Introduction To Social Media
Welcome to the first module in the social media tutorial series which is published as part of the Internet marketing for beginners training program.
In this three-part series, we are going to focus on what social media is all about and more importantly, how you can use it to develop and expand the profitability of your online marketing efforts by getting ‘social’.
We’ll begin by analyzing exactly what we mean by social media so that we know that we are all reading from the same crib-sheet.
Going back to the earliest days of the Internet, it was a fantastic source of instantly accessible information.
From those days to this, this aspect of the Internet has never changed apart from the fact that there is an almost unimaginable amount of information available at your fingertips via the medium of the World Wide Web nowadays.
But back in the beginning, one of the most noticeable aspects of the web was that it was primarily a source of one-way information.
A site owner created a site that told you stuff and that was it, you were told. The Internet was a bit like a book or a magazine, a source of information or enlightenment with which you had no interaction.
One of the most ironic aspects of this was that this was exactly the opposite of what the original inventors of the Internet had always imagined or expected it to be. They saw the Internet is being an interactive communication channel, one through which people could converse and communicate with other Internet users almost at will.
What is now known as Web 1.0 didn’t allow this. You were provided with the information you needed and that was the end of it.
After the dot.com bubble burst so dramatically in 2001, many thought that the web had already had its day. Some more visionary online specialists had different ideas however, including Tim O’Reilly, the founder and owner of a leading online media innovation company, O’Reilly Media.
Along with his team, O’Reilly saw the ‘end’ of Web 1.0 as being the natural beginning of Web 2.0, a term which he himself first coined at a conference in 2004.
The basic idea of Web 2.0 is that far from being a one-way channel of information, the Internet is gradually becoming increasingly interactive. As a consequence, online social interaction is also becoming increasingly important in everything we do on the Internet every day.
Now, one of the difficulties of fully understanding what Web 2.0 and the associated concept of social media is really all about is that it is incredibly difficult to pin down an exact definition of either concept.
Hence, O’Reilly and his colleagues define the concept in terms of examples of what sites and online ‘services’ used to be like in comparison with what they became.
For example, online publishing gradually became participation, personal websites became blogs, ‘Britannica Online’ became Wikipedia and so on.
The purpose of this brief history lesson is to try to bring some sense to the Web 2.0 idea and therefore to the closely associated concept of social media. This is a particularly important concept and association to understand in relation to how you use social media in your online marketing efforts.
Every ‘Web 2.0 style’ site is one where you can utilize social media marketing methods. And all of the sites are defined by the ability of the visitor to interact with them.
For example, if you publish a blog, visitors can interact by posting comments (to which you can respond). If you post a video to YouTube, a viewer can add literally anything they want to your published work as a comment, and again, you can respond so that a two-way conversation ensues.
Then you have hundreds of social bookmarking sites – Digg, StumbleUpon, Reddit and Propeller to name just a handful – as well as social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook as well as social micro-blogging systems like Twitter and Identi.ca.
In short, the web is an interactive place nowadays and consequently, mastering the art of using social media to market your business is vital.
At the same time, it is perhaps even more important to appreciate that whilst social media is important today, it will become increasingly so as Web 2.0 gradually (and probably relatively seamlessly) morphs into Web 3.0 sometime in the not very distant future.
As it stands today, I have heard it suggested that online social media represents a shorthand description of a confluence or amalgam of advertising, marketing and public relations. No doubt as Web 3.0 gradually develops, this representation of what social media is will become increasingly widely accepted.
The simple but completely counterintuitive answer to the question (taking into account what I suggested in the ‘history lesson’ above) is that you don’t use social media to market.
This does not however mean that you cannot include social media in your marketing efforts extremely effectively. However, social media itself is not directly a marketing tool.
An example will illustrate this point very succinctly.
In previous tutorial series, you may have learned many of the most important ideas and concepts behind PPC advertising. With this form of promotion, you create your adverts, publish them on the search results pages and that’s it.
A Internet searcher sees your ad, decides that you appear to offer what they are looking for and they therefore visit your site to investigate further. In a perfect world, this ‘initial contact’ finishes with them buying your product or subscribing to your list.
But can you see that there is not a single iota of human interaction here?
Now compare this with a social media scenario, using your blog as an example.
Using one promotional method or another, you send a visitor to your blog who decides to comment on your post. You respond, they come back to you again and so the conversation develops.
In effect, you get to know this individual without ever once proposing that they buy a product or subscribe to your list.
Instead, you develop a relationship where (because it is your blog) you are most likely the ‘expert’ side of this relationship.
At some point down the line when your expert status is sufficiently well-established for your blog visitor to listen to your recommendations and suggestions, you give them information about a site that you think they will benefit from where there is a product for sale.
The chances are that as long as you have allowed your relationship with this individual to develop for long enough and assuming that you have been able to establish your expertise in the interim, they may well take your advice.
They may buy the product or they may not but to an extent, this doesn’t really matter one way or the other. The most important thing is that you have built a relationship with this individual as a result of which they will follow your recommendations.
If therefore they don’t buy now, the chances that they will do so at sometime in the future are at least extremely good.
In some ways, you can perhaps see that introducing social media outlets into your marketing mix is a little like subscribing site visitors to your mailing list without them having to make the same level of commitment.
In one way, you might perhaps think that this would be a bad thing, the fact that they have made no concrete commitment being a disadvantage.
However, in reality, it often works the other way round to be an advantage, a good thing rather than a bad one.
This is because when you ask a site visitor to make a commitment to your business by subscribing to your mailing list (and nowadays, subscribers are becoming increasingly aware that signing up is a real commitment), you ask them to do so when you have no relationship whatsoever.
They do not know you from the cat next door and yet you are asking their permission to ‘invade their space’ through the auspices of their e-mail inbox. Perhaps not surprisingly, some site visitors will be less than enamored by this idea, even some of those who do subscribe to get the free gift on offer.
Compare this with the social media scenario.
In this case, you build up a relationship with your site visitor long before you ask for any kind of commitment from them. By the time you do ask for some form of commitment (‘take a look at this site’), they already feel comfortable and relaxed about dealing with you.
As a consequence, although on the surface the commitment level is lower, the relationship that you have already established with your visitor means that the latent commitment in the relationship is already significantly higher.
This in essence is the real strength of including social media and Web 2.0 resources in your marketing mix.
Although you should never use any of these resources to attempt to market your products or services directly, you should use as many of them as you realistically can to develop as wide a range of Internet-based relationships as is possible.
In this way, you gradually build and develop a network of connections who will actively welcome your recommendations and suggestions, rather than resisting them.
As you would imagine, once you have expanded your social network in this way, your business is unlikely to be short of new prospects and customers ever again.
This is a question that many online marketers will quite logically ask themselves. After all, the very fact that social media is about building relationships which you can eventually leverage for marketing purposes clearly implies that including social media in the mix is a long-term process.
You might therefore wonder why you should bother with social media when you can market your business far more quickly using other alternative marketing channels such as PPC advertising, creating videos that are published on sites like YouTube, link building and so on.
There are however some very powerful arguments in favor of including social media resources in your marketing activities, arguments that few alternative promotional strategies could justifiably put forward.
As a starting point, consider these four benefits of using social media to market:
Not only this, but the link network that you create using social media resources and outlets will be randomized and therefore appears completely natural as far as Google and other search engines are concerned.
You’re probably aware that when you attempt to place links to your site on external sites, one of the key criteria that Google consider when assessing the validity of these links is the random nature of your ink network. Consequently, the fact that social media generates random links is a major plus point for including this form of activity in your promotional efforts.
When you do so, that traffic will be drawn to your site because you are recognized as an expert or authority in your niche. There is therefore no question that this is high-quality traffic that you get because your business activities merit it.
On the other hand, if your promotional efforts through sites like these are effective, it can drive a huge number of prospects to your site so the rewards can be extremely good.
For instance, three years ago, I managed to get a story of mine featured on the front page of Digg which is amongst the most popular social networking sites on the Internet (the homepage merits Google Page Rank of 8/10).
In the following 48 hours, I recorded in excess of 20,000 new unique visitors to my site and although the torrent of traffic dropped off very quickly, that sudden traffic burst was worth a lot of money!
So, this brings up another interesting question about social media and marketing, one that many who are new to the concept of including social media in their marketing activities will invariably ask.
How do you make money from social media?
And once again, the answer is, you don’t, or at least, you don’t make money directly.
However, there is plenty of money to be made by utilizing social media resources to promote your business as indicated by the Digg example highlighted above.
You should also remember that one of the major advantages of using social media is that it creates a Google friendly network of incoming links to your site. These help to push your site or blog up the search results page which in turn makes it more likely that you will generate more income from those search page results.
One thing that I have found when using social media to market various opportunities is that it is critically important to test an offer before you decide to market it in a social manner. This is because whilst some offers seem to go down really well with the social media audience, others do far less well. You therefore need to test this in advance to save a great deal of wasted time and energy.
For example, over the past year or so, acai berry products have become incredibly popular with people who are interested in detoxifying their innards and/or losing weight.
At the same time, the whole acai market has acquired a reputation of being something of a scammers paradise.
Hence, if this was a market that you are thinking of getting into, one where you were considering using social media in your marketing mix, you must analyze the market in some detail and depth before diving straight in.
Say you were considering promoting a free trial offer like this one, something that makes good financial sense as offers like this often pay extremely well (this example pays $33.25 per enquiry):
The first thing you have to do is look at the product itself, focusing in particular on how long there will be an attractive market for this particular type of product. Given that relationship building can be a long-term commitment, you cannot afford to rely on being able to promote a product that is ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ if it has no staying power.
Next, you need to investigate what individuals in the social media world are saying about products like this. To do this, you could search ‘weight loss’ forums (search Google for appropriate sites) before logging into major social sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter to see (a) what the buzz about products of this type is and (b) whether there is any competition.
After this and bearing in mind that social media is all about connecting with ordinary Internet users, you want to know what the general online buzz is, either about a specific product that you are thinking of working with or about the market for products of this type in general.
To do this, set up a Google Alert to enable Google to send you an email to alert you that someone, somewhere on the Internet has just mentioned your topic or product:
You can set up as many Google Alerts as you want for free so this one resource easily enables you to keep a close eye on what people are saying in your marketplace.
Now, run a Google search to find half a dozen top sites in your market niche:
Take those sites and run them through Quantcast to establish what kind of people buy these acai berry products in terms of gender, age etc.
The more you know about your potential customers, the more chance there is that you can build a relationship with them a little further down the line:
This strategy also allows you to finesse your social media efforts at a later date as you can test the social sites you are thinking of using with Quantcast to establish how good the demographic match is between product customers and the social channel you’re interested in.
If it still appears as if there may be some value in getting involved in social media as a precursor to using various social channels to market at a later date after running through all of these research exercises, then you would push ahead.
However, you may also find that this exercise blows your ideas out of the water and whilst this may be disappointing, it is far better to find out now rather than after you have sunk a lot of time and effort into setting up your social media activities only to find that they come to nothing.
At its core, social media is all about communicating and interacting with other Internet users. By doing so, you can gradually introduce your products, services or sites to a targeted audience for exactly the kind of opportunities you offer in a relaxed, friendly but nevertheless professional manner.
We will begin to investigate exactly how you utilize social media as an integral part of your overall marketing mix in the next tutorial.
It is now recommended you proceed on to Part 2 – Creating Viral Content.