The Limitations of Social Media

By on May 27, 2008

Social Media Limitations

I’m an active user of social media, and sites like StumbleUpon, Delicious, and Digg have been incredibly valuable for helping me to grow my blog for almost a year now. Many other bloggers, like me, have seen the power of social media, and it’s very easy to get sucked in and focus the majority of your efforts catering to the social media audience.

While I am certainly an advocate of social media marketing, I also think it is critical to understand the limitations of social media. If your primary goal in blogging is to generate traffic through social media you’ll probably be left with some impressive stats and not much else. Stats alone really don’t mean anything, so it’s important to get what you can out of social media, but rely on a balanced plan for long-term blogging growth.

Social media sites can be a tremendous source of exposure and they’ll help you to build links and indirectly search engine traffic, but the visitors you will get from social media marketing will have some limitations that you’ll need to be prepared for.

Sales

If you’re hoping to drive traffic to your site in attempt to sell a product, social media is not going to be your best source of traffic. The percentage of social media visitors that will buy anything from you will be ridiculously small.

However, this doesn’t mean that social media marketing is a waste of time if you’re trying to sell products. My approach in this situation would be to set up a blog on the site and post articles that would be of interest to those who might actually buy your product, but cater the posts to social media audiences. Don’t try to sell anything to them, just get their attention.

A big hit like this with social media can produce a lot of inbound links to the site, which can help to improve your search engine rankings and indirectly increase your sales.

Ad Clicks

Much like product sales, social media visitors are unlikely to click on ads. If you’re monetizing your website or blog by some type of advertising like AdSense where you’re earning money for each click, you probably will make very little from social media traffic.

This horrendously low click-through rate can actually wind up costing you money because some programs will drop the amount of money you make from each click if your click-through rate goes down. You may want to try a different type of advertising, or remove the ads altogether.

Long-Term Traffic

Most visitors that you get through social media sites will never return. Ultimately, social media is a great source of traffic for a few days, but it will eventually fade away unless you can keep publishing new content that draws results.

Although social media traffic is typically very short-term, there are some powerful long-term results if you have a solid plan. You can use social media as a way to build links to your pages and increase search engine traffic, which is long-term (usually). Additionally, it’s possible to gain subscribers through social media, which will also help to increase your long-term traffic.

Can’t Eliminate the Need for SEO

Social Media Optimization (SMO) should not be a replacement for SEO. The two should work hand-in-hand. Because search engines send targeted traffic and because they tend to be more consistent and stable than social media, you should never ignore the need to maximize your search engine traffic.

Some bloggers get a few thousand visitors per day from social media and maybe a few hundred from search engines, so they spend much more time and energy optimizing for social media. While I do think it is a good idea to target social media, that traffic will often be very fickle. Search engine traffic is generally more stable, so your SEO efforts today could have an impact for years to come.

Can’t Provide Balanced Traffic

Even if you are having some success from a variety of different social media sites, well-balanced traffic is always important. Having balance is critical because many other sources will be more responsive than social media, plus it’s just much safer. Social media traffic can dry up any time, so if you have no balance you will be out of luck. Regardless of what type of traffic you are after, balance will always provide some safety.

It’s Difficult to Convert into Subscribers

The rate at which your visitors will become subscribers will generally be lower with social media, but from my experience it’s not as bad as you might think. All of my best days in terms of gaining new subscribers have been the days when I had a big success with social media. Of course, those are also the days when I had the most traffic to my blog. While your conversion rate my be lower with these visitors, the volume of traffic can still help you to achieve a nice boost in your subscriber count.

If you hope to gain subscribers through social media, you’ll need to give these visitors a very strong reason to subscribe. One of my favorite approaches is to target the same social media sites repeatedly. If visitors see your site consistently in the “popular” section, they’ll start to see that there’s something worth paying attention to.

Another approach that can work very well is to mention an upcoming post on a related topic. Some visitors will subscribe in order to be sure that they don’t miss the post. For a more detailed look at the subject, see my article Gaining Subscribers Through Social Media: Is It Possible?

Social Media Marketing Isn’t an Entire Marketing Plan in Itself

I mentioned earlier that drawing traffic from a balanced variety of sources is ideal. In order to achieve this you’ll need a more complete plan than just using social media. Don’t ignore other priorities like building a search engine friendly website, building links, developing repeat traffic, etc. Social media should be one aspect of the complete marketing plan.

Repeat Traffic is Limited

One of the most difficult things to do with social media is to get visitors to actually come back to your site at some point in the future. Ideally, visitors will become subscribers and regular visitors, but that’s not going to be the case with the majority of your visitors, so you’ll also need to focus on giving visitors a reason to come back for a second visit.

From my experience I’ve found that Delicious is a good site to target if you want to build repeat traffic. As users bookmark your pages they’ll be one step closer to coming back later. One my slower days I usually still have a small, steady flow of visitors from their old bookmarks at Delicious.

It’s not an Easy Fix

Some bloggers and marketers see social media as a way to quickly get a flood of traffic, rather than working hard for a longer time to build that traffic. While it’s true that social media can produce large volumes of traffic much faster than just about any other source, you can’t just submit anything and experience success. In order to have a really popular item with a major social media site you’ll have to out perform thousands of others that are competing for that traffic.

You Can’t Create Positive Results Without Great Content

There are really two basic elements that can lead to success with social media: 1) the content itself, and 2) your network of friends. If you have a large number of friends or contacts that will be willing to vote for your submission (or if you’re willing and able to game the system) it is certainly possible to get loads of traffic to a post that’s not that great.

However, if this is the case the long-term results won’t be there. You won’t get much of an increase in subscribers, repeat traffic, or links. With high quality content you will be able to achieve those things. If you’re going to target social media, take the time to create the best content you possibly can, and the results will follow.

What’s Your Experience?

Do you market your blog with social media? What limitations have you seen?

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About Steven Snell