Many articles in the past months have left people wondering as to the future of social media sites such as DIGG, Del.icio.us, Reddit, Netscape, and many others. Lee Odden shared his frustration when he saw his site banned from DIGG. Knowing Lee and the great content he provides, I and many others were shocked to see that the DIGG community could easily kick him out. A few dedicated spammers can group together and end any chance of marketing via social media, and it is surprisingly easy to do.
The darling of 2006, the social media sites, can provide instant traffic and weighty links to websites. The effects are short, but cumulative, and they present instant gratification to those who understand how it can work to their benefit. However, I have three issues with relying on Social Media as the primary method of marketing your site.
The first is that while the link benefit can be instant and overwhelming, the people following those links and voting for sites are part of a very small community.
The latest PEW Internet Data shows that only 35% of internet users read blogs. Cut that number down by the number of internet users that are familiar with social media sites, but it down again to reflect the technical elite that understand the impact of linking through social media. Again, cut that number down to those that have a personal gain by influencing the results, and understand how to manipulate the system. You’ll soon realize that while the links may be beneficial and your traffic is increasing, the intended customers may not the ones seeing your message.
The Silver Bullet
Attending as many conferences as I do, I have recently heard many give the advice to use social media to increase their site’s popularity. Unfortunately, that is usually the only advice. Social media has quickly become the “flavor of the month” for many marketers, and they have left the tried and true principles of long-term marketing for the fast track of transitory links. This is not the fault of the Web 2.0 darlings; it is the result of the small hysteria that follows any new method of quickly building links to a website.
The fast way to success does not provide long-term results in the business world. In the same respect, social media should not be the main plan to build links or popularity for a website. It should be a small part of a plan, but not the sole plan.
The traditional target of marketing is the customer, yet how many customers are directly reached through social media marketing? Unless you are trying to reach the tech crowd, social media will be an indirect method of increasing rankings and even further removed from a direct influence on sales and leads.
For years, search engines have dedicated significant resources to clean up their indexes from spam. By identifying techniques, adjusting algorithms, and using both automated and human filtering, the search engines are still not 100%, but they recognized the problem early and are always working towards the goal of eliminating as much spam as possible.
Social media is young, and most of these sites do not have sufficient safeguards in place to avoid being used by those that know how to manipulate the system for their own ends. At this point, DIGG and many of the other social media sites are not prepared or equipped to handle the spammy nature of the technical elite who are also the biggest proponents of their services. The search engines are still working on it, see it as a permanent problem, and they take the issue very seriously.
A nice part, but not the whole.
I am not criticizing social media as a means of marketing. I am criticizing those who claim it as the primary means of marketing a website. To build a successful business website, it takes a long-term commitment to build a site that is attractive to your audience. Using social media can be a helpful method, and a temporary means to an end, but it must be viewed as a part of the overall marketing mix.