Social Media Marketing - A Beginner's Guide
Social Media Marketing can be a great way to boost awareness of your brand, business or website and the good news is that it won't cost you a thing. Here's how to get started:
Photo credit: Mark Stay
Traditional marketing has typically taken an "interruptive" hard-sell approach to getting your attention. You might be watching TV, for instance, and have the show you're watching suddenly stop for a round of commercial breaks, or find yourself looking for content as you flip through the ads in magazine.
Social media marketing, on the other hand, is very much focused on engagement, community and authority. What is boils down to is the creation of valuable, engaging content within the context of online communities, and building reputation and authority within these communities and your content niche.
While it arguably might be easier to just plough your money into interruptive advertising, and sit back to wait on the results, social media marketing has two advantages to this approach.
First and foremost, it doesn't need to cost you a single cent.
Secondly, social media marketing gives you the opportunity to laser target your prospective audience or clients, and have them willingly spread the word about your brand.
In this beginner's guide to social media marketing, I take you through:
- Social Media Basics - What is social media, and why does it matter?
- What social social media means - Everything you need to know to get a quick handle on the idea
- Why you might want to use social media marketing in terms of real world benefits to your website, blog or business
- How to get started if you want to put social media marketing to use
- Essential social media that you might want to start using if you want to boost your online presence
- The social media press release and why you might want to use it instead of the typical press release approach
- Creative Commons licensing and viral media - how giving your work away is the best thing you can
Social Media - The Basics
Social Media is defined by Wikipedia as:
"Participatory online media where news, photos, videos, and podcasts are made public via social media websites through submission. Normally accompanied with a voting process to make media items become "popular""
The term is a loose one, but goes a long way to describing the new, democratic media found online, and the emphasis on sharing placed on web destinations from personal blogs to YouTube and social bookmarking services like del.icio.us.
If you've ever put (or shared) a video online, written a blog post, posted to Twitter, created a profile on Facebook, or shared one of your favorite websites through del.icio.us, you are already a social media maker.
Mainstream media operate in a less socially conscious way - they broadcast or print their messages to a large, slightly fuzzy, audience and offer a more minimal degree of interaction between content creator and content consumer.
Social media, on the other hand, is focused very much on the conversation. When you write a blog post, people can enter into a conversation with you in the comments. On Facebook, your friends can send you messages, share applications and photos, or just drop a note on your "wall". If you publish a video to YouTube, others can add it to a playlist, leave a comment, or even post a video reply to your original content.
Social media can be a lot of fun, then, but it also has great potential as a means to build the presence, reputation and visibility of your business or personal brand. And this is where social media marketing comes in.
What is Social Media Marketing?
Social media marketing, as you might have already guessed, is an approach to spreading awareness of your web content or brand via the vast variety of social media destination on the web.
However, while it perhaps shares similar goals with traditional marketing - converting casual passers-by into potential clients, readers, advertisers or whatever else your goal might be - the methodology is profoundly different.
Traditional marketing attempted to send out a broad, sweeping message to as many people as possible in the hope that some small fraction of them would respond to the "call to action" placed. Traditional marketing is very often about interrupting what your reader or site visitor is doing to barrage them with a message.
You can see this both on television and in print media, but also online. Banner advertising, pre-roll ads that run before a video starts playing, and annoying splash advertising pages that appear before you can access an article in full are just three examples.
Their efficiency is questionable, and seems to be on the wane.
Social media marketing is marketing without the hard sell. Rather than trying to force your one-way message down the throats of passersby, with social media marketing you attempt to offer valuable content, suggestions, contributions to conversations and engagement, spreading your offerings as far and wide as is possible.
In this way, you build both presence across a number of online destinations - increasing your web traffic - while simultaneously cementing your reputation and authority within your chosen subject or content niche.
Why Use Social Media Marketing?
There are a number of reasons you might want to put some time and effort into creating a social media marketing strategy:
- If you have more time than money to spend on building the reputation and visibility of your business, social media marketing provides you with a free or cheap way to go about it, if you are willing to invest the time in doing so
- If you wish to complement your existing marketing practices and build your reputation as an authority in your field
- If you are hoping to build qualified, niche-targeted traffic to your website
- If you are looking to build on your search engine presence and increase your Google ranking, so that your results are seen above those of your nearest competitors
- If you want to open conversation with your users, readers or customers and gather feedback from them as how to best progress with your latest content or product offerings
- If you want to build a community of regular visitors and "evangelists" for your brand, willingly spreading the word about what you do without economic incentives
And that's really just the tip of the iceberg. Given time and effort on your part, an effective social media strategy isn't going to make all of your problems go away, nor is it going to turn an ill-conceived idea into a good one. But it will, without a doubt, build your standing, bring you more traffic to your website and establish your presence on the web.
How To Get Started
So how do you go about social media marketing and how much time is it going to take you? The short answer is, how long is a piece of string? The degree of effort (and passion) you are willing to invest in your social media marketing campaign will likely relate directly to the results you see.
Here are some starting points for you to make the jump:
- Blog! - If you don't have a blog already, you need to start one. Far and away the most effective and powerful tool in your social media marketing arsenal is going to be your blog.
If you don't know how to get started, you might want to check out my Beginner's Blog Publishing Guide, which will take you through everything you need to know to get up and running.
Once you're up and running, you might want to check out Robin Good's guide to becoming a successful online publisher to really take you to the next level.
In short, blog about a particular niche subject (the one directly connected to your business), write often, and apply some solid search engine optimization tricks and you'll be well on the way to kick-starting your social media marketing strategy
- Listen! - If you are going to make a real splash with your blog and other content, you need to listen to what's being said about you, the latest news in your niche content area, and even the hot discussion points outside of your niche.
If you are in tune with all of this information, you will be in a much better position to both write and share compelling content, and you'll never be accused of not taking part in the discussion at the heart of social media practice.
RSS is your ultimate friend here. RSS is a great way of gathering information from all over the web and bringing it to an email inbox style "reader" where you can digest the latest news as it is published.
If you'd like to pick up some tricks on how you can use RSS to listen in on the latest news and discussions in your favorite niche topic, you might want to check out my Guide To Really Simple Syndication Benefits, Best Uses And Applications.
- Respond! - It's one thing to listen to what's been discussed about you, your content, and the latest news in your field. It's quite another to respond.
One effective way to build your online presence and authority is to leave informed, thoughtful comments on other blogs when they discuss your business, or talk about something of interest to you or your brand.
Being responsive to feedback, and on top of the latest trends in your industry is a subtle form of marketing in and of itself. There's no need to leave ad-lite type comments dropping in your web address and what you do. Carefully thought-through responses that add to the conversation will gain your far more respect, and people will in turn click through to your website from the URL link attached to your name.
- Share! - Finally, when you find interesting information, videos, blogs or other content online, make an effort to share it with others. The same goes for your own content. Over time, if you make use of some of the services mentioned below - social bookmarking services, for instance - to give something of value to the communities you join, you will build up respect and kudos for doing so.
There's a lot of information out there competing for people's attention. By pointing out great things that you've found, and drawing attention to your own work, you can people a great service. Over time, you'll be acknowledged as a subject area expert, and both turned to and recommended.
Essential Social Media
Which social media tools and destinations should you make use of? There is no simple answer to this question, as there are as many niche communities and services as there are days in a year (or decade, more likely).
Nevertheless, there are certain key tools and services that you definitely might want to make use of in your social media marketing strategy. Here are some of them to get you started:
- Your blog - whether you use Blogger, Wordpress or Movable Type, your blog is likely to be the center of your social media marketing universe. It's here that you have the best chance of building your brand, sharing great tips, reflections, advice and news with your readers, and carving out a niche for yourself.
Blogging is also one of the best ways to boost the search engine ranking of your website. Blog often and blog well, and you will receive both inbound links and more chance of being discovered.
For some great tips on bringing your blog to the next level, you could check out Robert Scoble's 15 Points To A Killer Blog presentation or Robin Good's own, recent guide to professional blogging.
- Social bookmarking services - Social bookmarking services make it easy for you to share the cool websites and videos you find online. Rather than simply adding the website to your own private set of favorites, social bookmarking lets you publish your latest find to the web for all to see.
People within the communities using these services can then find, browse and subscribe to your bookmarks, which you can also add category "tags" to, helping them to find relevant and interesting information on the web.
The most popular of these services is arguably del.icio.us, and if you take the time to set up an account there and regularly add relevant and interesting bookmarks to your own content and that of others, it is likely to pay dividends in winning you attention, respect and traffic.
To maximize your chances of discovery further, you might consider using a tool like OnlyWire, which will allow you to add a bookmark to several different services simultaneously, with a single click. This gives you even more chance of having your content or recommendations found, shared and discussed.
- Social News services - Social news services allow anyone to submit a news item or blog post to their respective communities, where it will compete with other stories for user votes. The most popular stories rise to the top, and least interesting fade rapidly into obscurity.
The most popular social news destination is Digg. One idea to increase your chances of people seeing and voting on your own blog content is to add a "Digg this" widget to your blog posts. That way if one or more of your readers likes what they see, they can add their vote for your article right from your blog itself. Depending on which blogging platform you use, the way you might add this button to your blog posts varies. Try googling "Digg this widget" and adding the name of your blog platform, such as "wordpress", "blogger" or "movable type" and you'll be up and running.
Other popular social news sites you can submit your content to, and build your reputation by submitting other relevant content, include Reddit, Netscape and Newsvine, and Alex Iskold does a great job of discussing the differences between them in his Social news faceoff article for Read/WriteWeb.
- RSS and commenting - As mentioned above, RSS provides you with a great way of keeping track of what's being talked about in your community or what's being said directly about you, your product, or your blog.
You'll probably begin by finding an online or desktop feed reader, which you can think of as an email inbox for news and blog posts. I make some personal recommendations on choosing a feed reader, and what you can achieve with RSS in my recent guide to RSS.
Once you've subscribed to some websites that interest you, and started leaving regular, thoughtful comments, you might want to create what's known as a vanity feed. A vanity feed (or "ego radar") is a way of tracking all of the things people write about your blog or business online. This gives you an excellent prompt for making timely responses to what's being said.
If someone praises your blog, business or post, you'll be able to quickly head over and leave a thank you in their comments section. And if they criticize you, you'll also build a solid reputation if you can offer thoughtful responses and pay attention to what's being said.
Darren Rowse of Problogger.net provides a solid introduction to how you can create your own vanity feed which will get you started in no time.
- RSS and Blog Directories - Another great way of maximizing the amount of people that discover your blog is to submit it to as many RSS and blog directories as possible. This way casual browsers of these different communities may very well find your content where they might not have on Google or another search engine.
Robin Good's RSS Top 55 provides a constantly updated list of these services, which - given enough time - you can work through, adding further inroads to your content and boosting the chances of your being discovered by new readers.
If you'd rather spend a little money than take a day out of your schedule, you can use relatively inexpensive submission services such as Postami and the very thorough RSS Feed Submission site to do it for you.
- Video sharing websites - Video sharing websites are also a great way to get people to discover your blog, content or business.
By setting up accounts on YouTube and other services, you can provide another way for people to discover you and your business.
Even if you don't have the capabilities to make your own video - and it is easier than ever to create video content with your webcam, PowerPoint or other services like UStream - you can add value for community members by aggregating interesting videos together, or creating niche-themed playlists of existing content.
You can then link back to your website from your video sharing account. And if you want to maximize your exposure across a number of services, you might want to use a tool like Tubemogul, which lets you upload a single video and have it added to a number of different sites simultaneously. I reviewed this excellent service recently here on Master New Media.
For more ideas on using YouTube to help you in your social media marketing strategy, you might want to take a look at my previous guide on Ten Ways To Use YouTube To Promote Your Online Content
- Squidoo and Hubpages - Squidoo and Hubpages (previously reviewed here) are both communities in which members share blog-like articles on things that they are interested in or passionate about.
As they are smaller communities than "blogosphere" - the sum total of blogs on the Internet - they provide an excellent way of having people discover your writing, and move on to your other content - such as that of your blog. By submitting really useful how-to guides, reviews or thoughtful opinion pieces to these services, you are given a golden opportunity to link back to your own website.
Just as is the case with social networking services, Squidoo and Hubpages provide you with a profile where people can find out more about you, including of course links to your other content.
- Twitter - If you are interested in engaging early adopters or work in the tech industry, Twitter makes for a great way to easily share links to your content, and build a solid network of contacts in a relatively short space of time. Think of Twitter as a cross between blogging, SMS text messaging from your mobile phone, and social networking sites like Facebook.
You add friends and contacts, and then post messages of 140 characters or less. This gives you a great platform to keep your followers updated as to the latest content you've created on your other social media accounts, and to enter into brief, punchy conversations about the latest news and events.
The Social Media Press Release
If you are launching a new business, service, competition, or just a new aspect to your business, you might want to consider creating a social media press release to distribute to fellow bloggers.
Traditional press releases are very often deleted before they're even read by the blogging community, so to give yourself a better chance at encouraging conversation, you need to take a slightly different approach.
In this short video (3" 22), the concept of the social media press release is introduced in easy to understand terms.
In short, a social media press release offers bloggers a package of relevant information, drawing on various social media elements such as YouTube videos and del.icio.us bookmarks to place your news release in context, should people wish to discuss it further.
You can find more information on the social media news release, and a template that you can use to create one over at Search Engine Guide.
Give It Away - Creative Commons and Viral Marketing
Another way you can build your presence online is by making your content easy to share.
With traditional copyright, your readers aren't granted permission to redistribute - or remix - your work without directly approaching you and asking. Creative Commons offer a number of alternative licenses you can apply to your work to make it easier for people to share and redistribute.
You can request that your readers give attribution to you when they share your work, for instance, or that they don't alter the original version if you wish. To find out more about Creative Commons licensing, you might like to check out the series of videos compiled by Robin Good on the subject.
In short, the benefits of making it easy for people to share you work are that you will quickly be able to build your reputation as an expert, opinion leader and reliable source of information, further building your presence and traffic.
Thought leader, marketer and author Seth Godin allows anyone to download his book "Unleashing the Idea Virus" for free, but also sells the paperback on his website. This has helped Godin not only cement his reputation but also brings new readers to his blog and other books.
By giving away valuable content online, you create a great opportunity to establish your personal brand and bring in new clients, readers or advocates for your cause. While the temptation is there to charge for everything, the power of giving away something of real value can produce even better results in the medium to long term.
Creative commons licensing gives you the chance to have your ebook, podcast or blog post "go viral" - which is to say, to have one person pass it along to another, and so on, building your traffic and reputation step by step. This is the very foundation of effective social media marketing.
Social media marketing is a term used to describe a variety of approaches and techniques used to create authority, community and credibility online as a means of bringing attention to your brand or business.
If you have the time to invest in adding some simple routines to your daily publishing routine, and sharing your passion and interests in the right places, social media marketing can serve as an excellent complement to traditional marketing approaches, or in some cases as a complete replacement.
By combining niche targeted blogging and the creation of a presence - and reputation - in a variety of social media settings, you can bring a great deal of traffic to your online content.
But social media marketing is about more than just traffic - by creating trustworthy, value-rich content and disseminating it far and wide across the web, you can also build both engagement and authority for your personal brand, something that can't be said for straightforward interruptive marketing.
In this beginner's guide I have tried to fill in the gaps as to what social media marketing is, how you can use it, and when and where it might be useful. If you wish to build on this basic foundation, however, there are no shortage of articles and ebooks that might help you on the way, both here on Master New Media, and elsewhere on the web.
While social media marketing isn't an instant, quick fix approach to growing your brand, in the long term it can be one of the most effective approaches in establishing your reputation online.
If you'd like to read more about social media marketing, you might want to check out the following links:
- Wikipedia defines social media marketing
- The Social Media Marketing Blog
- The Five Pillars of Social Media Marketing from Marketing Pilgrim
- Social Media Marketing, Eh? Let's See What's In Our Bag of Goodies from SEOmoz
- 5 Rules of Social Media Optimization from Influential Marketing Blog
- 21 Traffic Triggers for Social Media Marketing from Copyblogger
- The Importance of Social Media Marketing from doshdosh
- Social Media Marketing: The New SEO from Search Engine Land
- Social Media Marketing For Small Business from Search Engine Land
- PubCon: Social Media Marketing Tips from Webpronews
- Social Media Marketing in a Nutshell from doshdosh
- Social Media Marketing Roundup from Chris Garrett
- Social Media Daily, a free step-by-step ebook
- Authority Blackbook - another popular free ebook on becoming an authority website
- How to Leverage Web 2.0 & Social Media Sites to Market Your Brand & Control Your Message from SEOmoz
- Thoughts on a Product Launch Promotion from Marshall Kirkpatrick
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