Friday, June 19, 2009

Social Networking Research On The Open Road

Social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter may be hitting the headlines and are certainly the in thing when it comes to keeping up to date with the daily lives of friends and celebrities. But the value of social networking as a marketing tool for many businesses remains something of a mystery.

If you believe some of the biggest fans of the blogosphere, no self respecting business executive should be without his or her personal blog or twitter to keep the world abreast of their latest ideas, products or services.

But is the investment, particularly in terms of time and effort, paid back in terms of sales or even visits to the blogger's website?

In order to try and shine some light on the issue I recently set up a little experiment to test the effectiveness of blogs and twitters as marketing tools. Admittedly not the most scientific of tests, but it did highlight some interesting trends.

Those who know me will tell you that I'm something of a fanatic when it comes to motorbikes and motorbike racing in particular. For months I had planned to travel to the Moto Grand Prix at Le Mans and decided to provide live updates of the bike trip from my mobile on both a blog and Twitter, and test the commercializing possibilities of the interested traffic to a site providing other MotoGP bike tours.

I then asked friends and contacts, via email, to approach their extended networks to attract users to the two media channels to watch the progress of the five-day trip.

To ensure a fair result, both the blog and the Twitter accounts used were brand new, therefore there was no traffic coming from historical events or profiles. In addition to the blog and Twitter, I also posted updates on my existing Facebook page, this was primarily used to give a benchmark between social media; Facebook being friends that already know me and Twitter who didn't know me previously.

On my return I looked at where the most referrals to the new blog had come from and the findings of the research threw up some interesting results.

Pouring through the statistics it demonstrated how a well constructed blog is important, Google particularly was revisiting the blog several times a day, it appeared that they were listing the content in the search results almost as soon as it went live.

But first things first- I am in dire need of finding a few more friends who are interested in bikes! The levels of interest shown by friends on Facebook only just beat that of strangers on Twitter!

More importantly, over the 5 days the blog acquired over a thousand views, of which Twitter and Facebook combined accounted for 29% of this traffic (Facebook 15% and Twitter 14%). Surprisingly the search engines generated more than twice the number of visitors- a total of 64%.

Out of these visitors 20% were interested enough to pass from the blog to the commercial site
to view other motorbike trips for the future.

Although the results of this simple test are far from conclusive, some interesting trends do seem to emerge- particular for anyone thinking of using social networking as a means to generating business.

First, both Twitter and Facebook could be good for businesses who are operating in a consumer-focussed environment- but only if they have something interesting to say!

However, in a business-to-business (B2B) situation, the advantages are not so clear cut. First many business people are too busy with their day-to-day work to follow Twitters and blogs. Equally the pace of change and having something interesting to say often becomes a hindrance to generating content for their own blogs or Twitters, or even to regularly update their Facebook pages.

What's more, a recently published study by a Harvard team revealed that just 10% of Twitter users generate more than 90% of the content on the Twitter site which remains the preserve of a dedicated few, despite the hype surrounding it.

The results of my own research shows that although social media is a significant contributor to visitor attraction, search engines are still the most significant provider of visitors to blogs.

The fact that 20% of the traffic migrated from the blog, which was not an aggressive sales pitch device, to a commercial site goes to reinforce how useful a blog may prove to commercial sites, especially if it contains regularly updated theme news and information.

This will not only help the blogger to establish themselves as something of a guru in their own particular field but, more importantly boost their website's traffic and search engine ranking.

Overall the internet may by undergoing something of a social revolution but when it comes to online marketing, no one technique should be used in isolation but most significantly search engine optimization remains king!

Visit SEO Sydney for more detail.

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