Thanks again to Neil Patel for being our special guest today to chat about social media marketing for online retailers. And thank you to all who joined us live and engaged us with some great questions.
In case you missed our live Webinar, here are some highlights of what we covered. Let's keep the discussion going. We'd love to hear your thoughts and further questions in the comments section.
What is Social Media, Anyway?
Social media is a tricky space for ecommerce marketers to explore. Not only is it relatively new and largely unknown, but it's also labor intensive and highly strategic. We kicked off the discussion with the definition of social media -- simply put, "human interaction on the Web." More specifically, we're talking blogs, social networking sites like Facebook, community forums, video sharing sites, social bookmarking and you could throw in social shopping sites and user reviews in the mix too for us ecommerce types.
What's this Link Bait Thing I Keep Hearing About?
Next we covered the concept of "link bait" -- content that you create for the purposes of creating buzz and links back to your site. This is the most white-hat (non spammy) ways of gaining valuable incoming links that help your site rank better in search engines. Neil suggested making a list of related bloggers who might talk about your content (and link to it) but to approach them carefully. Keep your messages short, and mention something personal so it doesn't sound like a generic "please link to my story, I've never even read your blog but I found you in Google" kinda thing.
Jason piped in with an example of how Elastic Path pitched the Crazy, Messed Up World of Ecommerce series. We sent out videos (starring Darren Barefoot) to influential bloggers, and about 6 out of 10 ended up blogging about the videos, and also how the video pitch format stood out and caught their attention. You can check out the pitch on SEOmoz, complete with blog post about the pitch.
Lee Odden over at TopRank also has a great article on pitching bloggers.
How Does Link Bait Help Me?
Admittedly, there's not many ecommerce retailers that are using link baiting (great opportunity for you). But a couple benefits are lots of incoming links which means traffic and good search engine rankings; and if your content is useful, funny and cool and really relates to your audience, you get that branding boost and potentially sales.
The hypothetical example given was if you sell watches, you could do a post about the 10 Craziest Watches or the 10 Most Expensive Watches, and links to where you can buy your products. A real life example is the Blendtec video series "Will It Blend" and the follow up series "Will it Return?". This low-cost campaign has huge viral appeal on YouTube and from what I've heard, even children are associating Blendtec with coolness.
Neil's link bait tips:
- Research what works and what doesn't.
- Come up with non-baity content. This means create something of value, not just a Top Ten list. Create something that people will link to because
- it's that cool or useful.
- Stay resourceful. Keep the idea juices flowing!
- Sex up your content (within reason!)
- Have fun.
Jason reminded us of the various angles you could take when creating link bait:
- Humor: Jockey Stop Squirming
- Controversy: Dove Evolution campaign
- Contest: Target dormroom contest in Facebook
- Amazing: Ray-ban sunglasses
- Emotional: 1-800-Flowers mother's day
- Informative: Sephora makeup how-to's
- Timely: Ice.com - Mr. Cupid
- Ongoing: Blogs (Ecommerce Blogs of the Top Online Retailers)
Digg and Del.icio.us Marketing
Digg and Del.icio.us are two important social media sites because they have such large user bases. Many a clone have sprung from these two sites, including niche sites like Sphinn (Internet marketing stories) and Sk*rt (stories for the ladies) that have less of a techie edge than Digg.
In a nutshell, Digg is a site where people submit stories they find on the Web (most likely news or very funny blog posts) and the community votes the stories up or down. If a story gets really popular, it makes the Digg home page and gets a ton of traffic and most likely a bunch of backlinks as bloggers love to share stuff that is buzzworthy. The links are the real value of Digg campaigns. Digg traffic typically has terrible conversion rate, and as Neil mentioned - he doesn't even check out all the stories, he's voting on what makes a good headline. So don't go submitting your BOGO sale news. But bloggers and copywriters should hang out on the Digg home page and glean for what makes an eye-catching headline, as this is the most important piece of your link bait. Remember that Digg users are young, techie guys. Write for the social media everyman. Headlines with George Bush, hot celebrities or SOMETHING to do with girls are a good idea.
- Friend everyone you can. This IS a popularity contest.
Find relevant friends by searching for keywords and seeing who Diggs these types of stories, they're more likely to friend you and Digg up your stories too.
- Send "Shout It"s to your friends to let them know you've submitted stories.
- Don't submit your own stuff.
- Digg has complex algorithms that rewards your submissions with more exposure when you have more authority. When you submit stories that go popular, you build your authority. Neil likes to friend folks at Propeller and Netscape and then quickly Digg those stories first.
- If you create something you want to do well on Digg, get someone with authority to submit your story first, and do this early in the morning (I heard Tuesday is the best day?) around 9am PST, when the most users will be there to Digg it.
I'll just add that you can make your blog/site content more Digg-usable by adding Digg This buttons to your site, but Neil's Pronet buddy Mohammad has a great article on how the Digg button can get you buried (voted down) rather than voted up.
And don't create "sock puppet" (fake) accounts that are all on one IP, besides being soooo 2006, it's really easy for the Digg algorithm to detect.
Many site owners are surprised by how much traffic StumbleUpon can drive, often more than Digg and Del.icio.us! The story sharing and discovery site allows you to mutually friend a maximum of 200 people, although you could have many more friending you one-way. Neil's technique is to friend as many people as you can initially, and if they don't friend back within a week, move on and friend some more. You want to find friends that are likely to vote on what you submit, so doing a keyword search to see who votes on stuff related to your stuff is a great way to do that. When you submit things complementary to your niche people will also friend you. You want to have lots of friends because they will be checking out your submissions, so more people checking your submissions out, the more stumbles your content will get, the more traffic you drive. Neil recommends submitting stories from Digg to StumbleUpon too.
What's unique to StumbleUpon is that you can use a send to friends feature that forces your friends to view a page you want to share before they can continue stumbling. A little message like "hey, check this out!" coming from a trusted contact is probably going to be received favorably, but if you want to keep people as friends, I suggest using this for only important things. Remember signal vs. noise!
How can you make $1 Million for only $1,000 investment? Write a bodybuilding e-book and then get some hot chicks to talk about how much they love guys with big muscles and throw it on YouTube. Make sure you follow the best practices of friending a lot of people first, encouraging them to subscribe to your video feed and submitting early in the day to maximize your potential for reaching the home page and attracting lots of eyeballs. And make sure you use a lot of relevant tags so you'll be found for many different search terms...and include your URL on the video description!
But what about online retailers who sell to the over 40 crowd? How does YouTube help them? Neil reminds us that search engine traffic converts exceptionally well, and YouTube videos can rank very well for popular search terms, even products. Why not create an informational video about your product and buy text links (again, Neil loves to walk the thin line...) to bump up the video page's authority? You're not going to get your site in trouble for buying links that point to a Google property like YouTube. I suggest you could also gain links without buying them by linking to the videos from your own site, and offering your videos to bloggers asking them to link to the YouTube page in addition to the embed, and maybe linking to your ecommerce store as well.
Rapidly rising in popularity among users of all ages, Facebook is a marketing force to be reckoned with...especially since the release of the Facebook API to developers. However, many Facebook initiatives by online retailers are lack-lustre. What works for Facebook applications is viral appeal, which is why we see iLike, RockYou slideshows and Zombies and Vampires applications spreading like wildfire. This is tougher to do with selling product or branding an ecommerce property. Some ways of piggybacking the popular applications include buying them (TripAdvisor and Yahoo were given as examples). But this works better for big-biz with big-bucks. Stay tuned for an upcoming post about ecommerce marketing in Facebook right here on GetElastic for commentary on what smaller ecommerce sites can do/are doing.
An audience comment about the demographics of Facebook came up. Facebook users seem to be 20-somethings, what if your target market isn't the college-age crowd? Neil made an excellent point that getting your message out now will have a lifetime impact, as people on Facebook are going to grow up and perhaps move into your target market. Jason also reminded us that people of all ages (including his Grandmother) love Facebook, so it's not limited to the youngsters at all. With the upcoming ability to group your friends, Facebook could take a bite out of LinkedIn's utility as well.
Neil suggested adding tons of friends, but you may want to do what I've seen others doing -- having a personal account and a more general account, as it can become less personal the larger your network grows. Without seeing how the grouping functionality works, this may soon be unnecessary.
Beyond applications, creating Groups and Events are great ways to keep connected with your network, start topical discussions and spread the word about your company's happenings, like Webinars (wink).
Even though links from Wikipedia carry a "nofollow" tag (they aren't counted by search engines), Wikipedia can potentially send thousands of visitors per day due to it's popularity, high rankings in search engines and its trust-ability. Wikipedia's credibility is largely due to its strict editorial anti-spam policies. Although virtually anyone can edit a page, self-promotional articles submitted from brand-new editor accounts are quickly flagged and removed. Neil provided some expert tips beyond creating an account, including:
- Read their rules
- Edit 500 entries first and you'll build up enough authority to avoid getting flagged (hire a student to get you there)
- Then add your own content where appropriate
- Don't be afraid to link to competitors also if it will help the community and is relevant, this also makes you look more credible
Jason mentioned a popular ecommerce store (that will remain nameless) that got called on the carpet by Wikipedia for excessive spamming. So please keep in mind that you want to be a responsible Web citizen. Everyone hates spam. If you're feeling evil, you probably are.
A great audience question regarding article rejection was raised, "What if someone submits an article on behalf of your company and it gets rejected?" Neil recommends jumping in on the discussion page to provide reasons why your company is "noteworthy." Definitely cite news references from Wall Street Journal or Time Magazine (if you have them) or any other credible source. Provide a corporate overview to the editorial community, and check out other retailers in your industry that do have pages and grab ideas. If the editorial community provides reasons "XYZ" for why you were rejected, work on fixing these reasons before appealing.
I'd also add that friending Wikipedia editors with more clout could help your case, it always helps to have backup.
Neil is very open that he likes living on the edge of social media, even pushing boundaries at times. Because there's a lot of trouble you can get yourself into if you get called out as a spammer (losing your account with a social media site, or much larger public backlash) you want to test the waters and find what works for you. And always relate to the audience if you want to be successful in social media marketing.
Thanks again to Neil for joining us today. You can check out his company at ACSSEO, or his personal branding blog QuickSprout. Although he's not blogging so much on Pronet Advertising anymore, you'll also find a wealth of great stuff on social media marketing here as well.