New foreword to Tickle: Digital marketing

Dr Ross Brennan is the author of Business-to-Business Marketing which is the leading international text book on marketing for companies that sell their products and services to other companies. Dr Brennan’s textbook proved to be a key resource while I was researching my new book on social media ‘Tickle: Digital marketing for tech companies‘.

Business to business marketing
Dr Brennan is a co-author of the leading textbook on business to business marketing.

I wrote ‘Tickle: Digital marketing for tech companies’ primarily about B2B companies because they have unique challenges in managing their reputations online and reaching business customers. Dr Ross Brennan was kind enough to write a foreword to the book which has now been included in the latest edition. I’ve also reproduced it here as a guest blog post. Enter Dr Ross Brennan…

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Social media for business consulting firms

Getting a social media programme started for a professional services firm is surprisingly hard. My book Tickle: Digital marketing for tech companies is focused on technology businesses but professional services firms have many of the same issues as B2B tech companies (who are often selling consulting along with their software). I love helping other consultants with social media because I’ve met so many people who come across so poorly online, even though they are great in real life

Brand Strategy Audit
Consulting to consultants is one of the hardest types of social media training because they know what they should be doing. They’re just not doing it.

Strategy consultants usually already have a social strategy but the gap is in implementation. The most common problem for product businesses is a lack of strategy and clarity. These are less of an issue for public relations and business strategy consultants whose stock in trade is strategic thinking. But somehow these firms still struggle with their own social media activities.

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Give your customer a tickle

We are in the middle of the biggest change in business communications since the printing press. The move to mobile email, video calling and social media has made business communications faster and potentially, more personal. When my first boss started his career they used to correspond by post which took a week to arrive. It was a big deal when the firm installed a Telex Machine (like a morse code typewriter) because the message was delivered on the same-day that it was written. It’s now easier than ever before to give an important customer a small tickle to let them know that you’re thinking of them.

Peter Thomson social media book
New book on social media by Peter Thomson

My new book on social media for tech companies is out now. It’s all about how to use social media to target bigger and bigger clients. Too many social media books just cover mass consumer advertising and teach companies how to spam everyone. This book is for successful professionals inside tech companies and other businesses that need to build real relationships with a decision maker before closing the sale.

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Best books about social media

Social media is often the least respected part of the marketing mix. With an internet full of cat pictures and funny home videos it’s easy to see why social media isn’t taken seriously by business leaders. This is a dangerous mistake because digital communication is disrupting almost every industry. Part of the problem is that most books on social media aren’t rigorous enough to have serious business credibility in unsexy technology and B2B industries.

Social Media Business Books
Social media strategy is part of a company’s overall business strategy so the best social media books are actually general business strategy books.

So, where is the best thinking on social media today? It turns out that it’s hidden in plain sight in the business literature on word-of-mouth, competitive strategy and innovation. I’m a bit of a business book geek and I’ve read literature about business and strategy since I was a teenager. I started on Tom Peters and soon discovered Peter Drucker and Michael Porter. Seth Godin was a revelation for me. These days I devour everything from Mitch Joel and Hugh Macleod.

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B2B Social Media Book

Too many social media professionals don’t understand how to market to a cynical business audience. They get lulled into a false sense of security because many B2B (business-to-business) sales look just like B2C (business-to-consumer) sales. After all, we’re all people. But really hardcore B2B marketing (to large, unsexy, enterprise clients) is a whole different ball game. Really serious businesses have long and complex sales-cycles involving multiple decision-makers and even a formal “business case” for your product.

Peter Thomson B2B Book Cover
I’m 2/3 of the way through writing the book and this ‘book proposal’ is a way to get feedback on the direction that it’s going.

A good B2B Social Media Book would have lots practical examples from unsexy industries and be grounded in rigorous business strategy. I’ve been working on the book to bring together the best of the marketing industry’s knowledge on enterprise scale B2B social media.

A lot of the techniques and tricks are simply a digital update of old-school sales tools from companies like IBM, Oracle, Cisco, Siemens and General Electric. B2B social media should be years ahead of B2C, because of the long-standing appreciation of the importance of personal relationships. But it’s not. Continue reading B2B Social Media Book

How to write a business book

I have wanted to write a business book ever since I first picked up Tom Peters’ obscure business classic ‘Liberation Management’ as a teenager. I’ve always loved the overlap between business and creativity. Maybe it’s the seductive idea that business (and life) might just be a little bit better if we could get our institutions to act just a little bit more like people.

Tips on writing a business book
It’s important to find a quiet spot to write.

I’ve been working in branding and social media for long enough now to have accumulated some good war stories. I’ve tried out most of the best social media marketing advice and seen what worked (and what didn’t). I’ve known for a while that I had something to say, but I haven’t been quite sure until now that I ‘had a book in me’.

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Social media for lawyers

Have you ever wondered why it’s so hard for lawyers to build an online reputation? Everything is so public. There is a common fear about client confidentiality and not wanting to appear to be touting for business. Social media can seem like a chaotic place and law firms need to maintain a certain gravitas.

Peter Thomson Social Media for Lawyers
Professional service firms still to manage their reputations on social media.

If you don’t take charge and actively manage your identity online then you are just leaving your reputation to chance. I’ve seen too many friends who’s online reputations don’t live up to how good a lawyer they are. This makes me sad.

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Five myths of B2B social media

There is too much waffle in social media consulting. As a result, B2B businesses aren’t taking enough responsibility for their own social media presences. B2B companies should be great at social media, but they’re not.

B2B Social Media
B2B companies should be great at social media because it’s all about relationships.

I’ve spotted five myths that have got to change if social media is going to become a credible part of B2B companies. It’s time to start treating social media with the same commercial discipline that every other part of your business faces.

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How to deal with a hate blog

A hate blog is a website that has been created to deliberately attack someone. It’s hard to know what to do about it if one is created to attack you. This post covers a series of countermeasures and counterattacks. Some of them are contradictory so don’t try and do them all at once. Just read through and equip yourself to deal with the attacker. 

There is plenty of advice online about how to deal with trolls, disgruntled customers and flame wars. These types of attacks usually happen on social media platforms where the best course of action is to ignore them and let them drop out of the day-to-day conversation. But there is very little information on how to deal hate blogs which persist and show up in search results next to (or even ahead of) your official page. 

Hate blogs are rare because they require dedication, persistence and technical knowledge to set up and maintain. I refer to the creators of hate sites as “trolls” because the fundamental motivations are similar to a social networking troll. They want attention and to hurt the object of their hate. 

1. Legal countermeasures

Legal threats against the troll themselves just tend to encourage them. But they can still be useful if you manage to bog the troll down in legal proceedings (and force them to spend money on a lawyer). On balance, it tends to drag both sides down and fuel the troll so I don’t recommend a direct legal attack. 

Instead, you can use legal proceedings (or the threat thereof) against third parties who are hosting or helping the hate site. Cease and desist letters can be grounded in any number of legal claims. But a good start would be DCMA, copyright, defamation, slander, libel, and misleading & deceiving conduct in the course of trade. None of these would win in court but they can be a strong enough threat to make a third party take something down. 

The threat of different causes of action are more or less effective against third parties. For example, Tumblr and Pinterest tend to ignore copyright claims because otherwise they’d spend all day dealing with them since having users posting other people’s stuff is their core business. 

Examples of third parties to counterattack which will help neutralise the hate site:

  • Google: Ask to have the site removed (copyright infringement is the best here).
  • Facebook: Ask to have their page/profile removed (having a registered trade mark is helpful here).
  • YouTube: Have their videos taken down (use copyright infringement)
  • Domain registrar: Ask to have their website taken down (use trademark and/or aiding and abetting defamation)
  • Web host (e.g. wordpress.com or blogger.com): Ask to have the website taken down (use trademark and/or aiding and abetting defamation)

The best way to deal with a hate site is to bury it on the second or third page of Google. That way it gets a lot less traffic and impacts your reputation a lot less. One part of burying a site is to attack the site itself. The other side is to raise up other content to replace it. 

2. Increase the ranking of positive sites 

Google abhors a vacuum. The average Google search results page has ten slots on it. If you only have one web page, then that one page is all that will appear and Google will fill the other slots with results that you can’t control or influence.  To displace a hate site you can try a range of things:

  • Social media: Create lots of social media profiles using your brand name. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Pinterest all rank well and may help drown out the hate site.
  • Existing third-party sites: Do your best to help promote existing third-party websites that rank below the hate site, but could rank above it with some love.
  • Micro-sites: Create blogs or seperate website sites that are semi-independent. Industry commentary and news syndication sites with the keywords of the hate site in the URL may help displace the hate site.
  • Content volume: Create lots of content and interesting conversations that displaces the hate site in social media conversations (which Google now uses as a ranking indicator).
  • Public relations: Get positive coverage in the media and high profile blogs. This will rank well (and fast).
  • Community: Encourage your community to blog about you and talk about you in social media.
  • Advertising: You can push down an unwanted search result with ads that point to either you own site, or if your own site already ranks well, point to a micro-site or third-party website.

Engage a good PR, SEO and Social Media expert (these are separate people, not one person) to run a proper, well rounded reputation building campaign. This will help displace the hate site. 

3. Decrease the ranking of the hate site 

While increasing the ranking of positive content, you can also try to decrease the ranking of the negative content. Given that hate sites can be pretty dark, you might be willing to fight fire with fire. Techniques to attack the hate site fall into white, grey and black  categories. White hat is morally (and legally) positive whereas grey hat is ambiguous and black hat techniques are illegal and/or morally dodgy.  

A. White hat counterattacks:

  • Remove any links to the hate site from your own site to avoid accidentally increasing their ranking.
  • Ask your community to not link to the hate site or discuss it on social media.

B. Grey hat counterattacks:

  • Identify any SEO wrongdoing on their part and report it to Google. You can file a spam report that will penalise them if they’ve done anything wrong.
  • Use a backlink checker to identify their most valuable links from third parties. Then write to the third parties and ask them to remove the links (using a DMCA or legal notice can be useful here).
  • Increase the rank of a harmless page on their website to displace the harmful ones. Choose a less harmful page on their site and use normal modern SEO techniques to raise the ranking of their less bad sub-page.

C. Black hat counterattacks:

  • Commission a hacker to break into the site. This is fastest countermeasure (and the most effective in the short term) because the hackers can make the site redirect to your own site and the problem simply goes away. But it’s also the least effective in the long run because the troll will just create another hate site and protect it with better passwords.
  • Commission a hacker to break into their site and place bad things on the site that the troll won’t notice (and therefore won’t fix). These include hidden text in the HTML with “bad” keywords like viagra, porn, etc. This is the “secretly sew anchovies into their curtain hems” attack because it causes a slow and silent decline that the troll won’t be able to detect.
  • Commission a group of hackers to run denial of service attacks and/or repeated ping attacks to slow their site down. Google penalises slow sites so their search ranking would gradually decrease.
  • Purchase links bad links on spam sites and point them towards the hate site. Google will see the bad links and penalise the hate site because they think the hate site has been buying the links for advertising purposes  This is complicated to set up and can backfire if the links are seen as valid links. But it is very effective and a very popular technique.
  • Purchase fake reviews of the site or business on a review site. It’s more effective to “review bomb” the hate site with five star reviews (which look fake ones they have purchased) than one star reviews (which look like a malicious attack). 
  • Scrape their site and duplicate it on your own site (or a patsy fake version) before Google can index it. This might decrease the ranking by making your patsy site rank higher, but it perpetuates the content of the hate site so it’s not ideal.
  • Create a very close replica version of their website with the content re-written in a way that you prefer. Then use Adwords advertising to rank your own “fake news” site above their hate blog.

4. Psychological countermeasures

  • Direct the troll’s anger elsewhere. Hate sites take time and effort to maintain. Google likes fresh content so you can make the troll bored by getting them to hate something else. One way to do this is to transfer your most controversial activities into a single discrete entity (separate from your main operation) and use that small operation to distract, enrage and divert the troll.
  • Have a third party angel befriend the troll. A hate site is usually the creation of one person. A charm offensive can be effective if it’s from a genuinely nice person who can gently turn the troll around. The angel may not be able to have the site removed but they might gradually be able to soften the troll and have the volume of the hate turned down.
  • Co-opt and absorb the troll. Debate, discussion and critique is a healthy part of public life. One option is to use your own sites to link to the hate site and refer to them as your “outsourced conscience”. You can comment on their posts (thanking them for keeping you honest). The hate site can be used as proof that what you are doing in the world is controversial because you are making a real difference.

The best defence is to be proud of your work (yet humble about your ego) and have a sense of humour. Your audience are smart enough to make their own decisions and over time you can win on your own merits.