When you hear the phrase social media what comes to mind? What associations do you make with social media where marketing and seo are concerned? Did you think of a site like Digg or StumbleUpon? Were you thinking about how you could get your content to the front page so first traffic and then links would flow into your site? Those are common thoughts about social media, but I want to change your thought process a little and look at social media in a different way. Instead of seeing social media as a way to bring more into your site let’s look at how you can put more into social media sites and in doing so how you can brand yourself and increase your sphere of influence.
Bringing The Web To You
Before getting to the other way to look at social media let’s run through a typical scenario for a new website. In the beginning there’s a networked web around you and your site sits a little bit lonely in the middle. You’ve just launched and are proud and celebrating. You show your site off to friends and family and are generally excited, but soon the realization hits you that you’ve told everyone you know and still your site is mostly unknown.
This is all displayed by the crude drawing below where the green rectangle represents your site and the blue rectangles represent the interconnected web around you.
Being the enterprising person you are you spend some time learning about search engine optimization and start to build links into your site.
Before long you get to a place where the picture looks something like the image below. Once again there’s an interconnected web, but now some of those other sites are linking to yours. Ideally you’re getting a fair amount of traffic flowing to your site through the links. The links into your site have also been traversed by search engine spiders and your pages have been indexed and are starting to show in search results bringing additional traffic to your site.
This is a good time to remind you about brand and what brand is. Chris Garret wrote a series of posts on branding a few months ago including one where he defined a successful brand. As Chris mentions:
A successful brand comes in two parts:
Many people see recognition as the key to branding, but the second part of the definition is far more important. The feelings and associations others make about you and your business are what ultimately leads to sales and leads. Recognition can be expensive to build, but you don’t need a lot of money to build the feelings people have about your brand.
Back to the image above you probably noticed a bright red circle drawn around your site. That circle represents your sphere of influence. For all the links and ranking you have you’re still mostly influencing people directly on your site. Your sphere of influence is where you’re creating the feelings and associations with your brand. The links and search results will help with your brand recognition, though until you have a lot of both, your recognition will remain low and you still need someone to visit your site before they form an opinion of your brand.
You can continue along the path set out above for awhile, slowly building links to your pages and hoping others start to notice your content and link to on their own. As you build more pages and gather more links you start to pick up more traffic through search results. Little by little your brand recognition grows. It’s a slow process and it’s easy to run out of ideas on how to build more links into your site.
Enter Social Media
Along comes social media and you hear about all the traffic some have gained when their content goes popular for a time. You know you have good content and you’ve heard how linkbait, especially when combined with social media, is the road to quickly gaining hundreds or even thousands of links to your content.
The image above might be where you are in your thinking about social media. Your specific thoughts about social media marketing may very well come from this image. Your site with some links in and nearby the big social media sites that have the potential to send more traffic and links your way than anything you’ve seen before.
Most of the talk around marketing through sites like Digg, StumbleUpon, and del.icio.us is about how to get your content to go popular. It’s about how to write titles that get dugg or how to make your content more bookmarkable. You’ve probably read about building networks of friends who can help push your content to the front page and building a power profile so content you submit has a greater chance of going popular. All fine and good tactics. Nothing in this post will advise against finding ways to get social media to send you traffic, but notice how the end goal is to get social sites to send the web to you.
Now lets look at things from a different direction.
Giving Yourself To The Web
Everything above has been about bringing the web to you. It’s been about finding ways to pull people into your site where you then convince them to buy something or contact you about your services or subscribe to your blog or any other conversion your hoping to achieve on your site. It’s been about bringing people to you so they can form associations about your brand and recognize your brand in the future.
The image below is the beginning of another picture of your site, your brand, and social media. As with the images above your site sits on the left with links flowing in. I’ve removed the web around your site to simplify the image, but in concept it’s still be there. To the right once again are the social media sites. The green rectangles inside represent your social media profiles. You can see there’s also a bright red circle around your profiles, because these too are now part of your sphere of influence.
With social media you’re not confined to influencing people on your site. The content you submit and the comments you make all have the power to influence someone and they also lead to associations forming about you and your brand. An important part of building your brand is to present a consistent public profile. If you want to be seen as open and friendly it’s best not to engage in flame wars on a public forum. The message you send becomes inconsistent and confuses your brand.
Think about the profiles you’re currently building. What do they say about you? Are they consistent with what you say about yourself on your site? Are they consistent with what others say about you? If your profile contains 10 pages of content you’ve submitted all pointing back to your site how do you think that reflects on your brand? If you continuously submit content you wouldn’t genuinely recommend so that the owner of that content will submit yours what does that say about the quality of your recommendations? If the content you recommend is garbage why should I think your advice will be any better?
Are you building your brand with your social media profiles or have your social media profiles become spam.
Growing Your Social Media Brand
You grow your brand on social media by becoming an active participant in the community, making intelligent comments and recommendations, and being a good citizen as defined by the community. As you do others will encounter your profile more and perhaps add you to their network of friends. If you’ve recommended great content in the past it’s natural to think you will again. The more you add to the community the more influence you have over over the community.
Another less obvious way to grow your brand on social media is to link to your profiles. The same way links to your site provide more entry points to your content and more search traffic, links also provide more entry points and search traffic to your social media brand.
Early in the year some were asking the question should Google include pages from Digg in search results?. The issue revolved around the idea that Digg was only presenting a snippet from the main content and why should Digg get the traffic instead of it going directly to the original site. One point in the issue is that the originating site might not have the authority to get the content ranked. Digg does have that authority and in a sense provides an entry point for content that might not otherwise have been able to draw traffic. Digg allows your content to ride it’s back in search results.
Notice in the image above I’ve added links into your social media profiles, which causes them to grow increasing your sphere of influence within the social media site. Your own site might not have the authority to rank a page for a given query, but your social media profile might be able to rank for that query.
While looking for a post on YOUmoz earlier I searched for ‘branding youmoz’ (no quotes) and found something interesting. A page from my del.icio.us profile is ranking 6th on Google and 4th on Yahoo. My profile also ranks #1 in Google for the phrase ‘my del.icio.us profile’ since I generally link to it with that anchor text in my This Week In SEO posts. Neither of the above phrases is particularly useful, but I hope you can see the potential for generating traffic to social media profiles.
The image above is showing everything tied together. You have your site with incoming links from the greater interconnected web around you and you have your social media sites also with incoming links from the web. Your site and your profiles are connecting sending traffic to and from each other and search engines are driving traffic to your brand in different locations.
In then end it doesn’t really matter where someone first encounters you. Many of my clients found me after a search engine sent them to one of my forum posts. The post promoted my brand and created positive associations that led to a call or an email. By posting consistently with the image of your brand you can reinforce the feelings your brand instills in people. By riding the authority of social media sites you can grow your sphere of influence and increase the recognition of your brand.