Weekend Warrior: Twitter Links and Google Social

Web professionals either love or ignore Twitter.

The microblogging/communication/news platform continues to grow - however slowly and in whatever direction. But many still struggle with how to actually leverage the opportunity it presents to build links, which is the core element of any successful SEO campaign.

Now you don't have a choice. Google this week announced a more "social" search results experience for its users, and Twitter is playing a very central role.

Twitter is unique in that unlike the private social networks of Facebook and LinkedIn, it is by all accounts public - meaning that you can see beyond what is happening in your own social graph but tap into the global conversation occurring around events, memes and other people. As someone responsible for building awareness of your Web property as it stands today, there are few opportunities better than Twitter that can move the quality link-count number upwards. With Google giving social more prominence, Web professionals have an opportunity to extend their messaging.

Can You Hear Me Now? Are You Listening?
Many years ago the term "listening" received a lot of attention - and since then the term has evolved. No longer do we simply give attention to one thing, but we are forced to be attentive to many things (relationships, trends, news). The result is that many Web professionals can only hear what is going on instead of listening. To listen requires a deeper level of concentration, a familiarity with our existing and prospective audience, and a willingness to understand the opportunities and challenges presented to those we wish most to listen to and who we most wish would listen to us.

Listening today is no easy task - there are more channels (and people) to listen to - there are video sharing sites, forums and newsgroups, wikis, photo sharing, social media news and social media aggregators, social networks and, yes, even microblogging communities like Twitter. The conversation is happening everywhere, but if you're using Twitter you can do so in a way that addresses all these communities independently and simultaneously.

Listening by itself is not a passive activity - particularly on Twitter. To listen on Twitter means to both engage those already in your social graph on Twitter (or anywhere else, for that matter) and identify those that should be brought into the proverbial fold. We must literally seek out, search if you will, those which are related to our underlying objective. You need to use one of the many real-time search engines provided by Bing or Google, or even Twitter's own internal search function (via hashtags, for example).

The issue with using "listening" as a mandatory practice is, once again, that it has evolved. Instead of simply "monitoring", now we are able to "mine" sentiment, voice, influence and other custom reporting elements. For this you'll likely need to turn to more robust social media platforms. The common metrics to consider are the volume of conversation, the relative popularity of topics and the general sentiment in and among the competitors.

Following and being followed helps you listen more efficiently. If you can identify those groups or individuals that share a common belief or need, you effectively surround yourself with communication that is ripe for identifying potential link targets. Using services like AllTop to identify optimal Twitter link targets and then ranking them through a service like TwitterGrader or Klout will enable you to be quite efficient about whom you reach out to when targeting. While these are more of the vanity app variety, they do provide a useful measuring stick.

Listening only gets you so far, however. Ultimately, you'll need to interact.

Acting and Interacting
As a Web professional seeking out link targets, you must interact with others. Fortunately, opportunities are not in short supply. For example, retweeting other Twitter users' tweets to your own followers puts you on their radar (even if they don't follow you). Another example is using replies, public responses to tweets. This also drives you and your Twitter handle into the conversation. Finally, direct messages are also effective ways to communicate with other Twitter users and, based on our own experience, is one of the most tangible ways to measure if participation on the network is resulting in new quality links.

One of the best ways to initiate a conversation is to reach out via multimedia. If you've got a smartphone you have the ability to take photos and video - both meaningful content assets and perhaps the easiest way to generate a few links. Consider connecting your photo tweets to TwitPic or another related service and direct-messaging other Twitter users.

What Are Your Objectives?
One of the main reasons people fail at marketing and, in turn, link building via Twitter is that they simply do not understand their own objectives. Instead of simply hopping on the bandwagon, consider making a list of what you want to accomplish. For example, that could increase distribution of marketing messages, improve the brand image, discover ways to improve products/services, or use the platform to solve customer service problems.

It's important now to step back and consider the main points about why it is that you are actually participating on Twitter.
- You need to listen to know what others are saying (so that they can be targeted appropriately)
- You need to engage in order to make an impact.
- You need to measure to make sure you are doing these things correctly.