Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Explore Social Bookmarking in 11 Questions and Answers

Social bookmarking is often considered the stepchild of social media. To a large extent, this is due to the fact that social bookmarking is not as flashy and hip as a game or a contest and many people don’t understand the benefits of this technique. It’s still an afterthought. However, when used properly and consistently, it can positively impact content consumption and SEO. Here are some things we’ve learned on our social bookmarking journey thanks to David Deans of Cisco Service Provider Marketing who has pioneered this initiative for us. Hey, I’m just one of the people who StumbleUpons David’s (and other) articles. But he is the man behind the scenes who makes this program happen time after time. Find out how he does it.

David, why are you using social bookmarking?
We have two essential goals, and both are related to content consumption. It enables us to attract new followers that are interested in the content that we produce and publish. It also positively impacts our Search Engine Optimization (SEO) objectives, by adding new backlinks to our Preferred Landing Pages (PLPs) and associated content assets on those Web pages.

Why did you get started with social bookmarking? What was your hypothesis?
We primarily were focused on improving the discovery of our content. Web analytics reports exposed that much of our content was rarely being viewed by site visitors. Many of our PLPs were not ranking well in SERPs for common search phrases. Our target stakeholders simply weren’t finding our content. In my experience, a systematic social bookmarking campaign is a key ingredient in a comprehensive plan of action -- to rectify those types of problems.

What platform(s) are you focusing on? Why and how did you pick those?
Primarily, as a team we use StumbleUpon on a regular basis. I also use Business Exchange and I’ve included LinkedIn Group link postings to my bookmarking routine. Our platform selection was based on extensive usage experimentation and then monitoring the results over time. We apply the tools that consistently improve the discovery of our content assets and also contribute to our SEO objectives. Periodically, I’ll try a beta platform to complement our efforts. I’m experimenting with Google Lists and a few other new tools.

How were you using social bookmarking when you started out?
My initial applications were very basic and were all intended to promote a new blog site that I created. I registered on about 15 of the most well known sites (Digg, Delicious, Reddit, etc) and discovered their strengths, and weaknesses. I learned the benefits of making your bookmark list “public” and which platforms didn’t handicap your links with No-Follow tags – which is very important for SEO.

What was the biggest challenge when you got started, and how did you overcome it?
In the beginning I didn’t realize that some platforms were much better at reaching my target stakeholders, than most others. By studying the available analytics reports I was able to identify trends. That experience made me more aware of the need to better monitor the outcome of my activity. Social bookmarking can be a very labor-intensive exercise; that is, until you’re able to focus your efforts on the activities that are proven to deliver the optimal results. I now use bookmarklets and browser plug-ins to save time and increase my productivity.

What challenges are you facing today?
Reporting on the meaningful results of these activities is problematic and incomplete. As an example, we have to aggregate reports from different platforms in order to gain all the insights we need to measure performance – the process is manual and time consuming. Also, I’d like to be able to track stakeholder influence and the resulting impact on sales related activities. That would require a sophisticated closed-loop scenario for data capture, where we can better identify the cause and effect of activities on sales-related outcomes.

How has your use of social bookmarking evolved since you started?
Well, in the beginning I was performing these tasks in isolation – the activity seemed like “busy work” to anyone who wasn’t informed about the inherent value. Now, more members of our team participate, so the positive impact is greater and typically achieved in less time. Of course, demonstrated results has given us the ammunition we needed to increase that overall momentum. That said, we could achieve so much more, if others were actively involved.

What has been the business impact to date?
Our online exposure and stakeholder influence has risen as a direct result of these activities. As an example, StumbleUpon is second only to Twitter in driving new visitors to our Cisco SP360 blog posts – it’s more effective than Facebook. Slowly, but surely, we’re also seeing improvements in SEO results for some of the keyword phrases that we previously identified. The majority of our new visitor traffic continues to come from Google keyword searches, so the fact that our bookmarking has (in aggregate) attracted more than a third of the overall volume is significant progress. We’ve gained many “followers” that have engaged with us and our content assets. Clearly, when we curate and expose the best content for those followers we’re providing a valuable service – that’s very gratifying.

Are there any side benefits of bookmarking that you didn’t anticipate?
Absolutely, there are several. The bookmark lists we create are helpful to our internal constituents – we use our own lists to find content assets quickly. Bookmark click-through results can help you identify trends – regarding the types of content that people are seeking most often. I didn’t expect people to reach out to me and thank us for making it easier to find content that’s of interest to them. I personally found people, that I’ve never met, that share common interests with me -- and so I now chose to follow them.

Did you have any a-ha moments? Something that really surprised you?
At first I was skeptical about the immediacy of the SEO benefits of bookmarking. Most search-savvy web site publishers will tell you that increasing the number of backlinks to their content is a constant challenge. Bookmark lists on public pages will improve your Page-Rank, sometimes I’ve seen results in a matter of weeks. Also, gaining influential followers and having them share your bookmarks (totally unsolicited) with others is a progressive form of content syndication that I hadn’t considered before. We refer to that phenomenon as Exponential Marketing.

If you were to give one piece of advice to marketers looking to get into social bookmarking or already using it, what would that be?
Invest the time to understand the needs of your target audience – the people who potentially will become your loyal followers, via these social bookmarking tools. The tools are merely a means to an end objective – don’t lose sight of that ultimate goal (since this activity can be a distraction if not used wisely).

And the final words of wisdom from David: "Find the time to experiment on a few new beta platforms – in an attempt to learn something new about this rapidly changing field. And, above all else, be prepared to earn the respect of online followers – lead by demonstrating that your ongoing bookmarking activity is worthy of their time and attention."

How are you using social bookmarking today?

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