Thursday, 31 January 2013

Why We Need to Keep an Eye on Facebook Graph Search

Since the beta version of Facebook Graph Search was launched just over two weeks ago, everyone seems to be talking about it.  So, not wanting to be left out, I've decided to jot down a few of my thoughts.

For anyone who has managed to avoid all the hype and discussion, Graph Search aims to produce a more personalised form of search than is available elsewhere online.  It's being tested in the USA and already has a waiting list of those people who want to try it out.  Search results will be based on all the information that Facebook users have supplied about themselves and their likes and dislikes over the years.  So, for example, you could search for "an Italian restaurant my friends like" or "a book about English history that teachers like".

To begin with, Facebook is offering searches in four areas - people, photos, places and interests.  And while some of these could be informative and useful, we need to be aware of the potential dangers.  For example, as Carlton Jefferis has pointed out on, how happy would a single woman be about admitting her marital status if a complete stranger can search for a list of "single women who live near me"?  Equally, things that we have posted years ago can come back to haunt us.  This is particularly relevant for those who joined Facebook when they were students and now hold responsible jobs.  That picture that you thought was lost in the mists of time could easily resurface if someone were to search for photos from your college days.  Perhaps the answer here is to search for them yourself, as soon as you have access to Graph Search, and try to get identifying tags removed.  In addition, while nothing that you have marked as 'private' will be published in a search, everything else is fair game, so checking what you have set might be a good idea.

Graph Search could be very valuable, though, if someone was looking for, say, a fellow chess-player or a tennis partner, or someone to make up a fourth at bridge in their local area.  And, certainly, Facebook has hopes that Graph Search will come to rival Linkedin when it comes to recruiting.

Another place where Facebook is hoping to challenge rivals (such as Google and Yelp) is in the area of local search.  A recommendation from someone you know is likely to carry more weight than one from a stranger.  So looking for a local restaurant, a hairdresser or a plumber could be made a lot easier . . . or not.  And I put 'or not' because, of course, it all depends on which of your friends are on Facebook (not everyone is), whether the restaurants, hairdressers and plumbers that they would recommend are also on Facebook, and whether your friends have actually 'liked' the pages of those businesses.  While knowing that a friend has 'liked' a business may indicate that the business is good, if a business has no 'likes' it does not indicate that it is any less good.

We 'like' pages for different reasons.  Those of you on Twitter will know that, frequently, people you are following will ask you to like their Facebook pages, often with a promise of reciprocating.  We can thus find ourselves 'liking' all sorts of business pages that we know very little about.  And, indeed, speaking personally, for me it's usually about liking the page, rather than the business.  If the page is attractive and has some interesting posts and is in my sphere of interest, I tend to 'like' it.  It's nothing to do with the business itself because I have no way of knowing if it's reputable or offers good service.  Conversely, I would never think of 'liking' a local restaurant or my hairdresser because that's not what I use Facebook for.

So, will we need to go through the list of pages we've 'liked' and edit it . . . I think so.  Because, while I may find someone's page interesting or attractive, I do not necessarily want to be seen as recommending their business to my friends.

However, local businesses, in particular, need to be geared up to get the most they can out of Graph Search.  Carlton Jefferis recommends checking all the information you have shared to ensure that it's complete and accurate, and continuing to post "timely, relevant and valuable content on your page as this will continue to drive engagement and reach".  He also recommends (as do other writers) focusing on attracting people to your page and giving them a reason to interact with your content.  However, while you can encourage people to post reviews of your business, and even to upload photos, it's important to remember that Facebook forbids any offering of incentives to do this.

A lot of people seem to be getting excited by the idea of Graph Search but I have to admit that, personally, I'm somewhat underwhelmed.  Its success depends so much on the information that people post to Facebook and I'm not convinced that they're going to start 'liking' all their favourite businesses and books and pieces of music just for the benefit of their friends.  In addition, how many people know everyone on their 'friends' list personally?  A lot of people on Twitter will ask you to become a friend on Facebook and you may not know them from Adam.  And so why would we trust their judgement against that of anyone else?  If we're really going to use Graph Search properly, we'll need to prune our list of friends down to those we really know and, perhaps even beyond that, to those whose opinions we really trust.

So could this turn out to be a nine-day wonder?  Danny Sullivan of quotes Tom Stocky, director of product management at Facebook, as offering the opportunity to find out "all the TV shows that are liked by software engineers" as an example of what Graph Search promises.  But I am left wondering who on earth would want to know that?

Thursday, 24 January 2013

What's in a (Newsletter) Headline?

As I've mentioned before, I produce a weekly newsletter which is made up of the most interesting articles I've found on the internet during the previous week - usually around 20 of them.  Of course, although all the people I send it to are on my mailing list, not all of them open the newsletter each week.  But what puzzles me is why some subject lines seem to work better than others.

Admittedly, some of the fluctuation in opening rates may be due to other factors - people being too busy to read it, or having received a large number of emails that day - but the subject line has got to be a major factor.  So I've been trying to see what it is that appeals to my readers.

The newsletters seem to fall into three groups . . . one in which a lot of people open it, one in which a moderate number open it, and one in which not many people open it.  But what puzzles me is the seeming crossover between the groups in the actual subject matter.

For example, "How to Succeed . . . and Other Useful Information" is my best scoring headline to date.  But "How to Get Your Internet Business Off to a Good Start in 2013!" had the lowest opening rate.  And yet, to me, the titles are not dissimilar.  Perhaps the fact that the second one came out soon after Christmas had something to do with it, but it certainly seems that "how to succeed" rang more bells than the more specific "get your business off to a good start".  So . . . lesson one, the use of the words 'succeed' and 'success' may influence someone to open an email.

In the 'low openers' group was "The power of Twitter & MySpace; Effective Marketing Strategies; Designing a Great Website . . . & more" which is the longest headline I've used.  Certainly it's way over the 55 characters which this article says is the most that one should have in a headline.  And perhaps that's lesson two.

As far as the subjects covered are concerned, "SEO" appears only in the top scorers, "Pinterest" in the top and middle groups, "Social media marketing" in the middle and bottom, and "Blogging" in all three.  Obviously, the subjects in the headline depend on the articles I've found that week.  And here it gets more puzzling.  I keep a record of the number of clicks on each article within the newsletter . . . and the high scorers don't tally with the seemingly high scoring subject lines . . . apart from articles on Pinterest.  "Pinterest For Business Has Arrived! 7 Reasons To Jump Onboard" was one of the most popular items so far, but other than that there seems to be no pattern.

So, what do I think I've learned from this analysis?  Perhaps the following:

  • 'success' or 'succeed' in a headline may induce people to open the email
  • headlines need to be short - long ones may be ignored
  • SEO and Pinterest seem to be subjects that people want to read about
  • writing headlines is not easy!
There's a lot of interesting stuff being produced online every week and I enjoy sharing what I find.  But am I getting the subject mix right?  Should I try to find more on SEO, I wonder?

So may I ask you, whether you subscribe to my newsletter or not, to leave a comment and let me know which subjects in particular would get you to open a newsletter . . . SEO, Pinterest, social media, marketing strategies, content marketing, affiliate marketing . . . or something else entirely.

And if you don't subscribe and would like to, you can sign up by clicking HERE

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

This Made Me Laugh!

I was looking through some online articles and blogs, finding interesting stuff to put in my weekly newsletter and I found a link to this video.  It really made me laugh, so I thought I'd share it. 

By the way, if you'd like to go on my mailing list to receive my newsletter which usually contains 20 or more items on internet marketing - including advice and tips from experts, reviews of what works and what doesn't, news of what's changing on the internet - please click here to sign up.

Now here's the video:

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Seven Deadly Internet Marketing Mistakes

I have started my spring cleaning.  I don't have a lot of time for it, but a half hour here and there mounts up and I hope that the house will be pristine by the time spring arrives.  At the moment, I'm working on my study.  I've turned out the cupboards and the filing cabinets, and sorted through everything, and several large sacks full of paper have been sent off for recycling.  I've discovered three sets of headphones that I didn't know I had and more ball point pens and blocks of post-it notes than you can shake a stick at.

In amongst all the stuff on my desk were several spiral bound notebooks containing notes that I've taken at various conferences, workshops and online tutorials, and that I'd never got round to typing up.  So I spent a couple of afternoons doing that.  Most of the sets of notes said where they'd come from but there was one with no attribution.  However, it contained some very good advice and so I'm going to share it here and ask the person who originally came up with this list to forgive me for not acknowledging my source.

The list is of seven deadly internet marketing mistakes, and I offer them here with my thoughts on each:

1.  Thinking you’re not good enough. 
It's easy to do.  We come into internet marketing feeling very confident, looking at all the people who have been successful, thinking we know just how to do it and how to make money.  And then we hit obstacles that throw us off course or we just fail to make money.  And we lose confidence.  This is the point at which many people will give up.  But, in the time I've been in internet marketing, I've come to realise that the trick is to keep going.  Very few people make money overnight.  With some it can take two or three years before they have a decent income.  The important thing is not to lose faith in yourself.  Learn from your mistakes and you'll only get better.

2.  Forgetting what marketing is.
The person from whom this list originally came - let's call him X - says it’s not about creating products but, rather, about finding a group of people with a problem and giving them a solution.  It's the old saying about 'build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door".  Concentrating on producing something that interests you but that no one else wants is a sure way to fail.

3.  Being a magpie. 
You don’t need to know everything or do everything says X.  But it's a temptation and it's easy to get distracted.  We need to look at what we're doing and ask is it relevant?  If it isn't, stop doing it!  This isn't to say that we shouldn't try doing new things - because how else would we find out what we're good at - but it's a mistake to try them all out at once. 

4.  Listening to people who know less than you do
A lot of people who go into internet marketing find that their friends and family, not quite understanding what it is that they are doing, can be rather disparaging.  I remember Yanik Silver telling a story about when he was first getting started, selling information products.  His father looked at some of these and asked "And people actually pay you for this bullshit?"  Fortunately, Yanik was confident enough not to be undermined.  But comments such as "Why are you wasting your time on that?" can be very discouraging, especially when you're first starting.  A conscious decision has to be made not to listen to such criticism.

5.  Carving your own path rather than learning from the experts.
I remember Andrew Reynolds saying that, when he decided to become an entrepreneur, he went to a course and then he did exactly what the man at the front of the room had told him to do.  Mostly, this is sound advice.  But I have been to a few seminars where it wasn't the case because the information offered was out of date or was presented in a confused or confusing way.  Online or downloadable courses that offer you lifetime access to updates will get over the first problem.  (I have at various times bought courses from Armand Morin and Ryan Deiss in the knowledge that I'll will be informed of any changes in the system made necessary by the ever-changing nature of the internet.)  It's also important to ensure that the person who is teaching you really is an expert and that the system he is expounding has not only made him money but other people as well.
That said, I believe that there's always room for improvement.  Once you've copied somebody's system and it's worked for you, then you can start experimenting.  You may find that a few minor changes make it work better . . . or you may, indeed, find that the original was best.

6.  Living in a cave. 
 Internet marketing is about interaction with other people.  'X' stressed the importance of going to events and courses and discussing what works (and what doesn't) with other people.  One of the Ryan Deiss courses that I invested in fairly recently (and which I shall write about in due course) has the advantage of an online forum where people who have done the training can discuss how it's going for them and learn from each other.  If you're looking for somewhere to discuss your own marketing strategies and to ask questions, try Warrior Forum.

7.  Chasing the money. 
This clouds your vision, says X, and should not be your primary focus.  Sometimes you need to make less money to help people solve problems.  Admittedly, a lot of people have been successful in internet marketing simply because - thanks to redundancy or other problems - they have know that they had to.  But a lot of internet marketing is about service - offering products that people need and, as Armand Morin always stresses, over-delivering, giving them more value for money than they expected.  In this way, you will build a faithful following who will buy from you over and over again.  But if you concentrate on the money, you may tend to overprice your products which, in the long run, will result in you making less money, not more.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Is Twitter out of touch with its users?

Like many people on Twitter, I have more than one account in order to keep my various interests separate.  I wrote on here, not long ago, about having one account suspended and being unable to determine exactly what the rules of Twitter are.

Just before Christmas, I discovered, when I tried to access it, that another account had been suspended.  This time it wasn't just a question of ticking boxes to say that I'd be good.  I had to make contact with the 'support' desk.  It seemed a good opportunity to ask questions.

I received a form email which said "If your account was suspended for aggressive following behavior, you should have received an email notification to the address associated with your Twitter account"  (which I hadn't) and it continued "You'll need to confirm that you've removed all prohibited following automation from your account, and will stop any manual aggressive following behavior."

I replied, saying that, as far as I was aware, I had remained within the rules of Twitter.  I pointed out that the Twitter guideline of  "if you don’t follow or un-follow hundreds of users in a single day, and you aren’t using automated methods of following users, you should be fine" was very vague.   And I noted that, since the beginning of December I had unfollowed an average of 31 people a day and followed an average of just under 60 a day - not hundreds.  Finally I asked for some concrete advice on  the numbers that are acceptable.

The email I received in reply to this was, again, a form letter telling me that as I'd agreed not to follow aggressively in future, my account would be reinstated.  There was no reference to my request for advice or, indeed, to anything that I'd said in the letter.  I was left wondering whether anyone had read it.

I tried again to contact Twitter and get an answer but all I got was yet another form letter telling me that this particular correspondence had been closed.  And it was then that I realised how well-nigh impossible it is to contact Twitter.  Many of the links in the 'contact us' section lead only to pages with generalised answers in particular areas.  There are very few questions that one can actually ask Twitter direct . . . and "how many people is it OK to follow at any one time?" is not among them.

I was annoyed . . . but at least I'd got my account back.  But when I actually accessed that account again, I was furious.  Because I realised that the reason I'd been suspended was because I'd been hacked.  Only direct messages sent after the account had been reinstated were accessible but, among these, there were well over 200 saying 'thank you for following'.  Now, normally, I can expect perhaps ten or twenty per cent of those I follow to send me a direct message.  So how many must have been followed in this account's name for there to be over 200 - not counting, of course, those that came in before the account was suspended.

So I had been suspended because someone had hacked into my account.  But why did Twitter not query the fact that someone who'd been going along quietly for the best part of a year following 150 or 200 every two or three days, suddenly seemed to have followed perhaps 2000 on one day?  Did it occur to no one that it was out of character?  Or is everything that happens at Twitter automated?  The 'support' emails that I received certainly seem to suggest it.

And, of course, this leads me to wonder why everything is automated and why there is so little genuine support.  Could it be because Twitter is free?  Well, personally, I'd be happy to pay a small amount each year (and with the number of people on Twitter, it wouldn't have to be more than a few dollars) if they'd supply a decent support service.  I'm really angry that I can't email someone to say "I didn't transgress the rules . . . you punished me because my account was hacked".

I'm thinking of writing a letter to Twitter by snail mail  . . . there is an address provided.  Meanwhile I have changed all my passwords and am keeping my fingers crossed that this doesn't happen again.