One of the most profound changes I’ve witnessed on the web, in the past decade, is the rise of social media. Here I share my insight and experience in an effort to help you utilize social media more effectively, or as I always say;
“Use social media; don’t let it use you.”
I’ve been building websites for over twenty years. My first website was created to promote a business I ran selling personal computers. A more recently built site is used in conjunction with a college course I teach on web design. AALBC.com, was started in 1997, and is the most prominent website in its niche.
AALBC.com is also my livelihood, as a result I have to follow trends on the World Wide Web. Over the last 10 years this required me to keep up with social media. I have a presence on all of the major social media platforms and have used them as both; as a regular user, for personal purposes; and for marketing, to help promote AALBC.com.
The graph below, derived from data collected by Google Analytics, shows the top 10 social media platforms that have sent traffic to AALBC.com over the past 10 years.
Over the past 10 years Facebook has made up close to 73% of all the social media traffic AALBC.com receives. Twitter is a distant second at just over 8%.
The bar chart below shows the relative amount of traffic from all social media sites over that past decade, including MySpace and BlackPlanet (remember those sites). Again, Facebook is the leader with Twitter a distant 2nd.
The following graph is most telling; It looks at the top 5 sources of social media traffic to AALBC.com, during the first 6 months of 2016, and how those 5 sources have performed over the past decade.
We see quite clearly that Facebook has always been a much better source of traffic to AALBC.com than any other social media platform, and that dominance has grown dramatically over the last three years.
Given the fact the Facebook is on track to make up 90% of all of my social media traffic for 2016; one might argue that I should invest more time and money on Facebook to grow my presence and increase engagement there. But…
…social media is not the only source of traffic.
While Facebook is projected to be the dominant source of social media traffic this year, it is also projected to be less than 8% of my overall traffic. Over the past 10 years Facebook has only contributed 2% of our site’s overall traffic; and the bulk of that traffic was generated in 2016. Twitter is projected to contribute less than ½ of 1% to our overall traffic this year.
||% Total Traffic
Last 10 Years
|% Total Traffic
|Total All Social Media Sources
Considering that all of my social media activity over the last 10 years has resulted in less than 3% of my overall traffic (ignoring the surge in Facebook traffic in 2016), one can argue that any resources (knowledge, time, and money) allocated to social media marketing would be better utilized in other areas.
This was indeed the conclusion I arrived at in 2015. The table below on looks at the last 3 million visitors to AALBC.com (period ending April 2015) and shows where those visitors came from. The table shows the vast majority of traffic to AALBC.com originated from organic search.
Click Image to Learn More About This Table
Since search is a key source of traffic I decided to spend much less time on social media marketing (SMM) and to work harder on Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Today given Google’s dominance, SEO means making sure your site makes meets Google’s technical standards. As a result, I decided to completely overhaul AALBC.com with SEO in mind. The meant among many other things, optimizing AALBC.com for mobile devices.
It also meant creating the type of content that will rank higher in search results. In my case, it meant concentrating on building quality content that is unique. For a book website, like AALBC.com using the same book descriptions that every other bookseller uses will no longer cut it. I needed come up with a unique take and add value to information about books that is already common elsewhere on the Web and provided by much larger sites including Amazon.com and Google.
I increased my focus on building direct relationships with other sites and creating content that they would like to link to. I also worked to help those sites understand why linking to each other’s sites is important. I’ve noticed that I can get more visitors from a link on another website than I can from a social media website, and with far less effort.
I’ve observed that social media websites work to encourage engagement on their platforms. Facebook, for example, said using their platform for organic reach (people you can reach for free) has been made much more difficult. This is true across the social media landscape.
I’ve watched my engagement on social media decrease despite the fact that my number of fans and followers have increased. All the time and effort I invested in building my presence on social media was wasted, as the rules were changed and social media became pay to play. Of course there is the very real risk these platforms will shut down or change so dramatically that all of work will simply be discarded. I worked to create a substantial presence, and attracted thousands friends, on MySpace; which was all lost as MySpace went through several redesigns.
At the end of 2015 I greatly reduced the time spent on social media for marketing purposes, and I work to ensure what little time I do spend on SMM is utilized as efficiently as possible. Also, I rarely use social media for personal purposes.
In the winter of 2015, I initiated the following 10 tactics as part of my social media marketing strategy
- I don’t pay for promotion on social media (buying ads).
- I don’t actively seek new fans or followers (I welcome them, but you will never hear me say, “follow me on…”
- I don’t post content directly on social media—I only share links, with a brief description, to my website where my content resides.
- I only post a links once. Very popular content will be posted more than once, but this is rare.
- I do control how AALBC.com’s content is shared, by using tools like Facebook’s Debugger Tool.
- I always use images when posting on social media. Links will images are clicked more often.
- I do respond to comments I receive on social media, but I don’t initiate conversations on social media unless there is no alternative.
- I removed all social media applications from my cell phone.
- I do encourage social sharing. I share content on other websites by using the social sharing buttons on their website.
- I engage with others on their websites, not their social platforms, whenever possible.
My social media traffic for the first 6 month of 2016 has already exceeded the traffic I’ve gotten from social media for all of 2015 and all of 2014—combined!
Interestingly, despite greatly reducing my activity on social media, traffic to my website from social media (from Facebook in particular) has increased during the first 6 months of 2016, both as a percentage of my overall traffic and in terms of the number of visitors to the website: social media is a larger portion of a growing pie that is traffic to AALBC.com.
I’ve discovered that building content that appeals to AALBC.com’s visitors, which also meets Google’s technical guidelines, is actually more effective in generating traffic from social media than working to strengthen AALBC.com’s presence on those social media platforms. I guess the old adage applies;
“Content is King.”
Despite all the hype and attention paid to social media, social media has no content of its own. The only content social media has is the content that we give them. Content is indeed king, but it is not free. Both Facebook and Twitter and are now paying for content in an effort to attract new users and increase engagement. On top of that Facebook is also battling a 21% decrease in personal sharing.
Adding AALBC.com’s content to a social media platform enriches the social media site and impoverishes AALBC.com. My strategy of limiting the use of social media to notifying readers about content on AALBC.com, while facilitating sharing of information, has allowed me to invest much more time creating content for AALBC.com and and engaging with readers here.
The effectiveness of this strategy can change tomorrow, but change is the very nature of the World Wide Web. Anyone unable to easily adapt to change would never be able to run a website for more than a few years—certainly not as a business venture.
Back in 2010, I used to be a strong proponent for using social media and even gave workshops on the subject. However, the Web is a very different place in 2016 than it was in 2010 and my tactics and strategies have changed, out of necessity.
There is one constant however, no website can survive without support from visitors—not even Facebook. AALBC.com survives because visitors read and share our content through social media, email, and even word of mouth. Visitors buy books from our website, and authors and publishers purchase advertising or participate in our discussion forums to promote their work. This is the only way we can survive.