Posted on Aug. 29, 2007

Working in the Denver Internet marketing industry over the course of the past year, we’ve all heard far too much about the amazing potential of social media marketing (SMM). We’ve listened to the myriad reasons why it should be an essential component of our integrated search engine marketing (SEM) campaigns. Still, for as much as we’ve all heard, very few of us have taken the time to answer the most important question: Why? Why should you integrate SMM into your SEM campaigns?

Today, the push to integrate social media marketing into our SEM efforts is only gaining momentum as social networking sites like MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, Del.icio.us, Digg, Flickr and many others continue to gain users and popularity. Of course, we all know that SMM can help us somehow. But how exactly? Oftentimes, it seems like more of a bandwagon tactic, especially when clients say, “We want some sort of social media marketing.” When asked why, the majority simply state, “Because our competitors are doing it.” Some even reply with more of a blanket statement, stating “Because everyone else is doing it.”

Every time I hear clients say this, I think of an adage my mother used to tell me when I was a child. Each time I wanted to do something just because it was popular, she’d ask “Would you jump off a bridge if everyone else was doing it?”

Even though I was a handful of trouble in my elementary school days, of course the answer was no. And even though I occasionally wondered if jumping off a bridge would be exciting, I knew that just because everyone else was doing it didn’t mean I had a reason to.

This lesson stuck with me, and I’ve applied it to many different life situations. From friends and school to peer pressure and even search marketing, it’s important to stay above the mob influence and not simply follow the social media crowd complacently. Think again about the one-word question all online marketers should ask (but oftentimes overlook) when integrating SMM into their SEM campaigns: Why?

Before delving into this, let’s define what exactly social media marketing is. SMM combines the objectives of Internet marketing with the capabilities of social media sites, and thus involves some form of viral marketing that leverages the large audiences and user communities of social media sites. Whether on MySpace, YouTube, Digg, Facebook, Del.icio.us, Flickr, or any number of others, SMM revolves around the creation and connection of users through content.

For this reason, SMM can be utilized to build a network of links, spread brand messages, increase visibility and awareness, and even manage your company’s reputation online. After all, these social media sites each have millions of registered users, grouped into like-interest communities. Now all you have to do is discern where your target audience is congregating online. What more could a marketer ask for? No other channel allows companies to declare their identity, service offerings, value proposition and location within such a targeted environment.

As we’ve seen, social media marketing can be used effectively for a range of reasons. Still, it’s not for everyone. Before even considering integrating SMM into any campaign, you must ask yourself “Who is my target audience?” and “What do they want?”

Whether you’re thinking about implementing a blog platform, joining or creating a social network, or just generating content, your primary concern should be identifying the ultimate objective of your web site or project and how your content relates to or appeals to this audience. Consider the following:

1)Who are my users?
2)Why are they here?
3)What are they looking for?

After answering this set of questions, use this as direction to guide your SMM efforts and content placement. Position your content in front of those who want to see it, and you’ve laid the cornerstone of an effective SMM campaign.

Before thinking about your content placement, however, you’ve got to research which social media sites your users are involved with and join them yourself. This provides a direct channel through which to distribute your content while giving you a better idea of what type of content is popular among these users.

Remember the cardinal rule of social media marketing: Connect through content. How? Like many principles, it sounds easier than it actually is. Of course these connections can take many forms, but perhaps the most valuable form is a link. Incoming links boost your site’s search engine rank and positioning, thus, they’re a essential component of search engine optimization (SEO). This tactic of link acquisition is known as “linkbait.” Gone are the old days of buying, trading, and begging for links. When done successfully, linkbaiting can produce dramatic results, oftentimes giving you hundreds or even thousands of new, relevant links.

On a similar note, social media sites allow marketers the unique opportunity to create and foster trusting relationships with prospects and customers through these content connections, while at the same time introducing them to the company’s brand and message.

Furthermore, the carefully targeted positioning of your content on social media sites grants your customers the chance to associate themselves with you and other customers. Social bookmarking sites like del.icio.us (one of many) are adding momentum to this trend, making it even easier for your customers to bookmark and return to your site.

These user-initiated conversations are your users’ opportunity to create and share their own thoughts and questions, and your opportunity to respond. This presents you with the chance to be there and further connect with them. Let them share their feelings, and ask them what you’re doing right (or wrong). Whether you’re aware of it or not, people are talking behind your back about your company online. So why not involve yourself in the conversation? You can monitor your brand, image, keywords, and even competitors through social media. RSS feeds are especially useful for doing this type of reputation management. Hopefully the conversation is positive, but if it’s not, social media grants you the ability to do your best to change it into something that is through connection and interaction.

That’s the beauty of social media marketing. More than any other channel, it connects companies to customers. Still, despite it’s many advantages, it remains a very complicated endeavor. To date, there is a huge degree of overlap in social media sites and their functional offerings, and no one has created a structure to work from. More often than not, these sites have multiple functions. The only way to discover where to position your company within the social media domain is to get involved in it. Join these sites, use them, meet people, add friends, and let the conversation flow.

Just remember to use this interaction with your target audience for a purpose that benefits your company in some way, not just because everyone else is doing it. Position your content in the right place and be the one jumping onto the bridge that connects you to your customers.