My brief chilly romance with Foursquare

You may have heard about Foursquare by now. Heck, you may be using it. Or you may be surprised (or annoyed) in your Twitter stream or your Facebook news feed that people are telling you where they are all the freaking time.

I was asked about it at work, and as the social media guy, I decided to sign up and give it a shot.

I'll give you the quick overview here. Foursquare is what they call a location-based service. You "check in" at a location (many locations are already on it, or you can add new ones). Foursquare knows what's near you because your phone has GPS on it.

There's also a game aspect to it – you rack up points and earn "badges" along the way, and if you're the person who checks in most often at one place or another, you become "mayor" of that location.

The first thing that I noticed was an immediate backlash from some of my Twitter friends (not just followers – these were people I have come to know, communicate with, trust and respect very much on Twitter and in real life), including one who assumed I must have been lobotomized (not really, but the comment was really funny).

After a day or two, I decided I'd give it a couple of weeks, but that I'd stop sending updates to Twitter. I've stopped using it now entirely.

Here's one thing I would get out of Foursquare if I had continued to use it would be if I checked in at, say, the Blue Tusk, Foursquare would alert me if one of my other Foursquare friends was also there. Chances are I would have found that out via Twitter or someone would have mentioned they were there on Twitter and I'd have found them anyway.

Foursquare might be better in a bigger city with more locations in general and more people using it. One thing that immediately comes to mind is businesses could offer, say, half off happy hour specials to the first 15 people to check in after 5 p.m. Another use might be if I were in a place I'd never been, I could open Foursquare and see what was around – although if I were looking for food (which is probably why I'd use it), I could use Yelp and get the reviews along with it.

I'll be at 140conf NYC next week, maybe I'll pop open Foursquare a couple of times to see what I get, but I'm not expecting to be blown away.

SEO 099: What you need to know before SEO 101

So you've got a business and you've got a website. You've heard about SEO. You've seen a zillion things called SEO 101 (OK, so more like 10.9 million – close enough to a zillion for me). But before actually undertaking the SEO 101 campaign of your choice, there are some things you need to know, and some things you want to ask.

Huh?

SEO means Search Engine Optimization (or, alternately, a Search Engine Optimizer, as in someone who does the optimization). If someone goes to Google and searches for something related to your business. There are thousands or millions of results for their search. To get to be one of the first results returned, you'll probably have to do some sort of SEO campaign.

But someone I think is really smart and who has a website told me that SEO is snake oil.

One of a few things is happening. (a) SEO comes naturally to that person, possibly thanks to the way their website was built, and they don't realize it. (b) They're not trying to sell anything on their website. (c) They have different competition from you. (d) They're not as smart as you think they are.

OK, but what would make them say that?

There are some pretty slimy people out there who call themselves SEO experts (or gurus or ninjas; you get the picture). Some of them are very successful just long enough to collect some money and disappear before your site visitors disappear and Google realizes that your site is trying to trick it and punishes you for it. We'll get to this in a minute, but there are what we call "white hat" and "black hat" techniques – white hat being honest, hard work, and black hat being quick and dirty techniques.

I get the feeling you're one of those "SEO gurus" who's going to try to sell me something with this post.

I do SEO for a small publisher, and I do some freelance design with SEO services. I understand that SEO is an evolving process, and you're not an expert, or a guru, or a ninja, unless someone else considers you to be one. I have a lot to learn in the field, and there's a good chance I don't have time to do an SEO audit for you. I'm just trying to give you some tools for your own use here.

If it's an evolving field, are there any experts?

There are people and companies I would consider experts in SEO. I'll let you know who they are when you ask me about some reading you should be doing.

What was that white hat and black hat stuff you were talking about?

White hat SEO is a long process with delayed rewards. It can take months to implement, and then you might not see results for another few months after it's implemented. And you have to keep evolving with the search engines. Black hat SEO is a quicker process with a fast payoff that can get you kicked off search engines down the road (source: Caseo, a Burlington SEO company).

What kind of things go into each, and if I could get kicked off a search engine, why would I even consider a black hat campaign?

Some of the white hat processes involve research into how people are searching for your products, writing about your products frequently and well, making some code updates to your pages, and in general providing value. Black hat processes could involve buying links from other sites to your own site, scraping/stealing content from other sites, and making your site look different to search engines than it does to humans. You might undertake a black hat campaign if you had a lot of domains that you intend to make you some quick cash but then you'd just abandon after a few months. Also, you might be the sort of person who punches babies and kicks puppies.

Do I need to hire somebody?

Not necessarily. SEO should be built into the initial design, and if your designer did his or her job, you're already on your way. You should have a blog up and running, and if not, you'll need one. If your site is large and no one did anything from an SEO perspective, you'll need to hire someone to get you on track, and depending on how much time you have on your hands, you could do it yourself or pay someone to implement the campaign.

Who are these experts and what should I read?

If you want to be really smart about this, you should be familiar with what the following people are saying. You can learn enough from them to do your own campaign. In alphabetical order, they are:

» Bruce Clay Inc
» Outspoken Media
» Search Engine Journal
» Search Engine Land
» SEO Book
» SEOmoz

Moving your offline community online

Do you have a passionate engaged community? Maybe you meet in person once a month, have incredible get-togethers with powerful energy surrounding something you're all very interested in.

How do you know when it's time to move such a community online? For many organizations, the time comes when one or more of the following is true:

  • Your members need online tools to communicate more easily and more frequently than they meet in person
  • You're ready to reach out and expand your community
  • You want to connect to other communities in other geographic locations
  • Your members want an outlet to do something more

Once you have the online tools in place – blogs, Twitter, Facebook – you can't just sit and hope people will use it.

Blogs

Let's say you have five people with varying passions. Ask them to each write once a week – and assign a day. Teach them the software, and explain to them how to schedule an entry so that they could churn out two, three or more at a time.

Have them check and respond to their comments regularly, and have them comment on each other's entries. My new favorite phrase, courtesy of Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, is "yes and." If they don't know what to say about each others' posts, have them start with, "yes, and then..." That's how ideas grow, and next time they see each other (because you're maintaining the community offline as well), if they forget what they were talking about, there's a record of it.

Twitter

Follow a few people here and there, in your field. Tweet about what you do, but don't go overboard. Connect with people, but only after you've been reading them long enough to understand what they tweet about and how you can help them. Retweet at will, but only those tweets that are in line with your organization's focus.

For every reference you make to your own website, make at least three to other people's or organizations' websites.

Keep your following to followers ratio low. Try not to let it get to more than 3:2 until you get 150 followers, and once you hit that level, work toward having more followers than people you're following. You'll still benefit from others' wisdom, but your organization appears more professional.

Facebook

Don't hit your Facebook page more than once or twice a day -- probably no more than seven or eight times a week. Monitor comments, respond to them, and pay attention to what your fans are saying.

Notes on Trust Agents by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith

When I wrote about the things I liked and disliked about the Kindle for iPhone app, one thing I hadn't tried was the Notes function.

It's the ability to leave a note in the margin, and stick a Post-It Note on the page so that you know where you left the note.

My brief review on Trust Agents by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith is that it's important for you if you're trying to use the Internet to advance your business, your career, or your brand. I think the same thing about Gary Vaynerchuk's book Crush It.

Both have action items, and both will help you – greatly – if you understand how to apply the lessons these folks share to your own situation. These books have action items, but they are not how-to-become-the-next-Chris-Brogan-or-Gary-Vaynerchuk books. If we all tried to be the next Chris Brogan, we'd have a world full of Chris Brogans and nobody to manufacture car parts or make peanut butter.

Lowell D'Souza gives a brief overview of Trust Agents. Go read the section numbered 1-6 (the rest is D'Souza commenting that the book is so-so, but then, he was looking for a how-to), and then come back.

These are the notes I, er, wrote in the margins.

Action item: Build a listening station. This is a step-by-step list on how to keep track of what people are saying about you or your business. This is not just a matter of running an occasional Google search for yourself; Brogan and Smith teach you how to set up a feed reader and get search feeds from various searches sent to you easily.

You don't have to be born with it. Forget the people who say you have to be born with a talent to be good at something. You get good at something by practice. Sure, chess might come easy to some people, but if the other people work hard at it, they'll do just as well.

Be good to people. Here's a direct quote.

In this chapter, we're talking about taking advantage of systems, not people. People are real, have real feelings, and always deserve respect. Always consider what's right and wrong when it comes to this stuff.

You Win by Having Goals. This is something that I will be working hard on in 2010. I understand the tools, I just have to set milestones that I want to achieve using the tools.

There's plenty of room on the Web. You don't have to directly compete with someone. There is plenty of room out there to work together, or do something similar, or collaborate, but not try to do the exact same thing someone else is doing. Find your niche.

Know which systems are open. Brogan and Smith use Pacman and Ms. Pacman to explain this concept. Pacman is a known system. As boards progress, prizes progress predictably, and a perfect game consists of a set number of points. Ms. Pacman, though, uses a random prize progression – at any given point, you may get a 100-point cherry or a 1,000-point banana (I made up the numbers, don't trash Brogan and Smith for it if they're wrong).

In real life, mastering a closed system (Pacman) means you are the best at something. Cal Ripken Jr? Best at playing consecutive baseball games. Barry Bonds? Best at hitting home runs (steroids or not – he has a number to prove it). But who's best at walking down Main Street in Toledo? It's an open system. We don't even know what being the best at walking down Main Street in Toledo looks like – it's all trial and error, and we're kind of making the game up as we go along.

Action Item: Affiliate Marketing Brogan and Smith outline some affiliate marketing strategies.

Forge partnerships. I don't think this needs any expanding. If you want to know what Brogan and Smith have to say, read the book.

Agent zero. We all have our personalities and roles in organizations. Agent Zero is the person who connects the people who need to know each other. I'm glad there's a name for this.

Maintain relationships. I'm horrible at this. I've been getting better, and Brogan and Smith offer good tips (like pay attention to the birthday calendar function in Facebook).

Yes and. I love this concept. The idea is that someone says something, and you not only agree, but build. An improvised story might start with someone saying, "The bear sat on the sofa and read the sports page," the next person continues by saying, "Yes, and he bemoaned the Giants' season coming to an end." The first person picks back up with, "Yes, and..."

And so, too, should go your discussions about collaborative projects. You build on what the other person says, rather than poo-pooing something that you don't yet see the point of.

Web site and book recommendations. Here are some of the books and sites the authors recommend throughout the book.

Akoha.com (social media reality game)
Spinvox.com (voice mail as text)
Jott.com (speak into your phone, have it transcribed as an email to you)
Kayak.com (travel help)
• Serious Creativity by Edward de Bono
• How to Be More Interesting by Edward de Bono
• The Long Tail by Chris Anderson
• The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss
• The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

» Chris Brogan on Twitter
» Julien Smith on Twitter

How to have a tweetup

There were over 20 people at the Syracuse tweetup Thursday at Recess Coffee. There is no science to setting up such an event, and getting people face to face is not brain surgery. Here's how this one came about.

Picking a date and time. Ask on Twitter. People seemed generally to think Thursday would be a good evening for them, and some mentioned specific dates. You're not going to please everyone, so you have to just pick a date. Most people get out of work between 4 and 6, so 5:30 seems like a good starting time, figuring that some people will arrive early and some people will arrive late, but nobody has to go home and urge themselves out the door after they've kicked off their shoes.

Picking a place. Again, you're never going to please everybody. But there are things everyone wants in a location: parking, something to eat and/or drink, and – something we learned from the last tweetup – someplace where they don't have to shout over loud music and loud dinner conversations. Since Recess Coffee is smallish, I called them three weeks ahead of the date and asked if they would mind if something on the order of 20 of us showed up (the worst thing we could do for them would be to scare away anyone who would normally be there, if we were going to show up once). They said sure, and most people bought coffee (or peanut butter hot chocolate), and we're good to go back, as long as we give them some notice.

Why? We're already connected on Twitter, why do a tweetup? Personalities and ideas tend to germinate in person, especially when people get to talk for several minutes and exchange business cards. And when great minds get together and create great things, everybody wins.

Who's in to plan the next one? I'll help!

Twitterductions

If memory serves, the following people were at Thursday night's Syracuse tweetup. If I missed you (and I likely will miss someone), @ me and I'll get you on the list post-haste. If you're on MySpace, friend our hosts, Recess Coffee.

@beaslee (Nicole)
@billpfohl (Bill)
@bradfordmorse (Bradford)
@bradintheam (Brad)
@burrito19 (Beth)
@dagsly (Frank)
@Gaelen2 (Pat)
@itsahero (Rachel)
@JayClewis (Jay)
@Jill_HW (Jill, with Tom)
@JoshShear (Josh)
@kelvinringold (Kelvin)
@kitschqueen (Susan, with Jason)
@Mitch_M (Mitch)
@paddyshaughn (Patrick)
@philatsun (Phil)
@samskelton (Sam)
@tdog4494 (Tim)
@toddengel (Todd)
@tracytilly (Tracy)

A bleak future for search?

Microsoft's Bing is reportedly considering paying for the ability to search paywalled content on the Wall Street Journal's website. With exclusivity.

Rupert Murdoch, who runs News Corp. (which is the Fox network and its cable spin-offs in the U.S., along with newspapers and TV stations in the U.S., UK and Australia), the Journal's owner, has made no secret that he is considering blocking Google from searching paid content on the Journal's site. Google isn't exactly fighting back – the search engine figures that they make that option available to everyone, and if the Journal doesn't want the Internet's most popular search engine finding its content, that's no skin off Google's teeth.

But let's say Bing pays for the privilege of being the only major search engine that can search the Journal for news (the idea being that people will want Journal content included in their searches and as such will turn to Bing instead of Google). Then let's say a whole chain follows suit – maybe Bing signs up Hearst, or Belo, or both. At some point, Google has to counter.

When that happens, we come to a point where, if you want to include certain news outlets in your searches, you have to know which search engine carries what content. And maybe by now that extends to musical artists – perhaps Bing has paid one studio and Google another for access to search their artists' pages.

This is where the two search engines cease to be money-making platforms for their respective companies. Why? Because now I'd just go to Bingle, which searches them both. And then Bingle gets lots of competitors, all who search both Bing and Google. And all those search engines make money.

OR:

This exclusivity fight leads someone to develop an entirely new way to search the web. And it becomes the next Google. And then the next Bing follows. And then we do this whole thing again. Vicious cycle, anyone?

(Hat tip to James Bedell for the story link.)

The truth: The Internet is a great big rumor mill

I tend to check Google Trends in the morning. It's one of the things I do in terms of a morning coffee ritual when I get to work. For those not familiar, it's a list of the things people are searching for on Google; typically it's updated every hour or so, but sometimes it goes on for a few hours before it updates. Whatever.

Frequently, it's people wanting to watch one of last night's TV episodes. There's usually something that's been featured either on The Today Show or Good Morning America. Sometimes there's sports scores. And sometimes it's people in a large enough market searching for school closings.

And then sometimes it's dead celebrities. The Internet loves to kill people. Failing that, maybe the Internet is retiring athletes mid-season.

Tuesday morning, there were two. The top search was justin bieber dead; the second hottest search was casey johnson dead.

Being a pop-culture-ophobe (OK, not really, but I'm pretty dim when it comes to this stuff), I'd never heard of either of these people. Which means that I had to wade through the search results to figure out who they were, never mind if they were actually dead.

Bieber, it turns out, is a 15-year-old kid who is some sort of pop sensation or something. He appears to be living and breathing and making teenage girls cry with his sensitivity instead of in mourning. This, apparently was not the first time the Internet killed Justin Beiber (via WikiAnswers:

Casey Johnson is the great-great-granddaughter of one of the founders of the Johnson & Johnson Company (if you've ever read a label on anything in a bathroom, you've heard of them). She's also the daughter of Robert Wood "Woody" Johnson, the owner of the New York Jets.

Casey Johnson is, in fact, dead. She died this week at the age of 30, and at this writing, we're not sure why.

So, what did we learn from this? That Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes was correct: Newspapers (and other traditional news outlets) are going to turn into truth filters.

While we'll get most of our news from places like Twitter or Facebook (not necessarily those places, but places like them), where we select who we get the news from so the news will be relevant to us, we'll still need places like The New York Times to tell us whether the news we got is actually true.

The lesson: If you're not sure, check with someone you trust. Don't freak out over something you heard from someone who heard from somewhere that something may or may not have happened, which means it absolutely did.

Just like in many aspects of your life, you need to actually use your brain to use the Internet effectively.

A very Twitter new year

I rang in 2010 with a great crowd of people: Mike, Frank, Nicole, Mel, Joe, Geoff and Rochelle.

Every one of those names up there is linked to a Twitter account. I met all of those people thanks to Twitter (either connecting on Twitter or having them connected to someone I had connected to on Twitter), and all of them in 2009. I know there are still nay-sayers – people who think that Twitter is just a bunch of nerds chatting online who couldn't hold a conversation in real life so they're hiding behind a utility – but as I mentioned last month, Twitter leads to more in-person interaction, not less.

I'm not the only one who made this observation about our new year's eve gathering.

I know the other question on your mind is: Were we talking or tweeting all night? I just went through all of our Twitter streams. Frank tweeted 3 times while we were out; one of those was a photo from our night out. Rochelle tweeted once; it was a photo of our night out. I posted once; it was a scheduled happy new year tweet I had created two days prior.

So, we were either talking to each other, or we were standing around in awkward silence. And there was no awkward silence.

No, Twitter won’t cut down on your face time with people

I mentioned last week that I use Twitter more than other social media platforms. There's a reason.

Throughout this year, I've met a whole bunch of locals I never would have met. At our first Twitter social, I met this guy and this guy, and this woman, who does this, this woman, who does this, and this guy, who does this.

I then met this guy, this guy, this woman and this guy, and I met this woman, who does this, really well. She led me to this woman, who is awesome at this – and I finally managed to meet her yesterday.

And then I left dinner and met this woman and this woman.

I've also met this guy, who asked me to speak to a bunch of journalists (alongside this woman and this woman), and I met this guy and this guy while doing that.

Twitter has also introduced me to this guy, who had me speak to these folks, where I met this guy, this woman, this woman and this guy.

On Thursday, the local Twitter community will meet again, this time here (at 5:30 p.m., if you'd like to join us) – I'm hoping to, at the very least meet this woman and this guy, and possibly this woman. I'm also expecting I'll meet this guy at some point in the not-too-distant future. Oh, and this guy, too.

For those of you who are worried that spending too much time on a network like Twitter is going to cut down on your face-to-face time with people, you need to re-think that. Would I have met these folks if not for Twitter? Possibly. But it's a pretty simple tool that costs exactly nothing to expand both your social and professional networks. Seriously.

Catch me on Twitter or LinkedIn and let's chat if you want help getting started.