The Truth About Social Media Marketing

Well, I can certainly see why people have problems keeping their blogs up to date. I’ve been meaning to write this for days, but every time I try and get started, it seems like something else crops up instead. Still, I’ve finally made it.  So without further ado, lets talk about social media marketing.

Social Media Marketing

Social media is big right now.  I mean really big. If there’s anything that everybody knows, it’s that you have to be social. Companies are out there tweeting and posting to their Facebook and Google+ accounts like there’s no tomorrow. And if you’re trying to operate on the cutting edge of online marketing, chances are that you’re doing it too.

The real question though, is whether or not that social marketing is doing what you want it to be doing for your business.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Social media is popular for a reason, and that’s because people like to use it.  And anywhere that people are engaging is somewhere that you’d like your marketing to be.  It makes sense.  I’m not disputing that.  What I am wondering though, is whether it’s always worth it.

Engaging Your Audience

Now of course there are some businesses that thrive on social media. In fact, I personally know a few people whose entire marketing strategy is based around it, and it works well for them.  The thing is, it works well for them because of the nature of their business, and the services they offer.  There’s a big difference between using social media to engage with your clients and potential clients when your business is adventure holidays or children’s outings, and when your product is online marketing, or insurance.

If your idea of social media marketing is tweeting or posting an advert for your services, then I think that you’re kind of missing the point.  A very interesting study carried out last year by Outbrain found that social media was driving only 11% of traffic to sites. (And that’s all social media.)

Now, that 11% was certainly growth compared to the past, and I have no doubt that the growth in social media traffic will continue, but I do think it’s important to note that at present, social media traffic accounts only for a relatively small proportion of all website traffic.

Branding And Social Media

Another fascinating study, this one rather more recent, and carried out by TNS Digital Life, explored the question of how open people are to brands on social networks, world-wide, and again the results were extremely interesting.

Although people’s openness to brands in their social networks varied according to country, it seems that rapid growth markets consider brand interactions more acceptable than developed markets, which tend to be more resistant to brand engagement.

They conclude that this means that social networking needs to be very carefully approached by brands, due to the very real risk of damaging their image, or generating negative responses.

Remember, people are using social networks to relax, interact with their friends, and discover interesting new stuff.  The last thing they want is somebody effectively shouting advertisements at them. According to this study, only 29% of South Africans are more open to brands in their social media than resistant to them. And that means that the majority of people in South Africa are more resistant to social media brand interaction than than they are open to it.

To take a look at the findings of this study, visit the TNS Digital Life Brands As Friends report.

Social Media So Far

So…so far we’ve seen that at present, social media is only driving a small amount of traffic. And we’ve also seen that, in general, people may not be open to brand communications in their social networking.

Now that doesn’t mean they’re totally opposed to it either.  We’re only talking about how they feel about brand presences in social media.  And sometimes, (from the consumer point of view), it’s a plus, because if there is one thing social media is good for, it’s complaining. Practically everybody  know has a story about how they had a problem with some company, and couldn’t get any resolution until they started tweeting about it, or posting on the companies wall.

And that’s great news for consumers, having an open road into the company for problem resolution, with the added bonus that companies scramble to protect their good name in social networks. For the companies themselves though, it probably doesn’t feel as good.

And that’s another reason to approach social media marketing with care.  Again, I’m not saying don’t do it.  Hell, these days you don’t have much choice about doing it. But do it carefully.  Plan your strategy. Provide value, not adverts. Engage, don’t broadcast.

Social Media & SEO

Oh…right…this is an SEO blog.  I suppose I’d better talk about SEO for a bit.

The SEO value of social media has been something the SEO’s have discussed pretty much since social media really started kicking off.  Unfortunately, its been a morass of confusion, changing goalposts, and misunderstanding.

While Google was delivering real time Twitter results, some people were sure that your tweets could affect your rankings.  And then Twitter ended their agreement with Google, and Tweets were no longer displayed in organic (or any other) results, and various Twitter Vs Google issues arose which seem to have created some bad blood between the companies.

Similarly, Google has been at odds with Facebook, and although they can now index comments made on public pages, and on other sites that use a Facebook id for comments, (thanks to an improvement in the way they can read JavaScript), they can’t access anything else inside the huge social network, which means it’s not counting toward your SEO.

But on that note, enter Google+. The search giants newest (and so far most successful) foray into the world of social media.  And now, suddenly, social media can have more concrete SEO implications again.

Google Search & Google+

Since Google is still the search engine, especially, (and by no means exclusively) in South Africa, and Google has it’s own social network, it’s no surprise that activity in your Google+ account can have an impact on the chances that your site will show up for a search.

And this is something Google capitalised on very quickly, with their launch of the Google+ pages for businesses, and of course, the still controversial Search Plus Your World that integrates Google+ info, including shares and likes from people you know, into your search results if you’re logged into your Google account while you search.

Now it seems that how active, how liked and how followed your Google+ account is can have real impact on your chances of ranking high for a relevant search term. (More on this later.) And now SEO’s have to take into account the “logged in / not logged in” issue as well.

Are most people logged in when they search? Well, at least we can find out. Since some time last year, Google started denying website owners analytics data, if that data came from logged in users.  Now, instead of seeing all the keywords that brought users to your site, you only see keywords from people who searched while not logged in.

That’s been a huge pain for SEO, and it still smarts. Especially since AdWords data isn’t affected by whether users are logged in or not. However, one bright spot in the gloom is that the (not provided) keyword in Analytics does tell you how many people that come to your site are doing so while logged in to Google.

If that number is small, don’t worry too much about Search Plus Your World or showing up in personalised results.  If it’s big, (and / or if it has a lot of conversions associated with it) then having a well followed Google+ page for your business is probably a good idea.

The problem is that a lot of the Google+ uptake might be because of the potential search engine impact, and that casts serious doubts on the validity or relevance of the Google+ affected results.

Which brings me, (finally) to the reason I started this post in the first place.  Social networking numbers.  One of the things that people pay a lot of attention to is the number of users in each of the big social spaces.

Social Media Numbers

Facebook claims 845 million users, Twitter claims 175 million, and Google+ claims 90 million which is pretty good considering how new it is.  But…are there really? According to an admittedly anecdotal study carried out by Kevin Kelly, former Wired Magazine editor, an estimated 36% of the more than 500,000 people who followed him on Google+ simply did not exist.

Not only were they not active, but they didn’t even have a profile.  Just an account.  Of those 560,000 followers, he estimated that 30% were actually active, 6% were spammers posting solely for links or other types of recognition, and 36% were, as mentioned, effectively non-existent. See his analysis, The Ciphers of Social Media here.

See, the problem is, user data is based solely on the number of created accounts. And since everybody knows how important social media is, everybody is creating accounts. And of course, some people and companies have multiple accounts.

In his examination of his social media followers, he also mentions a couple of similar studies. In one, some journalists from Popular Mechanics discovered that only 25% of their followers on Twitter were real, active users, and that a full 49% were either utterly fake, empty or spam profiles.

In another, a research group at an American university analysed the 1.3 million followers that US politician Newt Gingrich had on Twitter, and found that 76% of those followers didn’t even have a profile biography.

Fake Social Media Accounts?

Surely not.  Why would people fake social media accounts? Well, businesses that are heavily invested in social media marketing want to show a high level of engagement, either for credibility purposes, or, as is the case with Google+, to improve the chances that their account is going to impact search results in their favour.

And that means a whole resurgence of the “buy friends” and “buy followers” issue that Facebook was already experiencing some years ago.  Buying thousands of “likes” can indeed give a campaign a leg up, but on the other hand, this user inflation can cause not only an exaggeration of numbers, but also another way of manipulating the system. And personally, I’m not in favour of manipulating the system.

I want things to rank by virtue of their actual quality and relevance.  Not because somebody went out and paid for 1,000 people to +1 their post.  This is the sort of shit that gets SEO branded as unethical.

In a report just released today, Facebook admitted that they estimate that at least 5%-6% of their user profiles are fake. That’s between 40 and 50 million fake profiles. And if social networks have large numbers of fake profiles, that means that the estimated value of social media marketing may be lower than people think. And you might be wasting a lot of time marketing to fake profiles, without even knowing it.

The Problem Is Social Is The Future

The problem is that, as I started off saying, everybody knows, or thinks that they know, that social media is the future of online marketing.  Personally, I’m not convinced. But so many people are, that social marketing is what everybody wants.

Again, I’m not saying it doesn’t have any value.  It clearly does.  What I’m questioning is whether or not it has as much value as everybody thinks it does. Let’s summarise:

  • Social media drives a relatively small amount of traffic compared to search.
  • People, especially in South Africa, are more opposed to brands in social media than they are open to them.
  • Social media numbers may be considerably inflated by fake profiles for spam or marketing purposes.

So if you’re planning a social media marketing campaign, it’s probably worth it to think about these things.  Social media can work for you if you provide engaging value to the people you’re targeting.  If all you want to do is advertise on it though, don’t be surprised if you don’t get much audience buy-in.  The same way that people flip channels on the TV when advertising interrupts their viewing, social media users may disengage if they feel your message is intruding on their experience.

To overcome the aversion to advertising, it’s necessary to break the barrier that separates advertising content from content that your audience enjoys or is interested in, and provide the latter to them, and not the former.


5 thoughts on “The Truth About Social Media Marketing

  1. This was quite the read, I like your writing style, I would just recommend small doses for our poor brains. This could have been 5 good articles.

    Anyway I love that Kevin Kelly, the quote below, taken from the above, took the time to investigate this. I speak to so many SEO guys and they are all doing the same, creating lists of 100′s of non existent people and profiles, Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus etc. Its only just beginning as more and more people get involved it is going to get so much worse. I got so many friends….. NOT.

    “Kevin Kelly, former Wired Magazine editor, an estimated 36% of the more than 500,000 people who followed him on Google+ simply did not exist.”

    Nicely done guys….

    • Hahaha, thanks. Like I said, I actually started trying to write it more than a week ago, and the more I looked into it, the more I found, the more there was to say, and the longer it got.

      Anyway, yeah…I dunno…the problem with these semi-legitimate (and the downright illegitimate) SEO techniques is two-fold…they fill up the ‘net with junk, and they make it harder for genuinely relevant and unique content to show, things like Panda notwithstanding.

      Hmmm…I think there might be a post in that…how SEO could be ruining the internet.

  2. Hello, been marketing for a while Online, and off course I have to agree that trying to use social media marketing campaigns as the newly discovered ace in the hole, technique is virtually non existent, been there, done it, the whole bang shoot.

    where I have found it quite effective, the other marketing strategies not withstanding, backlinks, Link directories. PPC etc., is when one of my client’s customers had, had an exceptional piece of work done by him, which he in turn, promoted to his friends on Facebook. not to be out done by him, the friends soon called my client in for quotations on work of their own. There has been a steady flow of work from that original FB. ad. Thank you for sharing. Warm regards, Andre’

    • Glad you enjoyed it.

      Yes, I agree…the best value from a social platform is the value gained incidentally (and therefore naturally), rather than by trying to “force” it.