Idiotproof Social Media Marketing Optimization Strategies for Businesses
Managing your online brand reputation in the age of universal search
By Kent Lewis
I’m always amused when old ideas become new fads. Take social media marketing for example. I’ve been playing around with bulletin boards, threaded forums, chat and newsgroups since 1995, and even though these tools would be considered “Web 1.0″ technology, they’re actually the foundation of the Web 2.0/social media marketing movement. Over the years, I’ve had an opportunity to test and refine social media marketing and optimization strategies, whose importance is only beginning to be realized due to the evolution of search engines.
Universal Search and Rescue
In an effort to continually improve the user experience, search engines are refining the type of content displayed on results pages. Google’s rollout of Universal Search results has changed the game for search engine marketers. Formerly content with a top organic position for targeted search terms, the recent inclusion of additional content (especially for geographically-specific and trademark terms) has effectively pushed the top organic search results down nearly below the fold. Universal search results may appear in a box above organic results and typically include maps, images, video and news content. Now the new prime real estate, Universal Search forces companies to develop a social media marketing strategy.
Social Media Influencing SERPS
Beyond the need to create additional content to influence the Universal Search results, social media marketing and optimization can affect the remaining search engine results page (SERP). With the understanding that one domain can only generate a maximum of 2 listings per search, companies can now focus on the remaining 8 results. Rather than purchase 4 or 5 other domains and create unique content to “own” the SERP, it’s easier and cheaper to generate a footprint on a variety of popular and relevant social media sites to achieve the same objective.
Social Media Success Factors
The success of a social media marketing and optimization program depends on the following factors: transparency, honesty, relevance, value and commitment. Without a level of transparency in your social media outreach, your campaign could blow up on your face (just ask Wal-Mart and Sony). Even with full disclosure from your marketing team or partners, dishonest messaging can cause more damage than good, as most information can be quickly validated via online fact-checking. All communications should be relevant and add value to the conversation or community and no campaign can truly succeed unless significant time and resources are committed over a period of time.
Build a Foundation
Your corporate Web site is the foundation to a social media marketing strategy. The Web site should act as a resource; offering articles, press releases, tools, video and images for syndication. Beyond optimizing site content and code, incorporate additional Web 2.0 elements like RSS/XML feeds, comments, ratings, reviews and even forums. The more your site is able to create a sense of community, the greater likelihood of generating, retaining and converting site traffic. Companies with multiple domains should make sure the sites play well with each other: hosting unique content and cross-linking to each other as appropriate.
Stick to The Plan
To get started on your social media marketing and optimization program, develop a strategic plan. The first step is to conduct an audit of your current presence (as compared with your top competitors) on search engines and social media sites. Determine where you are and where you need to be. Ideally, develop a crisis management plan in advance, to address any negative ratings, reviews or comments. Once you have an idea of where you are, develop a cheat sheet to expedite outreach to the social media sites for which you do not have a presence.
Social Media Marketing Outreach
With the corporate Web site taking on the bulk of heavy lifting, your social media marketing team can now focus on outreach to other third party Web sites. All businesses, especially geographically-sensitive companies, should ensure all Internet Yellow Page (IYP) listings are accurate and optimized. All relevant industry portals and publications should be reviewed for link opportunities, including company and executive profiles, directory listings, news and article submissions.
Get to know the online influencers in your industry and treat them with respect. During the research process, identify relevant blogs, newsgroups and threaded forums to monitor and engage. Request reciprocal blogroll links, submit story ideas and comment on relevant blog posts regularly and over time. Since Wikipedia is the most popular wiki in the world and one of the most popular (and visible) resources on the Web, develop a wiki-specific strategy, whether to achieve a company listing or enhance an existing listing.
Armed with company descriptions and links to social media content (images, videos, articles and press releases); start creating social media profiles. Identify and address any potential issues relating to company or products by following the success factors address earlier. Stay active in relevant communities. Monitor and engage as appropriate, offering suggestions, providing feedback and answering specific questions. For bonus points, participate in expert forums like Yahoo! Answers and LinkedIn Questions & Answers. Create and syndicate targeted, original content so the influencers can see it. Over time, you will build a valuable network you can leverage.
Social media sites can be categorized by interest or media focus. For general networking, consider profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace. For images, look at FlickR, Picasa and WebShots. For Video, consider YouTube and Revver. For articles, submit to industry publications and general article syndication sites like ArticleCity. For press releases targeting news search engines, syndicate via BusinessWire or PRWeb. Audio files can be submitted via iTunes or a variety of other podcast directories. For all content, review, tag and rate with sites like Digg, StumbleUpon and Delicious. Read my blog post “15 Places to Find Kent Lewis” for more ideas on where to create social media profiles.
Not all social media marketing and optimization is about content, however. Consider creating useful applications for Facebook, Google Gadgets and Yahoo! Widgets to increase visibility. Integrating all of these efforts into your eMarketing m ix will generate targeted, measurable traffic, leads or sales. With Universal Search growing in usage, it’s not a matter of if you should develop a social media marketing strategy, but when.