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How search can boost your social media campaigns

How search can boost your social media campaigns Vanessa Newkirk

The ways that consumers initiate their digital experiences and engage with brands are evolving. For the last 10 years, search engines reigned supreme as the way users navigated their online travels. But social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are encroaching on the search engines' dominance as an entryway to the internet and brands.

As technology advances and consumers continue to evolve digitally, their online behavior changes -- it's up to marketers to follow suit if they want to reach and engage with their desired consumer base. Marketers must look at ways to integrate and optimize their digital marketing and media mix to reach and engage with consumers while supporting their business goals. This article will explore ways in which the social and search channels can work together to optimize both conversion performance and consumer engagement with your brand.

Social media and SEO: Finding common ground
Social media and search engine optimization (SEO) have competing goals. One aims to pull users to a designated website, while the other enables and encourages conversations and interactions on third-party properties. To unite these two goals, marketers need to find the common ground between the two, which is the content created and shared between marketers and consumers.

Using social media marketing and search engine optimization together enables marketers to capitalize on instances in which social interactions become search queries. In this era of real-time search results, the ability to capture this intersection point is of growing importance. Consider the use of Twitter. Users who follow more than a handful of people (and brands) will likely have difficulty recalling a message or sponsored tweet. In search of information, consumers typically turn to search engines. If you don't have a search engine marketing plan in place to capture the users exposed to your social media efforts, you're missing valuable opportunities.

The beauty of social media is that it inherently creates sound bites and memorable slogans; for example, if you're running a promotion via a social platform, you want to anticipate the keywords consumers are going to use in their queries and build the appropriate website content needed to stay relevant for those search terms.

SEO and SEM: Enhancing synergies
The connections between SEO and paid search are solid. Beyond their proximity in search engine results pages, the two work together to build relevancy for consumer queries. For example, if a consumer is searching for "Brand X Widget Y" and they see both paid and unpaid results, they are reassured that those links relate to their query and will lead them to the most relevant page.

When the two strategies work together, they also provide marketers the opportunity to direct users in a highly targeted manner. Depending on the product or service query, it might make more sense to lead consumers through a higher funnel process page (such as a homepage). In other instances, it might make more sense to send users to a page that enables a deeper product or service experience. Using both paid and organic search strategies together enables marketers to cover all the bases by supporting various approaches in information seeking and/or purchase decisions differently while serving as way to build their SEO reputation in the process.

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SEM and social media: Bridging engagement and performance
Like SEO, SEM is an effective means for extending and complementing social media efforts. Coordinating SEM and social media strategies ensures that marketers are able to capitalize when the buzz generated from various social media platforms drives users to engage with search engines.

Consumer interaction and engagement are at the core of social media, and this is where brand insights and trends can emerge. While search engines are incorporating real-time information from social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, it is important for brand marketers and agencies to examine the consumer-generated content in terms of insights and trends that they can potentially layer into their search (as well as display) media strategies. 

Just as the use of SEO and SEM can help validate a brand, the integration of SEM and social media results can help increase relevancy and validate brand and consumer values by recognizing their interactions in the social sphere and continuing the "relationship" on brand properties. The social space is all about creating brand fans by forging relationships with consumers and providing them with opportunities to engage in more robust ways than more traditional two-dimensional digital media tactics (like paid search and display) can achieve.

The search engine space is about providing relevant results to what the consumer is looking for. Creating bridges between the two strategies based on content data, trends, and insights helps foster post-social-engagement, deepen brand relationships, and facilitate the conversion process.

Putting all the pieces together
Creating a holistic digital media campaign is the ultimate goal, because it allows brands to close the loop between social engagement, which spurs brand affinity and customer retention, and search engine marketing, which is the most common way users start down a conversion path.

Noticing how the various channels affect one another is the critical first path to success. While SEO and social media are structured around long-term strategies, SEM is typically more focused on the short-term conversion-based path.

In strategically viewing and planning these three channels together for both the long- and short-term, marketers and agencies will be able to see gaps and anticipate opportunities to influence results. While integrated strategies are planned in advance of a campaign or initiative, certain levers of paid search and social media can be adjusted "in market" to respond to evolving consumer behavior and preferences. Search and social platforms can be utilized not only to map and respond to trends, but also to reevaluate SEO strategies to ensure performance traction is gained and present at the search engine level. 

What lies ahead for digital media campaigns?
Industry experts are touting 2010 as the year of mobile. With the continued adoption of 3G devices and advances in technology, we see tremendous opportunity for brands to build connection points with consumers on this platform. Social media is proving to be the most readily adopted digital media channel in the mobile space by consumers. It is no surprise that the marketing platforms and extensions for brands are following.

Mobile forum applications like Foursquare show that users are embracing the opportunity to update their profiles or announce their locations to their social followers, so brands should seek to position and integrate the right message at the right time and place (or in the right context).

While other forms of mobile marketing, such as search, are not as widely adopted, people still seek information on the go.  So, while SEO and SEM may be overshadowed by the lure of apps and other slicker forms of mobile advertising, the search components of mobile should be considered part of the overall strategy, just as mobile is an extension of the digital platform.

Vanessa Newkirk is VP of media services for Geary Interactive.

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