On Sunday, a pizzeria owner from Fort Pierce, Florida named Scott Van Nuzer was responsible for one of the most notorious photo opportunities in Barack Obama’s Presidency and the 2012 campaign thus far. When Van Nuzer bearhugged Obama in front of several onlookers and photographers at his restaurant, Big Apple Pizza; he most likely expected to experience a rapid influx of positive mentions of his establishment online. However, the social media backlash that the photo generated may have actually had negative impact on his business.
On the popular local search engine, Yelp, Big Apple Pizza was flooded with hundreds of negative reviews and comments from opponents of Obama’s campaign. Yelp has since removed much of the “spam” content that was added following the release of the photo, but only time will tell if Van Nuzer’s business will truly be impacted by the incident.
Social media has proven to be a powerful marketing tool for many companies, but it must be properly managed in order to effectively enhance a brand’s presence, both on and offline. The overall visibility that Big Apple Pizza gained from this publicity stunt and the support of the Democratic demographic will be valuable to the business, but the negativity expressed by Obama’s detractors may be problematic for Van Nuzer going forward.
Regardless of the impact that the “Bearhug Heard ‘Round the World” may have on Big Apple Pizza or even the President Obama’s campaign, it has certainly made an impact within social media and is likely to encourage many business owners to increase their social media management efforts.
When you watch TV this week, you may see ads for a new show called Elementary, which is another take on the original Master of Deduction, Sherlock Holmes. In the past five years, Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved detective stories have been adapted several times in film and television, and their popularity made me wonder how Mr. Holmes would handle SEO. In particular, I wondered how he would see social signals in the overall scheme of things. While nobody knows for certain what Google’s algorithm is, there are certainly some clues that might help us deduce social signals. Let’s take a look at what we do know.
When the Penguin Update came out, Google dropped the hammer on many Black Hat SEO practices. These included:
- Keyword Stuffing
- Overuse of Exact Match Anchor Text Links
- Link farms
- Links from Foreign Sites
Sites that used these and other Black Hat practices were penalized and saw their rankings drop significantly. Google tried to establish the fact that relevancy was king in rankings. Sites that had fresh content and quality backlinks were the ones that were going to appear on the first page because they would be the ones most useful to the user. With that in mind, how do social signals figure into the mix? What about votes of confidence from social shares? Do they really count?
In 2010, Danny Sullivan wrote an article in Search Engine Land that highlighted how Google and Bing might be using social data from Twitter and Facebook to help determine rankings. Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s webspam team, responded with this YouTube video on his channel. He suggested that social signals figured greatly in Google’s real-time search results and confirmed that Google was dabbling into the idea of author authority. Still, he didn’t reveal too much about social signals’ weight in rankings.
In the time since then, several events have occurred that may bring more light to where social signals come into play. Twitter and Google’s deal officially expired in 2011, which led to the end of real-time search results.
We discussed the Twitter fire-hose being closed off earlier this year on You Tube
Google bought several patents in the earlier part of the year, creating buzz that it’s looking to add more social elements into search results. Finally, Cutts weighed in just last month and said that Google was unable to crawl Twitter’s pages for 1.5 months after their deal ended, which gave him some cause for concern over third party platforms. However, he did again reiterate that Google is always looking for those who are important because they’ll bring relevancy and quality searches.
What concerns would Google have with third party platforms. Google has consistently said it does not weigh +1′s seriously into it’s algorithm at this time and considers Search Plus your World more at this point.
So we have some clues and hints, but what does this all mean? David Harry of Search Engine Watch released a great blog post several months ago that takes an in-depth look at social signals and shows that however they figure into the algorithm right now, being involved in different social channels can certainly increase your visibility and overall authority. Those who follow and are fans of you or your business will more likely link to you, retweet an interesting thing you said or tell others about you. These will organically boost other signals that are known to figure into the algorithm right now.
But this is in direct contradiction to what Google is saying, other than the OG (Open Graph) argument. Fact of the matter is that social signals have an indirect relationship to increased visibility in SERP’s and can be explained as mentioned above. Improving your impressions (and CTR) the Search Plus your World and other avenues will positively lift your site pages in the rankings.
Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg recently commented that the company is “uniquely positioned” and it’s search team are working on ways to develop its Search Engine for purposes other than People Search.
Also, as you might have noticed, I used relevancy several times in the blog post. Google is all about producing the best results for its users. It wants websites to build real relationships and followings. Perhaps, that’s why there are whispers that guest blogs produced by paid spam sites might be next on Google’s hit list. These disingenuous routes to produce fake results are a thing of the past. A strong social media presence with fresh content and active engagement is something that people who use the web want.
Just as the days of getting 500 bookmarks and 500 directory submissions have long passed we anticipate the days of buying mass quantities of low quality blog advertisement posts (poorly spun and disingenuous content) are next on the radar.
For example, Webimax uses a variety of techniques for its clients to help bolster their social media presence. The goal is to create a voice that others who are connected to you will find interesting and engaging. This will include actively approaching leaders in the industry; encouraging users to participate in contests, surveys, or polls; and building a network of different social media platforms around your brand. All of these things will make you more relevant, which should make you friendlier to Google.
Social Signals is such a great term when we understand it’s meaning. Deeper than tweets and shares related to an article or piece of content. Within our daily lives we stumble upon many actions we give off and receive from people in our lives. A cashier at the checkout with the attitude signals to us that you may not shop their again. A construction worker who holds the door for an older person at the convenience store signals you to take notice of his uniform. These are all great signals of trust, right?
Not necessarily. In these examples; Consider the cashier had a bad day because she couldn’t pick up all three of her kids from day care on time and got hit with a hefty fee. Consider the gentle construction worker who held the door generously had intent to not draw suspicion of his shoplifting plot. These certainly are extreme examples but lay the groundwork for sentiment and trust and how we reward those with it.
Maybe this is Matt Cutts whole argument for Google against truly evolving the algorithm to further heavily weight social signals. How can you really know (and rank) trust and authority socially?
This is the problem Google will likely be more transparent about by the end of the year with the evolution of digital media, specifically mobile and tablet usage. Users are relying on social signals to form opinions on local businesses and other services. If Google can’t find a way to incorporate these signals into it’s main engine then it will lose out, not to other search engines but to other distribution platforms such as social mobile applications.
If Google does not use social signals in its rankings or at least start to use them more in the near future, how relevant can its search results really be? It doesn’t take a world class detective to tell you that social signals will factor in SEO for years to come. But will we be thinking of Google when we are are considering them?
Co Author: Christopher Hardwick, WebiMax
In my last blog post, I discussed the significance of “#NBCFail” and “#Rule40″ and their impact on the social media landscape as of late. The 2012 Olympics have affected the news, sports, entertainment and pop culture and have even influenced advertising and marketing on a global scale. Throughout the Web and more specifically, social media, this year’s Games have recently become the most discussed topic amongst the worldwide Internet community. However, the historic landing of the Mars Curiosity rover on Monday may have overshadowed the Olympics’ overwhelming social engagement levels and subsequently altered the focus of many online marketers and advertisers.
The official Twitter account of the Mars Curiosity rover has accumulated nearly 900,000 followers and the “#MSL” hashtag (a reference to the Mars Science Laboratory) is a top trend on the social network. Additionally, the discussions of MSL on Facebook and Google+ are abundant and nearly 25,000 YouTube videos have been uploaded featuring MSL-related content. For those in the digital marketing industry, the observation of such trends and the capitalization on their popularity is essential.
As my fellow WebiMax blog contributor, Bruce Rymshaw indicated in his last blog post, the relation of social trends to a brand’s own offerings allows for greater exposure in the mainstream media and raises brand awareness. This summer, the Olympics and Mars Curiosity will rank amongst the top social media trends and businesses should definitely attempt to create original, useful and relevant content that takes advantage of these topics.
The utilization of trends goes beyond merely generating content, however. Proactive outreach efforts can help to bring said content to the forefront of social media and search results. Press releases, interviews with major news and media outlets and guest blogging opportunities allow business owners and marketers to reach a more diverse and much larger audience. The resulting increase in brand awareness, online visibility and overall credibility is immensely valuable and is enhancing the roles of both proactive outreach and social trend utilization in digital marketing.
The 2012 Olympics have begun and around the world, social media engagement levels have reached nearly record highs since the opening ceremonies. Millions of users have taken to networks such as Twitter and Facebook to voice their opinions on the athletes, events and even network television coverage of this year’s Games.
On Twitter, “#NBCFail” and “#Rule40″ have been consistently ranking as trending terms. In fact, the hashtags have even gotten mainstream publicity, with major online news outlets such as CNN and FOX Sports covering the social phenomenon. To NBC and the International Olympic Committee, however, the popularity of these hashtags is somewhat problematic. The “#NBCFail” hashtag is a reference to NBC’s broadcasting of the Games, as many fans feel that the network hasn’t provided satisfactory coverage of all of the Olympic events thus far. However, NBC has publicly responded to the social media backlash with the following statement from NBC Sports Chairman, Mark Lazarus:
“We’ve had some challenges. They’ve been documented by some of you and some of our critics in social media. Some of it is, in fact, fair and we are listening. We knew it wouldn’t be perfect and we said that before the games – we are trying new things.”
NBC’s acknowledgement of its social media detractors is not only a clear indicator of the influence of networks such as Twitter on the mainstream media, but it is also a testament to NBC’s ability to monitor the social space and pay attention to its viewers.
The “#Rule40″ hashtag refers to the IOC’s mandate regarding athletes’ mentioning of sponsors throughout social media for the duration of the Games. Many believe the rule is unfair to the athletes themselves, who rely largely on the income generated by their sponsorship deals. The presence of “#Rule40″ on Twitter has effectively brought the rule to the forefront of social media; but the IOC currently shows no signs of changing their policies regardless of public opinion.
As the 2012 Olympics continue, these and other trending topics related to the Games are likely to gain even more momentum across various social platforms. The importance of social media and online trends pertaining to this year’s event are undeniable and it is expected to be the single most discussed event throughout the online community in the weeks ahead.
For those of you who may have missed my recent appearance on FOX News to discuss Penn State’s reputation management issues, I mentioned the value of social media and its role in their online identity. In social media, in the SERPs and in the press, PSU faces a challenging road to re-establishing their brand. While Penn State’s focus at present may be short-term, their reputation crisis is not. Reputation management should be thought of an ongoing investment that requires consistent monitoring and maintenance.
Management or Maintenance?
There is a discernable difference between short-term management and long-term maintenance; however, both are important to any business or individual attempting to keep their online presence resoundingly positive. Social media, press releases and blogs are very powerful tools that Penn State has at their disposal and the university should utilize them to rebuild their reputation. On a long-term basis, these tools will allow PSU to issue new, positive content to the public and help to diminish the presence of negative material on the Web.
Progress Through Positivity
Part of brand recognition and identity is perception. The public perception of a company or an individual can largely factor into their overall success. For Penn State, perhaps the most powerful social asset is its own student body. PSU students are actively using various social platforms and are capable of both enhancing and maintaining the reputation of the university going forward.
By initiating a call to action in the form of a press release or social media outlet, Penn State could encourage its student body to emphasize the qualities of the institution and help to accentuate positivity and reduce negative content in the SERPs and throughout social media. Undoubtedly, the next several months will be crucial for Penn State. However, the university must also understand the importance of remaining reputable on the Web on a long-term basis in order to rebuild their brand.
With the torch just days from being lit, the Internet is ablaze with conversation: Is London really the first “social media games?” Are the IOC’s social media policies too restrictive? Will Michael Phelps eclipse the career medal record?
Of course, there are no answers to these questions, only opinions and speculations (at least at this point). I, however, would like to propose a fact: This will be the most talked about games to date.
To argue over who got there first–Vancouver or London–is irrelevant. Did Vancouver utilize Twitter when they played host back in 2010? Sure. But it pales in comparison to this year’s social media integration, similar to how Vancouver outdid Beijing’s 2008 games when Facebook had only 100 million users.
Over the past two years, social media has exploded. In addition to Twitter and Facebook, we’ve seen the emergence of Google+, Instagram and foursquare, all of which will be utilized at this year’s games.
This year, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) developed an online Village. Through their Athletes’ Hub, users can virtually enter the Village and connect with their favorite athlete’s Facebook and Twitter profiles. They can also access Instagram portraits and chat directly with a featured athlete in a Twitter #asknathlete forum.
Once the games get underway, those who signed up for the Athletes’ Hub will also be able to participate in a challenge where fans compete to predict the outcome of various events and see how they rank on the leaderboard against their friends and fans around the world.
More Vulnerable Than Ever
While this level of integration is exciting, it’s also leaves the IOC a bit vulnerable. Not only are their more users on more platforms, but a large percentage of those users can access social media from their mobile phone, allowing for immediate reactions to be posted on the Internet for all to see.
And this type of vulnerability has already been exposed. “Um, so we’ve been lost on the road for 4hrs,” said twice world 400 meters hurdles champion Kerron Clement via Twitter, demonstrating how just one Tweet can skew the perception of the games. “Not a good first impression London.”
Of course, this can also swing in their favor with fans posting positive Tweets, statuses, and images.
What Does this Mean?
In the end, this level of international conversation shows just how connected we are thanks to social media. If anything, it’s shown how powerful a device it can be, from both a business and a personal perspective. I guess we’ll just have to see if all that power is a good thing. Either way, I’m sure we’ll hear about it.