The world is all a-buzz right now (at least my corner of the world) about social media marketing and how to make Twitter or Facebook or YouTube or LinkedIn or Digg or Bloopt work for your business. I happen to think that these services—except for Bloopt, which I just made up—CAN work for businesses in a variety of valuable ways: community building, market research, word-of-mouth marketing, and so on. Much of the peripheral benefits have been, or will be, covered here elsewhere, so I won’t go into those now. In this article, I’d like to address the most important part of any company’s social media strategy: the company’s own web site…well, that and Bloopt, of course.

Your web site serves two essential functions in a social media strategy:

  1. content delivery and,
  2. driving traffic toward your goal (whatever that may be).

Numero Uno: Content Delivery

The world of social media is driven by content. Without content flowing into these platforms, people would have nothing to talk about. Original, edited, expert content is best—and businesses are usually best-suited to provide this content because, often, they are rich in experts. Take a local bicycle shop, for example. Cycling enthusiasts stop in to the local bike shop to gab with the friendly owner and technicians about the latest gear and best techniques. Customers show up—and keep coming back—for the community and friendly expertise they find behind the counter. This friendly expertise leads to long-term customer relationships, outstanding word-of-mouth promotion, and the development of a community surrounding the bike shop—none of which would be possible if the bike shop owner clammed up and hid in his or her office all day.

This dynamic also plays out on the web. A company’s web site should offer the same community atmosphere and friendly expertise that is (hopefully) offered to their brick-and-mortar customers. By offering these valuable services, companies can build extremely loyal and talkative communities online that extend well beyond their local area.

For this to happen, of course, the company’s web site must offer quality and valuable content. Even the most impressive social media marketing campaigns that drive hordes of potential customers to a company’s web site will prove futile if that web site’s conversion and retention rates are zero.

Sites are made sticky through a steady stream of quality content.

Numărul Doi: Driving Traffic to Your Goal

Your web site should have a clearly stated goal. That goal could be to sell products, to foster community, to distribute information, to sell advertising space, or to show your mother your latest cat photography. Some of the time, your web will succeed. Some of the time, your web site will fail. (Yes, sometimes even your mother will simply not care about your latest cat photography.) The ratio of successes to failures is measured as your site’s conversion rate. Every site has a conversion rate. Business owners should know—off the top of their heads—their site’s conversion rate.

Me: What’s your site’s conversion rate?
Business Owner: 5%.
Me: POW!

Let’s say the bike shop owner, from above, has had a web site for two years. The site is out-of-date because the former employee who built the site went off to college, and it is now basically a brochure site for folks seeking the shop’s hours and phone number. They do offer their tire pumps for sale online, but the store page is hard to find and out-of-date. As a result, they only sell one tire pump online every month. The conversion rate for the site is 1%.

The bike shop owner decides to make a push into social media to see if he can boost traffic. Six months later—through the wizardry of the shop owner’s friendly expertise, charming personality, and social nature—he’s been able to build a loyal following for the bike shop on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. These social media friends and fans click on the links the shop owner provides that lead back to his web site and, as a result, the bike shop’s web site traffic doubles. Huzzah!

Now, because the shop’s web site hasn’t changed (still old and tired), and the audience that the social media effort is pulling is already made up of well-targeted bicycle enthusiasts, the conversion rate of the site hasn’t changed either—it remains at 1%. Therefore, the doubled traffic results in doubled sales. The bike shop is now selling two tire pumps every month. Double Huzzah!

Satisfied with the new traffic stream for the moment, the bike shop owner decides to turn his attention on his own web site (finally!). One month later the shop owner launches a content-rich web site that offers the same friendly expertise, charming personality, and social nature that made him so popular on the social networks. The newly redesigned site makes site’s goal of selling tire pumps front and center, easy-to-use, and easy-to-find. (Your site’s goals may differ.) Overnight the site’s conversion rate jumps to 5%. The store is now selling ten tire pumps every month! Decuple huzzah!

Conclusion

The main benefit for your business of participating in social media is that you’ll be able to tap into new audiences for your products and can drive new customers to your web site. This new larger audience is great, but it is still subject to the effectiveness of your current web site. Any successful social media strategy must include (preferably first) a long hard look at your current site, as it should be the essential hub of your strategy…along with Bloopt, of course.