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The Results of a Decade on Social Media

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.

image002

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.

ranking-top-24-socila-media-over-10-years

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.

top-5-social-media-ver-last-10-years

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
2016 (projected)
Facebook 2.07% 7.76%
Twitter 0.24% 0.48%
Pinterest 0.05% 0.20%
Disqus 0.08% 0.19%
Total All Social Media Sources  2.86% 8.83%

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 read more our last three million visitors

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

  1. I don’t pay for promotion on social media (buying ads).
  2. I don’t actively seek new fans or followers (I welcome them, but you will never hear me say, “follow me on…”
  3. I don’t post content directly on social media—I only share links, with a brief description, to my website where my content resides.
  4. I only post a links once.  Very popular content will be posted more than once, but this is rare.
  5. I do control how AALBC.com’s content is shared, by using tools like Facebook’s Debugger Tool.
  6. I always use images when posting on social media. Links will images are clicked more often.
  7. I do respond to comments I receive on social media, but I don’t initiate conversations on social media unless there is no alternative.
  8. I removed all social media applications from my cell phone.
  9. I do encourage social sharing. I share content on other websites by using the social sharing buttons on their website.
  10. I engage with others on their websites, not their social platforms, whenever possible.

The Results

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.

social-media-icons-2010The 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.


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2016 National Black Writers Conference

Update: March 25, 2016
The Conference’s Complete and final Schedule of Events is Now Available.

Greetings Colleagues,

national-black-writers-conference-2016We are excited about the upcoming 13th National Black Writers Conference. Thank you for your support of the National Black Writers Conference and the Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College. You have witnessed the growth of the National Black Writers Conference and the Center for Black Literature over the years, and we truly appreciate your support as you are aware they both add value to Medgar Evers College, the Brooklyn community, and the general public. Both the Center for Black Literature and the National Black Writers Conference are known nationally and internationally.

Our 13th National Black Writers Conference will be held at Medgar Evers College, from Thursday, March 31 to Sunday, April 3, 2016. Poet laureate Rita Dove is the Honorary Chair for the Conference and we are also honoring Edwidge Danticat, Charles Johnson, Michael Eric Dyson, and Woodie King Jr. I hope that you will attend some of the programs and that you will be able to attend our opening and Awards Program.

Please see the attached press release, as I hope you will be able to offer some coverage of the conference, as well.

You are important to ensuring that the public knows about the value and importance of our work. There are other organizations that focus on promoting African American studies, but we are the only Center for Black Literature in the country still focused on doing this work. We value your support in helping us to realize our mission.

Sincerely,
Clarence V. Reynolds, Director
Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College, CUNY
718-804-8881


Highlights from the National Black Writers Conference Include:

publishing-workshop-530

Publishing Workshop: Editing, Marketing, Book Production, and More
Join book industry leaders; Earl Cox, President of Earl Cox & Associates; bestselling author and editor, Carol Taylor; and AALBC.com’s Founder, Troy Johnson, in a workshop on the publishing process.  This workshop will introduce participants to the book publishing process by detailing the path that a book should take from writer’s mind to reader’s hands. (Sunday, April 3, 2016, 12:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.)


news-youth-program

Youth Literacy Program
Award winning children’s book authors, Jerry Craft, Cheryl and Wade Hudson, Denise Patrick and Calvin Ramsey, will meet grade school students and talk about their work. (Thursday, March 31, 2016, 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.)


provocateurs-530

Provocateurs: The Symbiotic Relationship Between Photographers & Writers Photography
This group show features the work of, Laylah Amatullah Barrayn, Rachel Eliza Griffiths and Marcia E. Wilson. The purpose of the exhibit “Provocateurs” is to present the linkage writers of African descent and their photographer counterparts share in rendering the Black experience and historical narratives.  The opening reception will be held Monday, March 28, 2016 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.


To learn about other major events, coming up this year, visit our events page.

Serious Problems With Facebook Promotion

Writers, if you are using Facebook to promote your work—especially paid promotion— invest 30 minutes of your time to watch these two videos, and read the article.  It will probably change the way you think about Facebook and save you some time, energy, and money.

 

AALBC.com’s Last 3 Million Visitors

As a content publisher, marketing is part of the job.  As an independent publisher, with limited resources, it is critical I use my resources wisely.  My website’s analytics is an important tool for me. Below is a Google Analytics report which shows the source of AALBC.com’s last 3 million visitors.   last-3000000-visitors

Organic Search Brings AALBC.com 75% of Our Visitors

Ranking high on Google and Bing’s search engine results contributed to bringing AALBC.com more than 75% of our last 3 million visitors.

Creating high quality content, results in higher rankings in search engine results¹. The creation of high quality content is perfectly aligned with AALBC.com’s goal.  No writer or content producer could reasonably argue against a system where the creation of higher quality content results in more visitors.  Visitors, of course, are a primary driver of revenue for a website.

Direct Traffic is Not Too Shabby Either at 13%

The source of our direct traffic is trickier to nail down precisely, but it does result from visitors who come to AALBC.com, by clicking a link on my emailed newsletter, through a bookmarked page, typing an AALBC.com page directly into the browser, and any instance where referral data is not passed².

With all the hype surrounding social media, and Facebook in particular, many writers are ignoring time tested marketing techniques, like a solid mailing list.  Our mailing list has just under 11,000 subscribers, and 100% of them have opened an email within the last 6 months (we actively remove subscribers who haven’t).  Open rates for a typical mailing is at least 20%. This means every mailing will be opened by at least 2,000 readers.  In addition, many of our subscribers are generous enough to be paid subscribers. We also send a mailing, once a month, that is sponsored.  Not only is our eNewsletter an effective way to reach our audience, it is a revenue generator.

Approximately 90% of our traffic is generated directly and through organic search.  The remaining 10% comes from other websites including social media.

Facebook Brings AALBC.com 1% of Our Visitors

It is interesting to note that Wikipedia and Rottentomatoes (RT, a film review aggregator website) sends us just about as many visitors as Facebook.

Publishers have the ability to post links back to their websites on related Wikipedia articles. In general this practice is considered “promotion” and is purportedly against Wikipedia’s guidelines.  Despite that, I’ve followed the lead of major corporations and posted links back to related AALBC.com content.  As the report shows the tactic works as well as engaging on Facebook, but with a fraction of the effort.

Side Bar: I actually stopped posting on Wikipedia over a year ago; the last straw was a battle I had with one of Wikipedia’s editors who seemed hell bent on promoting Zane’s tax liabilities and marginalizing her numerous achievements.

I post interesting AALBC.com content on Facebook almost every day (I’ve shared this article on Facebook too). Again, Wikipedia, where I have not posted a thing in over a year and is free, drives as much traffic as Facebook where I post almost every day and have paid for promotion.

If I add Facebook mobile, Facebook made up just 1.3% of my overall traffic (40K of 3M+ visitors). Of course it is better to have those visitors than not, right?  Well that depends on the effort it takes to get those visitors, and what those visitors do when they visit AALBC.com.

Facebook Zero: Considering Life After the Demise of Organic Reach³

Facebook Zero: Considering Life After the Demise of Organic Reach

One major problem with Facebook is that the quality of your content is of little significance. Facebook controls who sees your content. Search engines control who sees your content too, but search engines are motivated, and rewarded, by giving visitors quality search results.  Facebook, on the other hand, is motivated by maximizing their revenue and engagement on their website.

I have watched AALBC.com’s Facebook page “likes” quadruple over the last couple of years, while organic (free) post engagement has dropped substantially.  This is Facebook’s way to create an incentive for marketers to pay for post promotion.  I have experimented with paying for post promotion, but I have yet to reach the level of engagement I enjoyed organically, a few years ago, with far fewer fans.

facebook-boosted-post

AALBC.com Last (and Final) Promoted Post Statistics

Despite having more than 20,000 fans and almost 5,000 friends, I reach less than 300 people organically with a typical post.  If I spend $7, I can increase this to 2,000.  But still, this is less than 10% of my fan base and I have to pay to reach them.

Keep in mind this is an audience that I built through my efforts of actively engaging with people on Facebook.

Again, I used to achieve this level of reach without having to pay for it. But those days are over as Facebook has made it clear that organic reach is a thing of the past³ .

And of course all of this assumes you can trust the data the information being provided to you from Facebook.  As the videos above assert there is a lot of click fraud occurring on Facebook.  Are the 2,310 people I paid to see my ad real?  Are the 19 who clicked the link real?  If you ask me, I’d say, “no.”

Take a look at a report (below) which shows the “people” who clicked on my Facebook advertisement. The ad ran for 7 days, from October 1 to October 7, 2015. You will see that the Avg. Session Duration is 00:00:00—this is ZERO time spent on the website!  Whatever clicked the link on my Facebook advertisement didn’t even wait for the page to load.  Needless to say, my content could not have possibly been read, nor could a book purchase have taken place.

The average session time for my websites is measured, not in seconds, but minutes.  A zero second session time is absurd.  Even someone visiting a page by mistake, will take second or two before realizing it, and leaving the page.

session-refferal

Sadly, there is no shortage of social media marketing “experts” who promise to help you maximize the effectiveness your advertising campaigns on Facebook.

Few of us are sophisticated enough to evaluate the effectiveness of these experts or the effectiveness of a Facebook advertising, particularly when the data supplied by Facebook is suspect.  Indeed, many social media marketers would claim, “We got you 2,310 views for only $7.” When in reality, what I got, in this case, was ripped off.

Someone looking at this report may notice that all of the Facebook referrals came from mobile users (m.faceboo.com/) and claim, well Troy your website, AALBC.com, is not optimized for mobile displays.  That is true, but the page I was advertising is optimized for mobile displays.  In fact the link is to a newly redesigned version of AALBC.com which will be officially rolled out in early 2016.

For writers and other content producers managing their own websites, with limited resources, adding the additional effort of maintaining a Facebook page comes at the expense of maintaining and publishing content on your own website.  A compromise that few of us can really afford to make.  That $7, I wasted with Facebook, could have gone toward paying a writer for content that a reader visiting my website would enjoy, and that another website link to.

Why would I continue to take precious resources away from the production of quality content on AALBC.com, which is responsible for 90% of our visitors, and generates revenue, and redirect those resources to Facebook, who we have to pay, to bring of 1% of our visitors, many of whom are probably fraudulent?

On top of that, by promoting posts (a form of advertising on Facebook), I’m literally paying Facebook to provide them with free content.  Continuing to do this defies all reason and logic, so I have stopped.

As mentioned in the first video above, the YouTube social network pays content producers for publishing videos on their platform.  This is the way it is supposed to work. Facebook should be paying us for publishing content on their websites.

Independent Websites Send More Visitors to AALBC.com Than All of Social Media

otherwebsites-linking-to-aalbcIf you were able to scan further down the list of the sources of AALBC.com last 3 million visitors, you would to see the impact of other websites.  If all of the visitors, from hundreds of others sites, that link to AALBC.com were added together they easily exceed all of social media referrals—not just Facebook!  Here is a google search showing other sites with links to AALBC.com, excluding Facebook and Twitter.

Individually, none of these sites (see a short sample listing on the right) are sending as much traffic to AALBC.com, as Facebook, but collectively they send much more—and therein lies our potential.  We just need to recognize the power we have and use it.

Often, the only effort on my part, to get another website to link to AALBC.com, is to publish content that the website’s owner feels is valuable enough to link to.  AALBC.com links to thousands of other websites; rarely do we publish a document that does not link to another website.  Sites linking to each other naturally (organically) is the true nature of the World Wide Web.

Another strategy get referral traffic from other websites is to engage on their discussion forums or comment on their articles.  To be clear, I’m not saying spam the comments section of websites with unrelated promotional material. What I am saying is look for articles related to what you may have written and comment in a meaningful or helpful way. A properly curated and managed site, welcomes this type of interaction.

There are websites however that don’t recognize our collective strength and actively avoid linking to other websites. Once I ran into a problem with Ebony Magazine, posting in their comments, and got my feeling hurt 😉  But websites that react the way Ebony are exceptions and definitely not the rule.

AALBC.com has operated a discussion forum for over 15 years. Authors are encouraged to post information about their books  and engage with readers. However, author have turned to my Facebook page instead of using my website.  I’m seriously considering removing the Facebook page as it is cannibalizing visitors to AALBC.com.

Posting information about one’s books on related Facebook pages or another user’s wall is a strategy many use.  This has resulted in many groups degenerating into a places where writers make “drive by posts,” sharing content from their own pages without even visiting the groups that they are posting to.

Even if many people engage with your content on Facebook, this serves to highlight Facebook’s site, not yours.  A very small fraction of people will actually leave Facebook—and why should they if you are constantly posting on Facebook.

Unfortunately, a Facebook page is becoming the ONLY web presence for many writers and even businesses—they don’t maintain a website at all.  Even a simple website is far more feature rich than a Facebook page can be.  If we factored in Facebook’s invasion of our privacy, selling our personal data, and controlling access to updates; the choice between a Facebook page and a website should be a no-brainer.

If this trend continues the world wide web will be a far less rich place as folks migrate from maintaining websites to creating Facebook pages. Profits generated on the web will be concentrated at the top, greatly reducing the potential for independent websites to grow and for new ones to get started.

For a content producer having a Facebook page as your only web presence is a mistake. Because you are limiting your audience, not just to Facebook users, but to the Facebook users (real or otherwise) you pay Facebook to show it to.

Many writers will tell readers to “follow me on Facebook” and fail to mention their own website, or blog.  Some writers even put the Facebook logo on their business card and marketing material.  Even AALBC.com has Facebook icons on virtually every page.  We give no other entity, save Twitter, as much free promotion as we give Facebook.

All of this attention paid to Facebook reduces attention paid to websites.  In fact many excellent writers, have just given up blogging, or their blogs languish in obscurity, because they not getting enough visitors to make it worth the effort to maintain.  Engaging more aggressively on Facebook, to increase blog readership, is not helping.

The Facebook Game is Rigged

Some might suggest that if you are only getting 1% of your traffic from Facebook, then you must be doing something wrong.  Well you are not.  The game is simply rigged against you as I hope my reports, these videos, and perhaps your personal experience has demonstrated.

Now if Facebook was sending AALBC.com thousands of visitors, who spent time on the website, this article would not have been written.  If there were countless stories of bloggers, magazines, newspapers and writers who realized tremendous success and an increase of readership through their efforts on Facebook, this article would not be necessary.

Instead what I’m experiencing, witnessing and learning in my research is a very different story. It is also a story that is not being told, especially in the Black community.

There is Hope

AALBC.com’s time, energy and money will continue to be directed to two primary activities moving forward;

  1. Producing Quality Content
    I first started AALBC.com exactly 18 years ago today (October 10, 1997).  Providing a platform to connecting readers with books about Black culture is what attracts people to this website. Our planned website upgrade will allow us to share information on books in a way that no other website is currently doing.
  2. Advocating, Sharing , and Collaborating with Other Independent Websites
    Spread the word about websites you enjoy.  Figure out ways to collaborate with other websites.  Post comments in the comments section of those websites. If we don’t have an network of strong, independent websites working together, none of us will survive, and our only option will be a Facebook page (or a page on whatever platform has the most power at the time).

    Despite all the caution described about Facebook, we can, for now at least, make Facebook work for us, rather than the other way around, without spending a penny, by simply sharing content on the platform.

If you found this message helpful (or not), please comment below and share it with others.

Notes:

¹ Of course this is a simplification.  There are other strategies one can employ to rank higher in organic search engine results, without producing high quality content.  Search engines are engaged in a constant effort to defeat those that “game” the system, to rank higher in search results, with lower quality content.  Search engines don’t always get it right, but it is a very difficult task.

² I really should take advantage of tagging URLs.  This will help me identify of the “Direct” traffic in my analytics reports. In fact, I’m also contemplating paying writers by the traffic they help generate to the website, through the use of tracked URLs.

³ In 2012, Facebook famously restricted organic reach of content published from brand pages to about 16 percent. In December 2013, another round of changes reduced it even more.  By February 2014, according to a Social@Ogilvy analysis of more than 100 brand pages, organic reach hovered at 6 percent, a decline of 49 percent from peak levels in October. (All of the detailed data, analysis and practical recommendations are in their white paper.)