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November 15, 2007

Is Social Media Marketing Really Worth Your Time and Effort?

In a busy Internet landscape with many competiting priorities and bottom lines, who really has the time to Twitter, network on Facebook, Linked In and Ryze, blog, post comments on blogs, forums and social networks, create and syndicate viral videos, set up multiple Squidoo Lenses and Twitter some more? Phew…. there goes the day!

While there is a growing base of early adopters who are leveraging the potential of these many new and existing social media channels, for the average web business entrepreneur, many are still trying to ascertain the value and ROI potential of Social Media Optimization and Marketing. While return on investment for Social Media campaigns can be measured through effective Web Analytics, it is still not as cut and dry as other web marketing channels like PPC advertising, Affiliate Programs and straight media buys.

So, the question remains, is it worthwhile to invest your time and resources on this more fluid, less travelled social media channel where the pay off potential is there, but much harder to quantify?

Before attempting to answer this question, I would like to provide some of my own distinctions between Social Media Marketing (SMM) and Social Media Optimization (SMO) as well as offer a handful of different strategies for employing each.

Social Media Optimization (SMO) refers to those ON-SITE activities employed to make your homepage and website more interconnected with Social Media channels. SMO connects your site or blog with photo and video sharing sites (You Tube and Flickr), Social News and Bookmark sites (Digg and Delicious) and the Blogosphere.

Social Media Marketing (SMM) refers to all OFF-SITE activities used to leverage your business reach and exposure through social media news sites, industry-specific forums, Wikis, Blogs, Microblogs and Social Networks. SMM includes the engagements and interactions your company makes with the Social Media spectrum in order to better connect with your target audience, increase quality back links to your site and look for natural ways to bridge industry-specific discussions with your own business.

Here is a sample of some of the SMO and SMM strategies you might consider utilizing in your own business:

Social Media Optimization Ideas:

  • Social Bookmark Tools: I would recommend utilizing a social bookmark tool like Addthis.com so that your main web pages can be easily bookmarked and saved in such sites as Delicious, Digg and Stumbleupon. These social media sites will potentially connect with you a targeted audience seeking your products and services.
  • RSS Feeds: Set up RSS feed capabilities in order to quickly syndicate your dynamic content such as articles and newsletters to partner sites and blogs.
  • Business Blogs: Build a Business Blog with fresh “keyword targeted” content that will attract the search engine spiders as well as your target audience.
  • Wikis, Forums, and Social Networks: Create a relevant wiki or social networks for your user audience to interact and contribute to your site content. Wikis are typically very well received and indexed by the search engines and can certainly engage the right of kind of audience for your web business.

Social Media Marketing Ideas:

Interacting with targeted blogs, social networks and forums.
One of the best ways to see targeted traffic to your site is to regularly dialogue and provide comments on blogs, forums and industry specific social news sites. You might want to check out one of our recent blog posts that included a comprehensive list of Social Media News Sites provided by Social Media expert, Jack Humphrey.

With this kind of Social Media Marketing, it is essential to build relationship, provide relevant insights and look for natural ways to talk about your own business. While this approach is not a “quick fix”, it can definitely provide a nice targeted stream of traffic over the long term and ultimately improve your link popularity. Check out Google/Blog Search and Board Reader to help you identify the types of blogs and forums you might want connect with.

Microblogging
The emergence of popular microblog platforms such as Twitter and Jaiku (recently purchased by Google) present another opportunity to connect and dialogue with a targeted audience. At Twitter, you can do keyword-specific searches for others in your  industry and invite them to join your network. In considering the potential ways to do some social marketing through Twitter, I came across a great resource called “The Great Big Juicy Twitter Guide”, by Caroline Middlebrook which provides some useful information for understanding and leveraging this new channel.
 
Wiki Contributor
You might consider perusing some relevant topics in Wikipedia (and other industry specific wikis) to contribute some content and look for relevant ways to submit a link for your own business.
 
Blog Syndication
Recently, I have been using a great new tool, Web2submitter, to mass syndicate my blog posts to top Social News sites (i.e. Digg, Reddit), which has resulted in yet another a nice new stream of site traffic.

Podcast and Viral Video Syndication
This will require a bit more work, but creating a relevant and interesting podcast and syndicating it through iTunes or such networks as Podfeed.net can be a great SMM tactic. Also, video syndication has huge viral potential, but certainly requires some thought and discretion to ensure that your video gets passed around video sharing sites for the right reasons:) That is the slippery slope of SMM – the potential for bad publicity.  An innovative solution called TubeMogul.com provides the ability to upload your videos to all the major video sharing sites at once and features an innovative analytics tool for collectively tracking your stats.

Other Social Media Channels
There are a number of other cool user generated sites like Squidoo, where you can build a “Lens” on a particular topic you are well versed in and which naturally relates to your business.

So, that just scratches the surface of the many different SMM and SMO strategies you can test out in this rapidly evolving Web 2.0 landscape.

A Social Marketing Experiment
Now, what is the effectiveness of Social Media Marketing versus other Web Marketing channels? A few months ago, MarketingExperiments.com conducted a very interesting experiment testing the ROI potential of Social Media Marketing and Optimization versus Pay Per Click search advertising. Over a 12 month period, they performed a variety of social marketing activities such as submitting 44 viral videos to YouTube and engaging their targeted community by commenting on blogs and dialoguing in specific social networks and forums. They hired an employee at $10 an hour to blog, build content and to “get social” in the industry-specific communities. Ultimately, they were testing the difference in cost and ROI between a PPC campaign (with an average bid of $.75cents) versus that of a social marketing initiative run by a part-time  blogger.

Their findings proved to be very interesting! Their Social Marketing campaign yielded a 1,427% greater return on their investment, then if they ran a Google adwords campaign over a 12 month period! Now, it is important to note that they only ran the Google adwords campaign for a 1 month period, so it is hard to accurately gauge the overall performance then if they had run a 12 month PPC campaign. Nonetheless, through their social marketing efforts, they spent $3600 in wages over the year for the part-time position and saw over 93, 000 unique visits to their respective sites during that time period. (An average of $.04 cents cost per visit) Now, there was certainly a great deal of trial and error involved during this experiment, but the results certainly revealed the power of Social Media Marketing. I would recommend taking a read of their findings at MarketingExperiments.com.

So, back to our question we started with…Is Social Media Marketing a worthwhile investment of your time and marketing budget? My answer is an emphatic YES! In this new Web, where user-generated content and collaboration reign supreme, businesses have a prime opportunity to connect with a highly targeted audience in a cost-effective manner. Social Media Marketing, much like SEO, does not necessarily yield a fast return on investment, but has great potential for increasing search listings and expanding targeted exposure over the long term!

Author:  Craig Cannings is the Managing Director of ESalesGuru.com, an innovative marketplace connecting ebusinesses with niche Internet Marketing Specialists and Firms worldwide. Visit www.esalesguru.com or contact Craig for more information at craig@esalesguru.com

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