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A number of interesting changes have recently taken place in the world of social media and search:

eggs-basket

(c) Dianna Huff, 2015

  1. Google launched a new search interface for tablets in an effort to “bring the best of Google Search to tablets.” The old interface was more like the smartphone interface.
  2. Twitter removed its beloved “star” icon in exchange for a more universal “heart,” making it difficult for people, such as news journalists and bloggers, to bookmark headlines, reports, news, and images crucial to one’s work.
  3. In an effort to keep more people within its walled garden, Facebook announced it’s expanding its search capabilities to include all public posts within the platform. Some industry experts believe Facebook search will rival Google search.
  4. LinkedIn did a complete change up of its LinkedIn Groups structure, giving community managers hissy fits.
  5. Constant Contact was sold for $1 billion to Endurance International Group, a Burlington, MA based holding company.

These changes are the tip of the iceberg. Each day, search, social, and software companies whose products and apps we use make changes. Many of these changes are good. The developers at Nimble CRM, for example, have made it so that you can send group emails from the application. Nice! Last year Xero, an accounting application, purchased a payroll software company and is now rolling out payroll functionality to small businesses in states across the U.S. Very nice indeed!

But in the case of social media and search, these changes don’t always benefit the people who use them — that would be people like you and me.

A year ago, social media and SEO marketing experts were trumpeting the benefits of Google+. If you listened to all the hulabaloo, you’d have thought you were seriously doing your business a disservice if you weren’t on the platform.

Today, the platform is a ghost town as Google quietly pulls resources from it.

Google search is also constantly changing. A new tablet interface sounds good. But a more ominous change is Google Answers. Due to the proliferation of mobile and voice-activated search, Google is now frequently displaying “Answer Boxes” to queries — answers that don’t link to a website.

Take for example, the query, “what is an epoxy?” The screenshot is the search result whether you use voice or your keyboard to perform the search.

epoxy-search-result

In the past, you could have created a Glossary page on your website, or an FAQ, and included this type of information to help drive in search traffic. Google Answers has disrupted this tactic.

In a recent Q&A at the Search Engine Marketing New England meeting, Barry Schwartz, News Editor for Search Engine Land, commented that in five years, Google won’t be linking to websites at all.

In other words, if you’re counting on Google (or Facebook or any other platform) to help you grow your business, you may want to rethink that idea.

Basing your marketing strategy and business growth on another company’s game plan is the equivalent of a shell game. Why? The house is stacked against you.

The shell game — and why you never win

In Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the young Almanzo Wilder attends the county fair in upstate NY, ca. 1860s. While at the fair, he witnesses his first shell game.

There was a man in a tail coat and tall shining hat, who put a pea under a shell and then paid money to any man who would tell him where the pea was.

“I know where it is, Father!” Alamanzo said.

“Be you sure?” Father asked.

“Yes,” said Almanzo, pointing. “Under that one.”

“Well son, we’ll wait and see,” Father said.

Just then, a man pushed through the crowd and laid down a five-dollar bill beside the shells. There were three shells. The man pointed to the same shell that Almanzo had pointed at.

The man in the tall hat picked up the shell. There was no pea under it.

Almanzo couldn’t understand it. He had seen the pea under that shell, and then it wasn’t there. He asked Father how the man had done it.

“I don’t know, Almanzo,” Father said. “But he knows. It’s his game. Never bet your money on another man’s game.”

It’s time to diversify your marketing

We’ve all come to rely on the “free” traffic that search engines send our way, so much so, we tend to cut back on other proven marketing tactics (ones that take time, effort and money).

But given the accelerated rate of change with companies such as Google, Facebook, etc., and that these changes are based on improving the ad revenues of these giant companies, I believe it’s time for small manufacturers and job shops to focus on other methods for connecting with potential customers.

Relying on a huge company and its ever changing shell game to send potential business your way is too risky, in my opinion. Even more so when a company like Twitter is losing half a billion dollars. Half a billion!

Heck, even Buffer, a social media company, can’t keep up with social media. According to the company, it’s lost nearly half its social referral traffic in the last 12 months.

While writing this article, I kept telling myself I’m a lunatic. But then I read the Buffer piece and realized I’m not.

So what should you do?

I recommend you create sound business strategies that focus on meeting your existing customers’ needs. Second, I recommend you create strategies for integrating multiple marketing streams: print advertising, public relations, email, direct mail, trade shows, networking, and good old-fashioned relationship building, to name some things.

These efforts take time, and any one by itself isn’t a silver bullet, but taken as a whole, they definitely help build business in the long run. They’ll also make you less dependent on search and social media.

One final thought

Lost in all the noise is the fact that long-term business relationships are built on trust — not keywords, likes or hearts.

I became reacquainted with this fact while working with one of my clients. The company, a small manufacturer employing 20 or so people, has been working with its key customers for decades.

We spent a lot of time talking about trust and its importance to my client’s business. Everything they do, from process improvements to how they invoice, is based on keeping their clients’ trust and long-term business.

I hear similar stories like this wherever I go. Founders of small manufacturing firms often regale me with stories of when they first started out: the challenges, the learning process, the all-nighters, the white-knuckles. I love listening to them!

Over time, I’ve come to realize there’s a thread underlying all of these stories. It’s one of connection between people who have known all along that integrity isn’t something you create through a simple mouse click.

What do you think? Please share your ideas and feedback in the comments section.

Update 11/11/2015: Overstock reported that earnings dropped in Q3, leading to an 18% stock price decline, due to Google algorithm changes.

“We are experiencing some slowing of our overall revenue growth which we believe is due in part to changes that Google made in its natural search engine algorithms, to which we are responding. While we work to adapt to Google’s changes, we are increasing our emphasis on other marketing channels, such as sponsored search and display ad marketing, which are generating revenue growth but with higher associated marketing expenses than natural search.” [emphasis added]

See the full report at Search Engine Land.

Article Citations

Google Launches New Search Interface for Tablets by Barry Schwartz, November, 6, 2015, Search Engine Land

Not Even Twitter Understands Twitter — Excellent opinion piece about Twitter’s removal of the “star” and its implications, by Thomas Baekdal, November 6, 2015

With a New Search Function, Can Facebook Finally Top Google? — Insightful piece by Natalie Burg, on the Content Strategist blog, October 30, 2015

Why the New LinkedIn Group Changes are a Community Manager’s Nightmare — A great rant by Lauren Donovan of Marketing Land, November 3, 2015

Endurance International Buys Constant Contact for $1.1 Billion — by Curt Woodward, Boston Globe, November 2, 2015

We’ve Lost Nearly Half Our Social Traffic in the Last 12 Months, by Kevan Lee, Buffer Social, October 22, 2015

Twitter is teetering because it has turned into one big pyramid scheme — An opinion piece by Andrew Smith of The Guardian, November 6, 2015


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Dianna Huff is the founder and president of Huff Industrial Marketing, a full service agency that tackles a host of marketing and communications challenges for manufacturing companies.

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