SEO and the Social Web

The social web is about relationships and trust. Hell, at this point, the entire web is about relationships and trust. Gone are the days of trickery, and the day of the charlatans is fading fast. It’s so critical to your business on the web that you have the right mind set. How am I going to earn the customer’s business? What am I going to do to get them to come back to me over and over again? What am I going to do to get them to recommend me to their friends?

In some ways, it sounds an awful lot like traditional brick and mortar marketing. However, there’s a twist. The smart consumer on the web has so many more tools to find out about your business. Anyone can search on your company name and see what the forums are saying about your business. It’s easy, and it takes seconds. More and more people are learning how to do this. The empowered consumer will rule the web.

On the new web, people communicate actively with one another. Smart companies are embracing this notion actively. Lisa Baron at BruceClay.com has a nice post about embracing transparency. Lisa talks about open communication with your customers, and making it a true dialogue. She makes some key points about the value your business can extract from this approach.

Of course, this type of open communication is an excellent way to build trust. Customers love to provide feedback. There are many other things you can do to build trust. Here are just a few ideas:

  1. Have an easily accessible, and easy to understand privacy policy.
  2. Proudly display your Better Business Bureau and/or TRUSTe logos (make sure you have earned them).
  3. Provide easy to access contact information.
  4. Put up open forums on your site, and allow all comments (that are relevant), including negative ones.
  5. Enable comments in your blogs. Allow users to put in relevant links (rel=”nofollow” is fine). Once again, allow negative comments.
  6. Respond to the emails and forum posts you get, both positive and negative.
  7. Think like “the customer is always right”. It will show in your day to day behavior. Customers will notice.
  8. Share valuable information and ideas on your site, or on your blog. Customers like people who help them.
  9. Provide the users with valuable tools, such as calculators that solve problems for them.
  10. Link to other valuable content freely. Don’t even think about “hoarding page rank” or “trapping your visitors”.
  11. Inform other users about valuable resources that can help them.
  12. Publish a clean and easy to navigate web site.

This is not meant to be a comprehensive list, just a few ideas. It’s the attitude and approach that matters most. Once you have that part down you will find it easy to come up with the ideas that suit your business.

For those of you who worry about allowing the negative comments on the site – It’s better that this discussion is taking place in an area where you can participate. The naysayers will talk. Where do you want that to happen? Where you can respond, or where you can’t? Also, allowing this type of discussion to take place openly shows other consumers that you have a great deal of confidence.

So build the trust. Assume that you need to earn it. Show your confidence with your openness. These are the key tools to success in today’s (and tomorrow’s) social web.

Comments

  1. greyhound says

    The web has become the ultimate vehicle for free expression. With that freedom, and the volume of opinion it unleashes, comes the requirement to filter information. We can only understand what we attend to, and we can only attend to so much. Search has certainly been one vehicle for finding information, and relevancy acts as a proxy for trust-based filtering, but algorithms clearly have their limits.

    The social web is beginning to provide dynamic mechanisms for helping us solve this problem. One of my favorite examples, because they not only help us filter information, but also have some extremely useful side effects, are the community-based amateur review sites. Locally here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we have several, and one that has caught my eye is Yelp. Yelp is to bay area restaurants as Amazon is to books. You get to see reviews by people with real profiles, so you can figure out who you trust and discover new gems. You get the familiar “you might also like…” recommendations when you view a particular restaurant.

    So the web-of-trust thing is happening here, and that helps us figure out who to pay attention to. In many ways, it’s better than Zagat’s, because you have the opportunity to find your culinary “soul mates” and take their advice.

    Where things get pretty interesting, though, is the secondary effect Yelp has on the local business community. It’s quickly become somewhat of a phenomenon, especially among hipsters, and a bad word on Yelp can make for very bad business. Members even get to wear a Yelp badge, which inspires about the same mood among restauranteurs as does the business card of the editor of the local newspaper’s Food section. Yes, I’ll say it — Yelp empowers the consumer. But it also empowers the intelligent entrepeneur.

    In short, there’s a wonderful feedback loop going on. Smart entrepeneurs embrace the feedback, knowing that some of it may be bad, but most of it is genuine, and nearly all of it is valuable. Truly enlightened ones use it as a tool. As one baker put it, “If you serve stale pastries to your customer, they’re sure to tell their friends, but they might not tell you”. If you don’t know about it, you might serve stale pastries to many customers. If they post it to Yelp, you find out right away, and have a chance to fix the problem.

    Like all such services, Yelp aspires to build trust by having people maintain an identity and history. More weight is given to elder members, which helps to prevent “black hat” marketeers from gaming the system by signing up their friends to counteract negative reviews.

    While the web has been seen as a way to empower consumers for a long time, the idea of publishing information in a way that people can find what’s truly meaningful to them in a personal way, and trusted opinions can rise to the top, and thereby have more clout, is just starting to come into its own. To me, it marks one very interesting facet of the social web.

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