30 May

Got an online community? Here’s how to work with Facebook and Twitter

Are you in the lucky position of having a very active online community on your own website? A busy comments section, or a chatty forum?

Bravo – in today’s world of Facebook and Twitter fever, it’s often hard to get a dedicated community involved in a discussion on your own site. It’s a powerful thing: the discussion is likely to be focussed and relevant to your user and all the discussions go on under YOUR brand’s name. The user knows where they are, who you are and what you stand for. There are also obvious benefits to your on-site advertising revenue as well!

However, a forum on a specialist website, or post comments, can easily become a walled garden. Your community is active, but may not be growing. Despite the increase in sharing tools (eg ShareThis) members rarely flag up their activity off-site so potential new users may not even know you exist.

If you want to maintain the rich discussion on your site, whilst also promoting it to the outside world, you could try setting up accounts with the big boys – Facebook and Twitter.

Graphic showing comment symbols(Note: several of these ideas may not be relevant if your forum runs on a membership-only basis, or deals with particularly sensitive or private issues.  In these cases I would suggest setting up a friendly, simple introductory page explaining who you are, the purpose of the site and the forum and why members get involved and linking to this as opposed to particular discussions). 

 

 

Keep Branding Consistent

Marketing 101 this, I know, but you’ll be amazed how many companies do not have consistent branding across all of their accounts. Use your regular logo/images and use descriptions (or edited version) from your website so people know the site is genuine. If you are not already on these networks, chances are someone else has set up an unofficial page  – make sure your new account stands out as the official one. (If someone has set up a fan or unofficial site – make contact with them, they may be happy to promote your arrival!)

Be Open

Don’t be tempted to match a members-only environment on your site with one on Facebook or Twitter. You are not trying to replicate your on-site community – this is a tool for promoting the discussion and you want it to be as visible and discoverable as possible. 

Don’t Cross-Post Everything

Graphic showing comment and Facebook symbolsThe benefit of the larger social networks is that they’re SO easy to access via phones, tablets and of course, computers. If you replicate all the discussions on Facebook, you are giving your customers an excuse NOT to visit your site.  

Keep your unique selling point – the fact that all the conversation happens on YOUR site. By selecting occasional content to flag up on FB or Twitter, you are saying “here’s what you’re missing, get involved”.

Be smart with your messages

Don’t just cross post the title. Instead, draw new audiences in to your community with phrases like “Great discussion going on about England’s chances LINK” or “Dave reckons England are doomed – what do you think? LINK“. 

Deep link

Make sure the link in your social media message links directly to the content – none of this “front page, find it yourself” nonsense. The user won’t do this: they’ll get fed up and probably won’t return or click on one of your links again. 

NOTE: If your site runs on a members only basis, deep linking will not be relevant here as the user will immediately be faced with a login screen. Send them to a friendly introductory page instead, or use the link to promote your community on a general level, instead of a specific discussion. 

Short link

Use a tool like Bitly. Not only does this help with analytics (Bitly can tell you the number of clicks the link has received) it also makes the messages look tidier and easier to retweet/forward. 

Monitor

(this goes for all social media usage)

Make sure you have at least one eye on comments and postings referring to your brand. Use a desktop tool like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite, and have searches running for the various iterations of your name including abbreviations and nicknames. This means you can respond to any feedback swiftly (and in private if necessary)

Point Back

If someone asks a question that is answered in a forum post, send them the link to a relevant discussion (or introductory page if members-only) and encourage them to get involved. If it is not already covered on your site, either create some content or start the discussion yourself, and point them to that. 

Hashtag

Graphic showing hashtag and comment symbolsYes, on Twitter hashtags are sometimes overused (or used inappropriately), but they can be useful for engaging with a whole new audience.

Keep an eye on trending hashtags and, avoiding spamming, get involved in the debate. Similarly, keep an eye on relevant events or discussions happening and make sure you your brand is in the mix.  if there is a genuine link i.e. “Great to see #internships in the headlines: one of our hot topics this week LINK” or “We’ve been having this very debate recently LINK #internships”

Engage with Other Accounts

There are likely to be a host of organisations similar to your own, or working in the same field, already on these social networks. Find them and connect with them. Chances are they’ll help promote your work by retweets your messages or mentioning you in Facebook posts. All this helps drive users to your site. Also don’t forget to return the favour – start talking about what they are doing too – share and share alike!

 

Twitter and Facebook are still great ways to promote your brand – due to the sheer numbers of users and the diversity of interests. Handled well, you could generate a lot of interest for your on-site discussions.

 

29 May

The Spread of Tech [animated]

Key:

  • RED: fixed broadband internet
  • BLUE: mobile phone subscriptions
  • YELLOW: internet users
  • GREEN – telephone lines
  • (all per 100 population)

STORY OF A VIZ:

Altered last minute to the deadline for the Guardian / Google Competition

This gave me 2 hours do something with a range of data available, to address the issue of the worldwide recession and how national behaviour protected against this, or aided recovery.

THE DATA

Due to the limited time made quick decision to use a simple Excel data set Data World Bank dealing with technological advancements around the world over time.

I edited the many (20+) categories down to 4 – mobile phones, internet users, fixed broadband access and telephone lines. I felt there was a clear link between these, and would give a good demonstration of how technology has moved on.

The categories I decided to eliminate included electricity generation, motor cars, paved roads and access to water.  

CREATING THE VIZ

I then posted the edited spreadsheet into Tableau (paid for version – not public)

NOTE: I could have used the entire database in Tableau and simply used the bits I needed, but I often find it easier to edit the base data first (avoids crashing too)

I knew straight away that I wanted a animated map showing the spread of these tech elements over time.

Tableau has an option called Pages, which I haven’t used massively  – so the bulk of my time was spent changing the options (right) to create the right set up.

I was not able to remove the ZERO values, which gave those small red dots on every country when the animation starts  still need to solve this issue

Another issue to take into account was the order at which circles appear: in order for the latter circles not to appear beneath the earlier ones, they had to be ordered (in Indicator Name) in reverse order  – latter elements first.

By sending the animation to Tableau Public, I would be able to embed and link to the animation. Or so I thought.

I attempted to embed the animation into WordPress but usual iframe issues impeded this (seriously – this needs sorting out).

It was now 11:45 – I was running out of time. 

I initially settled on linking to the Tableau Public but sadly the Tableau Public version was not an animation, simply a manual click through option – not quite as good looking.

CREATING THE ANIMATED VIDEO

I then decided to make a VIDEO of the viz. I briefly considered exporting then individual screenshots  into Moviemaker but this would definitely lose some impact.

Then I remembered some screen-recording software I had recently used to create a vidcast – Screencast-0-matic Screen Recorder.

By playing the animation from Tableau Desktop, and selecting just that element of the screen, it produced a relatively nice finished result.

I just need to remember to turn off the mic next time and think more carefully about the font I used (the menu was a little unclear)

 

CONCLUSION

I am pleased with what I achieved in this short time, and discovered a new way of producing video animations.

However, I do accept that the chart, as it stands, does not really answer the brief.

It was fun tough and proves what can be done in a short period of time!

16 May

How long should online content be?

Graphic showing glyph images relating to content length How long should online content be?

According to this Writinghood article, the perfect length is between 500-800 words; other people say shorter is better; but surely there’s more to it than that?

For personal/fun blogging I say do whatever you like, but for something more structured and professional , here are a few things you might want to think about: (feel free to add your tips/thoughts in the comments below).

  1. What is the content? For example, is it an introduction, a product description, a technical report or an opinion blog post? Each of these has a different purpose and require different treatment.  Thanks to @theaardvark  (via Twitter) who said that posts explaining complex issues (in his case VAT) need to be lengthy in order to achieve their purpose.
  2. What are you hoping to achieve? Do you want to impress the reader with your literary prowess, or prove that you are a snappy, swift communicator who cuts to the chase?  If you are selling something, which will convince the reader/customer?
  3. How much have you got to say? Are you getting stuck into a big topic, or making a short comment? A great rule of thumb from several people via Twitter, including @pigsonthewing “I stop writing when I’ve said what I have to say”
  4. What is the subject area? Some interesting research here into the average length of articles from some of the larger specialist sites. Tech stories tend to be shorter, politics and financial tend to be longer.
  5. Just text? Have you created a block of text, or will you break it up with bullet points, images, diagrams, video or audio? Additional content will keep the reader’s attention and make the article easier to read. @hainsworth tweeted: “Can it be read in three minutes, or can it be bulleted or paginated to more than one post? 300 words is usually enough”
  6. Page layout – How much room do you have? Do you want to go “below the fold” (will the user have to scroll down to continue reading?). Look at the page layout, font size – how will it look when it’s published?
  7. How long is the other content on the site – what works, what is the reader expecting? Are certain length articles more popular than others on the site? (Check analytics). (If this is a new site, see 8.)
  8. What are other people in your field / the competition doing? Are they right? Is it working? Are they getting shared/commented upon? Do you want to be different? Could you use the length of your articles to compete/make a point of difference?
  9. How often are you posting? Are you writing daily, weekly or monthly? It may be impractical to deliver 10-page articles every day, and your reader may struggle to keep up.
  10. Mobile – with the increase in mobile browsing, we cannot ignore the necessity for even shorter posts. They are prepared to scroll, but not endlessly. How many users visit your site from mobile devices? Is it worth tailoring content for them?
Do you have anything else you would consider, when writing online?
Further Reading:
You might like my article on > Top 10 Crimes of Online Writing
15 May

SEO Copywriter – a move to the dark side?

Witch Burning

Image courtesy of Mullica

In the next few days I have an interview for an SEO Copywriter position – which has prompted a very unexpected reaction from my friends and colleagues.

My background: broadcast journalism – 10 years of writing news scripts and documentaries. More recently I have “gone digital”, completed an MA in Online Journalism and worked with clients on social media strategy, content and data visualizations. 

It is not a huge leap for me to consider roles which require some technical understanding of the internet, search and content.

So, WHY has there been such a dismissive reaction to this particular role?

Three letters – SEO.

The ones who know what SEO stands for (Search Engine Optimization, for those who do not) are what I call the “good” people of the internet. They are journalists and hyper-local bloggers, trainers working with not-for-profit organizations and university lecturers.

They do worthwhile work. They are good people.

To them, anyone who actively goes after search engine ranking via SEO is, as one put it, “creating all that crap online”.

You Give SEO a Bad Name

Yes, there are some very unscrupulous activities online – web marketing is a big business and naturally companies will be tempted to take the fast-easy route. Various black-hat techniques, link baiting, hidden text, cloaking an, of course, spamming, are a blight.

However, as Google improves its crawling techniques, and its spiders evolve more “human” sentiment, so the cracks will show in traditional “black hat” techniques. It was interesting to see that content was a particular focus of Google’s latest update (nicknamed Panda) and sites that were using article spinning, anchor text and paid links saw their rankings hit.

Google process of judging a website’s content as a reader would, has the potential to drive content quality UP, instead of down.

It’s just a shame that this does not necessarily mean the end of link-farms and poorly-written, keyword stuffed articles. Google is not the only search engine, and some companies get enough business from the less-fickle Yahoo and MSN to not worry about quality content.

The Prisoner

Reader or Crawler?

I find the worst web content has been written for a crawler – to generate a high page ranking.

However, with the increase in popularity of social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), and bookmarking tools (e.g. Delicious, Instapaper) the reader now plays a much more active role in the process.

They are now much more than just a number, boosting impression rates. They now have the potential to share, recommend, link to and blog about content they like, whether that is to their friends, or to a niche, specialist circle.

An interesting piece of copy with the relevant material highlighted, tagged and organized will keep the crawlers, and your readers, happy.

 

See also: Buying Social Media Followers > quality V quantity

All content (c) Caroline Beavon 2020