Saturday, December 27, 2008

Don't be afraid of social media

Guest post by my friend Jill Whalen. I've been following Jill on the web for many years. She taught me to build websites with good content and not to be concerned with tactics to influence search engines. Essentially, Jill says design your pages for your visitors, not for the search engines.

++Scared of Social Media? You May Already Be a Pro!++

I'll admit it. I used to be scared of social media. I didn't know what it was, nor did I want to. I'm rarely an early adopter

So when I first started hearing of social media, and more specifically, social media marketing, I hoped it would just go away. I mean, the phrase "social media" didn't even exist when I was first learning SEO in the '90s. In fact, a search last week on Google's 2001 index (which was available only during October) showed that in 2001 Google had about 1,460 listings for the phrase "social media" and the resulting pages weren't about social media as we think of it today. The more specific phrase "social media marketing" showed zero results in the 2001 Google index – meaning it hadn't even been coined as a phrase.

A search in today's Google index shows about 19,100,000 results for the phrase "social media" and approximately 1,630,000 Google results for "social media marketing." It's safe to conclude that social media and its use as an online marketing strategy are here to stay, and are growing by leaps and bounds. If you're marketing websites, scary as it may sound, you need to learn about social media.

Don't be afraid!

Here's the thing – there's actually nothing to be afraid of! In fact, you may already be using it without realizing it. What makes it confusing is that everyone has their own definition of it. I was confused a few years ago when a friend asked if I wanted to speak on a panel about social media. In true crotchety old-woman style, I told him that I knew 'nuthin 'bout that newfangled social media thingamabob.

My friend looked at me as if I was crazy and said, "Jill, you are the queen of social media marketing!" Of course, I argued that he didn't know what he was talking about, and blah blah blah. But he did know what he was talking about, even though it took me a few months to come around. (Yeah, I'm slow!)

I don't remember what triggered it, but one day I woke up and realized that social media is nothing more than online communities where people interact with one another. Like a chat room. Or a forum. Or an email discussion list. Holy cow! I had been participating in stuff like that since the early '90s! In fact, just about the only marketing I did for years was based on participating in online communities. From my old parenting chatroom and forums in the '90s to my later SEO newsletter discussions, forums and blogs, and every other online thing I do. I've been a social media geek since day one, but never knew it!

Just be yourself!

The reason it took so long for it to sink in was that I never set out to use social media (or the online communities in which I participate) for the goal of gaining clients or branding myself as an expert. But that's exactly what happened; not as some sort of calculated plan, but simply because I was being myself and letting my passion for SEO show through.

My first clients came from chat rooms and email discussion lists. Today, many of them come from this newsletter or our forum – all of which would be considered social media. I visit those places and participate in them because I enjoy them and like to hang out with like-minded individuals. Plus, I never tire of answering SEO questions. Certainly, I could never have consistently cranked out these newsletters since 2000 if I didn't get some personal satisfaction out of it.

Social media marketing works, but only if you have an authentic voice. You can't fake authenticity. You can try, but real people and real voices are what succeed in the social media world. The key is to go into it without any expectations of what you may get out of it. Have fun and you'll be surprised at what may come from it. People like to do business with those they know, and social media is one way of getting others to know you.

Even Web 2.0 is not as scary as it sounds!

There's no need to be afraid of newer social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter either. Other than their funky Web 2.0 names and cool appearance, they are no different from old-fashioned chatrooms and forums. It's true that they are not for everyone and may or may not be a good vehicle in which to market your company. But it can't hurt to give them a test run. The worst that will happen is you'll become addicted! Or maybe you really won't like it at all. If you find it's not for you, then stop using it. Alternatively, have someone else in your company who's more familiar with online communities test it out on your behalf. While you may need to provide them with some guidelines, don't be afraid to allow them to let their personality shine through.

The main thing I want you to take away from this article is that social media marketing is just a new twist on an old tactic. It’s not scary, and it’s not very different from many of the other forms of online marketing you're probably already using.

Jill Whalen offers search engine optimization services and is CEO at High Rankings. and co-founder of Search Engine Marketing New England (SEMNE).

Greg Cryns


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