Search engine marketers know how important it is to think about the words that they don’t want their company or brands to be associated with. But few people apply the same keyword rigour when posting to social networks. In this post, I’ll explain why this is important and how you can turn negative keywords into big positives for your business.
First up, what is a negative keyword? A negative keyword is any word or phrase that you do not want to associate with your business. Let’s imagine we’re running a hotel, Frost Mansion, that offers luxury spa retreats for adults. Your guests pay handsomely to stay at your hotel because they enjoy the calm, child-free environment, together with likeminded grown-ups. It’s pretty clear that you don’t want your hotel to attract groups of children. In fact the last thing you want is a family with kids turning up with a reservation ready to destroy the peace and tranquillity.
Here are two examples of how you might describe your hotel, the first is a fairly safe bet, while the second presents an awkward ‘negative keyword’ challenge:
Unwittingly, the inclusion of the word ‘child’ in the second example could, in some circumstances, lead to your hotel becoming discovered by someone searching for luxury spa retreats with children. And while the major search engines are getting better at understanding the semantic meaning of phrases like “child-free”, until they perfect this there’s a risk that even a mention of a negative keyword could have the opposite to the intended effect.
This exact same discipline is needed with updates to social networks. There’s no point optimising your website and display ads if you don’t apply the same rigour to your social media updates. Consider the difference that the following tweets might have on the type of business your hotel could attract:
The first tweet will show up in searches for ‘weekend hotel offer children’, potentially attracting the wrong type of clientele. And don;t think that including the phrase “sorry no children” will work all the time; people scan online content and routinely gloss over important details like this.
In contrast, the second tweet avoids this risk completely by excluding negative keywords relating to children.
To turn the negatives into positives is easy. Here’s my 7 step process for making sure your social updates avoid the pitfalls:
Define all the positive things you want your brand to be famously associated with. If your brand is well-established you should have this list already in your defined brand essence or value propositions. (e.g. words like premium, quality and luxury may feature in our Frost Mansion example)
Prune back the positives lists to the most important aspects that differentiate your brand within its sector, grouping into categories where it helps. Make sure every word really deserves its place on the positives list
Now define the things you don’t want to become famous for; these are your negatives. To prevent this from becoming an extremely long list stick to topics and themes that could reasonably apply to your industry sector but which you don’t want to become associated to your brand (e.g. Frost mansion would want to avoid words like cheap, bargain, discount and, of course, children)
Refine your negatives list, removing duplicates and making sure you’ve covered all the major bases. Be creative with your thinking; it’s better to agree on the negatives now than to leave any ambiguity that might create uncertainty later.
You may spot some groups or categories of negatives. If so, group together synonyms into clusters, each representing a major theme area that you wish to avoid becoming associated with.
Now share your positive and negative lists with all customer-facing staff, explaining the importance of repeatedly using the positive words and the danger of using the negatives
Update your social media biographies, avatars and content plan to eradicate all negative keywords and maximise the use of positive keywords. Editing recent posts may be advisable if you’ve used lots of negatives previously. Be sure to use the same negatives across your entire online marketing plan including SEO
To help instil adoption of the new keyword list, it may help to run a fun competition amongst staff to find the most creative ways of using positive keywords. I’ve even seen a tongue-in-cheek Wall of Shame with mugshots of community managers who have accidentally dropped a negative into one of their updates or comments!
But most importantly, make using the lists an enjoyable challenge; you’ll be amazed how much fun you can have trying to find ways to dodge the negatives and accentuate the positives.
The Social Command Centre—a kind of NASA Ground Control for social media hub teams in organisations—is an increasingly common sight these days inside large organisations. Here’s a snap of Microsoft’s latest prototype, which I saw running on a visit this week to their UK Campus:
The big idea behind command centres like this is to provide an at-a glance view of interesting things happening on the social web. In Microsoft’s case this equates to monitoring their own accounts across a variety of channels as well as any trending social chatter about selected products and services,
In reality though, having a whole bank of screens—I’ve seen as many as twenty—creates a wall of data that is sometimes very hard to analyse and understand without an army of community managers and data analysts. Unless you’re running a presidential election or overseeing a high-profile public event with millions of viewers, the chances are an oversized command centre may eventually prove as useful as an inflatable dartboard.
There’s is, however, a different purpose that a wall of screens can serve, and that’s to create a focal point for the company’s social media listening and response activities. For Microsoft, the monitors you see above help remind staff and executives that there’s a world outside of the corporate headquarters. Making a public show that you’re listening to the chatter and working hard to engage with customers in real-time sends a powerful signal across the organisation. This was the guiding principle behind Nokia’s social visualiser Agora (watch video), which was placed in public areas like staff canteens and thoroughfares within their office locations.
Of course, the Social Command Centre isn’t a new idea. Many other companies including Gatorade, Salesforce, Dell and NVIDIA have all publicly showcased monitor-laden operations centres. But for many the question remains, is this actually a useful tool for improving the effective use of social media marketing, a cheap way to inject outside influence onto an internal organisational culture or just an extravagant way to lend social media a much-needed air of credibility?
What do you think?
A recent survey by GI Insight shines a light on our love-hate relationship with commercial messages within social media platforms.
An overwhelming 92% of British consumers surveyed stated their wish to “keep advertising very separate from real chat”, while 82% said that they use social media a lot but don’t want it invaded by advertising or commercial messages. This aversion to commercial practices is even stronger amongst young people with 88% of 18-24 year olds being opposed to advertising intrusions.
But these same consumers are also quite happy to interact with brands and companies while using social networks with 64% saying they have “liked or friended brand pages.”
What are we to make of these rather contradictory statistics? This disconnect is not new. Most consumers reject the idea of TV advertising interrupting their viewing while also claiming to enjoy watching some of the ads. It’s a very natural response; given a choice we’d all choose to have our cake and eat it.
The web doesn’t work that way though. The only economically-viable way to enjoy the many wonders of the Internet is to accept that someone has to pay for it, and this normally means agreeing to consume advertising messages.
What should companies do in the face of these new findings? A good place to start is to recognise that there’s a very fine line between between a helpful, friendly connection on the social web and a stalking, hard-selling PITA who deserves to be unfriended:
Keep your commercial messages to a minimum, using them only when you have a really strong offer or deal that consumers would hate to miss out on.
When advertising online, make sure it’s clear what is a commercial message and what isn’t. Disguising your commercial materials as social chat or reviews is an absolute no-go and any form of hard-sell will be rejected by many.
Don’t contact customers or prospects directly through social media channels (86% of consumers say they would be “seriously put off a brand” if this happened to them) but invite them to contact you if your offer is strong enough to warrant it.
To read more, download the full report from GI Insight from this link (.pdf).
Facebook’s new Graph Search (currently in Beta testing to limited users only) will eventually allow anyone to search data across the platform and precisely identify people with common interests. For example, if looking for a a companion for a lunchtime snack you will be able to instantly search for “friends who work at my company and like sushi.” Or a weekend trip to a new city could be improved by searching for “museums my friends have been to in Paris”. Basically, almost any semantic search query you can type in 112 characters or less will soon be enabled.
It’s not yet known how users will embrace this new feature but there’s no doubt this creates many new possibilities to identify specific tribes on the world’s largest social networking platform.
Thankfully, even though you cannot opt out of your data being used in Graph Search, the search results presented will respect each user’s privacy settings at the moment the search is conducted. If your privacy settings state that your activity on Facebook should be restricted to friends, then so too will be the ability to search your data.
I suspect that this may lead to more Facebook users locking down settings to reduce the risk of their personal data falling into the wrong hands. If you haven’t done this already, now would be a good time. And go back through your Activity Log (not your Timeline) and delete anything that you do not want to become instantly searchable.
So, while today many people think it’s relatively harmless to ‘Like’ a Facebook page about recreational drugs or their religious affiliations, once Graph Search is fully enabled, those choices may come back to haunt. Human Resources Managers, for example, could be forgiven for wanting to identify “people who work at my company who like weed.” Already, there are some fairly dramatic examples cropping up showing how this search functionality could be abused, including “Mothers of Jews who like Bacon” or “Married People who like Prostitutes.”
The greatest hope, perhaps, is that the introduction of Graph Search will make Facebook users more aware of how their data can be used, making them more selective in choosing what to ‘Like’ and associate themselves with across the social network. And that, ultimately, is what Facebook wants too.
And to all those companies that have built their Facebook fan base on short term incentives and prizes I’d urge you to be particularly attentive. If many of those ‘friends’ you’ve attracted turn out to be the sort of people who will ‘like’ almost anything online, irrespective of how wholesome or appropriate it is for your brand, the public relations challenges ahead could be damaging.
Back in 2009, Takk Takk, a small marketing and communications agency in Iceland, was tasked by the Icelandic Tourist Board with finding ways to promote the island through social media.
Instead of following the now well-worn path of creating profiles for the brand on Facebook and Twitter, Takk Takk followed an altogether different route, creating a profile for Iceland itself on “the Inter-nets” as a whole.
Put simply, they told the world that “Iceland Wants To Be Your Friend.”
Through a delightful tone of voice, highly distinctive copywriting and some quirky little features*, Iceland quickly carved out an enthusiastic online following. If only more tourist boards had the wisdom to embrace creativity like this.
But there’s little point me explaining any further. It’s far better that you just go and find out for yourself direct from the Takk Takk guys. Read the background to the campaign at http://www.takktakk.com/presents/icelandwantstobeyourfriend/.
Delightful, intelligent work, beautifully executed.
* I love the footer copy on http://www.icelandwantstobeyourfriend.com/ and the hidden delight of finding a free music download right at the end. It’s a good track too. Thanks Iceland!
It’s the business equivalent of going out with your skirt tucked in.
That time when your marketing efforts are so obviously focussed on a single goal, you fail to leave anything to the customer’s imagination.
And instead of joining in, your customers just feel pity that your sorry attempts to steer them towards your business objective have failed so badly.
DeVere Group Hotels seems to be falling into this trap rather regularly. Despite being one of their customers, all they seem to want me to do is show how much I ‘like’ them on Facebook. And if I do I could win a stay in one of their hotels. Or a £50 spot prize every week. Or a prize. Did we mention the prizes?
Sometimes they invite people to complete a survey, as explained on the business cards and billboards dotted around their hotels. But you can only enter the survey after first giving them a ‘like’ on Facebook:
Other times, they send out aesthetically-challenged emails, enticing people in with more special prizes. All you have to do is give them a ‘Like’ on Facebook:
So that’s four mentions of ‘like’ in a single email.
It’s akin to hearing the least popular kid at school pleading for someone to be friends with them.
This isn’t how marketing is supposed to work. Where’s the creativity, where the mystery and intrigue?
When your hidden agenda is glaringly conspicuous, can you really expect those customers who comply to feel good about themselves? Or will they just feel used and abused?
But, maybe it works. If your measure of success is counting the number of people who follow your desperate cries for help, then perhaps it does work. A quick glance at De Vere Hotels’ Facebook page shows a sharp jump in the number of likes, averaging around 2,000 new likes per week, although dipping slightly recently:
That’s nice. And what’s the value of 5,106 likes? Sadly, if they’ve all been collected through short term prize incentives that demonstrate no long-term loyalty or affinity to the brand their value is zero. Nothing. Nada. The square root of FA.
5,106 likes is nothing more than puffery and noise, something for a misguided brand manager to crow about to distract the rest of the business from the fact that they’ve been abusing the trust customers have placed in them.
However well-intentioned, this approach to social media marketing is neither wise nor effective. Yes, there’s a possibility that De Vere Group may have some brilliant plan up its sleeve to ignite this new community into a passionate army of influencers that will transform their business. But, as yet, there’s no evidence of anything more than an ill-judged social networking land grab taking place before our eyes.
Marketing in a real-time, two-way world doesn’t have to be this shallow. If your strategy bears any resemblance to that of De Vere Hotels Group, now would be a very good time to change.