Lisa Barone, co-founder and chief branding officer of Outspoken Media, has been working on the front lines of search engine optimization and social media for more than five years. A prolific blogger and Tweeter, Barone provides timely information about and insight into trends in blogging, branding, and online reputation management. We spoke with her about what businesses can do to build their brands and cultivate loyal followings.
ISBB: You’ve been involved in the SEO world since 2006. How has the field changed over time, and what should businesses prioritize now?
Barone: There’s obviously a much stronger focus on social ranking and user-behavior signals than ever before. When I started out in this industry, conversations were much more focused on what the search engines were looking for than how we were going to convert a user — and that was definitely a mistake. Today, because of social media and because we see what the engines value, there’s a much stronger focus on the marketing aspect of things, putting together a call to action and a message that’s going to connect with a user. Because at the end of the day, it’s the user holding the credit cards. The search engines want to make sure your site is creating a good experience for a user, so that’s really what’s valued and what businesses need to focus on.
What are some of the most common problems you find with clients’ online marketing and SEO strategies? What solutions do you recommend?
Often clients come to us without a strategy for how they’re going to build a brand. They’re investing in SEO, but they’re not doing anything else. There’s no blog, there’s no social media presence, there’s nothing unique about them (yet) that would cause a customer to take notice and want to learn more. It doesn’t matter how well you’re ranking if your brand is as interesting as a wet blanket. That’s typically where we step in.
What steps should small-business owners take to manage their companies’ online reputations?
Get involved. Don’t just sit in your storefront and ignore the conversation that’s happening about you online. Develop a social media presence, claim all of your online listings, and show your customers that you’re listening and engaged. Many times customers end up venting their frustrations via blogs and review sites because they don’t feel like they have anywhere else to go and they want someone to hear them. If you can let them know how to get in touch with you via social media, you may prevent that bad review from ever being written.
Really, the most important thing is to be monitoring what’s said about you. It doesn’t take much more than a free Google Alert to stay abreast of the conversations happening about your brand on blogs and on Twitter and other social media outlets. The first step in managing your online reputation is to monitor it.
Where do you see the social media industry going from here?
I hope we’re headed in a direction that emphasizes the importance of businesses creating a voice in their markets and using social media tools to help them do that. I hope it leads us more in a direction where businesses are looking at the ROI of their interactions and tweaking their participation to make sure they’re seeing a positive return.
At the end of the day, social media is just another marketing tool for your business. What makes it powerful is that it gives small- and medium-sized businesses a cost-effective way to talk to and engage with customers in a way that was once reserved for larger brands. Hopefully, that will continue. If we focus on the people aspect and doing right by customers, and I think we’ll keep things headed in the right direction.
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