Posted on Feb 25, 2013 in Digital Marketing | 1 comment

My previous mini-series on Search Engine Marketing got me thinking about some of the myths of other types of digital marketing, especially social media marketing. Some people think that social marketing is voodoo. Other think it’s a new broadcast medium. The truth is, it’s just the plain old hard work of maintaining a dialog with your community.

I’ve written that digital marketing techniques like SEO and SEM take a roll-up-your-sleeves effort to make them effective; you don’t just throw money at keywords and wait for the sales come rolling in. This is especially true for social media marketing. There is no “if you build it they will come”; social media is a digital marketing channel, but it’s not just about delivering content. It’s about conversations. It’s about participating. The work is ongoing, and it’s work that pays off. No voodoo. It’s not even complex or high tech.

The techniques of social media marketing revolve around creating and maintaining conversations. As a marketer, you need to find the voices within your company that your audience most wants to hear. And you need to make sure that those voices come across as professional, articulate, and in step with your company goals, while remaining authentic and sincere.

But even more important is in hearing what you audience has to say, and in reacting to their thoughts. You need to direct their ideas like a traffic cop to all parts of your organization, where those groups can digest, synthesize, respond, and react appropriately. This is a magical opportunity to hear what customers (or donors), potential customers, press, investors, and members of your industry have to say about you. And you have to respond.

It’s a way to let the voice of the customer touch all the places in your organization that it needs to touch, so that you can improve customer support, operational execution, quality, discover features and services that people want, respond to missteps, or dispel misconceptions. You are doing this publicly, with little safety net, in a forum that will recognize insincerity, and yet professionally and in a way that you don’t open up the potential for liability. (Easy, right?)

This is the goal of a “social company,” to leverage social media to achieve corporate goals. (I’m glossing over a bit the advantages that social media marketing can bring in terms of viral advertising, especially for B2C products, for which Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are so famous. I’ll save that for another posting.)

The first step in any social media initiative is the work of getting noticed by your intended audience. Again, this is just a matter of plain old hard work and persistence. Let me give you two examples:

I started this blog in order to support my newspaper clients, to get my ideas out into the blogosphere, to attract new clients, and for the sheer enjoyment of writing. That’s mainly a broadcast mentality. When I launched it a year ago, I also knew I had to invest the time not just in writing articles, but in promoting it.

But blog promotion doesn’t mean advertising, or even good SEO techniques. I subtly (and I believe appropriately) promoted BloggingWrites while participating in discussion forums, commenting on news articles and other blogs, and in general, by sharing ideas in a variety of online venues, all the while paying attention to the ideas of others. In fact, participating in the ideas of others (by reading and commenting) was the best part. Within a few months BloggingWrites reached a page rank of 5 (that’s pretty good), traffic was on the rise, and my blog was appearing high in Google searches for important keywords.

Then iMedia Revenue launched a new newsroom system and I got busy with clients—really busy. I wrote fewer articles, participated in even fewer discussions, and let things coast. After all, the blog isn’t what I do for a living. But in social media, if you are coasting, you must be going downhill. The page rank dropped to a 4, the readership went elsewhere, and things slowed down.

But every time I write a new post, and promote it by sharing ideas in forums, I get new traffic. Simple algorithm: do the work and it pays off.

Enough about me and my small blog; let me describe the work of Steve Buttry (The Buttry Diary), whose job does include writing a terrific and valuable blog about digital journalism. Steve is the Digital Transformation Editor for Digital First Media. He posts every few days (sometimes daily). He delivers useful content to a targeted audience, spends the time participating in social discussions, and manages SEO techniques (especially tagging) like a pro. He has a page rank of 5, and over 12,000 pages indexed in Google, thanks to his high keyword density.

The fruits of this continuous hard work? He has a considerable following, and is oft-quoted in the industry. His ideas spread virally. And he has contributed, in large part, to making his employer Digital First Media more than a company, but a leader in what can only be described as a growing digital first movement.

So don’t think of social media as a magic wand, or voodoo, or a distribution channel. It’s just solid hard work that pays off if you do it correctly, not by broadcasting, but by engaging your audience, and in doing the continuous work to keep them engaged. In other words, you don’t just launch a social media initiative and then go on to some other marketing initiative. Launching it is the easy part; care and feeding is what pays off.