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All you need to know about social media for SMBs

There are so many social networks out there now, all with different uniquely inventive ways to share and communicate, some of those could help you share content from your business and increase customer loyalty and ultimately increase conversions.

I am going to talk about benefits which are disputed, not clear and crystal clear. Some will be a clearer benefit to one person whilst sounding dodgy to the other, like something smells fishy, but that’s hard to tell because they also smell a rat whilst they can’t help but think they are getting the short end of the stick and that I am, in fact, stretching the truth; hopefully my love of idioms won’t sow the seeds of suspicion for you too.

The first step to understanding the more disputed benefit is to understand what a “nofollow” link is…

Nofollow

To begin the story of the nofollow link you must first understand how google uses links to gauge which website has the best content.

When google is deciding which website will be more relevant to the search query many factors are considered, links are considered this way; if the massively authoritative website B links to website A, that link will boost the authority of website B.

Back in 2004 the internet was full of fascinating blogs on a great variety of subjects, however black hat SEO techniques included finding a popular blog and spamming links to their own site in the comments section.

The fable of the nofollow

A blogger once had a huge blog water tower, which after much time and hard work, starts to become quite full of what is known as “link juice”; the more link juice, the better the ranking on SERPs (search engine results pages). Occasionally someone would visit with a bucket of the finest link juice through linking to the blogger’s website, because of this sharing of quality link juice they would receive a blessing from the pantheon of Gods (the company of Google), in the form of link juice clouds to fill their tower; in return the blogger gave them some of their link juice and received a blessing in the same way.

The towers were full of link juice, the content was good and the information was relevant, most of all the Gods were content.

But noticing the amount of link juice left vulnerable, the black hatters stormed the blogger’s water tower with hand drills and buckets. Stealing as much link juice as they could by spam-posting links to their website in the blog’s comments section without any reciprocation! The black hatters have filled their water tower with too many conflicting flavours and made link juice into link sludge, the Gods may direct people to the black hatters’ water towers to taste but no one will stay to sample much.

The Gods start to notice they are directing people to the black hatters sludge towers. This provoked the God, Matt Cutts (and popular blogger of the time, Jason Shellen) to lash out and suggest that the water towers should be made of a super hand-drill-resistant material called nofollow...ium. The problem was solved and the black hatters gave up on the theft of link juice… this way. DUN DUN DUUUUN!

The introduction of nofollow gave bloggers the power to nofollow-tag links, stopping Google from using the authority of the linking website to boost the other websites ranking in SERPs and dissuading SEO experts from spamming blogs. Nofollow is commonly used on blogs and social media.

If links posted on social networks are nofollow why should I use it?

Apart from the debated benefits of social I will go through first, there are some definite indirect benefits which could give you that elusive missing element your company has been searching for. So don’t discount social just yet, remember that the authority of an external link is only one of the factors considered when ranking your website and nofollow links only affect that one factor.

Does social authority cause higher SERP ranking?

There are some in the SEO world who believe that the amount of followers is a ranking factor in Google’s algorithm, and who could argue with them with studies like this? (full study found here)

Well… about who would argue with them, that would be the rest of the SEO world. The counter point they would make about this study is that it is only correlation rather than causation i.e. just because the top google results have lots of likes it doesn’t mean that they had anything to do with how they got to their position.

How I see it there are three ways you could look at these results: social signals caused high SERP ranking, high SERP ranking caused likes and shares or that both SERP ranking and the number of social signals are high without influencing each other greatly. Which caused which to what is impossible to know (and not that easy to say), ultimately if you are studying civil engineering you should probably start eating some mozzarella…

From searching for evidence to validate any side’s opinion I have discovered none. Those at the top of the SEO game seem to believe Matt Cutts, Google’s spokesperson at the time. In 2014 Matt said

“But as far as doing special, specific work to sort of say, oh, you have this many followers on twitter or this many likes on Facebook, to the best of my knowledge, we don’t currently                           have any signals like that in our web search ranking algorithms.”

So as far as I’m concerned whether they do or do not, right now, they probably will take social into account more in the future. Plus, having a presence on social networks has more than enough benefits before even looking at this.

Benefits of having a social presence

I have made a diagram showing the effects of having a social presence and the flow goes like this; once you set up your company pages and post some content you might start gaining likes or shares. When people see your page or content with shares and likes on they will be more inclined to go with the crowd, which will have a ripple effect increasing website visits, which is a ranking factor for SERPs, as well as other things like brand awareness, reputation and loyalty which are not as directly connectable to SERPs but may lead to higher click through rates, which are a ranking signal.

social sharing effect on serps search engine results pages follow links and no follow links

Google’s bias

Google seems to favour Google+ for search results though (who could have guessed?) as you can see when searching for iD30 the results are as expected but with a special box which is more visually appealing and right at the top of the search results.

If you are signed into Google when searching any of your friends on Google+ who have +1’d a page will have caused that page to gain in page rank. Google sees this as more relevant to you as you are more likely to have similar interests to your friends.

This benefits anyone with a google plus account and as it doesn’t show as part of the main results list on the left it doesn’t affect any other results, the only thing is the other social networks don’t get this same treatment and have to fend for page ranking themselves. Still, we are social reports that google plus is the third largest social network by active users, but it is totally eclipsed by Facebook with more than 4 times the active users.

If only Facebook had a search engine right? Well they kind of do. They have that search bar at the top left of pages, it’s a bit more subtle than Google’s approach but that’s because they are social network first, search… somewhere less than first. So think about it, if Google is called bias of their social network, on their search engine... Is Facebook bias of their search engine on their social network?

Social proof

The main point to take away from this is that people use social networks a lot and will be exploring, searching and discovering products and businesses in a similar way to using Google, the bonus on social networks is the social proof on everything a person sees.

Social proof, also known as informational social influence, is a psychological               phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect                 correct behavior for a given situation.

Oh some of my friends thought this was a good company… I’ll buy from there then…

Many people like to compare what they are about to buy online with alternatives and at the same time save as much of their time as possible. A friend’s “like” is more trusted than an online review or product description and takes basically no time to judge the product.

Customer service

Exposure is a good thing and something social networks do well. One thing exposure is good for on social networks is customer service. More and more customers are choosing to share their experiences on social networks and when companies don’t get involved they are missing out on some easy damage control.

A customer posting a complaint on a social network and not getting a response is comparable to someone approaching a customer service desk and sharing their problem to the helpful looking assistant, only to find that the assistant stares blankly back at them without saying a word.

Okay, maybe a social network response is expected to be less instant than a customer service desk (Convince and Convert say 42% expect a response within an hour, 32% expect a response within 30 minutes), but the analogy is there, and whilst we are being pedantic we should remember that a complaint on a social network is exposed to far more people than a customer service desk, so let’s add a crowd of people around that desk and make sure they are all paying attention.

Now would you want to keep your employee staring at the customer or would you rather have them respond and solve the problem, impressing the crowd and creating assurances in all those people’s minds that if they had a problem with your company’s products it would be swiftly solved?

But don’t just take my word for it… Check out some of these stories, you might be impressed or just laugh a little and that’s exactly how the public is reacting too.

There are some good customer service wins and fails on Ansaback, reading through some could give you insights on how to respond to customers with… unique queries. For example Sainsbury’s gets accused of selling chicken beaten by Hulk Hogan and what else can they do but admit and suggest a suitable replacement.

As the caption says, when you get a negative comment the response should be helpful if there is anything to help with or funny if not, and by funny I mean funny to everyone including the customer and audience.

Options we don’t suggest you use

You could always take one of the other choices such as reporting the comment as abuse, but that might make your brand look like the kid in school who tells the teacher about anything and everything someone says to upset them, even if it is true.

If you respond to an obviously abusive comment in a calm and professional manor people will start to distrust the original comment, if you report it and hide it the people who did see it will see you as guilty, even if you aren’t. Extreme cases such as spam should be reported but don’t make yourself look guilty if you aren’t.

There is also making a joke which ends up looking like an insult with no humour, but that might enrage not only the customer but the internet as a whole and that can be quite destructive, as some have found out.

Just be careful when directing a joke at a person not an object or concept etcetera, if the person has commented with humour directed at your brand it could be good to direct some sass back their way, or in the case of Sainsbury’s many many puns. (Sainsbury’s do social media well)

Not responding at all is also another favourite or taking obscene amounts of time to respond too, but again, not going to end well and if the customer is already upset about one aspect of your business; they will be more likely to pick apart other things too.

Obviously it’s a reasonable comment from… the customer whose name I can’t manage to pronounce (or type), but the validity of this comment will vary from business to business, so don’t think you need 24/7 support if you are an ecommerce store selling pretty normal categories of product.

Dealing with customer queries on Twitter can be quite annoying because of the 140 character limit. If you can respond to a public customer query whilst staying in the public view you should, because seeing queries that start with the question and end with “please contact us through X” are uncertain and unfinished in the customers mind and basically look unanswered.

Reading through a few customer queries and how brands were responding I felt myself getting invested in the customer’s stories and when one was transferred away from social media I was left curious. I’m not saying everyone will be like this, but my point is that social is all about sharing and it shouldn’t be hidden.

Obviously if the conversation would involve personal details of the customer you should ask for that information via a different channel, just say something like “If you could send an Email to info@cstmrsrvc.com with your order number we can continue dealing with your query here” (116 characters… not bad) customers who approach you via more private customer service channels don’t have to switch and in fact it might be more difficult and unwanted by the customer.

To deal with the 140 character limit on twitter I’ve seen some companies who simply add “1/2” at the end of the tweet to indicate that the tweet continues onto “2/2”… genius!

By far the worst option, but still used by some, is blatantly insulting the customer in front of the whole internet.

To clarify, Amy's Baking Company Bakery Boutique and Bistro (what a mouth full) appeared on Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and was the first time a restaurant transformation was cancelled due to conflict with the owners. The result was a lot more profile visits and comments, however I’m not sure Amy’s Bakery were not too happy about the comments they received.

Increase customer problem solving

If you think about it, you are going to get the same amount of customers having problems with your products despite what you do to your customer services, but not all customers will actually approach you and give you the chance to solve those problems.

So your goal here is to make it as easy as possible to contact you, within reason, don’t start following people around, though that would make you quite easy to reach, it could be seen as creepy. Social networks are the closest to “as easy as possible” you can get without invading someone’s privacy. Using social networks you can encourage more customers to contact you to solve their problems.

Click through rate (CTR)

One of the more foreseeable results of increasing brand awareness, reputation and loyalty is an increased CTR on SERPs. So when result number 3 for a search for “lamp” is getting clicked the most, Google thinks “oh maybe that result should be higher up because more people are drawn to it” and it might move to the number 2 position.

Obviously the time spent on the link and whether the searcher returns to the query page is taken into account too, but overall, click through rate is seen by many as a strong ranking signal, however, note that although Bing have said they use CTR as a ranking signal Google has not confirmed that they use it.

How does this relate to Social?

Imagine a customer searches for hiking boots on google and your company GoHike appears on the first page alongside many other hiking boot companies all of which the searcher hasn’t heard of before, but they remember seeing GoHike on Facebook and are drawn to that link purely out of familiarity.

Click… and your click through rate has increased, just because of your social presence.

Relevant and engaging content is the only way to transform these initial clicks into full length sessions on your website, but I'm sure you've got that covered.

Selling

Social selling... hmm, this type of selling is more of an add-on to your existing shop than an option to be used solely. Mainly though, you can create posts about your products by showcasing them, the best idea would be not to try and sell these in the tradition sense.

Just sharing and showing with no agenda for creating sales will relax fans enough to want to share something they like, and it’s through this increased product awareness and sharing you will pick up extra sales.

As for influencing, well from the section of an infographic from Branching Out Europe shown below its pretty easy to deduce that social networks can be very influential when it comes to buying decisions.

So from seeing what a blogger has written, what a friend has commented on or even what a brand posts can carry people towards a certain product over others.

With a 12% growth in social over the last year, as shown above, over 31% of referral traffic to all sites coming from social sites, 7.7% referral traffic to just retail sites , as well as the eCommerce marketshare of Europe and the USA increasing 16.7% and 9.5% respectively, you can use those deduction skills again to determine that it's likely that opportunities for eCommerce businesses to gain sales from social network referrals is going to be increasing along with these three statistics... if that still isn’t enough statistics for you then you can have another, 8.2% and 10% increase in internet users for Europe and the USA respectively which could be seen to lead to sales again, but to me this seems a little too far detached to consider as much as the others.

Learn about your audience

Analytics built into business social pages can help identify your fans and customers, something that would cost a lot more than nothing to gather through other means.

Identifying your audience can help you create other product ideas from other common interests. Imagine you run a angling shop. Do your customers share an interest in cooking as well as fishing? If you wanted to expand into recipes the opportunity has been identified by your customers, and they are likely to be interested.

As well as identifying new opportunities, learning about your audience can help you to...

Target

The information gathered from social network analytics can be used to target customers more accurately, perhaps you have found out that 50% of your fans have an iPhone… maybe you should make an iPhone app to appeal to the majority of your audience as only 20% have Android phones and the other 30% are mixed.

There is so much you could do with more information, instead of blindly guessing what sort of product your customers would be most satisfied with you can have an educated guess.

Collaboration with fans/customers

In the past businesses have sought customer feedback to influence their products and ideas, because in the end it’s the customers who are going to buy the product so it makes sense that the product is what the customer wants.

There have been different approaches to idea generation, famously Steve Jobs said “A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them.” But he was talking about creating complicated technological products.

The other approach more commonly used is to use focus groups and other methods to gauge how successful a prototype of a product will be before launching, these groups are not always accurate because of size and demographic factors but by using a social network as a method to gauge potential product success has far more reach in terms of accuracy and quantity.

Asking fans of your business about something you are working on is perfect. You have all the people who have told you they like your business gathered together, asking them what they want is important because they will most likely be the ones who buy your product when it is finished.

Once you establish a social presence you can take it even further; fans might have discussions about your company and products, so why not see what they are saying or join in. They might come up with one of the best ideas your company has ever had, and you know that it will sell because it has been requested straight from your customers.

The End

Social networks offer amazing opportunities for increasing your SERPs, page visits, brand awareness, brand reputation, click through rates,  adding social proof, strengthening customer service, solving more customer problems, influencing purchase decisions, learning about your audience, collaborating with fans and customers, and probably many more I haven’t mentioned.

Be careful out there, the wrong approach can damage your business, but it’s the same for anything you do with your business. Things only seem to go wrong on social media for businesses who react the wrong way to a simple complaint. Most stay under the radar but some get huge amounts of free publicity, good and bad. Which one will you be?

 

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