INTERNATIONAL: The Economies of Social Media
Like most good theories, mine is based on an observed trend. At Bruce Clay Australia, we have noticed that sites with social aspects to them are performing better in competitive search results. This trend was first observed about two years ago, and Des (a Director here) deduced that 'Web signals' acted to assist rankings. A Web signal is the mention of your brand + your keyword on a webpage crawled by search engines. For example, "McDonalds cheeseburger". The more Web signals there are the more Google considers you to be a brand authority on that keyword. Interestingly, in our experience even a new website can rank quickly and well if the social signals are implemented correctly, indicating that in certain industries it is not so much the number of Web signals that are important but rather the rate of change of these signals.
Being social, as I see it, consists of two parts; firstly, add a social element to your website, such as a forum or a blog. Secondly, push content to areas where users are expecting to be social (e.g., Facebook) and leverage their 'readiness to engage'. Let's call these processes "On Site Social" and "Off Site Social". The following diagram helps explain this process in a bit more detail:
A typical progression to On Site Social usually looks like this:
Stage 1 - Content - a site primarily driven around content articles and the frequency with which these are loaded, for example, news sites.
Stage 2: Community around content - a traditional content site decides to open itself up to a discourse - this is the start of a two way interaction. User interest is sparked by new or interesting content, which they can then discuss amongst each other, for example a blog.
Stage 3: Community - when the lunatics take over the asylum. The website becomes driven by the community, with some interaction from moderators or editors. Think Wikipedia, Yahoo Answers, and, of course, Facebook. These sites mimic offline social activity.
Many brands are employing community as a strategy to build their sites. This is not easy to do well - thousands of forums are left deserted, while many a blog has but one post. However, throwing caution to the wind, big brands are ready to risk it all for On Site Social. Why? Two reasons:
There is never enough budget
It is true. Anyone who works in online will know that the cost of pumping out editorial articles is not insignificant. Google also wants these to be high quality and engaging or you might just end up on the content farm blacklist. As the index and your competitors grow, you need more fresh content to retain authority.
It is all about growth
Just like a share price or the GDP, website traffic is all about growth. Imagine your manager saying "yeah the traffic numbers are half, but I get the feeling people are so much more engaged so I am happy"... Yeah right! YoY needs to go up. It's not just about visitors and UBs. Average page views, time on site, it all needs to head north.
Not only is user generated content great for feeding the long tail, it is also time sensitive and can be mashed up easily to make something unique. People ask questions in the same way they would type them in search engines - so it's often naturally keyword optimised. There is, of course, moderation needed and sometimes answer quality can be an issue.
While there might be some moderation needed and a troll or two in the mix, UGC is cheaper and can drive significant traffic. If you put your On Site Social to work for you, the community (and hence content) can grow exponentially bigger while you're running costs remain largely the same; hence the economies of social media.
Off Site Social also recognises some great scaling qualities. In many cases setting up your off site social profiles is only a small amount of upfront work, and the bulk of the content can come from existing on site media. Here are some social media quick wins:
Scribd: Grab your ebooks from your site and re-publish them on Scribd.
YouTube: Take the videos from your site and re-use those on your YouTube channel. Link back from in video pop ups to drive the traffic back to your website.
Twitter: Create an automated RSS feed so that all new blog posts are sent out via your Twitter feed. Every time there is a press release published, pop a note up for your audience to check it out.
Facebook: While running a Facebook page well is by no means a quick win, you can set up a presence so that if people are searching for your brand you appear. Run your RSS feed through a Facebook app to get a bit of extra mileage from your posts. Or at a bare minimum grab your vanity URL as quick as possible to avoid disappointment when you are ready to go - guns blazing - into full social swing.
App Store: Got a great piece of content on your website? Re-use it in an iPhone or iPad app and get onto the App Store to build reviews and ratings.
LinkedIn: Funnel all HR activity and any training or events straight through the company LinkedIn account.
As you move your social efforts off site, you should be able to see the exponential, spherical increase in eyeballs, with a relatively small amount of outbound effort. Of course, never forget that all IMO (Internet Marketing Optimisation) principles apply: get your keywords correct, set up your profiles with links back to your site and write your copy so that it mentions those all important Web signals.