Top 10 social media misconceptions

Last month, I enumerated 11 steps marketers can take to get more out of organic search. The article underscored the importance of doing a lot of little things well rather than going for a single big win. As I've written previously, accounting for social media as part of those steps is increasingly vital for brands looking to put their best feet forward in an ever-widening sea of information. At the same time, however, all of the recent attention on social media has generated its share of misinformation. Following are clarifications on 10 common misperceptions about how social media functions, with corresponding implications for your search marketing campaign.

Misconception #1: Social media campaigns are all about getting a Facebook profile and a Myspace page.
Although the two leading (and most talked about) social networking sites should not be ignored, they are not necessarily the best and only options for your brand. Depending on your objectives and the nature of your business, you may able to get more mileage from submissions to image sites like Flickr, Fotki and 23, as well as video sites like YouTube, Break and Metacafe. Article-sharing sites like Digg and can give your company news and press releases longer legs. And as I've noted, a Wikipedia entry can and may be the first piece of information a user reads about your brand due to the fact that Wikipedia entries typically rank very high on search engine results pages.

Misconception #2: Social media sites produce poor-quality traffic.
Reality: The quality of traffic is heavily dependent on how you plan your social media optimization (SMO) campaign. The simple fact is that targeting the right audience will result in better-quality traffic.

Misconception #3: You can repurpose existing site content like press releases for your social media site submissions.
Reality: Although press release optimization is one of the many small steps involved in getting more from SEO, with social media -- particularly news-related communities -- you're better off writing a timely (and even quirky) piece with an attention-grabbing title (e.g. "Top 10 worst holiday destinations for 2008") and short, snappy points for the content.

Misconception #4: Getting diggs requires working through "power users."
Reality: You can become a respected expert in your market yourself (and hence a trusted resource for the community) depending on how actively you participate. Just don't expect it to happen overnight. If you plan to actively use a site like Digg to spread the word about your brand, start laying the groundwork well in advance.

Misconception #5: Getting on the first page of a site like Digg is all about luck.
Reality: Although there is no way to guarantee your submissions will achieve prominence on an article-sharing site, you can take steps to help ensure better results. Part of laying the groundwork (see #4 above) involves submitting articles, commenting on posts made by others and developing a strong network of friends in the community. When and if you become a trusted, respected member of that community, you increase your chances of having an article voted on by others.

Misconception #6: It's possible to maintain control over all social media activities related to your brand.
Reality: If you choose to go down the path toward social media engagement, you have to be prepared for loss of control. If you can accept that the conversations people will have about your brand will mix the negative in with the positive, you're in a good position to benefit from the data you'll get about your brand and product offerings. Think of it as unaided, unfiltered consumer research.
Misconception #7: All brands can benefit from SMO.
Reality: Most companies can find some reason for engaging with social media, but the why is more important than the what. In other words, make sure you have clear business reasons for undertaking an SMO campaign. The fact that "everyone is talking about it" is not sufficient, nor does it justify a rush into uncertain territory. Successful social media engagements require careful consideration and planning (including laying some of the foundations described above). If you don't tolerate uncertainty well, social media campaigns may not be for you; don't try to squeeze a square peg into a round hole. Above all, remember that any social media campaign needs to be engaging. Unless you can offer people something -- in terms of entertainment, information or utility -- there's little point in moving ahead.

Misconception #8: Measuring the impact of SMO is impossible.
By configuring your web analytics package to track traffic referrals, you can measure the impact of your SMO efforts. Using one of the many available brand monitoring services (prominent examples include BuzzMetrics, Radian6 and Biz360) can help you measure the level of activity on blogs and forums and attach a sentiment score for the conversations taking place about your brand.

Misconception #9: SMO and SEO are separate and distinct.
Reality: Both SMO and SEO can be highly effective at steering people to your website, but you should think of SMO as a tactic that's part of your overall SEO campaign. SMO will help to boost your brand's visibility online and can also play an important role in your link-building strategy. Try to exploit the synergies between SEO and SMO to strengthen your overall campaign.

Misconception #10: 70 percent of front-page diggs were submitted by people using their left hand.
Reality: Evidence strongly suggests that 95 percent come from people using their right hand.

OK, this last point may or may not be true, but the fact is that a "top 10" list will yield better results in social media than a "top nine" list -- so plan accordingly.

Noah Elkin is vice president of corporate strategy for international search-inspired digital agency Steak.