Picture this...you've just launched a small deli in Detroit, Michigan and you're looking for new ways to market it. You call up three different marketing firms to ask them for their input on your upcoming grand opening promotion. All three firms tell you that you should invite the food critic from The New York Times to come for a free sampling of all your best dishes. After all, the last deli they worked with got a rave review in the NYT and folks were lined up down the street to get in. "But wait!" you protest..."I'm in Detroit, why would I try to get in the New York Times?"
"It doesn't matter" responds the marketers..."A positive review in the New York Times is the way to go! After all, it works for Joe's Deli down near Central Park."
At this point, you're a little dumbfounded. Why do these marketers keep insisting that you should put your time and effort toward a marketing tactic that is highly unlikely to reach the hungry folks that live close enough to eat at your deli?
Welcome to the world of search engine marketer's love affair with social media.
Since I've already used one catch phrase, let me offer up another one...
"Stop staring at the forest my friend and let me show you the trees."
I've never encouraged a "Google First" or "Google Only" mentality for search marketers to follow. This is where you focus only on Google, figuring the other major search engines don't matter. Instead, I've said that all the search engines are important traffic channels to pursue. Don't forget the search engines beyond Google! But over the past few weeks, I've found myself more and more thinking that if you want to go beyond Google as a search marketer, the other search engines that matter first are the "social media search engines." After them come the other major general purpose search engines like Yahoo, Microsoft and Ask.
I find myself sighing a lot these days, though I really never figured I'd be aiming that sigh at Danny.
I want to think that Danny doesn't really mean it exactly as he wrote that, or that perhaps I'm taking him too literally. I want to think that Danny realizes that most online businesses (we're talking businesses here, not bloggers) rely far more heavily on search traffic and link referrals than they do on social media sites. I want to think that Danny knows that all those stats about how much traffic social networking sends are biased because he's looking at the types of sites that attract (and rely on) those types of links to survive. But I'm just not sure...
As best I can figure it, the search marketing world has gotten so internally focused that they're losing the ability to look at things from the traditional business perspective. They're finding things that work (and work extraordinarily well) within the realm of their own businesses and they're having a hard time understanding why those same tactics aren't going to translate to success for most of the folks looking to them for advice.
Sort of like my hypothetical deli marketers...
That's right...they target young, professional geeks of the marketing and tech variety.
Now, let me ask you a second question...who frequents social media sites like Digg, Reddit and Del.icio.us? Oh...right...young, professional geeks of the marketing and tech variety.
You know...the Lactivist Blog gets boatloads of traffic from sites like BabyCenter, Mothering and Motherwear. I worked with a custom home remodler a few years ago that got tons of great traffic from sites like Angie's List and ServiceMagic.
Anyone want to guess what the response would be if I started telling everyone that they should try to get their sites mentioned at any of those places?
My concern is that small business owners, non-search marketers and heck, even medium and large business owners are going to read these posts, listen to these talks and go back to their offices thinking about how to score hits on these social media networks. The problem is that they're going to be wasting time that could better be spent working on a real marketing plan.
You see, at the very root of this social media buzz is a very important concept that 95% of people seem to be missing.
It's not about scoring a hit on Digg in particular, it's about scoring a hit on the community that your target audience frequents. (This is the part where forests and trees come into play.) If the voices and teachers in this industry would only change their tune the slightest bit, then I'd be backing them instead of railing against them. If they'd only understand that they need to take the concept, rather than the exact implementation and spread it around...then we'd be on the same page.
Social media IS going to be a huge deal. In my opinion, it's the next blog realm. It's a new way to bring people together so that they can share ideas. It fits within the realm of discussion boards and blogs in that it helps people share resources. Like many things though, it's started in the tech world and not yet grown to cover the Internet community as a whole.
Just as search marketers and tech types were the first to embrace message boards and blogs, they've become the first to embrace the idea of social bookmarking. The rest WILL follow, but it's going to take some time.
That's not to say that everyone is missing the boat. I listened to Matt McGee give a great talk at SES Chicago last year where he mentioned creatively using these communities. He gave some great examples too... Do you manufacture high end sailboats or luxury yachts? Get yourself a Flickr account and post professional shots of the interior and exterior of your latest models. The boating community is alive and well at Flickr and there's a good chance that someone will spot your product and decide to check you out. That's just one example, but you can take it and think about it and realize that creativity is the name of the game here.
The winners in this new marketing game are going to be the companies that look beyond the hype and recognize the social networks that their own target audiences frequent. It will be the stroller company that learns how to get moms talking about their newest product on boards like BabyCenter. It will be the extreme sports outfitter that gets bloggers buzzing about the latest rock climbing gear. It will be the Detroit restaurant that so impresses their customers that they head to local city guides to post their positive experiences.
Oh wait...those things are already happening.
Don't get me wrong, social bookmarking sites will eventually trickle down to the mainstream Internet users. Categories will emerge that cover any topic you can think of and users of all types will embrace them. At that point, there's a chance that social media sites will play a key role for everyone.
For now, there's nothing wrong with playing around, but if you're like most small business owners I know, you spend too much time running your business to obsess about getting your new line of bed linens "dugg."
Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.
Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.
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