Social Media Too Sweet For Websites

    January 25, 2007
    WebProNews Staff

There’s a reason why every single news article you read today, whether at the New York Times or on an individual blog, has one or more links to submit that article to a social media service – the publisher wants the massive traffic a Digg or a Reddit can deliver.

But like that big bag of sweets collected in a Trick or Treat bag on Halloween, too much of something good may not be good for you in the long term.

Kim Krause Berg’s take on social media and the marketing people do to get it indicates that a slavish devotion to getting Slashdotted or hitting the Popular list may leave a site publisher with the same empty feeling one might get from overindulging on October 31st.

She cited some research on social media performed by SiteLogic’s Matt Bailey on the Digg Effect and other heavy inbound social media traffic. Those visit boosts just don’t translate into real value, according to Bailey:

Social Media provides a “sugar-high” approach to building links, much less an online business. It provides a lot of traffic, very fast. However the vast majority of that traffic is not engaged, rarely stays for more than a few seconds and can sometimes be rude.

Comparatively, good external links provide traffic that will view multiple pages – typically many more than social media traffic.

For a search engine marketer, social media traffic can be a proof that they know how to build quick attention for a site. However, beyond that shot of traffic, what is there to show? For those in the SEO business, there is not much else, traffic sells. For businesses that make their living on and off the web, traffic like this is not helpful.

Without brand reinforcement and conversions, one-off traffic doesn’t have the same value as that which is developed through external site links. Kim noted this correlates with her observations.

Rand Fishkin said on his SEOmoz blog that value exists in social media, and it is far more substantial than the sugar high Bailey perceived. To Rand, brands can be constructed with tasty linkbait:

Linkbait can build a brand – it built YouTube through the Lazy Sunday video and through their real estate home pricing system. Linkbait can help brands become more popular, like SEOmoz, SearchEngineLand, Shoemoney, Drivl, ArsTechnica, ReadWriteWeb and many others.

Linkbait can help sites and pages rank well at the search engines, by serving as a catalyst for inbound link popularity. Linkbait can even push you in front of the offline media, as has been the case for many folks in the tech world, specifically and folks like the red paperclip guy or the million dollar homepage guy.

Even Rand concedes that social media following linkbaits have limitations, lower conversions and click-through rates among them. Not everyone’s experience with Digg has been of the drive-by variety. Andy Beal commented on Kim’s piece how he has been impacted by Digg:

I’ve been on the homepage of Digg four times now. I agree that they’re rude, rarely stay long and don’t often engage. But, here’s the trend. After each digg effect, my long-term traffic increases. Also, those diggers do tend to come back and often digg you again.

The lesson of the quick sugary rush of social media traffic might not be the short term issue of high traffic and low benefit (i.e. conversions and CTR). It could be a long term effect where Digg users whose comments and references to a site they find on Digg end up building higher quality traffic over time.

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David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.