In the old days of doing business online, meaning any time prior to 2011, an internet marketer who wanted their website to appear at the top of the search engine results page (SERP) for their niche, simply had to include a few search engine optimization (SEO) techniques in the content of their page, build a few backlinks from authoritative sites and - Boom! - the website jumped to the top of the list.
On January 30, 2012, Google – the world’s largest and most popular search engine – enacted sweeping changes to their search engine algorithm.
That morning, website owners who had grown accustomed to maintaining the top spot on their niche’s SERP, suddenly found themselves evicted from the internet’s most desirable real estate.
Because they were concerned about reports that unscrupulous internet marketers had somehow outsmarted their search engine algorithm, Google executives suddenly and unexpectedly changed the rules.
SEO, the Holy Grail of internet marketing, had been replaced as the primary determinant of top spot placement.
Instead, social presence instantly became the important factor in determining which sites would be at the top of the heap and reap the biggest commercial rewards.
Like most internet marketers that morning, you may be asking, "What the heck is social presence?"
A web page’s social presence is measured by the number of internet users who show a preference for that site on social media.
It includes Facebook 'Likes', Twitter re-Tweets, Google Plus '+'s', as well as postings on such social preference sites like Pinterest, Yelp, Foursquare and others.
Call it Revenge of the Nerds Redux.
Pandas, Penguins and the Significance of Social Media
Really, we should have seen it coming.
With near universal internet access and the falling prices of access devices such as smart phones, laptops and tablets, nearly everybody on planet Earth is interacting with everybody else on social media.
When Google released the Panda (and later, similar updates to its search engine algorithm called Penguin & EMD), it was simply responding to the changing trends among internet users.
Businesses no longer controlled the way customers found goods and services.
In a bloodless revolution, consumers themselves were now in charge of deciding which websites get top billing.
Voting with the push of a button, the Google upgrades changed the way businesses market themselves forever.
Or at least until the next update.
Viva La Facebook! The Zuckerberg Conflagration
Remember way back in 2005?
It seems like such an innocent era now.
Tom Cruise was jumping on Oprah’s couch.
Crowds were lining up to be disappointed by Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.
And the most popular pop music act in the US was 50 Cent.
Meanwhile, undergrad Mark Zuckerberg was huddled in his dorm room at Harvard University trying to figure out an easier way to meet girls.
Instead, what he came up with would change the global business landscape forever.
Say what you want about Facebook, but its growth in influence in such a short period of time is unprecedented in all of human history.
In less than a decade, the site has attracted nearly a billion users worldwide.
More than half the population of the US has a Facebook account and millions of snarky status updates, vacation photos and 'Farmville' or 'Words with Friends' requests are posted every day.
For businesses, Facebook offers a type of global word of mouth.
When somebody on Facebook ‘Likes’ your business or posts a link to your web page, that information is instantaneously sent to all of the family members, former classmates, co-workers, associates and other Facebook ‘Friends’ who make up their social media contacts.
These people can then pass on this recommendation to their contacts and before you can say ‘Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson’ the whole thing can go viral and your website can be overwhelmed with potential new customers.
What Twitter, Facebook & Google+ Mean for Your Business
Given the way business works today, your business needs to be on social media.
That’s because a majority of consumers today use online search engines to look for the products and services they want.
And why shouldn’t they?
The information can be accessed anywhere using their smartphones, laptops or tablets.
Google, Bing and the other popular search engines now use social presence as the primary factor in determining a website’s page ranking.
And as any business owner in the second decade of the 21st century can tell you, if you aren’t on the top of page 1, or at least on the front page, your business might as well be invisible.
Mark Zuckerberg’s determination to meet girls irrevocably changed the way businesses have to promote themselves forever.
It’s no longer enough to buy advertisements on local TV, radio or newspapers. Heck, in many cities actually newspapers don’t even exist anymore.
In order for your business to succeed, you now have to convince your customers to ‘Like’ you, to ‘+’ you and to ‘Tweet’ about you to their followers.
That really does sort of make 2005 seem like a bygone era, doesn’t it?
The [YOUR COMPANY HERE] Show
You may remember a time before cable or satellite television when the only options most TV viewers had were network television and a handful of local stations?
Flash forward to today when most subscribers can choose from hundreds or even thousands of different options, instantly access their favorite programs at any time, and view programs in realistic high definition or even in 3D.
Still not good enough, say many TV viewers.
They no longer want to be forced to sit on their Lay-Z-Boys in the comfort of their own living rooms in order to be entertained. Viewers today demand that they have access to everything from anywhere.
And the internet happily obliges.
Want to see the latest episode of your favorite HBO show while waiting in your dentist’s office?
Just touch an app on your smart phone.
Missing the big game because you are at your daughter’s dance recital?
You can catch every minute of the action on your tablet (whenever she’s not onstage, that is).
Did you fall asleep during your favorite late night chat show?
Catch what you missed over your morning coffee by firing up your laptop.
While this may be an unfortunate development for your TV advertising return-on-investment, ultimately it’s a positive thing for your business because the expansion in access and advancements in micro video technology mean that anybody can create, distribute and profit from their own videos using tools they likely already own.
YouTube, Your Business and the Age of Video
Most laptops, tablets and smartphones today come equipped with video cameras, many of them HD.
In just a few minutes, you can create a video about your company and its products and services.
Posting it on YouTube is not only free, but a fast and effective way to get your message out in front of your customers.
Google Plus, the search engine giant’s entry into social media, even has a free tool called Hangouts in which you can invite up to 10 people to video chat with you live.
The free program is expected to be expanded in the near future so that an unlimited amount of your customers can engage in live video conferencing.
The program also can be used to provide customer service, deal with complaints, and provide assistance and other applications which until now have been limited to text or audio.
Hangouts are also recordable and can be posted to your free YouTube channel, essentially allowing you to create and maintain your own dedicated television network at a cost to you of zero dollars and zero cents.
And because this is the platform of choice for many consumers today, expect even further advancements in scope and technology soon.
Today, anybody can be a TV star.
Why not you?
The Power of Suggestion
Restaurant owners used to fear the local food critic, who usually kept their identity a secret, and held the power to make or break the restaurant’s business.
A good review could mean the reservations book would be filled for the next several months.
But one poorly cooked Veal Scallopini and the restaurant’s reputation could be damaged irreparably.
Today, however, everybody’s a critic because anybody can post their opinion about any business online, where it can be distributed to hundreds of other web users instantly.
Pictures can be posted.
Even videos and audio recordings can be sent automatically and for free.
This is a game changer for most business owners because instead of having to worry about one or two influential reviewers, they have to be concerned about everybody who walks through their door.
If there’s a smartphone in their pocket or a tablet in their backpack, they have the power to influence the opinion of potentially hundreds of people about your business.
Yelp, Foursquare and Other Social Opinion Sites
For users, social opinion sites are fun and entertaining.
And they can provide valuable information about area businesses, including recommendations and tips.
For business owners, however, they can be a nightmare. But they also can be a huge benefit.
That’s because if somebody has something nice to say about your business, instead of sharing it with a limited pool of a handful of friends or family, they can now spread the word with hundreds, even thousands of social commentary site users.
Instead of living in fear of the bad review, successful businesses today are encouraging their customers to promote their business on Yelp, Foursquare, Pinterest and other social commentary sites because this type of positive exposure can be priceless.
Business owners today should embrace these new free marketing tools and do everything they can to build a positive online reputation.
This not only keeps existing customers satisfied, but broadens their exposure to new customers, building future business and maintaining cash flow.
Where many businesses used to place stickers on their doors advertising the Yellow Pages and that they accepted American Express, Visa and Mastercard, now they are posting stickers encouraging their customers to check them out on Foursquare and Yelp.
Their sales staff actively encourages customers to support them on social media, and their Facebook Fan Pages and Twitter accounts offer special promotions and offers to their most loyal fans.
And what about that influential restaurant critic?
Their opinion is now just one of many.
In 1970, a best-selling book called Future Shock identified a psychological state in which individuals and even entire societies experienced “too much change in too short a period of time.”
The book’s author, futurist Alvin Toffler, warned that the accelerated rate of technological and social change would leave people disconnected and suffering from “shattering stress and disorientation”.
Alvin Toffler could not have imagined the rate of change today.
In 1970, technological advances meant moving from straight leg jeans to bell bottoms.
Today, everything is moving so quickly that people don’t have time to be stressed and disoriented.
They are too busy figuring out how they are going to get the next new iPhone.
For businesses, rapid advances in technology can make marketing investments obsolete.
Consider the businesses that advertise on subway trains.
A few years ago, this was an effective way to get your message in front of an audience that would be held captive for at least several minutes with few distractions.
Today, people in the subway rarely look up from their smartphones, even when they are walking across the platform.
That can make it a challenge to find the most effective ways to spend your business’s marketing budget.
If you can’t be certain how much penetration a certain marketing platform will have a few weeks or months from now, how can you confidently invest your money in it.
Mobile Marketing, QR Codes and Other Emerging Media
The most successful businesses have already abandoned the traditional, stagnant and outdated marketing methods such as television, radio and print media.
Instead, they are embracing new technologies, such as Quick Response (QR) Codes and mobile marketing.
Perhaps ironically, text messaging has replaced the telephone call as the preferred way for most people to communicate with each other.
It’s much more comfortable to simply send off a text to somebody rather than actually talking and risk being stuck in a lengthy and potentially uncomfortable actual conversation.
Successful marketers have exploited this reality by using text messages to promote their products and services.
Currently, it provides the best audience penetration, especially among younger people.
QR Codes have the advantage of being novel.
Looking like tiny Rorschach test inkblots, they invite anybody with a smartphone to scan them, instantly taking them to a web page where they can learn more about the advertiser’s products and services.
These examples of new media marketing are only the latest in what promises to be a fascinating development in marketing strategies as the internet and its users continue to develop.