Recently on one of the forums I frequent, we were discussing social bookmarking. One of the administrators pointed out that traffic from social bookmarking sites is generally transient, only sticking around for (at most) a few seconds and rarely converting. Besides, many such sites now routinely "nofollow" outbound links, so they don't pass along "link juice," either.
Whereupon a poster remarked that it appeared social bookmarking was a complete waste of time.
I hear that from some marketers, not just about social bookmarking but about social media in general. I'm not sure I'd be so quick to characterize it as a complete waste of time, though. It's not so much that social bookmarking and social media doesn't "work" as it is that some marketers seem to approach it all wrong.
Bad approach = bad results
Typically, what I hear from those who think social media is useless is: they make a list of the most popular social bookmarking sites, and every time they create a new article or blog post they mass-submit the page to all of them. Then they sit back and complain about the poor quality traffic and how the entire exercise doesn't seem to bring much long-term benefit to their site.
Now, the way I look at it, it's not so much about the direct traffic you get from the social bookmark site. In my opinion, here's where the real value lies: social media submissions -- if done well -- have the potential to bring your pages to the attention of people who might be interested in what you have to say. And those interested people can prove useful.
The first commandment: be interesting
Perhaps someone will see your page link on that social bookmarking site, be intrigued and visit it, find it informative or entertaining and link to it or write about it (or both) on their site, thereby encouraging their visitors to check you out. At the very least, they'll vote it up in the social bookmark site itself, thereby helping bring your content to the attention of others and increasing the possibility of someone finding it useful enough to highlight on their own site or blog.
In other words, social media can lead to "real" links (that is: the kind that aren't nofollowed) and "real" traffic (that is: the kind that sticks around to buy stuff).
The key bit in that is that the people who see your stuff on a social site have to find it intriguing enough to visit, vote up and/or link to and/or write about. Which means wholesale submitting every new page you create to vast numbers of social sites without regard for the relevance of that page to each site's audience is simply not a productive strategy. It's the easy way, it's the way a lot of marketers seem to approach social bookmarking, but it just doesn't work.
Focus, focus, focus
Each social site has its own focus. Some are all about breaking news, some about women's issues, some about technology or politics or marketing or arts-and-crafts or kids' activities or whatever. Some are filled with edgy or controversial content, while others are more mainstream. You need to explore each site you're considering deeply enough to make sure you have a good handle on the kinds of things that will appeal to the "citizens" of that site.
Think "niche." Try to identify as many bookmark sites as you can that relate to your business/industry -- these may not be the "big guns" of the social bookmarking world, but they'll be much more likely to be receptive to what you submit.
Start by making sure your submissions aren't just your own stuff. Be generous to a fault. Try for at least a ten-to-one ratio of other people's stuff to your own -- and make sure you've already got a good, balanced submission history before you submit the first page from your own site.
You don't want to get known as one of the spammers who only drops in to submit his/her own pages (and mostly irrelevant pages at that). That's a quick way to get ignored by alot of people. You don't want to be ignored. The key term in social media is... well... social.
Get by with a little help from your friends
In other words, it's all about exposure. You need friends on the social site to visit, recommend or vote up your pages. If they do, their other friends may then be exposed to your content, which they in turn can visit and pass along to their friends, and so on and so forth. Most of them will probably just visit quickly and leave, but a few may stick around... find your site useful... link to you.
But if you've self-identified yourself as a link dropping spammer, you're not going to have many friends (and even fewer influential friends). No friends, no recommendations, little exposure. Simple as that.
Beyond that, be selective about what you submit. When you have content that is especially interesting, newsworthy or relevant to that particular site's topic, submit it. But be aware, not every new bit of content you create is worthy of submitting. Just the super-relevant really good stuff. (And be honest with yourself -- there's no way every page on your site is "the good stuff.")
It may even turn out you submit different pages to different sites. Perhaps you have a somewhat irreverent, humorous blog post that's perfect for one social site, and a scholarly serious article on your main website that's ideal for another. So submit the pages to the site(s) where they "belong." Don't just willy-nilly submit everything to everybody. You want to target each submission to the site(s) where it's most likely to do well.
Is this more work than just "carpet bombing" every social site you can find with every new post or article you create? You betcha.
But, ya know, nobody ever said taking the easy way out is a shortcut to success.
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