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Go Where The Readers Are: Easy Traffic-Building Tactics

May 21, 2009

With the post-holiday rush behind us, and a new administration ahead of us, I thought it a good time to encourage our friends to review their websites with fresh eyes.

Given the economic climate, and all the hype surrounding the social web – here are two simple recommendations that cost nothing. Which certainly makes your ROI easy to calculate.

While every facet of your websites, from user interface to content relationships, contributes to driving revenue – today we will focus on something simple: easy ways you can start using Twitter and Facebook right now.

So, Why?

Facebook and the micro-blogging sensation Twitter are rapidly growing content-centric social networks, which is in sharp contrast to the contacts orientation of networks like LinkedIn. The demographics are also compelling - as adults 25 years and older make up the majority of users.

Success for the online publisher is typically defined by three metrics: attracting new visitors, getting them to spend more time on your site and encouraging them to return frequently.

The web has been nothing if not an ongoing study in change for audience development professionals. This has never been more evident than in the past six months. What was once firmly outside the business and vertical mainstream has roared into the collective conscious. The emergence of Online Social Connectedness based on content is simply too important for a publisher to ignore.

Traditional Channels Lagging

Just as we have seen direct mail give way to email, and email itself continue to slowly erode as fatigue sets in - we are now seeing an emergence of demand-based marketing and content distribution mechanisms.

Most people initially believed these sites were strictly consumer-based fare, but that has changed dramatically in recent months as businesses and publishers have succeeded by adopting the "go where the readers are" mentality. Here is a simple online test to see if your publication and specific market has any potential of adoption on Twitter.

Tweet, Tweet – It’s Easy to Get Started

Simply use the twitter tracking tool to see if there is activity happening in your markets. Create an account, and then pick any phrase or keyword and you can tell Twitter to keep you informed when any of the millions of Twitter users mention that phrase/keyword.

Most publications outside of the very broad B-to-C players cover a relatively defined market. This specificity is typically accompanied by a unique taxonomy - enabling you to quickly tap into the pulse of a vertical market residing within an expansive group of users. B-to-B publishers: This is where you can level the playing field.

The Twitter user is actively seeking information - as was witnessed during the recent presidential campaign where Team Obama leveraged the instantaneous spread of information to millions – and revolutionized voter turnout efforts.

So what’s a publisher to do? Twitter, Step by Step

Simply assign an editor to post (or “tweet“) what your team is working on. It does not have to be long – in fact, it can’t be. You only have 140 characters to work with.

The most effective tactic is to post regularly – about the stories, topics, people and concepts with which your staff is engaged. If you are breaking some news – get it out there immediately. If it’s a long think piece – post a link with a summary. Of course, your content gating strategy needs to take these tactics into account.

It literally takes just seconds to post – but if you have correctly identified the keywords people are following, you will build audience.

Nowhere is the ability to build audience more evident than on Facebook.

Bricks In The Wall - It’s Worth The Effort

Ready for a staggering statistic? According to the company, if Facebook were a country - it would be the eighth most populous in the world - ahead of Russia, Nigeria and Japan.

If publishers go where the readers are – then hopping aboard the Facebook train would seem a good place to start.

The publishing community is now beginning to experiment, and certainly no one has quite figured Facebook out yet. However, the fact that it is free, you can feed your stickiest content into it, build your brand and create a dialog with your readers and your industry is powerful.

Any content you post on your Publication’s “wall“ instantly appears on your friends’ news feed – which has the net effect of creating a viral content distribution platform. If your content is king, there remains intrinsic value in using it not only as the destination, but also as a marketing tool.

While Twitter is predominantly a one-way messaging experience and Facebook is more about creating a dialog – they both share the benefit of easy vertical penetration. A narrower market actually becomes a benefit as readers gravitate toward more specific areas of interest to define themselves within the system. Again, B-to-B publishers take heed.

Want to make best use of Facebook? For starters, you can treat it much like Twitter – in fact, you can install the Twitter application into Facebook and only have to post once. Your post will appear in both Facebook and Twitter.

With Facebook, you can also post events, information, photos – and anything you want your followers to see. Additionally, you may want to post more interesting content, and begin to build an audience much like Pink Floyd’s nearly 1.1 Million followers, Cosmopolitan Magazine with its nearly 200K followers, or the Economist, with more than 70,000 fans already on Facebook.

Social Networking is certainly a great thing – and publishers should take advantage of it to improve the dialog with their existing readers as well as to find new ones.

However, completely ceding your readers to another site – when many publishers have spent decades and small fortunes building their brand as the vertical destination for their markets - is causing heartburn amongst many.

This definitely requires some thoughtful discussion and new strategies for the publishing market into the coming year.

Rethinking Push-Pull Marketing

Functionally, this means we are beginning to see the consumption of content, specifically short form "burst content" shift from a push basis to a pull basis. How this affects economics remains to be seen, but it does necessitate some thought.

Many publishers have architected their entire online marketing and audience development strategy around pushing information to their prospects and their users. There is a shift of customers now telling you what and how they want their information, and you may not be headed in the same direction. It may be time to re-think how you enable readers/customers/prospects to pull from you - to augment your current push efforts.

What we are really talking about is building relationships between your readers, your brand and your content. The "one-to-many" approach that traditional media has employed is beginning to turn into more of a dyadic conversation - one of the key reasons that the upstart web-based players are such a threat to established media properties.

Welcome to the new, new media.

Thoughts, jeers, comments or topics you would like us to cover? Let me know what you think below.