A Gluten-Free Search Diet

In June of 2009, something unique happened in the world of health news: That’s when the  Mayo Clinic “announced the imminent release of a study on celiac disease, specifically an immune system response to gluten,” according to Forbes.com article. While these kinds of releases are commonplace in the health community, what made this news event different was that the Mayo Clinic chose to share the announcement over Twitter and tracked which of its followers retweeted it. The Mayo Clinic later shared an embargoed copy of the study with select followers, each of whom had celiac disease, who were permitted to blog about the study once it was released to the public.

That same month, the search term “celiac disease” experienced one of the most significant spikes since 2004.  Lee Aase, Mayo Clinic's director of social media, attributed some of the success to having an established connection with the community, as Aase had been tweeting about celiac findings prior to this release.  The Mayo Clinic skillfully enabled its target audience to control the conversation by granting them special level news access, a status traditionally reserved for the "media."  Although perhaps not surprising today given how Twitter has changed the flow of political and social history, in 2009 it was incipient technology. Case in point, the “celiac” search spike crashed 30 days later with the news of Michael Jackson’s untimely passing.

Today, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook are entwined in our collective worlds, and regularly relied upon for news and events -- a reality often not mirrored in our marketing plans. If any question remained about the validity or necessity of the social sphere, Hurricane Sandy confirmed its reason for existence. Key communicators from FEMA Director W. Craig Fugate, to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, to Newark Mayor Corey Booker, to the Huffington Post used social media to convey essential information.

Twitter enables coverage to spread, and marketers will reap rewards by embracing social media’s expansion with an equal eagerness. As it did for the Mayo Clinic, Twitter can significantly boost search demand. So too can blogs.

The skeptical may rightly surmise that while the country is no doubt on course to “Rise Up,” Bruce Springsteen style, in the event of a true zombie apocalypse, blogs could continue to be run only by marketing bots. Sure, they may encounter a readership issue -- but for sure, the tweets will be far less entertaining than: “I hope we don't find out this blackout is just a big promo for that show ‘Revolution.’ Jim Gaffigan, #sandy."

The idea is to harness social media’s massive marketing power for good. During Chicago’s Social Media Week, leading B2B panelists espoused the necessity of understanding the intersection of search and social. We were told not to rely on the vanity metric of Twitter followers but rather to examine who actively engages with our brands and what these folks do to promote them. Specifically, what do they intend?

Seems like sound advice. Get started by tweeting a body of data and then listen as fans re-tweet and react to it. When you deliver curated content, your followers will help you understand their activity through search data, and it’s important to prepare to capture search demand. As demand rises, the right content and SEO resources can combine with paid search to help marketers reap big gains in search and acquisition KPIs  -- but overlooking this important step can quickly position the competition as benefactor. Panelists during Social Media Week reiterated that content creation can be as simple as a Google alert. Step 2 is to assign a hierarchical structure or otherwise make sense of the trends and extend this knowledge to the search channel.

(Data-based) marketing drives the business. Using keywords and content as the seed, take a cross-channel approach to bucket and reach customers as efficiently as possible. The idea of informing constituents in real time is on par with a societal expectation. It feels intuitive to share the most important news with your best supporters and trust that they treat it responsibly.

The key is to decode searcher intent and fulfill needs across channels with a unified and coherent strategy.

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