How Should Content Strategists, Publishers Address Sidewiki?

Marketers have always had to worry about overall brand health via word of mouth but are are now becoming more reasonably concerned (if not panicking) about consumer sentiment in the social media space and on properties they otherwise don’t moderate or own. This is considered a necessary evil, but all fine and good; because at least we have control over what content is published on our own Web sites and can limit what consumers are adding to the conversation. Right?

Now, with Google Sidewiki and other web annotation services like Blerp, publishers are realizing they have no control over what users are saying about their content, and that those opinions can now convieniently live right next to our carefully worded, incredibly insightful site via Google Toolbar or widget. Gasp! Shudder! The Horror!

Should you worry?

If your content or your brand isn’t useful, then yes you absolutely should be worried about it. However, if you’re publishing content that is optimized, honest and useful to visitors, you should see sidewikis as one more oppotunity to connect with your readers on a deeper level. The fast evolution of the Web is forcing companies to become more and more transparent out of necessity, which in turn calls for better content. People aren’t as concerned with connecting with brands on an emotional level online. They want you to be useful, which calls for web content to be functional, relevant and most of all valuable to the consumer.

Have A Plan

No matter how good your content and content strategy are, you should still be prepared in the event negative entries do start to pop up. Be honest, open a dialogue and address issues. Orvis does a phenominal job of addressing every negative comment or review that appears on its Web site by openly admitting how the feedback was addressed by consumer relations teams, how it affected the future development of the product and if any immediate changes to the product in question will occur as a result. Because the company handles business in this fashion, the users of their Web site wear their love for Orvis on their sleeve, improving word of mouth offline. These consumers also act as an army of brand evangelists for the company in numerous spaces online.

But Will Sidewiki Take Off?

I think that’s a great question. I’ve waited almost three months to write about it and form an opinion. I think early adopters have done some really interesting things with Sidewiki – adding insight, history to articles and opposing perspective to extreme points of view. Personally, I think tools like sidewiki were 100% inevitable, and that ultimately, a moderate portion of web users will adopt, while a smaller number will participate. That being said, Google has historically pulled the plug on projects that didn’t turn out the way the company was hoping for. Lively comes immediately to mind as one of the failed lab experiments, so the jury could very well be out on Sidewiki for the next year or two. Sidewiki Entry

Don’t Panic. Everything Will Be Ok

I understand the worry site publishers have about having unmoderated commentary attached in a convenient sidebar right next to the site they worked so hard to produce and the jury also still seems to be out on whether sidewiki content will hurt the SEO value of the actual site. I also worry that sidewikis have the potential to become giant graffiti walls that serve no real value to enhancing conversation or elaborating on existing site structures, but still contend that the content on your acutal site is what you as a publisher really need to worry about.

We can spend a lot less time worrying about what could be said in a sidewiki, provided we focus on useful, relevant messaging. As content strategists, we say it all the time – it all comes down to what content you put out there. You either have the confidence to put product and your voice out there to stand up for themselves or you don’t. You can always choose not to participate, though I strongly discourage that course. Stay the course content creators. Stay the course!

What do you think of Google Sidewiki? Should we be as worried as some people seem to be?

I’m Not A Social Media Expert And Neither Are You

It seems as if every time I attend a networking event I’m meeting new social media “experts,” “gurus,” “ninjas” and “rockstars.” Quite frankly, I’m not a social media expert, and damn it, neither are you.

Want to know who the real “rockstars” are? They’re people. Real, honest, people; with real, honest faces.

The people who don’t use social media to earn a paycheck are the most valuable voices in the space. And more often than not, they’re the people these self proclaimed “experts” are forgetting about when they make recommendations to companies and brands big and small. There is an infinite problem in measuring your success by the number of tweets you produce daily, the number of friends you were able to corral on Facebook and in the number of referring links you’ve been able to garner. Why? Because more often than not, there is little to no attention paid to whether or not there’s anything worth saying at all and no thought put into what happens once the conversion metric has been satisfied. That comes down to a lack of strategy on the front end.

Kick ass creative? Check. Kick ass social media analytic suite? Check. Kick ass bloggers? Check.

Nothing valuable to say? No plan for what to do with people once you’ve brought them to your site? EPIC FAIL.

I think Joe Pulizzi nails it down perfectly in this post where he says:

Publishing is marketing, marketing is publishing. If we’ve learned anything over the past few years, it’s that the majority of new media marketing efforts rely on a keen understanding of publishing. That means that you (the marketer) need to take your sales and marketing hat off and put on your publishing hat. Instead of features and benefits communication (look at most e-newsletters, which are most times product or offer driven), are you delivering information like a publisher does to readers?

I can’t stress how important this concept is, especially when it comes to sharing your content in the social media space.

Believe me, there’s no way in hell you can consider yourself in expert in understanding something as fluid as the social media space. It changes daily and it gets deeper and deeper by the day. Social media doesn’t have a beginning, an ending or an in between. But if we all begin to start thinking of how we deliver our information on the front end (think about how it’s tagged, the tone you’re presenting it in, who is saying it and why you’re saying it in the first place) and couple it with a strong plan of action once conversion occurs, our content is useful to those swimming in the communication stream and to us, the publisher.

Stop worrying about your ninja skills and start building your strategic muscles. And please, stop calling yourself a guru. It just sounds ridiculous.

Photo: Sanja Gjenero

How To: Avoid Invisibility With Your Personal Brand

How do you keep up with all of those different Web sites, and how do I build a web presence? It’s a question I often hear from friends, students and clients. I always respond to it the same way – Are you sure you want to be as transparent and public as I am? If the answer is yes, here’s my brief how-to on the best ways to stop being invisible online, through careful building of your personal brand and web presence.

Perhaps the most obvious would be to start snagging up your name on the popular social networking sites. If your exact name is available, get it. But if it’s not, I’ve found it helpful to stick to a similar user name or URL shortcode for EVERY service you use. Consistency is something search engines love. The more properties that you can duplicate your username or URL shortcode on, the easier you are to find. And if your last name isn’t quite as unique as “Eizans,” do the best you can to do a first last combo or a username that at least applies to you in some way. You’ll find that most of my property on the web is full first, full last (danieleizans).

Five sites you absolutely shouldn’t ignore include Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn, Twitter and last, but certainly not the least important is building your own website on your own domain. Here’s a quick rundown on why these five things are important to being more visible on the web.

Personal Domain/Website: If your name is available as a dot com, grab it now! With your own web site, you can point it towards all of these other great properties and build your blog into it. If your name isn’t available, do your best to figure out something memorable that applies to you. Don’t get cute, unless you have a company that is tied to your name.

Once you begin adding content to the site, you’ll begin to rise in the search engine rankings, so long as your content is optimized correctly, have strong title tags, header information and include links in the body copy.

Building clean and optimized content is a whole other post I’ll probably get to later.

LinkedIn: If used correctly, your LinkedIn profile says everything about your professional reputation. It essentially serves as your amendable online resume, complete with instant access to your professional references. It’s also plugged in to job hunting tools and is highly functional and SEO friendly.

Since spending a good deal of time updating my resume, background and ACTIVELY asking for recommendations, I’ve gotten at least 1 to 2 job leads a week from my LinkedIn profile. Don’t settle for just listing the job title, fill out the descriptions. Sell yourself.

Flickr: If you have any skill with a camera, Flickr can be a great way to house your photos, tag them, optimize them and be sure they are providing traffic back to your web site. I use Flickr exclusively for all of my images on Diary of a Would-Be Chef and for a great deal of content that I’ve personally shot for this web site. It features an analytics suite that’s reasonably good at identifying where your traffic is coming from and if you choose to make your photos sharable and usable by other bloggers, you could get even more traffic back to your site depending on the publishing rights package you go with.

Several of my food photos are being used as stock art for other blogs, in blog headers and in recipe reprints. In exchange for that use, I require the blogger publishes my name and links directly back to my personal web site, and believe me, I get traffic from it. Flickr also allows you to add links to comments and HTML. Also, take advantage of tags and create one for your site that you’re using the photos on.

Facebook: This social networking giant is a bit of a no-brainer. But, in order to display your profile in the Google results, you will need to change your privacy settings. Sharing your other sites and just having your name attached to Facebook helps you to be more visible.

Twitter: Claim your username on Twitter (before someone else does) and make your bio about you, not just what you’re interested in. Admittedly, Twitter isn’t for everyone. It takes work to stay on top of who you follow and the topics you’re interested in. But having your username locked down isn’t a bad thing. And if you’re as busy as I am at times, you may find it much easier to provide quick updates through micro-blogging as opposed to taking the time to research and post a longer piece. At any rate, Twitter is growing like gangbusters right now and you should become acclimated with it sooner than later. Being on Twitter will only help your name get out there.

So that’s it. Those are the bare bones you need to get started. As you get those properties going, you can add others, like FriendFeed, Tumblr, etc., etc. Crawling out of the cave of invisibility isn’t terribly difficult, but it does take time and a real effort. Also, don’t forget that once you’re out, it’s impossible to crawl back in. So before you go crazy, make sure you don’t mind being found with a single keyword or two. You may regret it in the long run.

Photo Jonathan Phillip