The customer persona and why you get it wrong

Crafting a customer persona, or more likely a group of them, is one of the fundamental best practices in marketing. If you get inside your customers’ heads, as well as you can without having a real one-to-one relationship with them, then you’ll be able to better understand what they want, and create content, products, and services that meet their needs.
The problem is that persona marketing, while absolutely important and valuable, is often done wrong.
There are two critical problems we see most often with customer persona development. The first is confusing the customer persona with customer demographics, and the second is failing to understand that the needs of your customer personas are not static; they fluctuate as they move down the funnel. This second point is vital for any content marketing you’re carrying out, as understanding your customers’ search habits, the language they are using during their journey, and how this relates to the customer funnel should inform how you structure and serve up content.
 

Customer persona versus demographics

No doubt you’ve seen a lot of customer personas that look a bit like this:

  • Male
  • 35-45 years old
  • Homeowner
  • Married
  • 2 children
  • £45,000 per annum salary

What we have here isn’t a persona but demographic information. Doesn’t matter how much of a “life” you pile on top of these sorts of stats (more on that in a second) they never develop into anything beyond demographics, and that’s because they don’t tell you anything about the persona’s desires, concerns, motivation, challenges, or intent. These are crucial factors we need to know to build a customer persona that is useful.
Demographics have their uses, absolutely, and they form the basis of personas, but they can’t just be the be all and end all of the process of persona development.
You can’t call the above a customer persona by doing this:
“Let’s call this chap Andy. Better yet let’s give him a cute little nickname. We’ll call him Aspirational Andy, because we think Andy desires more from life. He’s a bit of a go-getter. He has a couple of foreign holidays a year. He’s probably saving to purchase a buy-to-let property. He plays golf (no doubt poorly). He wants to start his own business one day. He reads the Independent. He drives a BMW but only a 1 series. He’d love a 5 series though. He’s really going places is Andy.”
All you’ve done is given the demographic data a character. Now this sort of information, if it’s based on real data from actual customers, can be useful and help you work out your customer’s motivations. But if it is just an exercise in creative writing based on assumptions it adds nothing to the demographic data and won’t have much of an impact on the success of your marketing.
We’ll look at how you can get accurate information to build a useful persona later, but now let’s move onto the second major issue surrounding persona development.
 

Understanding the customer funnel

Let’s say you’ve got your customer persona written up. We’ll stick with Andy for now, as he seems like a nice guy. So you believe that Andy is one of your core target audiences, and you know a bit about him demographically and you’ve built up the details around him.
It’s time to start creating content and strategies that will engage and convert Andy into a purchasing, and hopefully loyal, customer. Yes?
No.
Because what Andy wants changes based on what stage of the journey he is at. When he’s at the top of the customer funnel what he is looking for, how he searches, and the kind of marketing he is receptive to is different to how it is when he is further down the funnel and close to purchase.
This isn’t revolutionary but it’s so easy to overlook.
Analysing your customer funnel and how your customers act at each stage is easier to see than ever with the range of analytic tools available. You’re able to see how people arrived to pages on your site, what they did there, whether they moved down the funnel, left and came back later, or bounced away and disappeared altogether. You can see what kind of content was being served up to them and how effective it was.
In short it’s possible to accurately build your customer funnel and map all kinds of information onto it to help inform your marketing activity. Understanding that Andy’s behaviour will change as he moves along the funnel is one small, but important component in this.
 

The key to a successful customer persona

So how can you engage in persona development that is effective? Here are some key points that can help:

  • Base them on fact. You have a lot of data available to you through your website and social media channels that can tell you a lot about customer behaviour, so use it. You also need to put the time into conducting interviews with customers, including existing, lapsed, and potential customers. This can be done via digital surveys or good old-fashioned telephone conversations if suitable.
  • Take the rough with the smooth. Talking to regular happy customers is nice, of course, but you also need to engage with and listen to those who bought once but never came back, those who came close to purchase but didn’t, and those who had a bad experience with your business in some way. This allows you to get inside the objections, blockers and issues customers experience. That way you can effectively target both potential customers and lapsed customers.
  • Focus on what matters. Does knowing, or guessing, what sport your personas like to indulge in matter to you? It may do depending on what you’re selling, but then it may not. Think very carefully about the kinds of information and level of detail you delve into. What you definitely need to know are things like the type of proposition that connects with them, what influences their decision-making, the platforms they engage with frequently, and so on. Additional details can help round out the picture and inform content marketing, but if you aren’t a food manufacturer then detailing customers’ preferred snacks is probably irrelevant.

Hopefully you can see that what really makes a customer persona effective is engaging with your customers. Finding out real information about real people is what makes for successful persona development. Basing them just on your perceptions of your customers, or broad generalisations about a group, won’t help improve your marketing.
The customer persona is important, and it’s important because it can help you get a clearer picture of your customers’ drivers. Remember people tend to make decisions that are driven by emotions (quite often subconscious ones), and they then post-rationalise the choice using selected facts that back up their decision. So basing your customer personas just on statistics isn’t effective because those statistics don’t tell you anything about why they made the choices they did.
If you need help with building up effective customer personas, understanding your customer funnel, or using data to inform your marketing then drop us a line.
 

What does social success look like?

On Tuesday 26 July 2016, we held an illuminating event to shine a light on emerging social media trends, looking at how, by embracing change, organisations can better equip themselves for the road ahead. #TheSocialStandard was held at The Rooms in Browns on St Martins Lane, where one of the speakers was Andy Sitta, Social Media Consultant at Organic.
In this fascinating article, Andy follows up his talk on understanding social metrics with further advice for social managers.
The idea for a presentation on the importance of understanding social metrics came to me by two routes. Firstly, I’ve always had an affinity with numbers. I like to play with them and get to know what they all really mean. Being able to do this allows me to run effective paid campaigns and get to grips with what is really happening.
Secondly, you would be surprised how much confusion there is – even among social media managers – when it comes to this topic. Amongst marketing directors and people outside marketing (say, in general management roles) the situation is even more acute.
Just to illustrate this point, in a room full of circa 40 marketing professionals, only two of those present were confident that they could tell difference between reach and impressions. Over half of the audience didn’t even know there was a difference! And these are just two of the many metrics frequently used to monitor social activities.
So the main reason for choosing this topic is that there’s an important knowledge gap in many organisations. Filling it could be the first step towards delivering higher ROI from their social channels.

So what’s stopping brands from understanding their own social performance?

Getting a handle on an organisation’s social performance is about more than digesting the key terminology. Two other factors are worth mentioning.
First, there is a lack of consistency among the different platforms. This could be because the formats or metrics of different social channels aren’t always amenable to straightforward, head-to-head comparisons. Comparing social with other marketing channels (e.g. search) presents even more of a challenge.
Second, hence the motivation for my talk, it’s close to impossible to analyse your performance without first knowing what you want to achieve. There are tens of different metrics and you can’t possibly measure everything. People need actionable insights and they need them quickly. An A4 sheet full of arbitrarily compiled numbers won’t do it. It’s quite alarming that “88% of marketing professionals didn’t feel they could accurately measure the effectiveness of their social media campaigns” (Fast Company).
The truth is, you can provide measurable outcomes of social activities only when you know what you were trying to do in the first place. In fact, as one of our attendees pointed out, the results from social can often be more tangible and accurate than the results from other marketing activities, such as TV advertising, billboards or PR.
But the fact remains that there is a persistent myth that social can’t be measured. Unfortunately, this often translates into ‘social is not effective’ thinking, which then puts pressure on social departments. This misapprehension can make it difficult for these departments to grow.

Social metrics and day-to-day pressures

Managers and marketers within pressurised social departments may agree with much of the above. Whether they feel empowered to implement effective change can be another matter entirely.
Many brands continue to post large quantities of content on their social channels without thinking about their objectives first. Predictably, the result is often the wrong content and formats, coupled with inaccurate measuring. It is a responsibility of the heads of social media departments to make sure that everyone is aware of what is the brand trying to achieve on social. Yes, it will take some time at the very beginning to form a sound strategy. And it will take more time to put the right content plans in place, in order to ensure that all objectives can be met during each week and month.
But once it’s done, it should actually make the lives of social media executives easier, as the process of selecting the right content and the right platform will become more natural. This will also ensure that your social activities are getting you closer to achieving business objectives. Moreover, it will save time when doing reporting – rather than collecting all numbers that are available, executives can just focus on metrics that actually matter. This process will then also inform their future activities. Furthermore, once executives know what they are trying to achieve, they may start coming up with some creative solutions.

‘Quality over quantity’ applies to measurement too

Hopefully, everyone would agree that quality should trump quality when it comes to content. But the same thinking should be applied to the quality of metrics used and the goals that go with them. Most brands are still obsessed with likes and numbers of followers. But this simplistic approach could hurt them in the long term. Both their reach – largely determined by algorithms – and their customers’ experience will suffer.
I realise it’s tempting to get the numbers up quickly, and it’s quite easy to boost likes and followers. But there’s often little value when you’re not targeting the right people or producing irrelevant content. Focusing on quality is the best way to build engaged communities, boost engagement rates and get real results that would actually benefit your business. To give some straightforward examples:

  • When building communities, it is better to have 1,000 engaged fans out of 5,000 than 500 out of 100,000.
  • When raising awareness through video content, it is better to generated 1,000 complete video views than 5,000 3-second video views.

The way forward

Every business is different, and therefore social will play a different role for each of them. Not everyone needs a Twitter account or to be on Snapchat.
Similarly, simply ‘to engage your fans’ is not the only possible objective. Social can be employed as a traffic driver or a means for customer service. On the latter, this could and should be the major objective for many brands, yet remains underestimated. Customer care on social can make a massive difference: turning unhappy customers to brand ambassadors or, as KLM proves, creating a new revenue stream.
As long as a brand knows what its key objectives are, its activities on social should present themselves naturally. Putting the right objective in place will also ensure a brand’s ability to measure ROI. However, it’s hard to measure social activities accurately without knowing the metrics first. I hope through my talk at #TheSocialStandard and this article that I’ve encouraged people to think differently about social metrics and measuring social in general.
I would also like to remind everyone that these are just numbers after all. We need numbers to back up our decisions. (This is a universal fact, not just in marketing.) But as professionals we have a duty to make sure the numbers we are using represent reality, or at least the aspect of reality we’re most interested in understanding as accurately as possible. Ideally, we should be using numbers to inform our decisions, not just to boost our egos or cover up our mistakes.
Let’s finish with a simple process: Start with defining your objectives -> Understand the metrics -> Choose the right metrics -> Go for quality over quantity -> Look at social from a wider angle -> Use your head and test hypotheses using a test and learn approach.
It was a privilege for me to be involved in #TheSocialStandard, an Organic event at which a range of interesting and important social topics were raised and discussed openly and honestly. It would be great to keep the conversation going on #TheSocialStandard.
You can see Andy’s presentation in full here
#TheSocialStandard is just the latest in our ongoing series illuminating of events for marketing and management professionals. Join our mailing list below so you won’t miss out on future opportunities to learn from expert speakers, share ideas with your counterparts and expand your network.


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Tomorrow’s technology, yesterday: the rapid progress of search

There are several aspects of 24th century Star Trek technology that already appear quaintly antique to us here in the 21st, one of which is the method by which the crew stores and reviews data.
Super-android, Commander Data, whose total linear computational speed is 60 trillion operations per second, today appears cerebrally glacial compared to supercomputers that undertake quadrillions of operations p/s. That’s a lot of information processing. This is probably why Data sometimes has to go on the Enterprise’s amusingly anachronistic equivalent of the internet to find stuff out. The enterprise crew also carries information around in stacks of tablets that are quite a lot chunkier than today’s iPads.
Prior to the advent of the internet, the science writers of the late 1980s simply did not predict the speed with which we would overtake Star Trek information technology within only a couple of decades. Today we have at our fingertips more information than ever before, which we retrieve within a fraction of a second. Any longer than that and we’ve lost interest. Furthermore, we expect our searches to bring up information that’s pretty close to what we want. We refuse to spend time ‘hunting around’. We want our tech to intuit our needs and fill in the gaps in our language. Why bother typing an entire command when the core grammatical elements will do? But there is something particularly thrilling each time a little more of our technology shifts further into what had previously been the domain of science fiction as this exchange illustrates:
“Computer.”
“Prrrrb” [hail beep 1]
“Locate the whereabouts of Commander Data.”
“Commander Data is in Ten-Forward. Prrrb.”
There’s something about the voice command that makes one feel firmly part of the future. Hands-free technology is increasingly desirable as we seek to undertake multiple tasks in busy workplaces, and often it’s far easier and quicker to ask a question of our mobile (or desktop) verbally than it is to interrupt our activity and type it out.

What does changing modes mean for SEO?

But there’s more to voice search than the mere novelty of convenience. We talk very differently to how we type: we speak faster; we have accents; we use dialect terms, idiomatic phrases and non-standard syntax; we employ prosodic features like pitch, stress, intonation and volume; we often stumble or mispronounce words and we abbreviate words or leave them out. We also form questions in a variety of different ways:
“What’s the weather going to be like today?”
“Is it going to rain today?”
“Will I need an umbrella later?”
The intelligence of the engine searching for the answer must allow for all of these questions if it is to satisfy the user. There is also the fact that of all searches 10-15% have never been constructed in that way before. That is, people are inputting long-tail search terms that are unique in their lexical arrangement, therefore the engine must extrapolate from the semantic units to come up with the goods.
Typing enquiries necessarily slows us down and there is a moment to consider the nature of what we type, to amend and to clarify, but with voice commands grammatical constructions are spontaneous and the mode allows for more variation. As engines become more agile in anticipating collocations and drawing upon semantic fields and the digital information known about the user through the mobile, so will the accuracy of that search term. The next question might be: how do companies make sure they rank for voice searches?

To boldly go where no search has gone before

Let’s head back to the 24th century for a moment and consider what happens when Picard asks the computer for data verbally: reams of text and diagrams interchange speedily on-screen, seemingly with no consideration for relevance. If this method of ranking search results were the standard today people would soon revert to books for information.
Today, when we request a search result – increasingly using mobiles – we have a very defined list of appropriately ranked information that ideally (depending upon the search terms we’ve used) requires minimal sifting. Users expect to have their queries answered in an instant and by the first few results of page 1. Amidst that information Google supplies not only data from web pages, but also from apps. Google directs the user to the most relevant source of information irrespective of the form in which that information exists. In the case of the above search, Google might direct the user to the BBC weather app result for the location of the user.
From a commercial point of view this is very interesting. If a user were to search for things to do with their kids this weekend, then the result that best caters for their query might well be activities with an adventure company 10 minutes’ drive from home, rather than simply coming up with a variety of only partially relevant options, such as the same activities in the next county. Better still if the user can be served a result linking to a voucher for this adventure company directly within a pre-installed app.

Putting customers at the centre of search

Change is one certainty and the other certainty is (as proven with Star Trek’s technical aspirations) that change takes place in the digital world at a fair lick. That’s why we place so much emphasis on keeping users at the centre of the picture. When users change or develop their searching habits, Google is keen to help them locate the desired information. To ensure your content is still performing in the search results it must also adapt and align itself with this changing nature of search.

The state of SEO: it’s all about people

SEO is changing. In fact, it always has been changing but the shifts over the last few years have been nothing short of seismic, and have seen businesses the world over struggling to keep up. What was once a dark art of gaming the system has been dragged out into the light, kicking and screaming, by Google in their pursuit of consistently serving customers the content that really fulfils their needs.
Now SEO isn’t really about satisfying the search engines, algorithms and spiders (although that’s still a part of it), now SEO is all about people. Google wants to provide their users (your customers) with the most relevant and useful content as quickly as possible. Your customers want content that will help them in some way or fulfil a need. So if you align your SEO with the one constant in the changing SEO equation, the customer’s needs, then success is never far away.
We’ll be exploring the topic of people-centric SEO over the coming weeks leading up to an event where we will delve deeper into the issues with industry experts. But to whet your appetite, here are the broad concerns when it comes to making your SEO people-friendly.

The technical foundation

There’s been a big, and on-going, debate between SEO experts on the importance of technical SEO versus content-led SEO. The problem is that, both sides are important and quite often people seem to be arguing at cross purposes, or disagreeing when in actual fact they broadly agree with each other.
What is technical SEO? Basically it’s any SEO that is focussed on making your site and its pages easy to spider and index, and lays the foundations for everything else that follows.
Is your site fast? Is it mobile friendly? Is its architecture clean and easy for spiders to navigate? These are just some of the concerns of technical SEO, and they are all vital if you want your site to rank.
Technical SEO is important. It’s the foundation that all of your other SEO work will sit on, and if you get it wrong then everything else you do, no matter how good, will perform sub-optimally.
So yes, technical SEO really does matter.

Never mind the width, feel the quality

Time was when you could rank just by stuffing pages with keywords, or churning out pages and pages of content that was of no real use to anybody.
Not anymore.
Thanks to Google’s infamous Panda update, if you aren’t producing original, high quality content on your site then you’re going to feel the pinch. Nobody knows the exact details of the Panda algorithm but when Google published an article on creating high quality sites following the update most of the tips were based on creating content that real people will find genuinely useful and interesting.
In the simplest of terms, quality content gets more interactions and more links, which is good for your customers, your brand awareness and equity, and for Google.

What’s their intent?

Intentions, and the actions they drive, need to be put under a microscope if you’re going to really target your SEO strategy.
It starts with understanding the buying cycle, what kinds of content people want at the stage they are on, and what kinds of keywords they’re using to find that content.
The kind of content that is useful for someone in the research phase of the buying cycle is different to someone who is at the decision-making stage, and so the kinds of searches they carry out will be different. Let’s use running shoes as an example.
A customer wants to find a new pair of running shoes to train for a 10k run. They might start off just by searching for ‘running shoes for men/women’. That’s going to return a lot of high-level results, probably from big retail sites, where they can sift through lots of brands and styles. Perhaps they like the look of a pair of Nike trainers, but that pair of Asics seems to have good reviews. Then they might start looking for specific reviews of each online, changing their search terms appropriately. Now we’re in the evaluation stage. Maybe they do a ‘which is better for running Nike or Asics’ type of search too, to see if anyone has put them head to head.
At each stage of the cycle you need to create content that herds the user towards purchase, but it’s more than that. You need to be able to workout if users who engage with your content are taking the specific actions you want. That way you can focus your content creation to not only better serve their need, but also to target users who are much more likely to convert.

Positive signals

Most of the big ranking factors surround interactions, because if people aren’t interacting with your content in a positive manner then it tells Google and the other search engines that your content, and by extension your site, isn’t useful for the user.
While you used to be able to just get lots of links back to your site by handing over cold, hard cash that’s not going to cut it anymore. Google’s Penguin update launched in 2012 with the express aim of penalising sites that have created unnatural or suspicious backlinks to improve their performance.
Why do links matter so much? Because when somebody links to your content, and vice versa, it is seen as an endorsement of that content/page/site. And like recommendations in real life, the quality of the individual giving the recommendation matters. If someone you don’t know tells you to try a new toothpaste you probably won’t take their advice as seriously as if your dentist recommends it, or if an independent professional dental organisation gives it a seal of approval.
But if you found out that the dental organisation receives funding from the manufacturer of the toothpaste…well you suddenly put less stock in their opinion. It’s the same with links.
Links should be natural, and from quality sites, not purchased from low authority domains, if you want to succeed.
And it’s not just links. Social shares, likes, comments and other interactions all have an impact on your SEO performance.

The people-centric future

Being people-centric in your SEO isn’t the future, it’s the here and now and it will only become more important as technology becomes more sophisticated.

Platforms can come and go, but how people engage with them is pretty consistent. That’s because users’ intangible core needs remain the same. It’s how well those platforms recognise and respond to user need that determines for how long they stay. Technology has a short lifecycle, and those that survive are the ones that adapt.
Twitter as a social network has been stagnating for some time. Its inability to attract new users is reflected in its share price, which is lower than ever. It’s not really a surprise, then, that the channel is striving to do something about it. We’ve already seen a lot of changes in the last year and we can expect to see yet more activity being implemented to revive the network. Last year, Twitter acquired the live-streaming platform, Periscope, which is now almost fully integrated into Twitter. It introduced Moments, a feature that showcases news and trending topics. It swapped stars (favourites) with hearts (likes) – and engagement increased by 6% as a result (read more here). It made some changes around direct messages, so users could receive direct communication even from those they didn’t know or follow. Furthermore, character limits have been lifted, opening the door for a better and private customer service. Users were invited to make use of a poll feature as well as to use GIFs in their tweets. Recently, the company has introduced an algorithm that allows users to see the most ‘relevant’ tweets at the top of their news feeds first.

Is the new algorithm a game changer?

The algorithm was created so users would not miss out on the best tweets and to increase the quality of tweets in the news feed. The algorithm shows users the most ‘relevant’ tweets since they last checked – which doesn’t necessary mean the ones with the best engagement. This is good news for all small users and doesn’t eliminate the chance of posts going viral. However, only part of the feed is affected by the algorithm and it is not even a default feature. Why? Well, the hashtag #RIPtwitter may have caused this decision as many core users did not approve the change. Arguably, what is not there by default is not there at all, as seen with Facebook privacy settings: given the choice most will share content with friends only. Therefore at this moment, the move is not a game changer as the effects on users are relatively modest.

Problems to face

Twitter is working to add features that will make the platform more desirable and encourage people to spend more time there. But the reality is changes need to be significant to turn its fortunes around. It’s doubtful that the above changes will convince new users to join. Plus Twitter will have to deal with the following challenges:

  • If you’re small (not a celebrity) it’s hard to get attention. Paid promotion is a possible solution, but people have to trust the platform before spending money on it
  • There are a great many inactive users and fake accounts
  • Finding quality content is a challenge
  • The platform needs to promote its purpose to the general public
  • Twitter has a difficult relationship with developers and ‘partners’: Instagram images are not visible in streams, and Meerkat was denied access after Periscope acquisition

Can Twitter continue to contend?

You have friends on Facebook. On Instagram you have visually appealing content. On LinkedIn you can make professional connections. What does Twitter offer up that the others can’t?
Twitter was built for tech conversations, not for the general public, and the transformation will undoubtedly alienate some of the core users, but change is absolutely necessary if the platform wants to grow. Twitter needs to be simple, uncluttered, and people need to take joy in using it. Twitter will never be Facebook and the comparison really hurts Twitter: the platform has not been able to forge its own identity clearly enough and distinguish itself.

The problem of quality

Where are the easy-to-navigate filters? That is, how can you search for what people are saying about David Cameron or The Oscars? How can you filter the content you want to engage with: the real-time news, sport, live events, politics, music, fashion, movies, or recipes? The Newsfeed is chaotic with political tweets mixed with music and tech. Even Moments, rather than simplifying the platform, serves to add another layer of complexity. Users want to personalise their accounts by selecting favourite topics, celebrities, TV shows, and so on. People want the right content at the right times.

Is the battle lost?

Thanks largely to mobile advertising, Twitter’s revenue is actually growing by 48%, which is much better than expected. There is also the will for undertaking the necessary changes inside Twitter, as well as externally to the platform. Twitter continues to possess a massive influence over the world concerning breaking news and trends (e.g. Arab Spring, Ice Bucket Challenge, #BlackLivesMatter, etc.). Stories are picked up by all major news outlets and even people that are not using the platform directly will get access to the information on it eventually from the news, on other social networks or from individuals. All that remains is for Twitter to find a way to encourage non-users to create their own accounts so they can access the information they want first hand.

Change is the only constant

The only constant is change. It’s not enough for platforms to introduce arbitrary features in the hopes of coaxing flagging or disengaged customers back into life. Twitter was compelled to introduce gifs because of their popularity with people, it was not something they bestowed upon customers from a top-down position. Platforms like Twitter need to recognise what they need to do to adjust by engaging with people first rather than throwing functionality at the problem.
At Organic, we recognise that change is driven from grass roots level, so it’s important we are attuned to how customer and user need informs technologies rather than imposing technologies on them. If platforms like Twitter adopt the same philosophy they can continue to remain in the spotlight and occupy centre stage.

As the biggest and most powerful search engine, what Google says goes. So when Google changes something like its Blogger Guidelines users feel the impact of that move very quickly. Their most recent change centres on how brands and agencies engage with influencers. If you are a blogger, media owner, brand-marketing manager, digital agency employee, then you need to know what has changed and how it could affect your SEO ranking.

Link Wars

Google has been waging a war on link building for some time and has already unleashed a number of weapons to combat ‘unnatural linking’. These weapons have taken many forms over the past 5-6 years, including manual action penalties and the Penguin updates, so Google can clamp down on any paid for, unnatural, link building.
Now Google criteria for what constitutes an unnatural link has altered further to include even more than the vetoing of an exchange of money for a link. Guidelines now state that the following can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results. The Guidelines forbid, ‘Buying or selling links that pass PageRank’.  This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link. Therefore brands and agencies that look to approach bloggers or media owners with a gift, service or a product to review will be in breach of Google guidelines unless the post is flagged-up as sponsored and any links within the content is ‘nofollowed’.
No follow tags need to be used where appropriate including in reviews where bloggers are ‘paid’ with products. This includes links to social media accounts and app store as well as their websites. Disclosure is now even more important and bloggers are encouraged to clearly state they are getting a product free or are being paid for a review.

What This Means For Bloggers

Bloggers will be most affected by this change. For years brands and agencies have reached out to bloggers with gadgets and goodies to compel the blogger to review the product on their site with the idea that the blogger would respond by linking to the product or brand, which would assist in SEO performance. This transaction supported both parties: not only would it supply the blogger with content and free stuff, they would supply the brand with links that were potential leads or customers.
Now, if you are a blogger who is approached by a brand or agency with a product, you can review it but you must:

  • State in the copy that the post is supported/sponsored/in collaboration with the brand in question
  • Nofollow any link to the brand
  • Make sure that your content is unique and not copied from the brochure

As Google will most likely add this change in guidelines to their algorithm and not just their manual review process, bloggers should review old posts and all supported content should be disclosed to avoid incurring Google’s wrath.
Head of Social at Organic, Marisa Thomas, said, ‘Really Google’s blogger guidelines serve to support standards that are already in place. The US advertising watchdog recently rebuked a fashion firm for their Instagram influencers not sufficiently signposting their reviews as commercially motivated. There’s a very real possibility of brands flouting advertising rules if they don’t comply with Google’s guidelines, which is never good for business.’

What This Means for Webmasters/Owners/Agencies

The effect this change will have on business will depend on what you’re looking to get from your engagement with bloggers. If you seek to increase traffic, brand awareness and general coverage for a product or service, then contacting influential bloggers is still going to be a great way to achieve your KPIs, but there are some elements you’ll need to make sure your influencer includes:

  • Disclosure of your relationship with the blogger
  • Nofollow any links to you/your client

If you have been using ‘free’ products as a way of building SEO links for your brand or client, then this new change is much more of an issue. If you are to follow Google’s guidelines, then the tactic of giving a product for a link/post is no longer one that can be used for SEO. With the blogger having to Nofollow the link, there will no longer be any authority flowed through to your site to help authenticate your SEO.

So how can brands generate authentic links?

Outreach is changing and your strategy needs to change too. Instant results are hard to achieve, so investing in social media and blogger outreach to get your content seen by more people may be the next best ethical way to try and earns links.
While this approach works in theory your content has to be worthwhile to encourage ‘natural’ links and garner the right exposure. Quality trumps quantity but also raises the greater issue around measurement and time frames in which you can expect to see results, which remains the ongoing SEO/social challenge.
The question, then, is how else can brands reach influencers authentically? David Tapp, Head of SEO at Organic, says, ‘Undoubtedly this development will force brands to consider content first to gain natural links to their sites rather than depending upon techniques to compel links. Strategies for accessing targeted influencers might include using social ads to lead them ‘organically’ to your product for review’.

How Organic approaches outreach

At Organic we take a user-first approach to all outreach. We provide analysis of our clients’ audience by accurately identifying the types of content they engage with and share. This allows us to build links naturally by creating high-quality content, interactive widgets, videos and more, that the user will genuinely want to share. Content takes the shape of anything that will resonate with and emotionally engage targeted users. We can evidence great results across a rich variety of clients through content such as quizzes, competitions and other interactive content.
It is inspiring, imaginative, creative and evergreen ideas that are richly supported by PR and social media that compels influencers to authentically engage with products. We are confident that with authentic and captivating content there is very little requirement for artifice and in this way we continue to respond with agility to whatever Google sends our way.

Surface knowledge Vs. deep learning. Digital: a help or a hindrance?

We now know more than we have ever known and most of our knowledge is stored in bytes. But does easy access to everything aid us in our quest for knowledge?
The major gripe of educators everywhere is that students have become too dependent on quick-fix information: whipping out the mobile to ‘research’ something using only the top-ranking link in response to their (sometimes entirely random) search terms; lifting chunks of non-peer reviewed material straight from Wikipedia; using sound bites ‘sourced’ from Twitter, and exhibiting a general estrangement from antique novelty items like books. In academic settings everywhere, libraries are rebranded Learning Resource Centres: here, walls of books have become banks of monitors, and the whisk of a page being turned has been replaced with the hum of a hard drive. Educators despair at the referencing skills students struggle with because to many a citation is a retweet and a quotation something alighted upon on brainyquote.com. Indeed, the educational establishment’s preference for the word ‘learners’ over ‘students’ is indicative of the fact that there has been a shift away from active ‘studying’, which typically involves rigorous research and getting to the bottom of a problem or question, to the more passive ‘learning’, whereby information is seemingly absorbed by means of osmosis. There is a great deal of emphasis placed on the use of technology and digital in education, yet despite the burgeoning opportunities digital advancements have created to facilitate enquiry, are we any better equipped at getting value from the wealth of information that is now – quite literally – at our fingertips?

The ever-expanding circle of knowledge

Ancient Roman philosopher Plotinus observed that all knowledge is contained within what we collectively know – nothing outside of that knowledge can be known unless you are God. Stuart Firestein, Professor of Biology and Neurobiology at Columbia University, NY, expanded on this notion to describe how we live at a time when the circumference around our collective knowledge has never been greater, yet, paradoxically, as this circumference has expanded there is a wider realm of information that exists beyond it that we don’t yet know. This information falls into the category of ‘unknown’ unknowns – i.e. metaphysical knowledge that transcends our current level of human understanding and experience, but ‘out there’ also exists the ‘known’ unknowns. Each time we discover something we didn’t know before, new questions arise out of that discovery, signposting the existence of an as yet undiscovered universe. So where does this leave us on the subject of learning? With a handheld information device – or mobile – in the pocket of every high school age student, and almost infinite online resources at our disposal, surely we should be more equipped than ever to succeed in exams, produce outstanding coursework, get the top jobs and show off to our predecessors about the things we now know that they couldn’t possibly access?

Deep vs. surface learning

It’s easy to berate today’s digital natives for only superficially engaging with the information that previous generations might have only imagined existed, but is it fair to say that today we know less because the sheer volume of information necessarily obliges us to explore it lightly? Did it really benefit yesterday’s students to memorise a dozen poems by rote, or the lineage of the monarchs of England, or any of the other pieces of arbitrary knowledge that was the requirement of the day? Surely that is merely taking information (or data) wholesale and dumping it from one context to another (from book to brain). Without in-depth understanding of the significance of the verse, or insight into the complex political contexts and events surrounding our royal lineage, surely merely knowing the facts does not constitute genuine learning?

The desire for difficulty

One argument might be that without consciously interrogating information it’s just as easy to read a book on a surface level as it is reading a range of information online. In other words, if information is handed to us on a plate in – physical or digital – it is, conversely, less easy to engage with it. ‘Desirable difficulty’ is a term coined by Robert Bjork, Psychology Professor of UCL. This premise assumes that without sufficient ‘grappling’ with the information through consolidating the links in the longer-term memory, information is not sufficiently encoded so as to become useful. The argument is that without long term knowledge there is no possibility of developing out of it the understanding that results in intellectual creativity and problem solving.
Arguably, whatever the nature of how information is held, it is how an individual engages with that information that is important, rather than the mechanism by which that information is disseminated. Is it fair to make the assumption that accessing and storing information through digital means is transient and lacks value? The answer is in the semantics. We store information, we interpret knowledge. But today, it seems, we don’t have to interpret knowledge in order to get ahead in business.

Where are we now and where are we heading?

As a race we have steadily increased the circumference of our knowledge circle to encompass all the accumulated information currently known to man, any aspect of which can be accessed digitally at any time by anyone who is interested. In this sense our knowledge can be considered absolute. Over centuries we have migrated from an arable culture, to an industrial landscape, to a services culture, to a technical age, which has automated the services industry. Underpinning this brave new world is communication. In short, a person can run a specialist business – in a Law firm for example – about which one might have precisely no expertise. This is on account of the fact that this individual knows how to communicate the material value of that business to prospects. In essence, we are a culture that is willing to pay to have our knowledge organised and interpreted effectively for us. With most of us experiencing a sense of information saturation or ennui, the need to have our information arranged is perhaps most conspicuous in the nature of the media and the role the mainstream press has in allowing many to accept, wholesale, the ubiquitous messages that are sent out from the prevailing ideological forces, rather than entering the uncomfortably uncertain terrain of the unknown unknowns. This permits us to remain in a reassuring state of wilful ignorance. And where there exists wilful ignorance there is money to be made. Or is there?

What does depending on digital mean for your business

In business terms, the aforementioned legal firm owner might well be able to successfully communicate the value of that firm without needing to know more than the overarching sales messages. However as our recent articles show it is still crucial to employ and invest in expertly skilled people to execute the tasks, as the deeper learning and skills they have absorbed through a rigorous process of transforming information from surface knowledge into deep learning continues to underpin the success of any organisation or industry. While digital is a facilitator for accessing information, skilled individuals must engage organically with information and challenge the voracity of the information that can be accessed at surface level to ensure a business’ success. The risk of probing beyond surface reading can mean a threat to one’s ideological belief, as the number of sharings of a 2014 NPR April Fools joke claiming an alarmingly high number of Americans were illiterate evidenced.
Ultimately, transcending and interrogating what can be accessed merely at surface level is the only certain way to ensure the skills set businesses can offer remain robust and competitive. While digital offers surface understanding, it remains critical to fully interrogate especially that which is accessible, including one’s established beliefs, if your business is to flourish.
 
 

The anonymous social network Secret has recently launched in the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. The app has been a hit with US consumers and it profiting from the overwhelming need of some people – especially teenagers – to share personal information to the online public.
Secret joins Whisper, Ask.fm, Snapchat, Facebook, WhatsApp and dozens of other social networking sites that profit from their high numbers of teen users. Although developers intend them to be used in appropriate ways, social networking and teens has been become an environment that has a darker side.
That desire to share and share more intimate details leads many young people down a dangerous path. From Internet predators, to bullies, the physical and psychological damage that can be caused by misused social networking is palpable and sometimes deadly.
Cyber bullying can be very damaging to adolescents and teens. It can lead to anxiety, depression, and even suicide. To compound the problem, in this digital age, once things are circulated on the Internet, they may never disappear. The hurtful actions often resurface in the future to renew the pain of cyber bullying.

The problem is only getting worse

According to a study by the American Pew Research Centre, in partnership with the American Life Project, they found nine in 10 teens have witnessed cruel or bullying behaviour on social media networks. According to another Internet safety watchdog, Do Something.org, the numbers are alarming:

  • Nearly 43% of kids have been bullied online. 1 in 4 has had it happen more than once
  • 70% of students report seeing frequent bullying online
  • Over 80% of teens use a mobile phone regularly, making it the most common medium for cyber bullying
  • 68% of teens agree that cyber bullying is a serious problem
  • 81% of young people think bullying online is easier to get away with than bullying in person
  • 90% of teens who have seen social-media bullying say they have ignored it. 84% have seen others tell cyber bullies to stop
  • Only 1 in 10 victims will inform a parent or trusted adult of their abuse
  • Girls are about twice as likely as boys to be victims and perpetrators of cyber bullying
  • About 58% of kids admit someone has said mean or hurtful things to them online. More than 4 out 10 say it has happened more than once
  • Bullying victims are 2 to 9 times more likely to consider committing suicide
  • About 75% of students admit they have visited a website bashing another student

Many cyber bullies have told researchers they believe bullying others online or with social media is funny. But many don’t think of the consequences. From losing accounts, to criminal charges for harassment or threatening are possible. In some cases, cyber bullies and their parents may face legal charges for cyber bullying. If the cyber bullying was sexual in nature or involved sexting, the results can include being registered as a sex offender. Teens may think that if they use a fake name they won’t get caught, but there are many ways to track people who are cyber bullying.

Real lives are being destroyed

With so many secrets being told, fake personalities and seemingly harmless digital chatter, it may seem hard to believe that actual damage is being done. The problem for young people, many experts argue, is that the world of social media is indistinguishable from reality. Growing up with Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Secret and Whisper, these platforms are treated as real extensions of themselves. Depression and suicide as a result of bullying is a growing worldwide problem. In looking at results of bullying, according to bullyingstatistics.org, the damage and the numbers are very real:

  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, resulting in about 4,400 deaths per year, according to the American Center for Disease Control. For every suicide among young people, there are at least 100 suicide attempts. Over 14 percent of teenage students have considered suicide, and almost 7 percent have attempted it.
  • Bully victims are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims, according to studies by Yale University
  • A study in Britain found that at least half of suicides among young people are related to bullying
  • 10 to 14 year old girls may be at even higher risk for suicide, according to the study above
  • According to statistics reported by ABC News, nearly 30 percent of students are either bullies or victims of bullying, and 160,000 kids stay home from school every day because of fear of bullying

Experts agree when bullying is a main player in suicide, it can be any type of bullying, including physical bullying, emotional bullying, cyberbullying, and sexting, or circulating suggestive or nude photos or messages about a person online.
If you suspect someone is the victim of cyber bullying or may be vulnerable, please visit http://www.bullying.co.uk/cyberbullying/ for more information. If you want to contribute to this discussion, Tell us here or join us on Twitter with @growwithorganic. You can also find us on other social media platforms like FacebookLinkedIn or Google Plus to join the conversation.

Music Panel Interviews from Like Minds @ SMWLDN

 
There were some amazing events during Social Media Week London, and one of the most insightful was the Like Minds Music Industry day which saw two panels of experts discussing the way social & digital media has changed the game for everyone in the music business.
 
Right from the day Edison invented the phonograph, music and technology have been intimately entwined and huge industries have sprung up around recording, distribution and sales of music. As technology has changed so too has the nature of the music industry but the rise of the internet, file sharing, online distribution platforms and social media have probably led to the biggest changes in the industry.
 
The ease with which people can access music, either legally via iTunes, Spotify and other such platforms, or illegally via file sharing has coincided and perhaps been a prime mover in the drop off in physical music sales, much to the chagrin of those in the industry. But on the flip side the accessibility of digital recording equipment and the ability for artists to distribute their material worldwide without a record deal has opened up new and exciting opportunities for artists.
 
Chris Maples, VP of Spotify Europe modified two discussions for the day. The morning session covered the impact of social media on the music industry, and Chris was joined by Dave Haynes, Head of Business Development, Soundcloud, Dave Castell, Head of Music for Nokia, Zoe Lazarus from Lowe+Partners, Matt Brawn, the Head of Digital for Defected Records, and John Bartleson, Global Marketing Director, Telefónica Digital.

 The Impact of Social Media on the Music Industry - Music AM - The Hippodrome Casino, London, United Kingdom

 
In the afternoon things turned towards the future of social in the music industry with input from Andrew Ko, CEO of Moment.us, Rafe Offer, Founder of Sofar sounds, JJ from The Art of Noise, Glenn Cooper, Director of Digital at Island Records and John Bartleson, Global Marketing Director, Telefónica Digital.

The Future of Social Media in Music - Music PM - The Hippodrome Casino, London, United Kingdom

(Photo Credit – RichFoto )

After the talks we grabbed some time with the panelists to delve deeper into the impact digital and social has had on their world.
 

Chris Maples, VP Europe of Spotify

 
TOA: Are we precluding the opportunity for HiFi Music through digital?
CM: There will continue to be a space for people to consume music on all levels. There are still vinyl junkies after all. The world has shifted so much now from where it was. The generations of today will hear a track and share it instantly. Their desire and requirement for immediacy is the thing that’s driving the industry however, at Spotify, we work really hard on the bitrate all of our music.
 
TOA: Music isn’t just about the tunes. First there were album covers then music videos. What opportunity does digital offer for an experience beyond the music?
CM: We try to provide a broad content basis, you can catalogue, find classical music, read about composers and the music that influenced them to give texture and depth to the experience. There’s also cover art. You’re completely connected, there’s an amazing amount of opportunity.
 
TOA: Who in the music industry is winning from the use of digital / social?
CM: The consumer is the real winner, without a shadow of a doubt, because there’s more music creation taking place. There’s always been manufactured music and that will always be the case, it’s not a problem. One of the most precious things of the past was giving someone a mix tape in an order you found compelling. There’s an opportunity to recreate that now.
 

Dave Haynes, Head of Business Development at Soundcloud

 
TOA: Do you think the digital creation & distribution of music denies the people the opportunity to listen to hi-fi?
DH: At SoundCloud we built a platform for creators and they care about the quality of their music. So we allow them to upload any file format they want, and then if they share the track with a contact then they download the original file. But when people are listening to the track on the site or via our mobile app we want to make that as easy for everyone as possible, so we don’t stream the original.
There are some interesting services like Neil Young’s Pono Service  which provides high quality music for a niche audience of audiophiles, but on the whole I think the debate about quality is a bit of a red herring. As long as the listener is getting a ‘good enough’ quality, the most important thing for them is accessibility to great music.
 
TOA: Do you think artwork is still relevant in the digital era and important to artists and labels?
DH: In the age of vinyl artwork was a real part of an artist’s release. In the digital realm it has lost its importance, but I think there will be a resurgence, especially as we see more music being played on devices that also have amazing screens, such as tablets and connected devices like TVs.
On the SoundCloud platform, we wanted to visualise each and every sound by showing you the waveform. This turns the sound into a truly social object and we allow listeners to leave timed comments along the waveform. The internet has become a very visual medium, so over time, I think you’ll see SoundCloud reflect that too. This year we’ve launched a couple of experiments with visual sounds and more visual profiles that have proved to be really interesting. But ultimately we’re a sound platform, and the unique thing about sound is that most of the time you’re doing something else in parallel and you don’t actually need an image.
 
TOA: There’s people that are in music for the money and there’s those that aren’t. Who’s benefited more from digital & social media?
DH: I think both. If you’re an established artist it’s about embracing the chaos and seizing new opportunities. Artists that are still focused on the old ways of doing things could be missing out. In my opinion there’s never been a better time to be an artist, and at SoundCloud we’re excited about our platform because it truly allows any creator to get their art out into the world and build an audience. Whether that’s just being listened to by ten close friends or family, or whether it’s reaching millions of people across the web, it’s hugely valuable.
 

Zoe Lazarus, Partner at Lowe Counsel

 
TOA: Has the music industry embraced ‘social’ properly?
ZL: No, generally no. Rihanna is a good example someone who’s doing it right. Björk’s done a good job too.
 
TOA: If focus has predominantly moved to the consumer space, what happens to the distributor?
ZL: The label can potentially be the focal point for the culture that backs the music and can have a role in that as a support structure. Unless they can do that and demonstrate added value they could have reason to be worried.
 
TOA: Does the digital streaming world deny us Hi-Fi sound quality? Do consumers realise?
ZL: To a certain extent yes but two parallel trends tend to exist. There will be one trend that goes forward towards better quality, creating better speakers & technology. Then there is the trend for appreciating low fidelity… such as cassettes coming back? That’s about bringing back a quality which is sometimes lost in digital production, an unquantifiable analogue quality that can be quite exotic. Music creation software now gives you the option of putting the ‘dirt’ back into your music.
 
TOA: There are people who create music to make money and then there are people who do it for the love of music. Who has benefitted more from the shift to digital?
ZL: It’s the same in most industries where the rise of social media does perhaps tip the advantage back to those that have something to say.
 

JJ from The Art of Noise

 
TOA: What is the Art of Noise?
JJ: A seminal ground breaking group of musicians and music technologists that influenced a whole generation of dance music.
 
TOA: Do you think that musicians have taken advantage fully of what social and digital allows them to? Is there more to do?
JJ: Certainly. The industry as a whole is notoriously slow to adapt to new trends.
 
TOA: What do you hope to gain from today’s panel discussions?
JJ: There are vague discussions about how the Art of Noise might reform. It’s a great way to get up to speed!
 

Andrew Ko, CEO and Co-founder of Moment.Us

 
TOA: What does Moment.Us do?
AK: We’ve created an app that automatically generates a playlist based on your location, activities and mood. The frustration of having a Christmas song come on in March was the inspiration!
 
TOA: What context does this bring to peoples music?
AK: Personalisation, relevance and an emotional connection
 
TOA: What does the music industry need to do in order to maximise digital and social opportunities?
AK: We believe that music is inherently social, and digital creates a way to aggregate everyone’s music. So the music industry needs to help cultivate an environment where startups can succeed in creating new technologies that will help bring value back to music.
 
TOA: Where does it leave the big labels if you’re doing the creation, or the artists?
AK: The big labels and artists are still needed because they are the ones that work together to help make the music that we all love. What Moment.Us does is gather unique information to help fill a gap for the industry in the way music is recommended in this digital age. We’ve given the power back to the curator, if it’s a DJ or an artist etc. We are answering the ‘for what?’ and bringing it into the mix. Instead of just having Dr Dre’s Top Ten songs, make a top ten for ‘in the sun’, for ‘NYC in winter’, or for ‘Friday nights’, for example.
 
TOA: What else needs to change in the music industry?
AK: There’s a lot of data out there regarding listening behaviour, but what’s missing is the understanding of why people feel like listening to a track at a certain moment. What the industry needs to change is the contextual element. Emotions and experiences always happen within a certain context.
 

Glenn Cooper, Director Of Digital at Island Records

 
TOA: ‘Shoppable Media’ – the idea that you can shop while you listen, or watch isn’t being done much in the music industry – will it be?
GC: It’s definitely interesting. We’ve tried some models in music videos a couple of years ago, but the engagement was pretty low as the technology didn’t work in the YouTube environment. It will always be a slightly difficult artistic issue because in many cases artists/video directors would prefer that the attention is focused on their ‘art’ and don’t want the user/fan engagement in videos interrupted.
 
TOA: Do you think that the value of the music is being undermined by digital?
GC: The different methods of digital consumption available are great for the consumer, but they do offer challenges to the Industry. Many people will listen to songs, playlists or compilations rather than full albums. However, if the body of work is strong enough, it will cut through. We just need to ensure the release strategy is right and that it’s ‘All killer, no filler’. Curation is also an important part of what we do now as an industry as are collaborations, both of which enhance the new music discovery process through digital.
 
TOA: What is the modern equivalent of the album cover?
GC: Digital and social are the modern day billboard for the artist. In the past we had gatefold vinyl and we still have the CD booklet to give you an insight into the artist through images, liner notes and lyrics. Now we have Instagram, Facebook and Twitter so the engagement is 24/7, 365 days a year. We have a challenge to get consumers to buy into more than just a song, hopefully the album and more importantly a long-term relationship with the artist.
 
TOA: Is there a place for Hi-Fi in digital music?
GC: Yes definitely, although the youth market is more focused on their mobile phones where the sound quality is compressed already and they play music with friends through the phone speakers. As an industry we need to cater for a multitude of tastes across the generations: audio quality and physical copies versus a la carte downloads versus streaming, and all at varying price points. It’s about understanding your artist, and your market.
 
By Eve Shepherd and Ben Cooper
 

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