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Are You Really Ready to Offer Social Media Services?

Many web focused organizations are making moves to provide “social media management services”. While I would normally be the first to applaud entrepreneurial spirit in this undeveloped space, a strong word of caution needs to be aired.

It’s painfully clear to me that many companies simply do not understand the space.

Companies lust for the high margins that successful social media efforts can generate. They infatuate themselves with backlinks, page views and opportunities to score major ad revenue. Sadly, they fail to understand just how organic the space has become. While they were drooling away in their daydreams, fantasizing about easy returns and low budget efforts — the communities that they hoped to exploit grew larger, smarter and more fickle.

In fear that I’ve already lost you — let me be painfully clear. A half-assed, hands-off approach to social media services will result in failure. Now that you’ve been warned, read on. My goal here is to agitate you enough to become better at what you do.

Web communities are dependent upon the contributions of their strongest members. That fact is something that simply rubs these businesses the wrong way. Why? Because they’re lazy, lack the ability to be unique and are genuinely uninterested in the communities themselves.

That is why I love that most social media management companies. They’re painfully obvious and awkward, sticking out like a sore thumb to anyone reading their work.

The things is — I love user generated comment as much as the next guy. I love that “social media” opportunities exist in our niche industry. What I don’t love is that people are always looking to game the systems in a manner to fatten their wallets, and do so while costing the experience for everyone involved. (I hate the buzzword of “social media” too, but that’s another rant for another time.)

Social Media Requires Outside Participation
This is a really tough concept to grasp, so I’ll go slowly here. Communities require active participation beyond your contacts. In other words, the communities that you are spamming sharing links with are actually deeper than the people you’ve chosen to exploit befriend.

Here’s the truth though. If you plan to be successful on anything more than a one-shot approach to social media, you need to learn about the community. The “community” is more than just the people, names and avatars you see. In this sense, the community refers to the types of items submitted, the votes (and vote downs) that take place, the trendy topics and sources for information, etc. An online community mimics the same actions that an offline community will. In other words, make sure you’re not a social outcast. It sort of prevents your ability to fit in.

While that really shouldn’t come as any sort of surprise — some people (those looking to profit from these places) just don’t get it.

If there is one thing that I despise, it’s coming back from a meeting to see that my computer has taken inventory of everyone else’s crap submissions. Every time someone sends me a page to Stumble, a shout to Digg, etc. — my day gets progressively worse. Why? Because I’m suddenly in a morale battle with myself. Do I tell my contact that their content is really awful, or, do I try to help them out in their quest to pollute the community?

I normally take the third option… by ignoring it. It’s a lot easier for me not to react than to jeopardize a contact or my reputation on an otherwise valuable network. The good thing is, this allows the rest of the community to already weigh in and judge the content for itself. Which, is sort of the point.

Shadow the Successful Community Leaders
With that rant out of the way, I need to admit that there are some insanely successful people in this space. Brent Csutoras, Chris Winfield and Brendan Picha have all given me some solid advice or examples of their work and accomplishments. There are many others too, like some of those presenting and covering SMX Social this week in Long Beach.

For the most part though, these people are not out there trying to market social media solutions to everyone willing to listen. Based only on what I’m seeing, they’re working for themselves, in controlled environments and for the best interest of their roles and communities that they participate in. They’re not out there, posting the same video on a dozen different sites, hoping that one of them will stick with users.

While I would love to say that I could replicate their efforts and be successful — I’m a realist. They have taken the time to embed themselves deep enough into these communities to to reap the rewards. I, like many of these aspiring organizations, have not invested enough to make it happen.

If you’re serious about learning the intricate ways in which the most popular communities work, you need to shadow the most successful in the space. Amazing piece of advice, right? Sadly, the perception is that you can just go to these communities and locate the key players. No dice. You need to commit the time into following the most popular people in various categories and groups. From there, the key players will emerge. Learn what they do, when and where they contribute, who follows them, who comments (positively and negatively) on their work, etc. All of this information will begin to teach you how to truly understand a growing social community.

At the end of the day though, you should feel overwhelmed. If you’re not, you probably haven’t taken enough information in.

Whether you’re link baiting or pushing viral content out there to the masses — success always comes at a cost. There’s no easy way to get it right but thousands of ways to get it wrong.

The Right People Do Not Fail (or Sellout)
I firmly believe that SEO firms have zero business providing “social media marketing” as a leg of their business. Still, companies are hiring up amateurs for this exact purpose. While I would love to give them my blessing, I just can’t endorse that behavior. It sets the business up to fail, causes reputations to be hurt, and continues to leave an indelible mark on an otherwise recovering SEM industry.

While it may only be my opinion, these social media wannabes are ruining the space. They’re polluting dozens of UGC-based networks with the same crappy content. They ruin it for the users and they’re forcing the sites themselves to make changes that upset the natural balance and flow. (Case in point: Digg’s Algorithm change.)

Ironically, there are people out there who could provide these services. The main reason they’re able to do this is because they tend to be relentless, and they’re not about to sell out. t It’s pretty obvious by now that failure within social communities comes when you fail to understand the audience, the preferences and the intricacies communication and participation.

Yet every day, thousands of items are posted on networks like Digg, only to be buried just as quickly as they appeared.

Always Seek Feedback
For most of us, viral content presents a challenge. Posting an item on content aggregation sites rarely goes popular, right? Well, believe it or not — the right people not only get serious traffic, votes and attention… they actually score front page (popular, hot, whatever…) status the majority of the time.

Will some of the efforts initiated by these all stars fail to make a big splash? Of course. Those that are successful in the space though take the time to find out why something didn’t stick with the community. Effectively researching and learning from a failed experiment though takes time as well as an incredibly analytical mind.

If you take the time to review feedback, then you are in a better position to be successful. Ultimately, you need to seek out the feedback yourself – as it won’t become immediately evident.

Do You Really Hate Social Media Companies?
No way! There are some great companies out there who understand the marketplace and contribute their services without polluting the communities. Many one-off shops are popping up though, claiming to be specialists in this line of Internet marketing. They’re doing so far before they’re ready to do so, and that’s evidenced by the number of people advertising for terms like “social media marketing“.

Bottom line… if you’re serious about growing out a business to focus on social media marketing, do so with the right amount of research in place.

Category Social Media
Are You Really Ready to Offer Social Media Services?

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