The newest buzzword tossed around in the search engine marketing world is social media marketing. We often hear about something being "Dugg" or "StumbledUpon." Honestly, though, what does that really mean? To many folks, social media seems like a conglomeration of Web sites with user-generated content, random interactions, and popular voting.
It's like “Middle School for Web sites.”
Profiles and sites with the most interesting social content get the most buzz. In turn, that profile or site may win the most "votes" and move to the top of any given social network ranking system. The swing in popularity can happen in weeks, days, or hours. Due to vast amounts of user-generated content and demand for social networking sites, additional search engine listings from social sites present new opportunities for marketers.
A few months ago, SEW expert Aaron Shear asked the question, "Can Social Media Work in Big Business?" My recent attendance at SES San Jose really opened my eyes to the different forms that social marketing can take. My thought: How can a small business owner with a modest marketing budget and limited time benefit from social marketing?
Manage Your Expectations
First, downscale your efforts and expectations. Don’t try to be everywhere. Establish yourself in a few places and become a cornerstone of those communities. Concentrate on social sites that cater to your niche and expertise. If you're in the travel industry, for instance, TripAdvisor and its forums would be a great place to be involved. If you sell iPods and iPod accessories, you might want to participate at iLounge.com.
So, how does this help your search engine rankings? It's pretty simple: profiles and search engine result page (SERP) saturation. Each site you join typically requires that you set up an account with a login and profile. That profile page likely contains valuable information about your business: where you're located, what services you offer, and a link to your Web site.
On some occasions, your profile will actually rank for searches of your brand name and, in some cases, low-competition keywords. Our firm's listing in the directory TopSEOs, Inc., a quasi-social media site, usually ranks in the top ten in Google for "Blizzard Internet Marketing."
Manage Your Brand Online
Having profiles rank in the top ten to top twenty can be great for managing your brand online because you're controlling what profile results say. You're not relying on a third-party site with user-generated content to say something nice about your business or service.
As your reputation as an expert grows in communities where you participate, search engine rankings for your company's listing will often occur for a wide variety of queries. For example, a search for "how do I fix my iPod screen" in Google may display your listing in iLounge.com as one of the top five results. If you're an expert within that community, you're going to benefit from an increase in traffic to that site. If you're really ambitious and there's not much competition -- you might even start a forum on your own Web site to answer your online community's questions. You can use phpBB, a popular open source forum software solution. Alternatively, you can launch your own forum via a blog platform.
Become an Expert
Once you've become established within your social media sites, you can benefit from becoming a subject-matter authority. If you're an innkeeper in New Orleans, you can help potential travelers with questions about the city. You can also indirectly recommend your bed and breakfast without having to blatantly "hawk your wares." Communities begin to trust you because you are giving them honest, unbiased opinions on travel. Booking a stay at your bed-and-breakfast can be considered bonus points.
There are quite a few large social media sites we all seem to hear about: StumbleUpon, Digg, Del.icio.us, and Facebook, to name a few. There can be rewards for being involved in these networks. However, given time constraints, it’s best to get involved where your expertise lies, not in a large, general-topic networking site. Large, general-topic sites depend on huge friend lists, viral campaigns, and no small amount of luck. What worked yesterday to catch attention might not work tomorrow. If you have unlimited time and resources, make those sites work for you. On the other hand, I've never met a small business owner who had unlimited anything -- time, money or patience.
For me, the hardest part of participating at a wide variety of social marketing and media sites is keeping track of the logins you create. A few tools can help you maintain your logins. Handy Password 3.0 has a nice interface, works on a USB Drive, and will auto-fill forms with information you've entered once, instead of entering the info endlessly every day. An add-on to Internet Explorer and Firefox, Handy Password has a neat and low-impact toolbar interface.
Everything You Need to Know
Incorporating social media tactics into your search marketing strategy doesn’t need to be time-consuming or painful. Participating in a social community enables you to help others, further your knowledge, and even meet some nice people. As with other search marketing tactics executed on a limited budget, you learned everything you need to know about social media marketing in middle school.
Play in your own neighborhood. Learn all you can. Help others. Give back to everyone in your community.