I’ve been thinking about this post for a little while as I prepared for Christmas this year. My major life events have been chronicled on social media along with photos to document them. Most of the people I interact with use Facebook so they know what’s going on with me when I see them in real life. And I know what’s going on with them based on what they share.
So it’s not too far of a stretch to say Facebook has made the annual holiday letter obsolete. Then earlier this week Facebook launched a nifty little application called your year in review. You’ve probably seen it on your friend’s timelines. If you haven’t already tried it, year in review takes your most popular posts and creates a short montage. It’s completely customizable, so you can add or delete pictures and text. Personally, I thought it was pretty brilliant and the photos it selected indeed encapsulated my year.
Not everybody thinks the algorithm was good. Eric Meyer called his experience with it algorithmic cruelty.
I know they’re probably pretty proud of the work that went into the “Year in Review” app they designed and developed. Knowing what kind of year I’d had, though, I avoided making one of my own. I kept seeing them pop up in my feed, created by others, almost all of them with the default caption, “It’s been a great year! Thanks for being a part of it.” Which was, by itself, jarring enough, the idea that any year I was part of could be described as great.
Still, they were easy enough to pass over, and I did. Until today, when I got this in my feed, exhorting me to create one of my own. “Eric, here’s what your year looked like!”
A picture of my daughter, who is dead. Who died this year.
I honestly don’t remember which picture Facebook’s app loaded for me, but I do know the first story it suggested was a picture of my father on his death bed. I didn’t have that great of a year either, but it was still my year. My father died in 2014 and nothing will change that. Not an algorithm change. Not a deleted post or edited picture. Death is a part of life. I know it sounds cliched, but not a day goes by that I don’t think about my Dad. Seeing him again on that bed with my mother next to his side did bring tears to my eyes. But the beauty of that photo far outweighs the sadness it provokes.
Meyer continues by writing,
Algorithms are essentially thoughtless. They model certain decision flows, but once you run them, no more thought occurs. To call a person “thoughtless” is usually considered a slight, or an outright insult; and yet, we unleash so many literally thoughtless processes on our users, on our lives, on ourselves.
Where the human aspect fell short, at least with Facebook, was in not providing a way to opt out. The Year in Review ad keeps coming up in my feed, rotating through different fun-and-fabulous backgrounds, as if celebrating a death, and there is no obvious way to stop it. Yes, there’s the drop-down that lets me hide it, but knowing that is practically insider knowledge.
Further on he suggests some “fixes” so Facebook doesn’t cause this problem again. I submit if Meyer doesn’t want to see pictures of his daughter on Facebook, he shouldn’t post pictures of her on Facebook. I also submit Facebook allows their memory to live on in ways never previously possible. I believe this is a good thing, not something to be fixed.
Going back to my original thought that Facebook has replaced the holiday letter, we have to consider those who aren’t on Facebook or don’t actively use it. While the death of my father was the low point of my year, five months later I welcomed my daughter into my life. I selectively post pictures of her on Facebook, but I have to send emails to my mother who still won’t join. I assume I’m communicating to my other family members through Facebook as well but found out today my brother hasn’t gone on there for months. I suppose I’ll have to c.c. him on my emails to Mom…
He is also evidence the holiday letter isn’t quite dead, but it is most assuredly on its last legs thanks to Facebook.
I hate to do this before the holidays, but we’re through. I uninstalled your phone app yesterday. It’s been a long time coming and as an early adopter of your app, I’ve been patient. But it’s over now and there’s nothing you can do. I will however tell you what you did wrong.
First of all, you messed with the gaming system which is pretty much the reason I used your software. I checked in everywhere…and I mean everywhere…to get points, score higher than my friends and earn mayorships and badges. As a male user, I like rules and knowing if I do this, you’ll do that. You screwed up by changing point schemes, selling badges to the highest bidder and ignoring the game mechanism that made your app so sticky.
That I could live with, because your app provided some utility. I used it to check for restaurants or coffee shops around my location if I was feeling adventurous. I also used it to tell my Facebook friends where I was. But then you created Swarm.
I never downloaded it. I figured it would be a bad idea when I saw Dennis Crowley defending it on a Robert Scoble Facebook post. Then my friends who did download it started complaining about ease of use, functionality and being a phone resource piggy. I still checked in using foursquare.
Like a lot of people, I started seeing a downside to telling all my friends, family and Facebook “friends” where I was all the time. For me, checking in became more of a special occasion instead of a religious compulsion like it was when your gaming system worked.
Last Saturday was the last straw. When you forced me to download Swarm to make a check in, I was through. I wanted to post I was at the football game and your app loaded, it told me where I was, but when I hit check in, it took me to the Play store to upgrade to Swarm. Sorry, I’m not going to do that, ever. So I just checked in with Facebook.
That’s when I realized I don’t need you any more foursquare. It took me a few days to act on it, but I deleted your app yesterday. Unless you do something really amazing, I’m going to stop talking about you as well.
I know you’re probably thinking, “Facebook force upgraded people with it’s messenger app, why can’t we?” The answer is simple, people need the utility found in messenger, they don’t need to check in anywhere…ever. You took the fun out of it, so nobody wants to either. I didn’t want the messenger app, but I had no choice. People have a choice with checking in, with location search, with adding photos and all the other things your app does. We’re just not choosing to do it with you any more.
So, this is it. I’d suggest we be friends, but we both know that’s a lie. I wish you the best in your future endeavors.
Your former foursquare user
A few weeks ago I conducted a test to see if I could get a home listing ranked on Google with a Facebook post. The short answer is I could, but it wasn’t the Facebook post that got ranked, it was the tweet I have automatically sent from Facebook. Right now, I’m super excited about the search ranking capabilities Twitter has.
This is especially true for real estate agents. Agents have many challenges getting their sites to show up in search results. First off, many broker sites aren’t SEO friendly. Secondly, agents tend to move brokerages. If they managed to build any search rankings at their previous employer, it all goes away…unless the agent is personally branding instead of brokerage branding. Third, they lack time. Uploading a full real estate listing is time consuming. If they don’t have an IDX feed on their website, it doesn’t typically get done.
Let’s shift gears for a minute and think from the consumer side of things. Home buyers are much more savvy about searching than ever before. Realtor.org says 42% begin their search online. Over the course of their search 92% of home buyers will use the Internet.
Consider this scenario – A couple decides to buy a house. They do their research and identify say six properties to drive by. While at a location they see another house they like that wasn’t on their list. For whatever reason, there’s no pricing information. And they don’t want to call the agent on the sign because they don’t know the price. A quick Google search should bring up the listing and the price. Right? What if it doesn’t? How about that other search engine people use on their phones…Twitter? 2.1 BILLION searches are done on Twitter every day. That’s what I would do. The average age of first time home buyers right now is 31. They are connected wirelessly and they use Twitter.
Remember that address I used for my test? Here’s what the search of it looks like on Twitter –
My Twitter account is the top result. One real estate agent tweeted that listing and they’re not even the listing agent. Do you see the opportunity?
Let me demonstrate further. Here’s what Google looks like for this listing at the time of this post –
My test tweet is on page one…ahead of the MLS. The listing agent at Coldwell Banker holds the top spot, Trulia is second and a handful of other Realtors fill in the middle. Agents relying solely on their MLS listings to sell homes are going to be disappointed. The WFRMLS is out of touch with their technology and their strategy.
This is why real estate agents should be using Twitter.
In my last article, I wrote my biggest Twitter regret was using auto-follow tools to follow a bunch of people I didn’t know. If I had to do it again, I’d rather do it organically. Well, now I have that opportunity! I’ve started a new business and Twitter is a key part of how I’m going to build traffic for the site.
Since I’ve been racing to add all the pieces I want to the site, I haven’t been promoting it very much. However, I have been using Twitter. These are my techniques.
Use keywords – My new site is about starting a business. Its geography is Utah for now. Business startups have their own set of jargon, so I’m using those keywords. For example, my first article was about the minimum viable product. I sent out a tweet and got a follower. I retweeted a different article about growth hacking from my Swaby Media account and got a dozen new followers from it.
Interact with others – The Twitter interface and ecosystem are pretty simple to interact with others. When you publicly interact with an account, that user can see it as well as their followers. Activities like replying, retweeting and favoriting are all of benefit. If people are doing that with your content it’s a good thing. Even without creating content yourself, you can build a following by sharing others’ content.
Following others – If you follow someone, there’s a good chance they will follow you back. Don’t auto-follow otherwise you’ll get overwhelmed. It’s also a terrific idea to put people you follow in lists by subject matter. Those lists can be publicly followed and they’re another good reason people will want to follow you.
Use hashtags – Hashtags are searchable. If your subject matter is popular, it’s a good idea to use a trending hashtag. Be careful that you know what the hashtag is about. Companies have made serious errors with hashtags on Twitter.
Use tools and repeat yourself – On Twitter, it’s ok to repeat yourself. It’s also ok to send out the same content with a different description and different hashtags. Tools like Hootsuite make it easy to shrink URLs, write tweets and schedule them throughout the day.
Place a twitter feed on your website – It’s another way to share content, get indexed by Google and pick up new followers.
Remember that Twitter is a real-time search engine. Except for the portion of users who automate their activity, an activity on Twitter can be significant. If someone follows you and you think they have value, follow back!. Follow people who retweet your content. The whole goal of your Twitter strategy should be to make contact with people who are interested in your subject matter.
Back in the day, when Twitter was still a hatchling, and before it had wide-spread acceptance, there was only one metric anyone cared about – the number of followers. And, back in the day, before anyone had a clue what Twitter was to become, some very smart people created automatic follow programs.
One of the key tactics to growing followers on Twitter is to simply follow other people. It’s the first step Twitter has people take when they register a new account. It works off the law of reciprocation. If I follow you, you’re likely to follow me. This is especially true if users interact by following, retweeting or favoriting a tweet and Twitter sends an email notification. It’s just easy to follow, particularly if the user’s bio resonates.
Twitter began with an open API and developers quickly made programs that would autofollow users based on any number of criteria. I used some of those programs and it’s my biggest regret. Even though I used a set of keywords to find users I wanted to follow, I still got plenty of people not worth being connected to.
It also screwed up my follow/follower ratio. Twitter and Klout look at that ratio to determine how much influence you actually have. It’s better to have more followers than you’re following. As you can see in the screen grab, I don’t have a good ratio. This is even after spending hours using tools and manually unfollowing every spammer, scammer and network marketer I’d inadvertently followed using software. I’ve given up on getting rid of them and just spend my time providing content which is attracting quality followers.
Twitter caught onto the follow tools, banned users and changed their API so it could never happen again. Unlike Facebook business pages, I haven’t created a lot of Twitter accounts. My personal Twitter account is private, so I don’t care about growth there. I am using Twitter for my newest venture and am enjoying the process of growing a follower base organically. In my next article I’ll tell you how.
I started a new twitter account today and I don’t care if you follow me on it. In fact, I don’t care if I get any followers on it…ever. Why open one then? Because Google’s little spider bots will follow me. They’ll follow my tweets. They’ll put my tweets on their little search engine that everyone uses. And they’ll put those tweets on that search engine pretty quickly. Then I’ll get followers…that care about my content.
“Findability precedes usability. In the alphabet and on the Web. You can’t use what you can’t find.” – Ambient Findability by Peter Morville
Over the past few years I’ve been thinking if I were a new business I’d start with a Facebook page. Since I ran my ranking experiment, that thought has changed. I’ve been using Twitter more for this site and business and been getting new followers, retweets and all the signals reflecting my content has traction.
I’ll still create a Facebook page for my startup. But with limited time and resources Twitter brings a marvelous bang for the buck. First of all, my blog posts get published to Twitter automatically. There is no extra time taken to post content.
By displaying my Twitter feed on my blog, I don’t have to write full posts to bring value to my site. Twitter does that for me in 140 characters or less.
When I retweet others, I get the benefit of sharing content I think my audience would find useful, I add relevant subject matter to my website through the Twitter feed and I get the opportunity to grow my followers on Twitter.
Since I’ve returned to creating content on a regular basis here, my followers on Twitter have increased both in number and in engagement. Because Google indexes those tweets which link back to here, I’m improving my search engine optimization as well!
Returning to my original statement, I don’t care if I don’t have followers on Twitter. I know if I post content there it will improve my search rankings which will lead to more qualified followers on Twitter.
Though I shouldn’t be surprised, I still am when I talk to a business about their marketing tracking. John Wanamaker is credited with saying “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” With online marketing, that problem can be easily solved, yet many businesses don’t do it.
I learned early on with this business how critical tracking is. What I do is intangible until it produces results. That doesn’t mean I’m not working and doing things. Reporting gives my clients something tangible to see while the effects of my work build.
A huge challenge I keep running in to is the lack of existing tracking. Every thing you do online can be tracked, yet so many businesses don’t take advantage of it. You can track web traffic, keywords, search rankings. You can track traffic from social media. You can track phone calls. All of this is practically automatic! A little prep work and maybe a little money is all you need. Then you won’t waste half your advertising.
Now I’m going to share three tracking methods you should have in place right now.
Analytics track everything that goes on with your website. From the number of visitors, to the pages visited, analytics tracking software will tell you everything about your website. Google Analytics is robust, easy to install and free. If you don’t have it, get it now.
Some businesses need better software than Google and it’s out there. The most used premium analytics package is Adobe’s SiteCatalyst.
People often ask me how social media can be tracked. Using analytics is one way. You can see which social media channels are providing traffic. The tools within each channel are another way. Likes, comments, re-tweets and follows are all signals of engagement. But if you want to be more specific, you’ll want tracking links. I provided a pretty solid tutorial here.
A tracking link doesn’t even have to go to a page. It can go to an image or a file. You can place specific tracking links for each ad campaign you run. Tracking links are even usable for offline advertising! Do you have any print advertising or billboards? Use a specific URL like http://www.yourdomain/adchannel or a URL shortener that’s customized. You can track every bit of advertising you have!
What about phone calls? I’m glad you asked.
Tracking Phone Numbers
Phone intensive industries should have tracking numbers on all campaigns. If you have a phone number on your website, it should be unique so you know where that call came from. Dynamic Interactive offers customized 800 and local phone numbers for tracking. Their interactive menu allows you to track calls, record calls, offer voice mail and mark inbound calls so even the smallest of businesses can answer professionally. Any advertising you do with a phone number should be tracked in this manner.
Once you have marketing tracking in place, you must have a system to track leads. Otherwise true return on investment can never be calculated. It’s also helpful to figure out if you’re missing sales opportunities due to poor follow-up of leads.
A business really doesn’t know how its marketing is doing unless proper tracking is in place. Website tracking analytics, tracking links, tracking phone numbers and sales tracking are the foundation of measuring your marketing and advertising. You’ll never have to wonder what part of your advertising is being wasted if you prepare with tracking.
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