fans coming back.
  3. Engage with your fans: Many businesses create a fan page, invite people to join, and then seemingly forget that the page exists. Active fan engagement is the key to an effective Facebook presence. Have a content plan in hand that’s engaging and germane to your target audience. What will you post? When will you post it? How will you inspire your fans to participate? Don’t just create a page – create an engagement plan.
  4. Communicate consistently and frequently: The most successful and fruitful social media campaigns promote a strong message that is repeated often and is consistent in voice and tone. This increases brand awareness and sales potential by keeping your brand messaging top of mind with your target audience.
  5. Own your fan page: Some company fan pages are created and managed by an actual fan instead of the company. Fans expect company pages to be run by the company itself, and they want the company to play an active role. Issues around having a fan own a company’s page might not immediately present themselves, but not having control of a brand’s messaging might cause problems down the road – even if the owner is the company’s biggest fan.
  6. Monitor discussions: It looks pretty bad when a business is inactive and doesn’t respond to its fans. It’s important to monitor your fan page for activity and respond to relevant questions and comments. It’s a good idea to have someone who is dedicated to this effort and empowered to engage on behalf of the company.
  7. Pay attention to analytics: Facebook fan pages offer analytics and insights, so you can learn how engaging your page is. These great tools will help you understand what is and isn’t effective, aiding you in your efforts to constantly improve and refine your page.
  8. Don’t focus on the number of followers/friends/fans: Many businesses focus on the number of fans they have. This measure lacks relevance, since it’s not difficult to get followers or fans. These numbers shouldn’t be used as a key metric – what matters is how you engage your followers. A balanced approach measures what’s really important based on your strategy.
  9. Be transparent and honest: The importance of establishing integrity, honesty, and transparency up front cannot be overstated. Once credibility is lost, it’s very difficult to get it back.

The Takeaway

Facebook has quickly morphed from a fad into a highly effective business tool. If you have the time to devote to building and using social media for marketing, Facebook may have potential for your company. It can be a powerful avenue for establishing and enhancing a strong online brand identity.

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6 Ways Social Media Can Enhance Your Business

Social media is the new face of the Web. Just as the Internet revolutionized information sharing during the 1990s, social media is radically altering how people communicate and share information today. If you want to succeed on the Web, a solid social network presence is required. Search engines like Bing and Google have recognized the power of social media, opting to include updates from Facebook, Twitter, and other social sites in their search results. Optimizing your business for social media is quickly becoming a must to gain top SEO ranking.

Here are some of the ways the power of social media can help your business:

  • Understand your audiences: Social media facilitates direct one-on-one interaction with your target audiences. This can help you better understand their needs, enabling you to develop more effective, targeted marketing strategies.
  • Enhance brand awareness: Social media can help you communicate your brand identity and create awareness among your audience. The more that people have a credible image of your brand, the more likely it is that they will keep your business top of mind when they evaluate products and make purchase decisions.
  • Promote your products and services via word of mouth: Social media is the new word-of-mouth marketing channel. Because of the personal nature of the communications between individuals, it’s generally true that product information communicated in this way has an added layer of credibility. If one happy customer makes a favorable comment about your company or its products and services, many other people will notice and are likely to share the information with others.
  • Keep your audiences up to date about your company: People probably don’t visit your Web site every day, but they definitely engage via their social networks on daily basis. To keep your audience updated about the latest events and happenings in your company, it’s important to make the information available on social networks in addition to updating the news/current events section of your Web site.
  • Manage your reputation: You can track social media channels to see what’s being said about your company and its products and nip potential problems in the bud. (See #2 in 5 Steps to Developing a Meaningful Social Media Strategy.) The nature of the back and forth dialogue on social networks enables you to engage and turn around negative reviews and comments — this communicates that you listen to your customers and value their input, and acts to enhance your reputatuion.
  • Share your content virally: When you share something on social networks, it’s not just your immediate connections who read it. If they like it, they will spread it to their networks as well, which increases your reach to a much larger audience. From sharing a link on Twitter, posting a a story of Facebook, or bookmarking on Digg, Delicious, or Reddit, social media has the power to spread your content on massive scale.

How are you using social media to enhance your business and drive its growth?

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Discounts Drive Users to Engage With Brands on Social Networks

As brands scramble to define themselves on social networks and connect with their customers, a new survey indicates that what consumers want from brands in this new engagement model is some old fashioned marketing: Good deals and customer service.

The results of Razorfish’s annual survey of 1,000 “connected consumers” was recently released, and it contains some interesting data. The sample group was about 50/50 male/female and the respondents all live in ten major U.S. cities and cover four major age groups:

Based on previous Razorfish consumer research, we have found that these “connected consumers” roughly mirror the U.S. population with broadband access. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, about 63% of all Americans today have a high-speed Internet connection, up from only 55% in 2008. This translates to roughly 200 million people, based on a July 2009 population estimate from the CIA World Factbook (total population 307,212,123, July 2009 estimate).

The survey found that the primary reason for “friending” a brand on Facebook or MySpace is for access to exclusive deals and discounts:

More than 25% said they followed a brand on Twitter:


And 43% of those who follow brands on Twitter do so because of exclusive discounts or offers. That trumps being a current customer (24%), interesting/entertaining content (23%), and customer service/support (4%):

Following a brand on Twitter usually keeps it top of mind when making a future purchase decision:


The report references Starbucks, the most popular brand on Facebook (by virtue of a promo that offered coupons for free ice cream and pastry). Whole Foods is the leading brand on Twitter, with more than 1.5 million followers. It gained its huge following by offering shopping tips and weekly specials.

Comcast has a great reputation for leveraging Twitter as a CRM tool thanks to the fabled efforts of Frank Eliason, Senior Director of Comcast National Customer Service. Virgin America and Zappos have also received high marks for using Twitter for customer realtions.

The takeaway:

Consumers are obviously very willing to engage with brands via social media. As social networks grow and attract more users, this will continue to be the case and undoubtedly gain more traction.

Brand marketers themselves need to become more engaged and give their friends and followers special offers — pushing out content and hoping consumers hop on the bandwagon isn’t nearly as effective. As social networks become more advanced and brands figure out how to leverage them, there will be many interesting new opportunities for marketing interaction.

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5 Steps to Developing a Meaningful Social Media Strategy

Many businesses have yet to embrace social media. Why? For all its benefits — an inexpensive way to get the message out (and to more people),  improved branding and customer engagement, speed of feedback/results, etc. — it is very time-consuming. Unless you have a lot of hours to devote to it, or a designated employee, it can swallow you up without achieving any results.

Social Media Brand Engagement Curve
Image by Intersection Consulting via Flickr

Here are five steps to help you get going with a social media strategy:

1. Set Goals and Define Your Target Audience
You need a real understanding of what you want to accomplish and who you want to reach. The best strategy will come from clearly setting your goals. These might include:

  • Increasing brand awareness
  • Managing your reputation
  • Improving your search rankings
  • Getting more relevant site visitors
  • Increasing sales

2. Listen to What People are Talking About
Find out who is saying what about your brand and where they are saying it. Here are some free tools that give visibility to conversations about your company or brand:

  • Google Alerts monitors millions of news sites and blogs. It’s easy to set up alerts for keywords that are important to your brand. You can choose to receive batched or streaming reports.
  • Alltop is an online news aggregator. It scans blogs, forums, and news sites  to  collect the headlines of the latest stories on a topic.
  • TweetDeck and Seesmic are desktop applications  that combine search with Facebook and Twitter monitoring. They are highly configurable, making it easy to track conversations and brand mentions.
  • BackType is a real-time, conversational search engine. It scans the Web to find out what  people are saying about topics and Web sites that interest you.
  • Monitter enables marketers to listen to the Twitter conversations taking place about their brand in real time. Enter the keywords you want to search, and all tweets with those keywords are at your fingertips.

3. Make Contact and Engage
You need to demonstrate your company’s commitment to developing online relationships. Go where your customers are — build a community on Twitter, create a Facebook page, comment on blogs, upload images to Flickr, create videos for YouTube — all to further the discussion and create positive WOM.

4. Use Offline Events to Support Your Online Community
Nothing beats face-to-face communication. You can build stronger relationships with your online community via trade shows and other offline events. Organize a Tweetup, offer a special session with your CEO, give exclusive access to new product launches, all to cement the bonds you’ve built with social media.

5. Measure Your Success
To begin measuring social media success, you need to answer some more questions:

  • Did we learn anything new about our customers?
  • Did our customers learn anything about us?
  • Were we able to engage our customers in new conversations?
  • Do our employees now have an effective way to monitor external feedback and reputation management?

Trendpedia is a blog search engine that enables tracking and graphing of topics and term comparison. It can help benchmark your company vs. your competitors by running the same search and parameters before and after the beginning of your engagement campaign.

Companies that embrace social media are reaping its rewards. By creating a dialogue with key stakeholders, they are able to get a better sense of how they are perceived by their target audiences, and their customers are empowered to talk with them, not at them. If implemented thoughtfully and correctly, this engagement can be instrumental in achieving your goals.

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