Every Flower Needs a Bee: Fostering Symbiosis in a Digital World. The last post I published here was How to Hack Your Klout Score so I wanted to write a post that will help you spend your time in a more valuable way. This post is about the driving principal I think SEOs, SEO Agencies and SEO products should be built upon. In reality as you read you will realize that my philosophy can be extended out of the realm of SEO but for now let’s keep it simple.
When I was younger I wanted to be a Biologist, a Veterinarian or a Naturalist. Doctor Do Little was my hero and at one point in my life I could name every breed of dog I saw on the street.
I also loved Ants especially Solenopsis Invicta the Fire Ant. Ants are noble insects. As individuals they are bad ass, they can lift 50x their own body weight, they are excellent communicators and thrive in almost every type of environment. Together as a colony they are unstoppable. They have been know to clear entire villages, eat sleeping mammals and when their colony gets flooded they link together and float as an Ant raft until they find land. The US government spent millions and waged a war on Solenopsis in the Midwest killing tons of different animals in the process, but not Solenopsis.
Guess who won that war?
Good Old Uncle Sam had to take his money (and Ego) put it back in his pockets and go pick a fight they could win. These tiny insects humble me and have taught me big lessons.
(A colony of Ants floating)
Despite my love for Nature and Ants somehow I spent my career working in the digital world. I ended up being the SEO lead at Profero, running my own video production company and building and spreading love via spreadlove.org. But I’ve used what I learned from Nature and Ants to help me be a better SEO, a better SEO manager, and create better SEO products for Profero.
Two Types of Relationships
There are three kinds of relationships between organisms in the natural world. The two most important are Parasitic and Symbiotic (mutualism) relationships. Let me ask you a question.
Do you know a Mosquito that you like?
That being asked I’m sure you can easily figure out what a parasitic relationship is because we all have them. Parasitic relationships drain you and you hate being in them because they literally suck your life force from your body like a leech drawing blood from its host. Symbiotic relationships on the other hand are best highlighted by the relationship that a flower has with a bee. The bee pollinates and creates more flowers while the flower feeds the bee. Both parties gain from this relationship and this is what creates an ecosystem in nature.
These ecosystems allow life to flourish on Earth, creates environments where species can flourish grow and literally make breathing possible. Humans and Corporations (Governments, Brands etc) are the only entities that can choose to be symbiotic or parasitic.
Symbiosis Applied to SEO Agencies
Companies have to provide a culture that fosters symbiosis and create symbiotic relationships with their employees if they hope to attract the best talent in their industry. Google, Facebook and many of the top companies in the world understand this.
Companies like NetFlix and Hubspot take it a little further and even publish their thoughts on company culture in order to attract the best talent. NetFlix’s Slide Share deck on Culture has 3.2 million views and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said, “It is the most important document ever to come out of the [Silicon] Valley.” Hub Spot’s Culture Code Slide Share presentation has over 270,000 views in about a week. Another great example of this is SEOMOZ’s TAGFEE mission statement.
Each of these presentations promotes symbiosis and lets the world and top talent know that it is part of their company’s DNA and if you work here we will love you and enable you to do the best work possible. As organic beings we have an innate attraction to symbiosis because in it we thrive and grow in ways you could never imagine. If companies create symbiotic relationships with their employees and provided an environment that encourages them to do great work, people would come in when sick, work late, work weekends and go above and beyond for that company. I’ve worked at several companies where employees hated working there because the company preached culture but had a parasitic mindset and working environment. They even promoted deviously, parasitic people and things are slowly but surely falling apart because of it. Guess who no longer works there?
1. Write Down Your Beliefs
Write down your company’s philosophies and beliefs and distribute them to your teams. All organizations should have their principals and guidelines written down in some sort of shareable document. A Slide Share presentation would be a very good place to start but more importantly you have to practice what you preach.
As SEOs and Marketers most of us are all over surveys. However, we forget that we can use surveys for internal team developments. Internal feedback loops are just as important as external feedback loops. An anonymous feedback system can help you identify potential issues and fix them before they lead to break down.
3. Practice What You Preach
Words in a book are meaningless if you don’t live them. Management has to live by your company’s belief systems and abide by it’s principals and the rest will fall into place.
Symbiosis Applied to an SEO Team
No one wants to work with or for the very brilliant and talented guy who berates them, takes credit for other peoples work and believes in cutting people down to get ahead. Douche Bag Bison shows you what happens to members on your team if you hired him and things got tough. Would you hire or want to work for Douche Bag Bison? I would not and the top comment on that video shows that most people would not either.
Love is extremely powerful when harnessed for a cause. Gandhi liberated India using love and non-violence. Love begets love and people want to work with and do business with people they care about. A great book I read called “The Speed of Trust” showed me how trust, love and communication are important to make a team run efficiently and get things done. An Ant colony also shows us what happens when really talented individuals come together so I know communication and team work are essential to the success of any kind of team. Symbiosis creates excellent communication, trust and loyalty and is extremely important to SEO teams that deliver work for their clients.
1. 360 Reviews
A unique part of Profero that I have not seen elsewhere is their 360 feedback review system. I highly recommend you incorporate something like this within your company or agency. Basically everyone does a self review and then gets an anonymous review by their manager, peers and Jr. staffers that they work with. This is excellent because you get to see how everyone feels about you in an honest and very constructive way. Sometimes we don’t realize that we are being parasitic or creating friction on teams because of the stress in agency life. These reviews are your chance to get real feedback and guidance that you can use to develop in to a better team player.
One of the easiest places to start is with low hanging fruit like appreciation. Appreciation goes a long way and lets employees feel loved and wanted. It also inspires in them the desire to want to do more because they know someone cares about what they are doing. If you don’t show appreciation then you are basically practicing neglect and neglect leads to frustration and break down. I always acknowledge the work of my SEO analysts that are on my team and make sure they get credit for the amazing work that they do. In turn this visibility is usually funneled up so that it reaches our CEO. I’ve never seen an SEO analyst more happy than after the CEO thanks them for doing amazing work, that high (and increased productivity) can last for weeks.
3. Only Hire Cultural Fits
Hire people who already believe in your company’s philosophies. Principles and morals are very hard to develop and are ingrained in people over years of experiences. Don’t think that you can hire someone and change them because that is going to be disastrous. You think you can change Douche Bag Bison? To quote the person who uploaded the Douche Bag Bison video, ” Bison don’t give f#ck.” Parasitic employees spread social disease and can create major team separation and break down. The speed of trust is amazing, you get more done in less time when the team trusts each other.
Symbiosis Applied to Your SEO Work
I fight full contact bare-knuckle karate and view life and SEO through a life and death lens. It sounds super cheesy but in bare-knuckle karate if you don’t do the hard work and train for your fight you can get seriously hurt or killed. Trust me I’ve been lucky, I went to the Doctor and found out that I chipped a bone in my left shoulder and snapped my big toe in half, breaking it in two places. I said, “That explains why I walk with such Gangnam Style.” All jokes aside though when I think about SEO the same rules apply. Don’t take shortcuts, you have to do the hard work in order to win.
Don’t get me wrong at one point in my life I wore the Blackest Hat ever, both in SEO and Social media. I hacked my Klout Score , I was ranking pretty damn good for numerous keywords on one of my old blogs and that Google AdSense check was nice. Only the words of the great poet and philosopher Kanye West could explain my mindset at that point of my life. “ You Can’t Tell Me Nothing” then I got hit by a few good combos via Google updates and my rankings plummeted and that AdSense money dried up quickly.
After that I decided I’m just going to do the right thing and work on creating content that adds value to whoever reads it. In reality that is all searchers, Google, Bing and the other search engines want us to do. Search Engines want to create symbiotic relationships with the searcher and provided excellent results so that they keep coming back. Your SEO should enable this and work with it not against it. This is why good Inbound Marketing works so well. Hub Spot says, “Inbound is about empathy, it’s about creating an experience people love.”
You can see the shifts toward more sustainable, symbiotic business and marketing models happening everywhere. Cause based marketing spend grew from $120 million in 1990 to $1.70 billion 2012 which shows that love and empathy is what people want more of and they are demanding companies shift to more symbiotic models. If you build your SEO product to focus on long-term results for your clients, you will be irreplaceable. This goes beyond the Black vs White Hat discussion because I found when you test theories you usually are pushing the envelope and probably will venture into Grey to Black Hat territory. However, if you are not providing value for both the short and long term with the least risks then your SEO product probably is not symbiotic and probably won’t stand the test of time. This interview I did with SearchDecoder.com on Widget Marketing Tips would be a good place to learn how to use Widgets as Symbiotic content to help you and your clients SEO.
SEO Moz a Symbiotic Case Study
SEO Moz is a great example of a company in the SEO field that is very symbiotic to their customers. I interviewed Rand Fishkin CEO of SEO Moz a while back asking him about what they are working on for Local SEO.
I like to ask software providers about their product road maps because I’m looking for long-term relationship, I want to know that they are thinking about my needs down the road. It is also a subtle way to find out where their head is and where they think SEO is heading. Rand said they were working on tracking ranks for Google+ local pages and more.
A few months passed and guess what, they rolled out some testing for local results and added David Mihm a local SEO expert to the team. Really!? Not only are they building the tools that Rand said he was to help us Local SEO street fighters, but he bought the damn Dojo (Karate school) with a street fighting Sensei as well. That’s called under promising and over delivering, which is always a way to make your clients and customers happy.
I like to do a weekly self-audit to make sure that my actions at work and the SEO product that I develop continue to be symbiotic in Nature. I ask myself what more could I be doing to help my team develop and my clients be successful? This simple question goes a long way and if you truly care it will help you find opportunities that no one else can see.
These books teach you how the power of love and trust can be used to help products and teams be more efficient. Mentors throughout my career have told me to read them and I always like to pass that gift forward.
The Speed of Trust By: Stephen M.R. Covey
This book will show you how important trust is to your teams and organization.
How to Win Friends and Influence People By: Dale Carnegie
I avoided this book for years because of my Ego. Once I put it my Ego aside this book showed me how spreading love and being a good person can yield enormous benefits in life and business. I never looked back.
I hope this posts gives you some insight into how you should be building your SEO products and creating wonderful environments for your employees to do their best work.