Okay, show of hands.
Who else is sick and tired of marketers who view social media as nothing more than a source of free traffic?
You know the type.
- They have dozens of niche blogs, pumping out an endless stream of crap content they pay writers five dollars per post to produce
- They DM us all kinds of lame affiliate offers on Twitter
- They have a gang of buddies who help them push inappropriate content to the front pages of Digg, Delicious, and Reddit
No, they’re not going to destroy social media or anything as dramatic as that, but it’s still pretty ugly. These marketers have become like leeches, bleeding people of trust and contributing nothing in return. And it’s time for it to stop.
So, I decided to take a little time off from our usual marketing tips and write a good old-fashioned open letter (a.k.a. rant), telling them how it is. No, I don’t think it’s going to change the minds of any hardened spammers, but it might open the eyes of a few businesses who don’t know any better.
Let’s get started:
Dear Mr. Marketer:
The Social Web is not your "traffic honey hole."
Yes, we understand you’re just trying to run a business. Yes, we know social media is the biggest marketing opportunity in the history of mankind, and you’re just trying to get your piece of it. Yes, we are aware that social media marketing is endorsed by many top Internet marketers, and they’re making millions off it every day.
But we’d like you to stop, or at least change the way you’re doing it.
We’re not going to give you another self-righteous argument about how you can’t make money with social media. We’re not going to sermonize about the pitfalls of sleazy marketing. We’re not going to tell you you’re ruining opportunities for all of the other marketers out there who are trying to do things the right way.
You’ve probably heard enough of that, and it doesn’t matter anyway.
No, the honest truth is that it’s just a bad business strategy, and eventually you’re going to get burned. Sure, you can make a few quick bucks, but over the long term, trying to manipulate social media to get free traffic for your business just isn’t a sustainable strategy.
1. Social Media Isn’t about Getting. It’s about Giving.
It’s tempting, I know.
Here you are, struggling to get anyone to pay attention to your product or service, and you hear that Facebook now has 500 million active users, twitter publishes over 2 billion tweets per month, and YouTube gets 2 billion views per day.
You think, "If I could only get a piece of that, my troubles would be over." You’d make a fortune, travel around the world, and enjoy the lifestyle of the New Rich.
So you design a marketing strategy around getting people to opt in to an e-mail campaign, friend you on Facebook, or follow you on Twitter. You dream about getting 5,000 Facebook friends, 10,000 twitter followers, 100,000 e-mail subscribers.
And when it doesn’t work, you wonder what you did wrong.
The answer: you’re trying to "get" with social media, and that’s not what it’s about. It’s about giving, about creating something stunningly awesome people can’t help talk about it, and then putting the tools in place to help them spread the word.
- Instead of jotting down a few thoughts for another quickie blog post, take several days and put together the most comprehensive guide in your niche for an important subject, and then give it away for free
- Instead of just talking about the theory of how to do something, prepare a video case study showing people in-depth examples of exactly how to do it
- Instead of just tweeting a few links to blog posts, set aside several hours each week to help anyone who asks you questions on Twitter, and then go out of your way to help them
In short, do something remarkable. Give people an experience they’ll want to talk about.
2. Social Media Isn’t about Algorithms. It’s about People.
Far too many bright people waste their time trying to figure out Google, Digg, and Twitter algorithms so they can game the system.
Sure, it might work… for a little while. Eventually though, algorithms change, and then your entire business falls apart. So then you have to find another exploit, another way to get around what it was meant to do, so you can resume making money.
It’s not sustainable. Every year, the algorithms get better and better, and it gets harder and harder to game the system.
If you’re smart, you have to ask yourself, "Is it really worth trying?" Why not just use the system the way it was meant to be used?
The purpose of social media is to give people information they want. If you understand the people, then you automatically understand the algorithm:
- Want to get to the front page of Digg? Watch it for a few weeks, get to know what the Digg community likes, and then submit something you know they’ll enjoy.
- Want to go viral on twitter? Browse around popular blogs, look at the posts that get more than 1,000 retweets, and then write content with a similar style, covering a similar topic.
- Want to release a popular product? Use social media to listen to what people want, and then create your product based on their ideas, not yours.
The data is all there, waiting for you to use. All you have to do is listen to people, and then use their feedback to guide your marketing.
3. Social Media Isn’t about Numbers. It’s about Relationships.
RSS subscribers, Twitter followers, Facebook friends — when you’re just getting started, it’s easy to be obsessed with how many you have. You check every day, you brainstorm ways to get more, and you’re envious of people with a higher number.
But you shouldn’t be. Sure, numbers are important, but the real measure of influence with social media is the strength of your relationships.
You can build a following of 10,000 or more people on twitter, just by following everyone related to your subject, and waiting for a percentage of them to follow you back. The problem is, very few of them will remember who you are or actively watch your tweets, so it’s really like you have no one following you at all.
On the other hand, if you actively tweet great links and help people one on one, you may only have an audience of a few thousand, but all of them will know who you are, and all of them will be interested in what you have to say. If you have a new post, they’ll want to read it, and if you release a product, they’ll want to check it out. You’ll drive dramatically more traffic and sales.
And here’s the thing: relationships can’t be automated.
You can use different websites and software to artificially inflate your numbers, giving you lots of subscribers, followers, friends, or whatever, but there’s not a tool to build relationships for you. If you want to have influence online, then you actually have to take the time to talk with people, getting to know them and proving every day that you’re someone worth listening to.
You need to:
- Take the time to answer people’s comments on your blog. They’ll be grateful, and it’ll make them more likely to come back.
- Don’t just tweet about your products and services. Give your opinion on industry trends, tell stories from your business, and let people get to know you. They’re tired of buying from faceless brands.
- Actively listen to your most vocal customers. Follow them on twitter, subscribe to their blogs, comment on their posts, and do your best to keep up a dialog with them. It’ll pay off in positive press, and it’ll also help you build a better product.
Will any of it pay off in more traffic, followers, and subscribers?
Not immediately, no. Stick with it long enough though, and let people see that you’re serious, and it certainly can. You’ll get more retweets, links, comments, bookmarks — everything you could ask for to increase your traffic.
They won’t be doing it because you offered them a gift certificate or some other incentive. They’ll be doing it because they know you, like you, and want you to succeed.
And you know what?
You can’t buy that type of marketing.
Isn’t Doing All of This A Lot of Work?
Sure, but when is effective marketing not a lot of work?
One of the greatest myths about social media is that it’s an "Easy Button" for building a business. All you have to do is start a blog, create a Twitter account, or publish a few videos to YouTube, and you’ll have millions of people beating a path to your door.
But it’s not true. Yes, social media is revolutionary, both in technology and concept, but at its core it’s really about one thing: creating genuine connections with people.
You have to set aside the time to find out what people really want. You have to work at building relationships with both your customers and leaders in your industry. You have to create genuinely awesome experiences for people to talk about, as well as put the tools in place for them to help you spread the word.
Do that, and you’ll have all of the free traffic you can handle.
Don’t, and you’ll be just another annoyance, ignored today and banned tomorrow.
Who do you want to be?
It’s entirely up to you.
About the Author: Jon Morrow is the Editor of KISSmetrics and the Associate Editor of Copyblogger. Get more from him on twitter.