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Social Media for SEO vs. Customer Engagement

Posted on Apr 21st, 2011
Written by Lee Odden
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    Social Media SEODuring an internal discussion at TopRank Marketing, the topic of defining social media came up and one area of interest was the difference in outcomes when it comes to incorporating both social media and search engine optimization. The social media tactics and expected outcomes when used for a SEO program are very different than social media intended to improve customer engagement outcomes. I think this is an important distinction because while social media and SEO work great together, the outcomes and business value can be very different.

    Social Media for SEO

    SEO helps connect customers with brand content through search engines. Content associated with both qualitative and quantitative signals tends to be rewarded with higher search ranking, driving traffic and hopefully, sales. In the scheme of things within the customer lifecycle, SEO is a tactic focused on aiding information discovery at numerous touchpoints, with an emphasis on the top of the funnel. Customers have some idea of what they’re looking for and search until they find it.

    SEO practitioners have traditionally used social networks, news and bookmarking services to create and promote content in an effort to attract links. Those links can send traffic but are also signals for search engines to discover and rank content. Social participation is focused on mining topics and content formats that are most likely to resonate with the social community in order to increase the likelihood of becoming popular and subsequently exposing tremendous amounts of traffic and links from those readers empowered to publish – bloggers, commenters, journalists, site owners.

    Since Google and Bing have started incorporating feeds from social media services like Twitter, Facebook and others, it has been revealed that links, text and author authority can also be used as signals for determining content ranking on real-time, news and traditional search.

    SEO practitioners that hang a shingle out with “social media marketing” on it are essentially focused on content promotion through social networks, news and bookmarking sites to attract links.  Social networks and news sites can be very effective channels for indirect link acquisition.

    A simple example might involve a marketer doing keyword research on search and social phrases to decide on a topic for an infographic. The content and name of the infographic are keyword optimized for the target audience that searches for those terms. The infographic would be posted to a blog with embed code for other blogs and promoted via social channels, public and private.

    As the blog post with the infographic spreads in distribution and sharing amongst the social channels of interest, it gets noticed and linked to. Often times the link to the infographic will use the supplied name, which of course, includes the target keyword phrase.  Links with anchor text that reflects a desired keyword phrase from many other, relevant websites and blogs along with links in social channels like Facebook and Twitter provide search engines with robust signals to use in ranking that content.

    So, the basic nature of social media for SEO outcomes is to create signals like links and to inspire others to create links that can drive awareness, traffic and as a signal for search engines resulting in better search ranking.

    Social Media for Customer Engagement

    Studies have shown that many corporate social media initiatives are managed by Public Relations departments and outcomes often focus on awareness, influence, engagement and relationship building.  Better relationships with customers and industry influentials builds the brand, inspires trust and positive association with what the brand stands for.  A strong brand drives sales because customers are aware of and trust the brand as a solution.

    Social media programs centered around customer engagement might focus more on creating an experience for customers through content, tools, peer networking or special programs that allow them to contribute and be recognized.

    An example would be a coordinated effort to connect industry professionals within a specific vertical market with a brand that offers a solution. The brand might create a community or forum with a blog component to publish useful information and industry news. That hub can then be surrounded by a Facebook fan page, Twitter, LinkedIn participation and a YouTube channel – all providing useful content that demonstrates effective use of the kind of solution offered by the brand and linking back to the hub. Community discussions are inspired by brand moderators and as the community grows, strong voices emerge and are recognized and empowered.

    Content is created within the community as questions are asked and answered fueling the ongoing social content strategy for public information hosted on the blog and the outposts. The goals of such a program would be to create a destination of information that educates, informs and engages the target customer in a way that leads them to the logical conclusion to buy or refer the brand.

    Social Media for customer engagement is to build awareness, trust and often results in higher value per sale, shorter sales cycles, more referrals and better customer retention on top of industry news and blog coverage.

    Social Media and SEO: There’s a Better Way

    Nothing brings tactical Social Media & Search Engine Optimization together for both discovery and engagement outcomes than content. An effective content marketing strategy coordinates target customer and influencer personas with social content plan and SEO tactics that help brands achieve both goals: improved search engine visibility of website and social content as well as social experiences that foster customer engagement.

    I challenge marketers to stop thinking in silos and do some due diligence with their Search, Social Media and PR agency partners to come up with more elegant solutions to this opportunity. So much effort is wasted by not coordinating SEO, Social Media and Content Marketing together that simply nailing the basics can provide a competitive advantage.

    Or maybe you’ve done this already? How is your business working to coordinate search, social and content marketing? What challenges do you face with inter-departmental coordination? With strategy and implementation? With reporting?

    I’ll be speaking on this very topic at BlogWorld East in New York May 24th and at SES Toronto June 13th with examples of coordinated Social Media, SEO and Content Marketing in action. Hope to see you there.