Rand Fishkin recently wrote about this topic for SEOmoz, and it inspired a fair bit of discussion. Let’s approach this first from the SEO end. If you’re trying to reach an American audience, you’re going to aim for a high ranking in Google. But if your customers live in China, you need a strong ranking in Baidu, not Google.
Something similar applies to spreading the word in social media. As with any form of advertising, you need to reach your customers where they live – or at least, where they hang out. Sure, Facebook and Twitter have many users, and their numbers keep growing. But they’re not alone on the social media landscape.
Just look at the numbers. StumbleUpon sends an amazing amount of outbound traffic – more than Facebook, by some estimates. Reddit gets nearly a billion page views every months. LinkedIn had 85 million users in November, and by now has probably passed the 100 million mark.
If you’re looking strictly at the number of users, you should be cultivating not only Facebook and Twitter, but LinkedIn, YouTube, and even MySpace. Reddit, Flickr, Yelp, and Wikipedia each boast at least 25 million users, while Tumblr, StumbleUpon, DeviantArt, Digg, Delicious and others can each claim at least 10 million users. This doesn’t count up and coming social sites like Posterous, Quora, FourSquare, Dribble, and others.
How do you know where to apply your effort? You need to do your homework. And despite my getting your attention by pointing to the numbers of users of each site, you should be doing more than just a head count. How many of these people are active users? And how many of these users are interested in what you have to offer?
For example, MySpace has been described as a fading social site, but it’s still a great place for music promotion. You’ll want a presence there if that’s your field. If you’re involved in real estate, you will want to research real estate forums. I never even knew these existed until some friends of mine started the research for buying a house. Restaurants, of course, will want to monitor their presence on Yelp, but so will other small businesses. If you’re in the travel industry, you’ll want to be on consumer travel review sites and forums (FlyerTalk may be one possibility among many).
If you’re trying to market your company’s product or service in non-English-speaking countries, you’ll quickly find that Facebook and Twitter are not at the top of the list for social media sites. Leaders in the field might even be sites you’ve never heard of, such as Tuenti and Meneame in Spain. A little research now will pay real dividends down the line, as you prepare your campaign.
I can’t stress enough the importance of knowing your demographic, and the demographics of the social sites you’re thinking of using. A site that is well-loved by twenty-somethings might leave forty-somethings cold, and vice versa. If you’re trying to reach people who love to go on real-life adventures, you’ll probably do better on a site like Alpinaut than one that caters to Call of Duty players.
How you use these sites can be just as important as which ones you use. What you can accomplish with social media marketing might vary with your industry. For example, one person commenting on Fishkin’s article said he has “found that SM…are great at retaining customers” and helping him keep a communication channel open. “But I have not found them any good at acquiring new customers.” Even so, developing customer loyalty in this way is nothing to sneeze at, especially in the current economy.
So, to sum up: be prepared to widen your horizons. Do your research so that you know your customers. Do more research to learn where you can find them. Look beyond Facebook and Twitter; they might have the most traffic currently, but that can and will change – and just because they have the MOST traffic, doesn’t mean they have the BEST traffic for your purposes. Finally, remember that social media marketing isn’t about the hard sell; it’s about reaching and communicating with current and potential customers. But to do that, you need to find the right social media niche. Good luck!