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November 6, 2011

Ending Social Media Marketing Confusion

Consider this scenario: You know you’re supposed to get on Twitter to somehow promote your website. So you start randomly tweeting out links to a product or service page on your website. But who is going to care? Sure, you could do some Twitter searches and find people who are asking their own Twitter followers about a product or service that you may happen to offer. And yes, you could reply to them with a link to your information, but overall, is that really a good, scalable social media marketing strategy? No, it’s not.

For one thing, they don’t know you.

It’s likely that they may even consider your helpful tweets to be spam. They weren’t asking you for a recommendation, they were asking their online friends. Why would they trust some random person who seems to only be on Twitter to promote their products and services? And their thoughts will be confirmed when they review the rest of your tweets and see that most of them are similarly self-promotional in nature.

Sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone.

Surprisingly, this is a typical corporate social media marketing strategy!

You probably heard that you should be tweeting out your content without understanding what that means, or what type of content is even tweet-worthy. Twitter, and to a certain extent Facebook, will be helpful to you and your business only if you have specific content to promote on your site. That is, content that goes beyond just describing your products and services. Content that is interesting, quirky, funny or passionate. Content that teaches, makes people think or riles them up. In short, content that tells a story that’s in some way related to the products or services you offer.

The hard part is figuring out what kind of story you want to tell. Not to mention that you probably don’t have the time or money to tell it in a way that makes an impression. Again, you’re not alone!

I’ve run into this problem with many clients and potential clients. My SEO expertise has traditionally focused on the technical issues that often plague websites from being properly spidered, read and indexed by search engines. Once that’s all set, I’m usually done. I stay away from traditional link building because I find it detestable and spammy. However, in the past few years, social media has opened up countless additional marketing avenues that can bring lots of interested people to websites – and it can also help with SEO.

This makes an SEO consultant’s job much more like a traditional marketer’s job.

For example, earlier this year I did an SEO website review for a small company that compiles and sells gourmet cooking classes along with adventure travel tours that are available in various countries. It’s a cool idea and a great way to combine two passions that many people have – cooking and active travel. The classes occur in some of the most amazing cities in the world, and they are taught by local chefs. When I first reviewed it, the website itself had tons of technical issues that were causing duplicate content and other SEO issues. Thankfully, the client took my recommendations to heart, hired a developer familiar with her back-end system, and got most of her on-page SEO in good order.

But as I’ve been saying a lot lately, traditional SEO can only take you so far these days.

Traffic and sales quickly went up, but not as much as she had hoped. She asked me what else she could do to make more sales. So I took another look at her website and realized that there wasn’t much more to do with the on-page SEO. What she needed now was to start doing some heavy-duty marketing to build up awareness, brand, and ideally, links. So I told her that she should probably get herself involved in social media marketing through Twitter and Facebook. I really didn’t give her any specifics beyond pointing her to a few articles I’d written about it, however.

A few weeks later I heard from her again as she was wondering if paying someone $500 to set up a Twitter and Facebook account was a good investment. That’s when I realized that she had no idea why she needed to be on Twitter and Facebook, and how they might help her business. I told her that setting up the accounts was the easy part – it’s what you do with them that’s difficult. Her $500 investment would be wasted without the knowledge or the time it was going to take to get anything out of her efforts.

I wanted to make sure she understood this, while also providing her with some creative sparks to get her thinking about what she could do if she pursued this form of online marketing.

Here’s part of the email I sent her:

“Do you ever go to any of the cooking excursions yourself?

“I’m asking because you need something to be writing about on a regular basis on a blog (or similar) area of your site. If you go to some of the excursions, that would provide you with great content. You could detail your experiences, perhaps even interview the chefs and maybe even create some videos. There are limitless opportunities.

“If you don’t go on the trips yourself, perhaps you could solicit others who do to write about their experiences. Maybe you could provide a discount on future trips for those who agree to post about their experiences in your blog. The whole blog could be like a travel diary from various travelers’ points of view.

“There are surely lots of other things like that which would be of interest to your target market and bring more traffic to your site while also making it more interesting and keeping people coming back for more. It would also make it more link-worthy in general. I’m sure if you start thinking about this some more, you’ll come up with even more ideas, since you’re more familiar with what happens on the cooking excursions than I am.

“The Twitter and Facebook part is simply a way of telling interested people when you have new content to read (or watch). So until or unless you plan to do that, there’s no sense in setting up your accounts.”

I also told her that while I could help her to brainstorm ideas, she was going to have to be able to implement them or have someone else who could. One simple way to test the waters might be to hire a good copywriter
to do telephone interviews with some of the chefs and write those up. It wouldn’t be quite as powerful as first-hand accounts from someone who has experienced the trips, but it would be a start.

Social media marketing means having something worth promoting that goes beyond your products and services. It means being creative, thinking about what would interest your target audience, and then taking the time and manpower to start doing it!

Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings, an ‘SEO Consulting’ ( company in the Boston, MA area since 1995. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalen

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