Should You Share That Online?

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Last week our partner McAfee released a new study on how people share information online. They found that:

13.7% of millenials (18-24 year olds) know someone who was fired because of personal images or messages that had been publicly posted.

It’s not just a young person thing. All of us know at least one person online who overshares, to the point that you may have blocked seeing that person’s updates. Facebook even tweaked its News Feed to limit posts from people you may have tuned out.

But oversharing isn’t just a personal social media problem. Too much sharing can lead to privacy/security issues for individuals and businesses alike. Businesses also have to be wary of spreading their digital assets too thin in other areas. With its latest algorithmic updates, Google has clamped down on “link spam,” a shady SEO practice where a page might exist solely to provide a link back to a website. Now instead of helping websites, those links are actually negatively impacting rankings in search results.

All of these issues are causing a quiet amount of panic for business web and marketing teams. Will a post lift the website up or bring it crashing down? Will a link get a Google penalty? Will one tiny step bring digital disaster?

As everyone’s favorite Internet meme advises: “Keep Calm.” Here are some ways to prevent online panic.

Don’t: Be a Jerk

This first one’s actually harder than it sounds because being a jerk is so much easier online, especially unintentional jerkiness. Ever sent an email in ALL CAPS? How about sending every single person in the office a reply that you only needed to send to one person? Those are just two ways to annoy people with one technology. Multiply that by the whole Internet and Houston, we certainly have some problems.

Businesses on social media can often come across the wrong way by forces outside their control (see our earlier post about how to deal with tragic events online). The most important skill you can develop as a business on social media is listening. Don’t constantly post about yourself. Find ways to make your social followers feel empowered. Respond to what they post and incorporate that into your overall branding. When you mess up, admit it and move on.

If you were one of those businesses that paid for overexposure back in the link farm gold rush days, you’re probably not feeling any love from Google right now. Use a tool like Moz’s Open Site Explorer or even Google’s Webmaster Tools to find where your links are coming from.

Let’s transition from thinking about these links as jerky in the sense of “being a jerk” and more like “beef jerky.” Sounds yummy, but here we mean “jerky” in terms of depth; a link spam site is one with really thin content, often poorly written and/or entirely unrelated to the links found inside it. If your business is linked to from a web page devoted to “Malayasian Tourism” with sentences like “I really love the way [your business link] shines sunny in great weather,” you’ve got a certifiably jerky link (even if you’re trying to target the Malyasian tourist industry).

The website Search Engine Land has some really good resources for what to do if your website’s already caught in a jerky link situation (like “Google Penguin, the Second (Major) Coming: How to Prepare” and “Racing Penguin: How to Attack Unnatural Links Before Penguin Hits [Case Study]“). One you’ve identified the bad links, try as much as possible to reach out to the page owners to remove these links. There are also Google tools to “disavow” a link, though those should be used only as a last resort.

Bottom line: don’t be a jerky (or jerky) in the first place.

Do: Be a Person

Again, this one’s harder than it sounds, especially for companies involved in business to business services like our own. After all, we don’t want bad links. But we do want links. We don’t want to use the wrong tone or post to frequently, but we do want to encourage social buzz.

One way to “personify” your business online is to allow employees to post and share content under their own names, but with clear ties back to the company. Many news outlets follow that approach socially; for example, New York Times reporter Anne Barnard tweets as “@ABarnardNYT.” A number of business blogs allow different team members to post on a rotating basis, with names, pictures, and job title prominently featured (see our partner Rackspace’s blog for a good example). The variety allows different views and expertise to be shared, and showing the person’s name allows the content to get a cosmetic boost in rankings via Google’s new Author tag.

We know these policies aren’t practicable or even advisable for everyone. There are times it’s best to just post as the company. Even so, that company needs to be friendly and engaging, even in a business-to-business relationship.

Don’t be confused with a bot (remember don’t be jerky?) Develop a marketing/social team that can all contribute to the tone of your company’s social interaction. Consider dividing up responsibilities even if everyone posts under the same account. Hootsuite is a great social media dashboard that allows businesses to give team members access to specific social tasks while keeping the main admin privileges.

As for links, the best policy is to seek quality over quantity. You want your links to be on the best, most reputable places online. When and if your business is mentioned by the local news, ask politely for a link within the article. Does your business sponsor a nonprofit? Ask to be placed on a Sponsors page. Of course, producing good, quality content is a great way to attract real people to share and link to your website.

In the end, online sharing shouldn’t be an end to itself, but a means to an end: reaching your current and potentially new clients. Find ways to show how your service can make their lives better. That kind of sharing will always be accepted.