Bad customer service? Angry customers will go all social media on you

One of the most effective uses of social media – Twitter, in particular – is customer service. For customers who are frustrated after leaving voice messages that go unanswered and letters and emails that get nothing but an autoreply, telling the Twitterverse about your problem is immensely satisfying.  Even better, the well-placed tweet and viral retweets can generate a lot of attention and a response. Thanks to social media, it’s no longer one customer vs. a massive company; it’s one customer and an army of followers poised for attack.

Savvy smaller companies who are closer to their customers seem to get this. They’re nimble and responsive enough to provide speedy and specific answers to customers who take to Twitter to air their complaints or compliments. Bigger companies seem to be moving more slowly in reacting efficiently to customers via social media, but are establishing a customer service presence. All are finding their way in resolving the awesome power of digital word of mouth.

I followed a few such examples on Twitter this week. On a very local level, someone visited a popular new restaurant and gave her meal a glowing review. But she called out an overzealous waiter who made her experience less than perfect. The restaurant thanked her – but made light of her criticism of the waiter. She fired back a barrage of specifics. Her followers joined in the conversation, retweeting her complaint and commenting on their own annoying waiter experiences. Result? A popular new restaurant with nary a blemish suddenly gets pegged among local foodies as having bothersome service.  And – it is hoped – the restaurant learned a lesson and corrected its internal problem.

On a global level, consider the butt of constant consumer complaints: the airline industry. It’s very easy to broadcast your unhappiness from the gate where you’re starting hour three of waiting for your plane to board. For the airlines, it’s more challenging, but smarter, to acknowledge the problem and address it. I followed the Twitter feed of an airline that’s notorious for its lack of any customer service – Spirit Airlines – and found a steady stream of self-promotion and no customer interaction. On the other hand, Delta Airlines’ Delta Assist does nothing but help individuals. They look into specific delays, respond to complaints and compliments alike, and field questions about filthy restrooms and missed connections. Their team is identified by first name, and their tweets are in the first person. It’s a personal touch that’s been missing from airline customer service for a long time.

Whatever your company, the customer is always right, even when he or she is wrong. Social media provides the means for full expression of their experience. Make sure you harness this power, or risk the wrath of countless followers who now have a powerful means to make their voices heard, 140 characters at a time.

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Facebook: Share and Share a-Like…

Well, they’ve done it again. Facebook has changed the rules of the playground once more, which is easy to do when you’re the ones who have created the playground! The latest update tweaks the way the “Like” button works on third-party sites.

Now when you click the “Like” button on a participating site or within an app, it inserts the headline, a segment of the story and an associated image for all to see. Previously, it simply published just a single line under Recent Activity.

What’s effectively changed is that Facebook is no longer developing the “Share” button functionality. The result is that more referral traffic will be driven to third-party sites that choose to link up with Facebook.  If anything, this adjustment will force us to think a second longer before we click that “Like” button. Do we truly want ALL of our friends to see that we like that particular story?

Previously, you could simply “Share” news but it didn’t necessarily get categorized as being something you actually liked. This can lead to some awkward moments. For example, I saw a note in a related forum about a scenario regarding a co-worker who had passed away. To share the news, his friends posted the story. The unfortunate result was:

Dave ********* passed away due to his long battle with cancer. 46 people Like this.

So, there are definitely some kinks that Facebook needs to iron out. Eventually, the modification should benefit users, Facebook and their partners equally. From my standpoint, I like the fact that (hopefully) compelling content will be more readily available. After all, the point is to initiate dialogue among friends, right?

So, a few third-party sites will see increased traffic along the way. I can handle that. What’s your take? 

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Team Sheen: Are We Really All That Surprised?!?

Where to begin? Sorry to fuel the beast any further, but this has reached heights never Sheen before … sorry, couldn’t resist ;) . So, Charlie Sheen’s long-term publicist quits. No worries! That just meant it was time to open a Twitter account. Beyond the obvious damage control, at least from an exposure standpoint, you can’t say that Sheen isn’t his own best publicist.

To top it off, the son-of-a-gun goes out and sets the world record (yes, Guinness has confirmed it) for the fastest ever to reach one million followers. (For the record, I’m not one of them). Remarkably, he did it in a hair over 25 hours.

Now, Sheen has taken the bizarre step of posting a job opening for a social media intern and is working directly with ad.ly, a company that connects consumers to celebrities through social media. Celebrities will tweet about a brand to their followers, while on Facebook they’ll post updates to their fans.

Their “celeb team” ranges from Snoop Dog to Charlie and brands include the likes of Best Buy, Sony and NBC. (I wonder whether CBS will stay away, given recent developments). Through all of this, ad.ly has gained a lifetime’s worth of press, and we discover yet another fascinating way that social media is paving its own path.

Ad.ly’s business model is smart. I view it as product placement (or in this case, simply celebrity placement) into our lives. The difference is subtle, but reveals yet another happy marriage of product and celebrity endorsement. Just the medium has changed. Good for Best Buy, Sony, NBC and the rest for realizing the benefits of this. And yes, I guess good for Charlie as well… 

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The Brand Your Brand Could Smell Like

Does your marketing plan involve action figures?

Maybe it should.

When I was a kid, I had three action figures: the ubiquitous G.I. Joe, a creepy guy named Stretch Armstrong whose left arm I eventually cut off to see what kind of toxic goo was inside, and an Action Jackson who looked a lot like G.I. Joe with a tan. Most of the “action” they saw involved being launched across the yard with homemade slingshots, holding lit firecrackers until they exploded, and being gnawed by family pets – sometimes all in the same day.

Oh, how times have changed.

According to a story I read in Time recently, there are three tiny new heroes in town. These are no average Joes, though – G.I. or otherwise. These action figures come straight out of the world of advertising. That’s right – the “actions” in this case are drinking beer in the company of beautiful women (Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in the World), causing accidents (Allstate’s Mayhem) and smelling good while not wearing a shirt (Old Spice’s Man Your Man Could Smell Like).

All three of these characters now have their own diminutive doppelgangers.

That people want a replica of these pitchmen sitting around their home or office speaks volumes about the success of the campaigns with which they are associated. And they do want them – as of today, Man Your Man Could Smell Like is sold out.

So, when you are considering your go-to-market plan, maybe you should remember the classic Volkswagen ad from the sixties – and Think Small.

What advertising icon would you like to see turned into an action figure?

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SEO Analytics: How to Measure Organic Success

Visits increased last month! Visitors spent more time on the site and viewed more pages per visit. Congratulations!

Now what do you do with that information? If you’re stumped, please keep reading. If you never get past your Google Analytics dashboard, please keep reading. If you still refer to website visits as “hits,” please keep reading.

The Most Costly Mistake Website Owners Make

There are lots of places to spend money to market your business online. You could buy banner ads, pay for premium listings in the online yellow pages, bid on clicks from Google AdWords, hire an SEO firm or build an email marketing campaign.  

There are countless ways to spend your marketing dollars. It doesn’t matter which tactics you deploy, the biggest mistake you could make is not measuring how well each marketing dollar performs.

I’m not just talking about overall visits, page views or time on site. The most important metrics are based on outcomes, such as a lead form completion, phone call, e-commerce transaction, or white paper download.  These are the visitor actions that actually propel your business forward and generate sales. We call them “conversion events” or simply “goals.”

How to Measure SEO Campaigns

SEO campaigns are a bit trickier to measure than a normal advertising campaign. It can be hard to tell what constitutes a successful SEO strategy, but we have a few tricks that will help you understand how effective your efforts are.

Remember that trends are the best indicator of success. When possible, look at data over a period of weeks, months or years to compare to previous performance rather than just focusing on one data point.

Metric 1: Organic, Non-Branded Visits

Let’s break this down. “Organic” visits are simply clicks from a search engine’s primary search results, not the sponsored links. “Non-branded” refers to clicks on keywords that don’t contain your company name or other clues that could indicate the visitor already has some awareness of your company and was seeking you specifically.

For example, Bob’s Used Autos in Miami would want to increase traffic from non-branded keywords such as “used car dealers in Miami.” An increase in searches for “Bob’s Used Autos in Miami” might indicate his TV ads are helping build awareness, but the non-branded traffic is purely incremental.

To track this metric, filter your Traffic Sources > Keywords report by “non-paid” visits. Next, exclude your brand names in the Keyword Filter at the bottom of the list.  Finally, you’ll have an accurate count of organic, non-branded search visits.

Advanced Tip: Set up an Advanced Segment (https://www.google.com/support/googleanalytics/bin/answer.py?answer=108039&hl=en_US) to make this analysis easier in the future, and to compare goal conversion rates for this segment against branded terms, PPC traffic and other sources.

Metric 2: Unique Landing Pages

To get an idea of how Google values your content, you’ll want to know how many unique pages are receiving organic, non-branded traffic. This is a great indicator of how many pages rank well enough in Google to get clicks.

If your site has 10,000 product pages, wouldn’t you want to know if only 100 of them are getting any traffic from your SEO campaigns?  To track this metric in Google Analytics, use the Content > Top Landing Pages report and change your Advanced Segments to Non-paid Search Traffic.  Now, your Top Landing Pages report will show your most popular landing pages for organic search traffic.

Spend some time reviewing this list and looking for gaps in your site structure. You might be able to identify pages or sections of your site that are noticeably absent.

Over time, you can use this report to see if Google is sending traffic to more of your pages as your search visibility improves. If not, reconsider your SEO strategy and focus on filling in the gaps.

Advanced Tip: Compare bounce rates on your top landing pages to identify pages where visitors land but immediately leave without clicking deeper into your site. Are you missing any opportunities to convert them into customers?

Metric 3: Goal Conversion Rates

Remember, traffic is good, but conversions are the real reason your site exists. If your site isn’t converting visitors into customers efficiently, you may be wasting money and missing opportunities to grow your business, lead pipelines or ad revenue.

Website objectives depend on your business objectives.  If you need sales leads, measure lead form completions and track phone calls. If you sell products online, measure your e-commerce transaction rates and ROI. Whatever it is, it can be measured.

If you don’t know how to measure your desired outcomes, consider hiring a web analytics consultant to configure your site to track these events and design a simple reporting structure that shows you the information you need to make more informed business decisions.

By comparing the conversion rates from your organic, non-branded search visits over time, you can see whether or not your SEO efforts are attracting higher quality traffic in addition to (or instead of) higher quantities.  Quality always trumps quantity.

Advanced Tip: Assign dollar values to goals that don’t necessarily generate direct revenue so you can measure the impact of your traffic sources and compare them apples-to-apples. For example, if 10% of the people who download your white paper become customers, and a new customer is worth $100 to your business, assign a goal value of $10.

Wait, What About Search Rankings?

You noticed I didn’t even mention search rankings as an SEO metric? I don’t think rankings matter anymore. Given the highly personalized, geo-targeted, socially influenced rankings that Google and Bing provide today, no two people see the same search results in the same order.

Try searching for a keyword from your office computer and compare it to results you see at home. Search while logged into Google and when logged out. Compare your search results pages to your office-mates. They will be tailored to each person’s search history and preferences.

Once you realize and acknowledge this, search rankings are best considered an ego metric. Higher rankings make us feel better, but if traffic, sales and other metrics are not improving, your business is no better off in position 1 than position 100.

In Conclusion

Sales matter. Leads matter. Total visits and rankings are fun to look at but provide no real insight into how well your website is performing. Focus on the metrics that drive your business and adjust your strategies to continually improve them.

Andrew Miller is a Search Engine Marketing Consultant based in Richmond, Virginia, and a frequent contributor to our clients’ success online and offline with SEO, PPC, web analytics and conversion rate optimization strategies.

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