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Problem: Managing your reputation in social media.

Solution: The social media landscape is the premier medium companies use to generate and monitor buzz about their brands, products and services. With all the consumer-driven channels—social networking communities, blogs, forums, newsgroups, wikis, video-sharing sites, social bookmarking—there is a wealth of information being spread about your companies' products and services that you may or may not be aware of.

For a lot of companies, this is a good thing. Social media are the online version of word-of-mouth advertising, one of the most effective and viral forms of marketing. However, it should be noted that customers will typically share bad news three times more often than they'll spread good news. Negative commentary in the social sphere can have a major impact on brands that companies have spent many years and significant resources building.

This is where having an online reputation management strategy comes into play. You can effectively spin conversations about your brand in a positive way. Think of reputation management in social media as an interactive extension of your overall public relations strategy. Damage control is one aspect of this strategy, but it is important to note that reputation management is most effective as a proactive measure rather than a reactive one. Being heavily connected to the social media landscape is a great way to put your brand in a position of control, as opposed to the ad hoc approach of chasing after and squashing various dissenters.

To manage its reputation on a tactical level, a company might:

  • Create and manage a profile on all the major social networking sites.

  • Have a third party build a Wikipedia page for your company and link out to positive resources about your products and services.

  • Use social bookmarking sites to develop portals that link to positive press about your company, products and services.

  • Broadcast any visual media from your site by creating a YouTube channel and a Flickr account.

  • Participate in active discussion boards and blogs within your industry.

  • Build a company blog (with accompanying RSS feed) and advertise it to the masses.

Using these tactics and many others, you can tap into the power of social media and uncover insights into the kinds of discussions audiences are having about your brand. Implementing a holistic brand optimization strategy is the first step to aligning your online reputation with your overall marketing objectives.

Nick Bourgeois is senior search specialist for Acquity Group (www.acquitygroup.com), a provider of integrated solutions for strategy, technology and design.

Problem: Determining search engine marketing return on investment.

Solution: You've probably done your homework and jumped on board the search marketing boat either by trying it on your own or getting outside help. Now what? How much value does this form of advertising really bring to your business? Is it just a simple ROI calculation?

To answer that fundamental question, it's necessary to clear up two of the most common misconceptions about search engine marketing:

Myth No. 1: Search marketing is all about clicks and conversions here and now.

In reality, search marketing has a built-in branding aspect to it. If people are passing by a billboard with your name on it, they're bound to see it. The same is true for search engine results pages. Do not discount the importance of branding.

Also, many conversions happen one or more days after the search engine user visited the site. Use your Web analytics tool to figure out what happens to your return visitors. Do not underestimate the "bookmark" feature in Web browsers.

Last, return business is just as common online as it is in bricks-and-mortar shops. Think of each lead or sale in terms of lifetime value of a customer. It's not a one-shot deal; you're developing a relationship with your users.

Myth No. 2: Search marketing is too expensive for our business.

Out of X visitors that are coming to your site, Y% convert to leads or sales, and that costs you $Z. Define a conversion metric on your Web site to have an objective performance indicator of overall campaign success.

Also, figure out with your SEM consultant whether a conservative approximation in increase in traffic by P% and improved overall conversion rate by Y% is reasonable enough to cover capital investment plus monthly fees.

Finally, think of your search marketing campaign as an investment in your online real estate. Anticipate a learning curve and gradual improvement in performance, as there is no such thing as immediate success.

Greg Laptevsky is a search engine marketing specialist at Internet marketing company Prime Visibility (www.primevisibility.com).

Problem: Getting e-mail delivered to business domains.

Solution: As a b-to-b sender, there are a number of things you can do to help increase your delivery rates.

1) Test your e-mails against anti-spam technologies. Make sure you are testing your messages against the most popular corporate anti-spam technologies, such as Brightmail, Postini and MessageLabs.

2) Make sure your e-mails render correctly. Test your e-mails to make sure they look the way you intended in the most common e-mail clients, such as Outlook.

3) Understand the domains on your list. If there are certain corporations that dominate your customer list, try reaching out to those system administrators to help improve your delivery rates.

4) Include an "add to address book" call to action. If customers add your sending address to their address book, it will increase the likelihood of reaching their in-boxes.

5) Ensure your system is set up correctly. Having an inappropriately configured e-mail delivery system can affect your delivery rates. If you have an open relay or your DNS is not configured correctly, this will affect your overall delivery rates.

Spencer Kollas is director of delivery services at StrongMail Systems (www.strongmail.com), a provider of e-mail delivery software and appliances.

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