Your telephone rings and your biggest client is on the line asking what you know about social media. Your company is on Facebook and Twitter because you know you’re supposed to be on there, but you’ve never spent any time developing a strategy. Your client goes on to explain that there is a large project that she will need help with. You are happy to hear that there is a large amount of print-related work that will be involved, only there is one caveat attached to the offer:
“In addition to the print work, I will also need a website and some social media so that we can increase our sales with this project. We have a very good idea of who our target market is, but I would like to know how effectively we are finding them. I know there are many people I can approach with this, but we have a longstanding relationship and I trust you. You sound like you know what you’re doing, and I would prefer to have everything done in one place. Is there anything you can do to help me?”
Your client’s request is too good to give up. Where do you start?
The hub of your social media strategy
The recent cancellation of Google Reader highlights some the risk involved with relying on a single provider. The cancellation took many of us by surprise. My twitter feed was in an uproar when this was announced, as many of the people I follow used Google Reader as much as I did. Perhaps we shouldn’t have been so surprised. The internet has a long history of protocols and services that have become irrelevant over time. From protocols like Telnet, FTP, Usenet, Gopher, and IRC to services like MSN Messenger, Friendster, MySpace—the topography of the internet has always been changing—and will continue to do so. The World Wide Web and email have remained constant and have adapted. This is why your site should be the hub of your social media strategy.
There are many tradeoffs to consider when building your site. Each target market will have its own unique set of priorities when it comes to designing and building their sites. For example, you may have a client such as a plastic surgeon, who may already have an established client base, and at this time may be looking to focus on getting repeat business from existing clients. He or she wants a site that has a very aesthetically pleasing design, but SEO might not be a major issue.
At the other end, you may have a client who is selling topical t-shirts, riffing on current fads and buzzwords. They may be very active on mobile-friendly media like twitter. Speed, mobile-friendliness, and SEO would be huge factors for them. If their site is a little less attractive, it’s not as big a factor.
However, there are some features that should be applied to all sites. There should be a framework in place for building proper SEO, it should be user- and mobile-friendly, and it should have a way of analyzing the traffic to your site.
There are many success and/or horror stories in regards to search engine optimization. There can be a lot of risk involved, especially when it’s done incorrectly. There are hordes of self-appointed SEO experts who will use techniques which are not approved by Google to boost a site’s rankings. There were two high-profile cases in 2006, where BMW and Ricoh in Germany were completely removed from Google for violating their guidelines. You can temporarily exploit loopholes in the way Google ranks sites, but eventually you will either be penalized, or you will simply lose your investment. If you build your site properly, you will always be ranked appropriately. You can read the full guide on SEO from Google directly here.
Summarizing, there are specific technical requirements that should be met when building a site. Ensure that your page titles are descriptive and accurate, using tags properly, and making your page URLs hierarchal and user-friendly. After all the technical requirements, there is one more important thing: offer quality content and services. Essentially, Google wants you to build your site to improve the experience for your users. Build a good quality website which provides value to your users, with the right targeted content and the right incoming links, and you will rank well.
For all the time people spend on optimizing their sites for search engines, often it’s easy to forget that they must be optimized for users as well. User Experience (UX) is a holistic view of how users perceive and interact with a website. It includes everything from page-loading speed, human-readable and pronounceable URLs and page titles and descriptive page summaries, to the tone and language of pages, the design of navigation and the basic look and feel of the site.
Ensuring that your site is mobile-friendly is no longer optional. According to a report by Bluetrain Media, in the last year mobile traffic has nearly doubled, from 11% to 18% in the past year. Even our own website at graphicartsmag.com has seen an increase from 7% to 13% over the same time period. Not bad for an industry that has had its fair share of difficulties adopting new technologies.
There are three main methods of developing a site for mobile. The first is to build a completely separate version of your site. It is the most intensive, since you’re essentially rebuilding your entire site in a different format. Another method is to build a separate style sheet to display your site on mobile devices. This is very similar to a technique that has been used to correct bugs with non-standards-compliant browsers. Instead of loading a separate style sheet with fixes for Internet Explorer, it loads a separate style sheet to restyle the website so that the same content displays properly on a mobile device.
The current trend is to build websites using a technique called Responsive Design. The problem with the other two methods is with their binary logic. “Is this a computer? Load this.” “Is this a phone? Load that.” It works well, but what happens when you’re presented with something in between? You could either create another style sheet, or a series of style sheets (“Is this a tablet? Is this a phablet? Is this an iPad? etc), or you could create a site that will dynamically resize itself according to the dimensions and features of the device it’s being accessed on. A good way to view this in action would be to visit our site at graphicartsmag.com and resize your browser window. The elements will scale and rearrange themselves dynamically depending on the physical size of the window.
Most importantly, your site needs a way to measure and analyze your traffic. Without this there is no way to determine whether any changes you make to your site are successful or if the content is becoming stale. You need to be able to tell whether your social media efforts are actually connecting and if the people who are visiting your site are doing what you want them to do. Is there a high rate of visitors coming to the site and leaving right away, resulting in a high bounce rate? How many people are actually purchasing a product? How effective is your SEO? These are all factors you will be able to determine with proper analytical software, like Google Analytics.
Comparing social media platforms
Similar to the way each site has specific requirements to properly serve its target market, there is a choice of which social media platforms the site should be focused on. Every social media platform has a different flavour, and each target market will respond differently to each platform.
With 750 million users, Facebook is the most popular social media platform and the one that we are the most familiar with. It does an amazing job of turning valuable time into lost opportunities, but its popularity is also its key asset. It’s very easy to promote your client’s brand by building a Facebook page for it. When a friend likes that page, it is broadcast on their page and is advertised to their friends. It’s essentially free trust-based advertising. It works very well for brand promotion, especially for products that people connect with on a personal level and are personally excited about.
Facebook Insights has the ability to provide very detailed analytics of the people who like and interact with your page. You are able to track the growth of your page, average numbers of likes and comments, unlikes and attrition rate, page views, mentions, which tabs are viewed, where the traffic is coming from, how many impressions, and detailed demographics. If you are able to build a page with enough relevant followers, the information you can gain is invaluable.
Let’s look at Twitter. Brevity is both a positive and negative attribute of Twitter. It can give users the ability to scan large amounts of data in a short period of time. Conversely, there’s not a lot of information in a tweet. I’ve had real-life conversations with people where I start to talk about an interesting fact about a current event, only to realize after I started opening my mouth that I know about 140 characters worth of the story. There can be a great amount of information on specific interests that users can find through using hashtags. Interaction with users who you may not know through real life is a primary distinction from Facebook, through @replies and retweets.
There can be a steep learning curve for people who are new to using Twitter as a means for communication, as shown below in a parody Twitter account of Jack Nicholson. Recently a member of Twitter’s board of directors composed his first tweet. In addition to being formatted less than ideally, he mentioned that he has used Twitter for a long time as a way to consume information. This may be pointing to a pivot in Twitter’s model. Instead of relying on difficult to master interaction, it is becoming more of a broadcast medium.
While there are analytics available through Twitter, they are not very detailed. Success is measured in people retweeting your content, @replying to you, and clicking through to your website.
In last month’s issue, Associate Editor Natalia Lumby described LinkedIn:
LinkedIn is predominantly tailored to weak tie relationships. When you first created your profile you may have started by connecting with close friends, but they were still likely linked to you professionally. A network like Facebook is much more oriented to the strong ties of family. Here is the kicker; weak ties are known to create a greater number of opportunities. Understanding that LinkedIn is a network of weakly tied individuals is key to your success on the site.
The quality of users on LinkedIn is its strength. It can feel like more of a professional networking site than a social media platform, and is great for dealing with B2B type businesses. Joining relevant groups and adding relevant information to the discussion can also be a good indirect source of traffic to your site.
The benefits of Google+ can be hard to nail down because of the regular improvements and updates. In fact, during the writing of this article there has been another major update, which has changed the layout of pages significantly. Still, the core concept of Google+ remains. Users are able to separate different people and businesses into separate circles. Similar to Facebook, you can create a business page and access its own Insights. Google+’s killer app is its Hangouts feature. At first glance it may seem like a replacement for Skype, but it does not need to be on a one-to-one basis. With Hangouts you can broadcast to a much larger audience – even to users that you’re not connected with on Google+. It can be used for webinars very easily. As soon as it is complete, the finished video is automatically uploaded to YouTube.
There are countless other social media platforms available, and some clients will be focusing much of their effort into specific ones. There are ones that are specific to an industry, like photographers with flickr and 500px. Tattoo shops or clothing chains might love Instagram. Pinterest has a huge user base of women. Orkut is big in Brazil, and QQ in China. Blogger, Tumblr, Digg, last.fm, Delicious, Foursquare, YouTube and Vimeo are also popular. As long as you can find a way to use them to direct traffic back to your hub, any of them could work very well.
For detailed information on how to use these social media platforms, please take the time to read the excellent Social Media Spotlight series by Diana Brown and Natalia Lumby at j.mp/smspotlight.
Tying it all together
When using your website as your hub, you would also want to plug your social media efforts back into your site. There are many tools that allow you to do this, especially if you build your site with one of the popular open-source platforms like Joomla or WordPress. Visitors to your site will always be updated with fresh content: videos from YouTube, tweets, images—whatever you’re creating for your social media will also make its way to your site.
I don’t know about you, but I’m getting exhausted just thinking about keeping all these networks updated! Luckily, there are tools available that will help you manage these in one place. Two tools which handle things differently are TweetDeck by Twitter and the Canadian HootSuite. Instead of entering the same information over again on multiple sites, you can selectively update each one in the same place. With one update, you can choose whether you’d like to share with Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Foursquare, WordPress, MySpace, mixi, Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr, and numerous others through plugins.
You will also want to make it easy for your website visitors to share the information on their networks. Again, it is simple to add a social media sharing tool to your site, so that when a user reads and wants to share information from your site, they can share or like it on their own social networks.
There will be a lot of data and analytics collected through all these efforts, and you will need to make sense of them. It is easy to focus on the big numbers such as number of visitors to your site, Facebook likes, Twitter followers and subscribers. These are not the best ways to measure your success. It’s easy to get any of those; they are essentially meaningless. How then do you calculate the real value of your social media efforts?
Digital marketing evangelist Avinash Kaushik has outlined four analytics that can work across all social media platforms in his post (http://j.mp/ZdYtqG). They are:
Conversion rate: how many people are commenting or replying to a post?
Amplification rate: how many people are retweeting/sharing your content?
Applause rate: how many likes, retweets, +1s your content gets.
Economic value: the sum of short- and long-term revenue and cost savings.
By using these tools, you will be able to help your client analyze their current social media efforts, as well as develop a framework for the future.