People don't share content on social networks they think is awesome, they share it because they think their friends will think it's awesome.
— Peter Mahoney (@petermahoney) March 19, 2013
Social networking is much more than an SEO technique. And while the point of this series is to focus on improving your search engine ranking and visibility, it would be reductionist (and actually really difficult) to talk about social media and it’s relationship to your business without discussing community.
After all, as important as SEO is, its purpose is to build your community of clients, and therefore that tribe of people is the most important thing.
While previous posts in this series focussed on a number of different things you can do, with this topic it all runs together and is a more conceptual dialogue.
At its simplest, the explanation of a backlink is, well, simple. Search engines scan social networks and basically count all the links to articles and content on other sites. If you have 50 links back to one article you wrote, you’ll be seen as having more authority than a site which only gets five.
It’s worth noting that social backlinks are given a fairly low importance by the big search engines, so unsurprisingly a link to your post from an article on The Guardian website carries a lot more gravitas. More on that in the next point.
They are however very useful, because they do offer some weight to your content, and it’s very easy to share content on social media. You’ll notice at the end of all my blog posts is a share feature—I click all those buttons myself to share my content. It’s the easiest way.
Before you share your article, make sure it has an image as part of it. Facebook and Linkedin both include a graphic from your content next to the link, and links with images get more clicks. Simple.
A word of advice here from personal experience—make sure you have an image in place before you even try to share your content via Facebook once, even if it’s just a test. Facebook caches the content on links, so if you post once without a graphic and then you remember that you really should have included one so you go back and edit your post then share again—Facebook is probably not going to bother looking for any changes. And you’re stuck with a text-only link.
3. Social networks
You have a bunch of options for places to post to:
- Facebook is a no-brainer. Have a page on it, and post your content to it. Make sure the privacy for your posts is “public”, and even if you have very few “likes”, at least the backlinks are there.
- Twitter is a no-brainer. It’s short, simple, scanned by Google in near real-time, and again, even if you have very few interactions on that network the links to your content exist.
- Linkedin is, for almost every professional business, a no-brainer. It’s where professionals find each other, discuss their industries, and again, if nothing else you’ve got links back to your content.
- Blogs should be a no-brainer. Their potential as social networking is often overlooked, but those comments sections are valuable. Read an article, a few of the comments, then post your own reply with a link to your site. Backlinks ahoy. I include online newspapers and the link as blogs for this purpose; they’re very widely read. Here’s a top tip. Once a week, read a really popular blog about your industry. Take 10 minutes to write your own thoughts on the subject, and post that to your blog. Then comment on the industry blog saying, “Hey, I’ve been thinking about this a lot too, and here’s my recent blog post that might help enlighten things.” Boom. Your traffic goes up, and you have original content linked to on a popular site—it doesn’t matter that you did it yourself.
- Tumblr is a great one too. We’re now in the realm of the networks I call “time-allowing”, because while it’d be nice to hit up every network out there, I also hope you’re busy making money. But this is worth having a presence on, and sharing your ideas through.
- Google+ (a.k.a. Google Plus). I use it because funnily enough, Google search knows what’s happening on its own social network. I haven’t made much of setting up my Google+ presence yet simply because there are so many hours in the week. However, I still think this network shows promise for really taking off, and if it does, I want to be established there while other people are playing catch up.
- Digg, StumbleUpon, Reddit, Delicious. They’re all worth a go, and are essentially social bookmarking services. People share bookmarks, rate them up or down, that kind of thing. The one to be slightly wary of is Reddit though—while it can drive some serious traffic to your site, they have a very close-knit community of users; and if they grab hold of content they don’t like for one reason or another they will tear it to shreds. And with it your ego.
This is really important, because it’s not just backlinks that you want, it’s to have people taking about them, interacting, and ultimately sharing themselves. That in turn brings other people in, and before you know it you have a community of people to sell to. And this is of course the desirable ultimate result.
But people won’t share content unless it’s right in their faces, and of interest to them. And also importantly, of perceived interest to their friends. People don’t share content on social networks because they think it’s awesome, they share it because they think their friends will think it’s awesome. It’s an important distinction.
Part of this community building is for you to interact with your followers and subscribers. If someone looks like they want to get into a debate, then engage with that. If they retweet something you’ve written, thank them for it. Make them feel included and valued by you. Don’t leave other people’s comments hanging out at the tail end of your posts, reply.
Also consider the nature of a community. If all you ever post is backlinks, people will start to overlook your social content. Twitter is a great example, it’s a very social, social network. Because it’s so quick to post to, and users expect a fair quantity of tweets to be made by other users, ideally you’ll post a couple of times a day with something humorous, or clever, or an original inspiring thought, and perhaps post backlinks three times a week. With this sort of ratio you’re building your community and adding weight to your links.
5. Find opinion leaders
Within any grouping of people, there are those who the rest look up to, and value their opinions. These are the people who naturally settled into a position at the top of the pack, and set the tone for how people interact, what sorts of things they share, but most importantly decide what will be valued by the group. Marketers are always trying to find these people and to get them onside. Have you ever seen those giveaways on Facebook where if you share an advert, and get the most “likes” for it, you win something? Well those campaigns aren’t just about getting brands shared about, they also allow the marketers to see who gets the most likes—and these are the opinion leaders they know to target their advertising towards in future.
My wife is an opinion leader amongst her peers. Whenever she comments on one of my Facebook page’s posts, or shares it with her friends, that post reaches about five times as many people as a normal one.
Opinion leaders make your shares, backlinks, and social communities much more effective. And bear in mind you want to be one of these people yourself. The go-to-person for a section of your industry. Experts and gurus are opinion leaders.
So start acting like one. 🙂
Warren Ellis, English author and social commentator, wrote a wonderful post shortly before Christmas in which he discussed the end of the first wave of social media.
Twitter alters its terms of access to its information, thereby harming the services that built themselves on that information. Which was stupid, because Twitter gets fewer and fewer material benefits from allowing people to use its water. And why would you build a service that relies on a private company’s assets anyway? Facebook changes its terms of access regularly. It’s broken its own Pages system and steadily grows more invasive and desperate. Instagram, now owned by Facebook, just went through its first major change in terms of service. Which went as badly as anyone who’s interacted with Facebook would expect. As Twitter disconnected itself from sharing services like IFTTT, so Instagram disconnected itself from Twitter. Flickr’s experiencing what will probably be a brief renaissance due to having finally built a decent iOS app, but its owners, Yahoo!, are expert in stealing defeat from the jaws of victory. Tumblr seems to me to be spiking in popularity, which coincides neatly with their hiring an advertising sales director away from Groupon, a company described by Techcrunch last year as basically loansharking by any other name.
This may be the end of the cycle that began with Friendster and Livejournal. Not the end of social media, by any means, obviously. But it feels like this is the point at where the current systems seize up for a bit. Perhaps not even in ways that most people will notice. But social media seems now to be clearly calcifying into Big Media, with Big Media problems like cable-style carriage disputes. Frame the Twitter-Instagram spat in terms of Virginmedia not being able to carry Sky Atlantic in the UK, say (I know there are many more US examples).
This first wave, or cycle as he calls it, can best be described as one of ecstatic enthusiasm bordering on insanity.
His closing statement wonders if anyone regrets giving up their own websites in favour of just using social platforms yet. I bet the answer is yes, and I’ve been warning people against that for a long time. More on that another day though.
To focus on the core message of the piece—yes, he’s right. People have been so far up social media’s behind that they forgot to try to turn the lights on to check where they were.
And just where are they? At the mercy of a bunch or other companies who have very right (although very little market-mandate) to change their terms of service and take what you thought was yours.
Issues of content ownership and the like aside though, I’ve been waiting for this bubble to burst for a long while—because it’s time to simply accept social media, rather than jumping up and down on the sofa about it.
Is social media exciting? Of course. New technology, ways to reach your audience and methods of interaction always are. But they aren’t the be-all and end-all. Television still has exciting content. Radio programs can still blow my mind.
Once all the hype settles down, content becomes the clarifying point, sorting the overly excited from the thoughtful.
When approaching social media for any business purpose, look at it in the context of all your online work, sites, portfolios, information, etc. If you just think outside the box a little bit, you can have a very large and well rounded arsenal of online communications at your disposal. Which can all work together to improve your bottom line.
I’ve been waiting for a long time for people to realise that as exciting and useful as social media is, it’s one tool you have at your disposal, and you have many. Make them all work together, for you.
Think of it like this, there will always be new waves. And just watching them from the beach is no good, you need to ride them. But stay on top of them where you can see what’s happening around you, rather than falling in and finding you’ve crashed up on a beach with no David Hasselhoff in sight.