Sorry … I need to get this off my chest …
I hate the term “social media”. There, I said it.
Ok, ok … let me be clear, I love the use of permission-based online techniques that are used to engage with people and raise awareness about (and draw people to) a business. So perhaps it’s not the term I hate as much as the perception and preconceived notions that people – marketing geeks and business folk alike – hold about it.
Here are my troubles with the term “social media”:
- Nebulous – People have widely diverse thoughts and definitions about this emerging field – the proverbial alphabet soup. Facebook? Blog? Twitter? MySpace?
- Overly focused on tools – Mention “social media” and people will tell you about a tool they either love or hate, unfortunately without any mention of strategies, objectives, metrics, or people.
- Disconnected from business – Even if people think they understand the tools, objectives, people they’re attempting to influence and so on, “social media” still seems so separate, in its own silo, from existing/traditional marketing plans. How to integrate the new with the old?
- Cannot stand alone – Social media is just another channel in a larger mix, not an island.
What’s the better way to view social media?
In the context of “inbound marketing” …
Outbound Marketing vs. Inbound Marketing
From 30,000 feet, marketing can be viewed in two buckets – inbound and outbound:
- Outbound marketing – Interruption-based offline techniques like TV, radio, newspaper, yellow pages, direct mail, cold-calling, spam email “blasts”, etc., that are quickly losing their effectiveness to influence (think: megaphone)
- Inbound marketing – Permission-based online techniques like blogs, e-books, webinars, videos, tweets of information, etc. that are used to draw people to you (think: magnet)
The advancement of technologies like TiVo, satellite radio, RSS, privacy rights, caller ID, and spam filters are a driving factor in the decreasing effectiveness of outbound techniques. People are so well conditioned to these techniques that they simply don’t have the same impact (and, hence, ROI) that they once did.
It’s time to rethink marketing.
Three Pillars of Inbound Marketing
Here are the components of inbound marketing, as well as how they work in tandem with one another:
(1) Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Refers to the “organic” or natural rankings within search engine results (not the paid/sponsored links). Aside from the Google, Yahoo and Bing engineers, nobody really knows the true secret sauce that determines ranking. However, at a high-level, we do know this much …
- 25% is “on-page” and within our control. Keywords, keywords, keywords in our page titles, URLs, and copy. (Note: Not keyword stuffing)
- 75% is “off-page” and outside of our control! Inbound links, links, links to our website from other relevant and authoritative websites. Search engines view these as recommendations, which operate much like the real world. For example, consider that you (like me) are really into house music and (a) you meet an 80-year-old man on a plane who recommends George Gershwin vs. (b) your best friend who recommends the new Deep Dish album. Which opinion has more relevancy and authority? Another interesting thing to note … yes, it’s great if someone links to your website from their website using a format like www.davemorse.net or Click Here. But, it’s most ideal for them to format the hyperlink using descriptive keywords like Online Marketing Genius.
Google bomb anyone?
(2) Content Marketing
It seems obvious to state that one of the primary motivations of web browsers is information. Collecting it, reading it, sharing it and consuming it. What kind of information? Well, of course, that all depends. But I can tell you the type of information people are NOT seeking: self-serving, self-promoting and self-indulgent corporate gibberish. The bottom line is that people don’t care as much about your company/products/services as you do!
I spend a little time each/every day trolling Twitter, following mostly online marketing geeks. The stuff that gets spread like wildfire is information that helps or enhances our worldview in some way. Being an interactive/online marketing kind-of-guy, information like “Six ways to prepare your website for new new markets“, “Twitter’s hidden marketing superpowers” and “Seven ways to avoid humiliating email blunders” will get my attention and get passed around like a hot potato. Trust me, I see it every day.
Therefore, when companies/brands engage with consumers, it’s critical that they understand this point: Marketing = Publishing. This is a VERY tough hurdle for traditional marketers – it requires a shift in thinking for those who are accustomed to interrupting people with self-centered product/service promotions. “We have a new product!” or “Our company supports the XYZ Charity”. Blah, who cares!
Wikipedia has a nice definition of “content marketing”:
“Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.“
What is considered content?
- Website copy
- Blogs, Tweets
- Facebook fan pages
- News & trends
- eBooks & white papers
Content is really anything of interest to your buyer personas that persuade them to take profitable action.
A few quotes that drive home this point:
“The best websites are designed by those who think like publishers … who start with a content strategy, and then focus on delivery” ~ David Meerman Scott
“By empowering customers with genuine news and information, a company becomes ½ of a trusted relationship” ~ Joe Pulizzi
“You shouldn’t be thinking so much about what to say, but rather what your audience needs to hear” ~ Joe Pulizzi
“Content marketing works to create a relationship between an organization and a stakeholder that is profitable for both sides” ~ Joe Pulizzi
Here are some must-read content marketing resources:
- “Social Media Experts Don’t Understand Social Media” by Tipping Point Labs (http://blog.tippingpointlabs.com/2009/07/social-media-experts-dont-understand-social-media/)
- “Five Reasons Why Content Strategy Comes Before Social Media” by Joe Pulizzi (http://blog.junta42.com/content_marketing_blog/2009/06/five-reasons-why-content-strategy-comes-before-social-media.html)
- “Authority Rules: The 10 Rock-Solid Elements of Effective Online Marketing” by Brian Clark (http://authorityrules.com/authority-rules.pdf)
- “The New Rules of Viral Marketing – Free E-Book” by David Meerman Scott (http://www.webinknow.com/2008/01/the-new-rules-o.html)
(3) Social Media
“Dave, I’m 48. I know nothing about this ‘social media’ stuff. I don’t tweeter or tweet, or whatever it’s called, and I hate Facebook. Plus, I don’t even know how I’d incorporate that stuff into my business – who has the time?!”
I’ll cut to the chase: social media is about content and conversation. Period.
As I mentioned, I have a pet peeve with the term “social media” because (upon mention) people are drawn to thinking/talking about a specific tool, like Twitter or Facebook. Social media is not about the tools – they may come and go! Rather, it is about the connections that you make and the value exchanged.
A cocktail party is a great analogy …
Let’s say that you own and operate a neighborhood pet store, and know nothing about marketing or the Internet. You’re invited to a networking event and meet two people:
First, you meet a guy named Joe, who (for the next 45 minutes immediately after shaking your hand) does nothing but go on and on and on and on about himself, his travels, his car, and his business. Mundane details. At a couple points, you attempt to interject some commentary, but no to avail. Spew, spew, spew. “Hey, what’d you say you name was again?” at the end of his rant. “Nice to meet you Doug!” Ugh. Where’s the hand sanitizer?!
Next, you meet a guy named Mike, who shakes your hand and compliments you on the bird seed in your hair. :-) After a chuckle, he inquires about your line of work and listens as you begin to confess that you’re struggling with your marketing and would like to leverage the Internet, but have no idea where to start. He responds that he, too, owns his own business and has recently made some big improvements by doing some simple things using the Internet. He offers to email you the name of his friend who is an expert in the field and helped him get started. He also recommends three fundamental things to do immediately, which are easy and don’t cost much. Finally, he turns and introduces you to his accountant, who helped to reduce his taxes and restructure his business.
Which of these connections added value?
Social media is no different – meet people, start conversations, ask questions, and add value.
The way in which these three play together is compelling and cool. Here’s an overly simplistic example:
- You develop a content strategy and begin cranking out compelling information, like (if you’re like Dr. Helaine Smith, DMD) a free e-book on “Healthy Mouth, Healthy Sex: ” (http://helainesmithdmd.blogspot.com/2008/03/healthy-mouth-healthy-sex-free-e-book.html).
- You begin sharing this content with the personas you wish to influence (not to mention creating valuable connections, with whom you discuss other things aside from business, like kids, cars, etc).
- These connections consume and begin sharing your content, posting to their blogs, saving to Del.icio.us and Reddit, voting it up on Digg, sharing on Facebook and Twitter.
- Relevant and authoritative websites begin linking to your website and content.
- As a result, your Google PageRank begins to increase and your website appears on page 1 for a majority of the phrases you’re hoping to win.
Remember, social media is all about content and conversation. Tipping Point Labs put it best when they said, “Conversation without content is mere networking; content without conversation is just dead content”. I couldn’t agree more.
This is a big adjustment for marketers who, for years, have used traditional interruption-based tactics to push their product/service. Inbound marketing represents a radical (and required) shift in thinking—people don’t care about your products/services like YOU care about your products/services. Instead, learn about the stuff that makes people (who want and need your products/services) tick. Document these buyer personas and orient your content strategy around them! Create and share content that they’ll love and want to share, and engage with them and add value.
The ultimate goal is to become the authority in the minds of those you are attempting to influence. Make this your long-term, high-level focus, instead of merely focusing on creating awareness, persuading preference and driving sales. Yes, those elements are a necessary part of your strategy. I assert that focusing on becoming an authority is the preferred approach because it (a) places emphasis on creating and nurturing long-term relationships, (b) forces you to think about adding value through information (vs. short-lived, ineffective tactics designed to interrupt you with a self-serving message), and as a result (c) drives awareness, preference and sales.