The case of McKeith

July 23rd, 2010

Another week, another Twitter PR disaster. By now, no doubt you’ll have heard about the whole Gillian McKeith debacle: if not, you can find a useful summary on the Guardian website.

There is nothing the usually benign (though swift to become a baying horde) citizens of Twitter like less than duplicity. McKeith’s big mistake was not in trying to defend an unpopular view: Twitter is populated with many millions of users doing just that every day, both for comedic and more sinister purposes.

Her mistake was in subsequently trying to cover up her comments. That she did so ineffectually barely matters: even if all trace had been eradicated from her own website; even if her dissenters hadn’t been carefully taking screenshots and retweeting for future evidence, McKeith is clearly unaware that these days, almost all web presence is aggregated, mirrored, and pushed out in countless places across the Internet.

Forget the Wayback machine: these days Twitter has its own archive. Furthermore, many folks link up their Facebook and Twitter profiles, and perhaps throw LinkedIn to the mix, too, meaning that your words are spread far beyond a single website. Then there are sites which collect all tweets on a certain subject and replicate them – without so much as a by your leave.

In short, your Twitter status updates, and all web content, should be thought of as a permanent record. That’s why, if you are representing your business online, you should exhibit the utmost transparency and honesty – and furthermore, you should think carefully about which members of your business you trust to do the same.

We’ve said it before, and we’ll keep on saying it: social media is a fantastic tool for business promotion, but for heaven’s sake be careful what you write.

July 19th, 2010

Here's proof, if it were needed, of Twitter's ever-increasing omnipotence: babies can now tweet from the womb. Yes, back in February, we reported that dogs can tweet: in our estimation, this is a step further into the realm of… well, the rather ridiculous.

The Kickbee is a fabric band that the pregnant mother can wear while relaxing on the sofa. Dad at work? No problem – with every kick of the foetus, he'll get a little alert on Twitter to remind him of what is growing back home. Just take a look at the video above for a graphic representation.

So, what's next? Tweeting from beyond the grave? You know, somehow I wouldn't be surprised if someone came up with that next.

July 14th, 2010

With the announcement that the beta version of Firefox 4 has been released, it’s that time again. Time to check how your own website looks on it, that is.

While the browser is only in beta (ie, a work in progress), it is currently available for download – its developers are hoping that users will report any bugs they discover before the official launch.

The new version, Mozilla tells us, contains “dozens of new features and improvements” (see them listed here) – each one of which might affect the display of your site. Of course, one hopes not – but it is always as well to check, especially with Firefox having a 46% share of the browser market as of June 2010.

Sounds complicated? We’d be delighted to do it for you: just one of the many services we can offer.

July 8th, 2010

Google, of course, pioneered the ‘pay per click’ method of advertising, where if the user doesn’t click, you pay nothing. Now YouTube (also now owned by Google) are introducing a similar scheme with adverts at the beginning of videos. If users choose the skip them, the advertiser will not pay.

But who wouldn’t skip, given the option, you may well ask. It seems that Google’s rationale is that folk will watch ads that are compelling enough: raising the bar will benefit both viewers and advertisers, and lead to an all-round happier world (erm, maybe).

It’s possible, I suppose – after all, some of the most successful viral campaigns have been based on videos so watchable that you feel you want to share them with your friends. Small businesses can take heart as well; it’s not necessarily big budgets that turn out the best adverts.

All it takes is a good idea, and a basic camcorder. And bingo – one more online channel to advertise on, should you feel the need. It may also be worth mentioning that excruciatingly awful adverts will be watched and passed on just as much as wonderful ones are…

June 29th, 2010

Are Facebook, Twitter and Flickr starting to look a bit old hat to you? Wishing you could do something a bit newer and groovier with your online presence? Then it could be time to look at Foursquare.

If this geo-location craze had thus far passed you by, think yourself lucky: for many of us, it’s registered only as an annoying way for our mates – before they work out how to control their accounts, in any case – to clog up our twitterstreams with inane pronouncements like “I just became the mayor of Burger King”.

Yes, at first glance, it’s little more than a game, where users ‘check in’ wherever they may go, and gain points or badges for doing so. However, there is more to it than that – and even some marketing potential. Take a look, for example, at the search results on Foursquare for our local area, Notting Hill, and you’ll see what we mean.

Each of the entries on that list represent a place that a Foursquare user has seen fit to register: straight away, one can see its usefulness for people new to the area, looking for cafes or pubs or any one of the many local businesses in the locale.

Now take a look at an individual listing for a local coffee shop: remember, this is not created by the shop itself, but by its customers. You can see that it has been ‘tagged’ with descriptive words like ‘bakery’: clicking on these will bring up other listings in the same category near the user’s location.

Equally important is the ‘tips’ section: purportedly for users to leave advice for others, this has become, for many businesses, a kind of review space. Again, as the owner of the business, you have no control over this: the age of user-generated content is truly upon us.

There is one area where you can have control, though, and really leverage Foursquare to your own advantage. Click on ‘are you the manager of this business?’, register, and you’ll be able to place special offers right there on the page. You can be as imaginative as you like: free services for anyone who mutters the secret password perhaps, or one big reward for each succeeding ‘mayor’?

It may be a short-lived craze, or it may evolve into something more complex, but for now, Foursquare is definitely a low-cost way to reach the early- and mid-cycle adopters. And since their money is as good as anyone’s, we’d advise you to go for it.

June 25th, 2010

Many thanks to the Wall for pointing us towards Eloqua’s Social Media Playbook [PDF] – “playbook”, we assume, because while a workbook entails effort, everything to do with web 2.0 is, of course, fun fun fun!

Eloqua is a big-bucks customer engagement software company, and apparently this booklet was first produced for circulation amongst its own staff. In a fit of generosity, they’ve decided to share, and it’s certainly worth a read.

Most readers of our blog will be familiar with the basics of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. These are all covered, but the guide goes more in-depth, too. Give it a read and we’re sure you’ll learn at least one new thing.

June 20th, 2010

Fancy fifteen minutes of power? Then you may want to send David Perez a tweet this week. This hapless Advertising Recruiter is promising to do everything – provided it's legal – that his Twitter followers suggest, for a week. What's more, he'll be wearing webcam enabled glasses so you can follow his escapades.

Hmm. We'd be the first to say that our lives were sometimes ruled by social media: we can't resist dipping in to see what people are up to, perhaps that little bit too frequently. And there's no doubt it can act as a hive mind, helping influence our decisions on everything from where to eat, to the best holiday destinations – but we think that Perez may be going just a little too far. Will he really do everything he's told to, by bored office workers looking for a cheap laugh? We suspect he'll fall at an early hurdle. Naturally, we'll enjoy watching him do so.

June 15th, 2010

Following my own advice on this very blog, I was updating a company’s presence on Google Places today (previously Google Business Centre; basically, the interface that you update if you want your business to appear on Google Maps).

The company in question is a language school which offers exam courses, including a well-known (in the TEFL world) product known as IELTS. As this is a unique selling point of the school, of course I wanted to mention it.

Well, it turns out Google wasn’t having it. “Excessive capitalisation is not allowed”, it told me, in a strident error message, clearly mistaking the well-known acronym IELTS for a SHOUTY MESSAGE IN CAPITALS. Well, I’m as opposed to poor style as the next pedantic apostrophe obsessive, but frankly, Google, I thought, I’ll be the judge of what constitutes excessive.

It was a small moment, and I overcame it by referring mysteriously to ‘exam courses’ in the end – but there’s a message there for us all (isn’t there always?). Examine your interface, because what seems a reasonable restriction to you may well be a serious impediment to trade for your customers. If you can, get a user group to try out all your website’s functionality, and feed back their niggles – and do so regularly.

Having said that, I’d be pretty sure Google do much the same. Maybe they just can’t account for every eventuality; maybe they’d rather alienate one language school, but still have the benefit of cutting down on listings which use capitalised, shouty imperatives to BUY NOW SALE ON TODAY, or whatever. Your customer base, however, is smaller, and almost certainly more uniform. Make sure you aren’t inadvertently annoying them.

June 14th, 2010

Google’s homepage is the most-talked about blank space on the internet. Renowned for its one-option interface and clean minimalism, the page is often cited as a great example of ‘less is more’.

It came as a great surprise, last week, then, to see that Google had transformed itself. The page that logged-in users saw was taken over by a large photographic image, much in the style of its rival search engine, Bing.

Google homepage with Jeff Koon artwork as background image

Even more of a surprise came a few days later, when the white homepage returned. “Remove Google background” was apparently the seventh-most searched for term during the intervening days (the image can be removed, but a bug had prevented the link giving this option from displaying).

Read it how you will – panicking behemoth trying to imitate its competitor, then pulling the move when it realises it has blundered? Or service that listens to its users, and is uniquely positioned to do so, given that they are revealing their inner thoughts with every search?

Either way, it’s good to know that Google responds to the people who use it. The story, while amusing, shows us one of the strengths of the web – that you can try out something new, and change it sharply if it turns out not to be working for you and your business.

June 8th, 2010

Microsoft’s search engine product Bing was a year old on Sunday. Setting aside the question of whether we’ve got any more used to its rather silly name (no), has it become a proper contender in Search during that time?

Well, according to Thinq, Bing has managed to grow Microsoft’s search share from eight to almost 13 per cent over the past year but has barely made a dent in Google’s dominant position. Microsoft’s gains have largely been at Yahoo’s expense.

Does this mean we can largely ignore Bing, and Yahoo for that matter, and optimise purely for Google? Absolutely not. 13% may not sound like much, but given the vast quantity of searches being conducted at any one moment, we’d be fools to let it go.

Don’t forget, too, that these figures relate purely to UK usage. OK, fine if you trade purely within these shores. If you don’t, be assured that Google’s dominance is by no means replicated across the world: in Japan, Yahoo has it. In China, Google has all but given up and Baidu is king. In the States, Bing is much more commonly used than it is here.

Many SEO firms will talk of Google as if it is the only search engine worth optimising for. It’s easily done, especially when the word ‘Google’, like ‘Hoover’, has become a verb describing the very act of searching. But the savvy optimiser will know that the best benefits in all search engines will be found by putting high-quality, relevant content on your web pages, signposting it clearly, and attracting decent links from the sites that matter. That way, no matter which search engine is dominant at any one time, you’ll be properly represented.