I'm guilty. A couple of years ago, I could have sold the equivalent of a social media freezer to a proverbial marketing Eskimo.
People asked us at the conferences: "Hey I've got a site about axle grease. Can you suggest a good way to create linkbait?" Rand Fishkin, Cameron Olthuis, Jennifer Laycock and I would sit up on a panel and suggest a "Top 10 Worst Things You Can Do With Axle Grease" list. That would do the trick. Traffic and conversions, right?
Not exactly. Social media is still in its relative infancy. Marketers who've been testing social media are starting to figure out that it takes a lot more than "build it and they will come."
Sure, a variety of linkbait (define) or viral ideas can drive traffic to a site. However, if the same attention isn't given to preparing what to do with the traffic, the only remaining value is links, many of which are no-followed or otherwise don't pass link juice.
Don't get me wrong – I love links, especially from bloggers and writers who really know what they're doing and use nice relevant anchor text to link to my content. Plenty of great social media pioneers are out there right now driving invaluable long-term benefits to organizations thanks to this part of social media marketing. Many never really claimed they would do much more than that – heck, that's why it's called linkbait.
When the marketers were listening to the pitch, however, most of them forgot that the primary goal was for links. They heard "traffic." To this primordial beast, traffic means money.
Why Social Media Traffic Often Fails to Meet the Bill
Aaron Wall, in his great post, "Is Social Media Traffic Worth 1 Cent per Visitor?" wrote about the dirty little secret of social media-driven traffic: it doesn't convert.
While many search marketers were focused on the linking value, publishers and others that benefit from traffic were bagging loads of traffic from sites such as Digg. They soon found out that the traffic, in short, sucked.
Much like planning to entertain guests at a "perfect party," the use of social media requires careful consideration of the guest list. The links will continue to come for the right content, but the extra special sauce will satisfy a much higher number of visitors, increasing both the chances of better links as well as conversions and referrals. Something tells me the marketers out there just woke up again – yes, this means money.
It Takes Money to Make Money
A tired cliché, c'est vrai. But, as Homer Simpson once said, "It's funny because it's true." The more money you can spend on planning the perfect party for your social media traffic, the better.
If your Web site is designed to sell visitors something basic, like underwear or socks, try to make it fun for them. Create a community where people can brag about their most stinky sock experience.
Well, maybe not. But chances are that if you're bringing in people who laughed at that idea, they may need some underwear. This is a basic illustration of the need to think about your visitor and what may click with them.
Think linkbait and a good programmer or out-of-the-box forum or blog software is all you need? Think again. What makes people come back is quality. The "snazzier," the better. Big ticket items sales = bigger ticket cost to wow your customers.
More mundane things? How about the "Homer Simulator." This cool idea from San Diego State, which I happened to find from a Google search for "simulator viral," takes an existing game and uses it to teach people how germs spread. This is fascinating stuff that could lead to some excellent ideas for marketers.
Bottom line: It takes more than just investing in consultants and resources in the social media part of the game. You have to do everything possible to prepare your destination point for the right type of visitor, and then work social gurus to get that traffic there. As they said in the Marines and many other places before, think the 7 Ps: "Prior Proper Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance."
Frank Watson Fires Back
Chris, good topic! I've just started playing with Twitter and Facebook. Digg and others and have begun to notice that some people are doing a lot more than the majority when trying to be viral.
Just like landing pages for any other type of marketing, social media marketers need to learn to go beyond the content and work with the other elements on the page.
One of the first major viral marketing efforts online was the BMW Short Film series. BMW stepped up to the line and had eight directors do short films featuring the BMW – directors like John Woo and Guy Ritchie got involved.
The effectiveness of this social effort can be seen in its results. Clive Owen became a well-known actor from them. There is a Wikipedia listing about it as well as more than 300,000 listings on Google for BMW Short Film (other variations would garner more).
While many people don't have that kind of budget, marketers should recognize the importance of making your efforts fun, interesting and hip.