Most of my web visitors fall into one of three groups. The first are small business owners running a $1 million to $100 million company. The second are marketing executives, and the third are new marketing professionals interested in learning more about inbound marketing or looking for a job with my company, Blue Corona. (Note: If you don’t fall into one of these groups, contact me and tell me more about yourself)
Anyone falling into one of the first two categories (business owners and marketing executives) likely thinks time spent on social media websites like Facebook and Twitter is a total waste of time (the third group—let’s call them kids—either LIVES on social media sites or has abandoned them because they are no longer “cool”).
Sound about right?
Here’s the thing—when it comes to marketing your business online, social media is NOT a waste of time (and tracking the ROI is easy).
Let me explain …
The Power of Social Media Marketing
When done correctly, social media marketing is a powerful form of inbound marketing. Social media websites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, WordPress, YouTube, and Vimeo can all be used to “warm up” new prospects and move them further down the proverbial sales funnel. They can also be used for direct lead generation and sales development (this only applies to certain industries). Perhaps the biggest value social media has, for businesses of all sizes and types, is social media sharing for equals higher organic search rankings. That’s right, updating your company’s Facebook status, sharing content on LinkedIn, and tweeting (you heard me, tweeting) will, over time, improve your organic search rankings.
How Social Media Sharing Helps SEO
It’s easy to see how updates on Facebook might benefit a restaurant or concert venue or how YouTube might help promote a summer camp for kids. Finding an application for Twitter for the local plumbing company or real estate agent is a bit more difficult, but that doesn’t mean a benefit doesn’t exist.
According to research performed by Dan Zarrella of HubSpot, there’s a strong correlation between social media shares and inbound links.
No matter how little you know about search engine optimization (aka SEO), you probably understand that links, from one website to another, act like “votes” to sites like Google. More votes from more relevant and authoritative websites equals higher organic search rankings. Higher organic search rankings for keywords used by your prospective clients, means more web visits, leads, and sales for your business. Despite what some people might lead you to believe, SEO** generates the highest ROI of any marketing strategy in the modern marketing world.
Other Benefits of Social Media
If the only benefit of social media was the links resulting from content sharing, this alone would justify the (soft) cost of time spent required to maintain and update your company’s status across the major social sites.
However, there are a few other benefits to social media marketing and building a large social community for your business.
If you were (fortunate enough to be) running a business before the widespread adoption of the Internet, you probably remember a highly effective form of advertising called “word of mouth.” Having a large community for your business on sites like Facebook and Twitter is kind of like having a huge ambassador network. If you are active on Facebook, you’ve probably seen a number of instances over the past few months where friends and family ask their social network for recommendations.
I’m on Facebook a few times a day (sadly, usually when I’m in the bathroom or stuck at a long red light), and I can cite a number of examples—friends buying new cars, looking for someone to repair their air conditioner, in need of a roofing contractor after a tree fell on their house, thinking about replacement windows, etc. Go to a mall on any given holiday weekend—a time when the mall is packed—and you’ll see that my level of activity is not outside the norm (in fact, I’m probably a “light” user!). When you’re at the mall, take a seat on one of those grimey couches and watch how many people walk around GLUED to their “smart” phone! If you’ve never done this, prepare to be amazed (and simultaneously disgusted). People are literally addicted to their phones.
So, building a large “community” on social sites can encourage word-of-mouth marketing for your business. Of course, just like in the real world, it takes time to build a large and engaged community. So, if you go this route, do yourself a favor and STOP looking for the short term ROI (’cause it doesn’t exist!!).
While we’re on the subject of long-term investments, here’s another social media benefit, one that indirectly relates back to SEO. Search engines like Google are always tweaking their algorithm in an attempt to improve the quality of their search results. Higher quality search results mean more people returning to Google whenever they need to find something. More website traffic means more opportunities for people to click on Google’s paid advertisements—the way Google makes most of their money.
There’s been a lot of speculation within the SEO community about whether social media signals will augment (and eventually replace) traditional ranking signals such as inbound links. When you think about it, it makes sense that the search engines will start using social media signals in their ranking algorithms. Is a “built for SEO” spam site likely to have 1,000+ LinkedIn or Twitter followers or Facebook fans? Possible, but highly unlikely.
If you ever read any of my blog posts over at Bluecorona.com, you know that I generally believe that, when it comes to SEO, it’s easy come, easy go. If you’re really serious about building a great business and you intend to get leads and sales from the web, you need to focus the (vast) majority of your SEO efforts on strategies and tactics that work to establish your company as THE authority for what you do in the markets you do it. This means focusing your SEO investments on strategies and tactics that are extremely hard to execute … for example, becoming a regular writer for an industry publication or getting a guest blog published on Openforum.org (vs. the Examiner … something anyone can set up in a day).
If you run a business or are a high-powered marketing executive, the last thing you have is an abundance of free time. It’s easy to see your kids playing around on Facebook and Twitter and conclude that it’s a waste of time or something best left to tweens. However, there are demonstrated advantages to maintaining an active profile for your company on sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, WordPress, YouTube, and Vimeo. If you’re investing in marketing strategies to drive traffic and leads to your website, you shouldn’t discount social media without performing some tests.
If you’d like to flatten the learning curve, contact me. I can help you create a social media marketing strategy or test that makes sense.
**A little note about the relationship between SEO, inbound marketing, and content marketing.
Let me give you a little tip—it’s all semantics. There’s a huge overlap between all three.
SEO is a subset or a tactic under the inbound marketing umbrella. The term “inbound marketing” was coined after SEO. The intention was to create a term that could be used to refer to a whole variety of (mostly online) marketing tactics that work by attracting visitors to you at the moment of interest (vs. traditional marketing tactics that interrupt by “pushing” messages to people—whether they are interested or not).
In recent months, the SEO industry has been getting an increasing amount of coverage in the mainstream media. The angle of the coverage has been mostly centered around companies manipulated weaknesses in Google’s algorithm for their (the SEO company and their clients’) benefit. It’s important that you realize that there is nothing inherently evil about SEO and not all “inbound marketing” people are friendly helpers. Just like everything in life, you have good guys and bad guys; ethical companies and crooks.
Contrary to what some “inbound marketing experts” might say, SEO is not dead (far from it). If it was, most inbound marketers would find themselves quickly switching back to outbound marketing. If and when you hire someone to help you with your online marketing, make sure you ask them to explain the difference between these three terms. How they answer the question speaks volumes about the value they can bring to your business.