There's been a lot of hype over the last couple of months about all of these new social networking sites and their "Web 2.0 features". Search industry professionals are even coining phrases to categorize this new area of the Search Marketing Industry. Terms like "Social Media Optimization" (SMO) and Social Media Marketing (SMM) are being offered up to describe the actions of optimizing and marketing websites and blogs through the social networks like MySpace, Facebook, social news sites like Digg and Reddit and also social book-marking sites like De.licio.us, Furl, Bluedot and Diigo.
There's been a lot of discussion about the value of optimizing for these new areas of the web, some are even questioning if they belong lumped into search at all. Then there is the whole discussion of the value of these networks and services, and how do you measure their worth?
Unlike paid search (PPC), with social networking, most of the time, there isn't a direct correlation with a visit to purchase ratio. PPC is more of the instantaneous type of marketing - I put up the ad, and within an hour or two I can start to see results. Social networking doesn't have that advantage, as you have to wait for others within the network to find it and "pass it along".
Social networking works more like natural search optimization - although, there can be an initial short lived "bang" from some of the sites, for example something picked up by Digg or Reddit. But where I see the benefits of these sites is the long-tail. At first I was rather skeptical of Social Bookmarking, but as an experiment I started bookmarking entries on Search Marketing Gurus just to test out the services and see how they perform.
On a consistent basis, I'm seeing older posts get hits from the book-marking services through the searches, in a sense it is like the users of the book-marking services are utilizing it more as a 2nd tier type of search engine, relying more on what other people have found "worthy" or "relevant" to bookmark and finding articles, websites and information that more fit their searches.
Along with the older blog entries getting more traffic, there has been two other things I noticed. Visitors coming through the social book-marking services have a longer stay time on the blog. The visitors also traverse more of Search Marketing Gurus, than searchers coming through regular search engines. Granted, this is just in the beginning stages, but its enough to make it stand out through the analytics and the other item to note is that this is a blog - not a commerce site.
So what's the value of social media marketing? Perhaps there is more value to websites that have a lot of consumer generated content - like blogs, or commerce sites with blogs attached, than just the static website that hardly changes. Return on Blog (ROB) investment is a little more difficult to track compared to the ROI on a PPC campaign. Generally there's not a purchase attached to a visit - it's more about branding and engaging your customers and the value comes from the long-tail.