May 2011

Defining social media expertise

Posted in SEO, Social Media | 0 Comments

Today, I was reading through the usual batch of SEO, social media and small business news when I happened across a rather intriguing response on SEOmoz to the allegation that hiring a social media expert was a waste of time. Both the unintentional instigator of the debate and the individual who responded had a number of valid points. The instigator, one Peter Shankman, claimed that claiming someone was a ‘social media expert’ was akin to claiming they were able to remove bread from the fridge, but minus the ability to actually make the sandwich.

The individual refuting the statements made by Shankman was Rand Fishkin, SEOmoz CEO and co-founder. Interestingly, he went to the length of creating a chart detailing the expertise of social media specialists (a far more legitimate term, in my opinion), which I’ll post here for you (all credit goes to him, of course):

As you may be able to tell, it’s fairly comprehensive. However, I’ve got a few issues with his categorisation of certain slices of ‘web-knowledge,’ especially given that some of the skills he categorises as advanced are actually what he states social media expertise is not – ‘common sense.’ I believe in offering somebody the best service they can get, and I think it’s important to analyse his competent summary, given that the few flaws within it do point to an overall problem with the image of the ‘social media guru.’

First of all, the basic and intermediate skills are literally common sense, and are actions that people perform in their daily lives – people who don’t touch social media professionally. Shortening tweets, Google Analytics, Wikipedia, competitions with few requirements to enter – this isn’t anything new, and contesting that this is somehow specific to social media is awkward, especially given that some of it has nothing to do with social media. SEO, I can understand, but to purport something as vague as someone’s display picture as relevant solely to that sphere of expertise is a flawed argument, at best.

It’s all about what you’re willing to classify yourself as. No web expert wants to be a Jack-of-all-trades, and this is because you’re not actually seen as skilled at anything, only competent. But herding in a bunch of skills from disciplines separate to your own highlights that ‘competent’ characterisation of social media experts.

By no means am I contesting the relevance of social media experts – if I myself ran a company that worked with SEO, or even any business entity with an online presence, there’d be a full-time social media specialist on staff, because to ignore the importance of social media to marketing is ludicrous. However, the first commenter on Fishkin’s article made the most valid point of all: that most ‘experts’ on the web are usually self-proclaimed as such. ‘Ninjas’ is a personal pet peeve. You are not a ninja. Ninjas assassinate people and live by a code of honour. You actively seek to make friends, and employ no code of honour whatsoever, given that the most common phrase you’ll utter within any given online situation is ‘follow me and I’ll follow you back!’

Fishkin sells his expertise well – the advanced skills are really something to consider, but I feel he sells himself short by including basic knowledge in that chart. When defending any discipline, it is paramount that you state only what separates you from all the would-be experts, because giving the ‘common sense’ qualifications for the title in addition will inextricably mesh your field of expertise with theirs and make that distinction infinitely more difficult.

He then reveals his master-stroke; that Shankman himself is listed as a social media consultant in a featured listing on InvestinSocial. Priceless, and proof that if there’s one group of people you shouldn’t criticise unfairly on the web, it’s the people who’ve made it their stomping ground. Nothing is hidden, everything’s fair game. Now, where is my ‘social media ninja-pirate-alien-robot’ badge?

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Feb 2011

SEO with humour – the Oatmeal.

Posted in Online PR, SEO, Viral Marketing, Web Design and Usability | 1 Comment »

Out in the wild digital wilderness that is the internet, there reside a wide variety of websites. Some are funny, some are serious, some appropriate, some not so, and of course, only a select few are huge. For a few it’s a phase – fad sites that will fade in time. But for most, they are content to suck in millions of hits per month, and of course they’re never going to die down due to the colossal communities that have built up behind them.

Here’s a video of Matthew Inman, owner and sole staff member at The Oatmeal (and also the sole creator of, one of the biggest dating websites in the USA), a site devoted to hilarious infographics about a variety of frustrations he comes across in life and thinks others may identify with, making a presentation to a conference about how to gain five million unique visitors a month. Enjoy it – it’s informative and if anything, hysterically funny.

Now, after you’ve recovered, think about what he said. You may need to watch the video again, his infographics are so funny it’s difficult to focus on what he’s saying, most of the time. But his point is a valid one – if you’re not writing, drawing, talking or even singing about a subject your audience can identify with, whether they’re laughing, crying or nodding seriously – then you’re going to fail at generating the ideal amount of traffic.

What Matthew does is simple. He finds an idea (the ever-updating iPhone model problem, for example), makes a short comic-infographic about it, then posts it up. Of course, his take on the subject is unique and his drawings are instantly recognisable, so they tend to go viral – but with an important difference. Because his work is unique in style and look, it’s still attributed to his site even if the source is a viral recommendation to you, by a friend. The Oatmeal still gets mentioned, and even better, people type in “the oatmeal”, find him on Google, and search a considerable portion of his site.

Bounce rates, in theory, should be lower when you’re hunting for a site you want to learn more about. Sure, you’re always going to land on the homepage, and while that makes no difference to you, the HLD (homepage linking domains) of that site will skyrocket if you decide it’s worth the link from your own domain to theirs. However, the disadvantage to this predictably lies in the fact that the owner/webmaster won’t know where people are talking about it, short of an ultra-delayed notification as Google Alerts slowly catches up.

I’ve got a fair few ideas for viral comedy sites like these and the absolutely mind-blowingly huge ICanHaz network. Looking at how well he’s done, it just might be worth giving it a shot – I’m sure anyone would be happy with a 5m-hits-a-month level of ad revenue, right? Enjoy the weekend!

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