As the social web becomes more important for online success, I’ve noticed a major flaw within Internet marketing:
Most online content marketers have it wrong.
Or at least partly wrong.
But before you storm off for the pitchforks and torches, let me explain through a quick story:
The Band Promoter
A few years ago, my roommate at the time was obsessed with a band. He owned all their albums and memorized the lyrics to every song.
When that band’s new CD came out, he let everyone know. Of the people he made listen to the tracks, they often would buy the album.
Of the people he simply told about the new album, they normally would give a warm smile and kindly tell him they’d check it out later. Some did. But most others clearly didn’t care whatsoever.
After watching him talk about this new CD for months I could tell he didn’t understand why people weren’t rushing to the record store on his verbal recommendation.
That was until he found out the band was coming to play in our city. With renewed vigor, he eagerly signed up to be a promoter.
A week later, (and much to my dismay), the main room was packed with signs, banners, and other marketing material the band’s record label sent him to help promote the concert. He was ecstatic!
After a day or two of covering the college campus with the concert signs, something remarkable happened. People who once could care less about that band became interested.
How did this happen?
Easy. The band relied on their marketing team to create buzz. Not my roommate.
My roommate was no salesperson, as witnessed from his futile attempts to get his friends to buy their album.
The record label assumed this. And they especially didn’t expect the fans to create effective flyers to fill the seats.
They gave their fans the marketing collateral necessary to become effective promoters.
Your Audience as Promoters
Now back to my bold statement about most online content marketers and how they have the system partly wrong.
The general wisdom is that by creating great, high-value content, it will be shared with others. But this logic is missing an essential piece of the promotion pie.
Effective content marketers, e.g. great bloggers, not only create high-value content that demands others to share it.
They assume the person sharing it is not a salesperson.
Optimizing for Social Sharing
Just as my old roommate couldn’t convince others to buy his favorite band’s album, you mustn’t assume your website’s visitor has any skills to promote your post beyond clicking share.
Instead, you must take control of how the tweet, +1, like, or share outputs on the user’s social network feed.
The more attractive the link looks on the social network, the more likely their friends and followers will click it.
But how do you do this?
It starts with understanding what happens when someone clicks a social network’s share button. (I’m assuming you have share buttons already installed on the page)
Depending on the social network, a few things are generically pulled from the backend of the web page: the title tag, the meta description, and an image.
Caveat: Specific social networks may require your site’s coding to include additional tweaks, I’ll mention them shortly.
No longer is the title tag only an SEO-thing. It’s now the main show of all social sharing.
The title tag is used by default for the clickable link of a Facebook share, a Google +1, a LinkedIn share, and pretty much every other social network. It’s even more important for Twitter, as their button uses only the title tag for the main text of the tweet.
Therefore, your title tag must be well thought out.
Don’t be cute. Be compelling.
“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”
~ David Ogilvy
Also, keep in mind most content management systems will automatically create the title tag from the headline. But if you use WordPress, I highly recommend you use an SEO plugin or a premium template with SEO features because you will have the ability to choose specifically what your title tag outputs.
For instance, some websites include a lot of excess information in their title tag such as the site name, tagline, blog post category, date, etc. which looks messy and cluttered when trying to share. But by only outputting an attractive headline, your sharers will be much more effective as promoters.
And one more thing about the title tag. The length from an SEO viewpoint must be less than 70 characters. This is a best practice. But there may come times when more characters are needed while optimizing for social sharing. If so, remember to place your targeted keywords early in the title tag for SEO purposes.
From an SEO perspective, the meta description is the details below the title tag in your search engine result.
But from a social sharing standpoint, the meta description is the additional information that shows up when someone shares the web page on most social networks.
Which means that by using the meta description wisely, you have space for a few more sentences to pull the reader into your content.
However, one important consideration to be aware of is Google’s search result page limits the length to 150 characters at most. But as I mentioned for the title tag, I wouldn’t let the limitation hold you back. Use whatever makes the link as enticing as possible while keeping the best stuff up front so searchers see it too.
A picture. Believe it or not, this is the best kept secret ingredient of great content marketers.
And will often make or break the success of a shared link in Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Reddit… the list goes on and on. Because except Twitter, almost all other social networks allow the sharer to include a picture.
With your link competing with hundreds of other status updates and posts in a person’s news feed, an amazing picture may be all that is needed to catch someone’s eye.
But the picture must be spectacular.
Therefore, when crafting your page or post, it’s an extremely valuable use of your time to search for the perfect picture.
And while you can always go buy some generic stock photo, my goto source for interesting photos is the Creative Commons search on Flickr.
There are some wonderful pictures on Flickr that only require attribution for their use.
However, if you have multiple images on the page, be sure to include this attractive picture on the top of the post. Mainly because the social network will often default to the first scanned picture of the page.
Specific Social Network Tweaks
Want even more control over what happens when someone shares your page?
Luckily, there are some great network specific tweaks to take into consideration.
Facebook’s generic Like button on web pages isn’t very helpful. Because oftentimes it won’t pull additional information from the page, such as the picture. Which defeats the marketing purpose of selecting a great photo.
Therefore, when someone hits Like on your website, it shows up in that person’s news feed as a text link. Which is pretty boring and will rarely catch someone’s eye.
A quick fix to this problem is to use the Facebook Share button instead. Which is the exact same concept of copying the URL and pasting it in Facebook’s Update Status box.
But the Share button is no longer supported by Facebook.
Facebook instead tells developers to use the Like button with their Open Graph system.
The Open Graph Protocol is a set of coding that you install into the website to delegate what web page pieces goes where when someone hits the Like button.
Unfortunately, it’s much easier said than done. So you may need to hire a smart web dude to help you implement the code. 🙂
But once it is installed, your Facebook Likes will be extremely attractive and will gain much better traction on your audience’s News Feeds.
Besides understanding that the title tag is most likely what will be used for the text when someone hits Tweet, there aren’t too many coding tricks.
But there is one thing to consider. If you are heavily reliant on Twitter for your marketing campaign, you can include Twitter-only mark-up, i.e. hashtags and @replies.
For instance, if your blog post is referencing a certain Twitter Chat, include the hashtag in you title tag. By doing so, whenever anyone shares the post, their Twitter followers will be exposed to the hashtag link. Magic!
Love it or hate it, we must consider Google+ a dominant player in the content sharing arena. But the nice thing is its sharing system is extremely similar to Facebook, meaning the web page includes the title, description, and an image.
However, while not as cumbersome as Facebook’s Open Graph, Google uses custom code to decide how the page will output when shared.
Again, the installation of this may require a little external web coding help. But it’s worth it to ensure proper sharing output.
You’ll drive yourself crazy if you worry about the hundreds of other social sharing services out there.
So unless you heavily rely on a certain social network for web traffic, by doing the above steps you’ll have the foundation set for most sites, such as LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, Reddit, etc. because they take the default info from the website.
A Sea of Promoters
As you go forward with your content marketing, remember that my old roommate wasn’t a marketer, and neither are your readers.
You cannot rely on your Twitter followers to create a witty title when tweeting your post. Or assume they will include a wonderful introduction when sharing your website on Facebook.
By consciously attending to each portion of how your post will be displayed when someone hits share, you will gain much more traffic from your audience’s social networks. Good luck!
Bradley is Co-Founder of New Methods. A project to help entrepreneurs take the leap into 21st Century business. And he has launched a digital nomad blog teaching others how to create a lifestyle designed for travel. You can connect with him on Twitter or Facebook.
Photo Credit: marfis75