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The Long and the Short of URL Shortening in Social Media

140 characters. A couple of years ago, this phrase would have been meaningless. But in today’s world of fast news, direct customer outreach and explosive social media, every PR professional knows what this means and how important it is to a social media program. When we are limited to what we can say on Twitter, beggars can’t be choosers, and message delivery needs to be punchy and impactful. Enter URL shorteners, allowing us to go beyond 140 characters and extend our message to the web, videos, client blogs and more.

There’s no short list for URL shorteners. Bit.ly, TinyURL, is.gd and even awe.sm (yes, believe it or not, that is a real service) are all tools PR professionals are using daily to link to content and effectively communicate with their audience. But how do we take advantage of URL shorteners to make the content valuable to the audience and deliverable to the client?

Tracking
Several URL shorteners provide users the option to create a username and track over time how many click-throughs their links receive. What do your followers care most about? What are they reading? Measurement provides us with the ability to analyze what our readers actually care about and gives us the opportunity to refine our message and provide actionable content. Here is a real-life example of a client’s Bit.ly statistics, giving us insight to what works and what doesn’t.

 

Bit Ly Stats.jpgWith URL shorteners, we can even measure the level of visibility the competition is receiving. Curious to see how many people are clicking your client’s bit.ly’s in comparison to their competitors? Adding a “+” to the end of a bit.ly URL allows us to view how popular any bit.ly is and gives us the option to not only report to the client statistics of their social media program, but statistics of their competitor’s as well. Tracking these statistics can be a valuable long-term deliverable, measuring how visibility and social media traction has increased over a finite period of time.

Customization
Certain URL shorteners, like Bit.ly, also provide users with the option to customize their links. Let’s face it, if I were to link to Schwartz Communications’ homepage, the link http://bit.ly/SchwartZ is a lot more attractive than http://bit.ly/aZdm2u. Not to mention, customizable links allow you to highlight company products and ideas in your tweet.

Challenges
In communications, URL shorteners clearly provide value, but some people are still on the fence. In 2009, TechCrunch called URL shorteners a “necessary evil,” and much of their audience agreed, with over 57% of poll respondents echoing similar sentiments.

So what’s the fuss about? As TechCrunch points out, random links can be opaque and cause spam concerns when users are unaware what they are clicking, and yes, some click-throughs can be attributed to bots, applications and browser plug-ins.

Still, when all is said and done, URL shorteners allow for more compelling and targeting messaging. In social media, our job is simple: relate to the public and encourage target audiences to take action. Whether that action be clicking a link, taking a poll or anything in between, URL shorteners are outstanding tools to encourage and begin to measure audience activity, and for that, I’m all for them.

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