Cameron Olthuis on the State of Social Media Marketing (Spring 2008)

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Cameron Olthuis is the Founder and CEO of Factive Media. His specialty combines innovative social media marketing with search engine marketing to build large targeted audiences on the Web. He is a frequent speaker at industry events and writes for several respected publications. When Cameron isn’t busy helping clients achieve their online marketing goals, he can usually be found surfing at his local break. Prior to founding Factive Media, Cameron was a Senior Partner at ACS where he was responsible for directing the marketing strategies for both ACS’s clients and their own products. Clients Cameron has worked with range from mid-size to Fortune 50 companies. He can be contacted via email at cameron@factivemedia.com.

SMS: Social media is the buzzword of the day, making online marketers drool and investors open up their wallets. It seems that anything with the word “social” in its name is funded these days, even startups that have no real business model beyond getting funding and being acquired. Do you think the market is in the bubble? Do you foresee a crash or a cooling in the near future?

Cameron: I’m not sure that I’d say I foresee a crash, but at some point there will be a cooling. The Internet is definitely evolving into a more social web, which is good. But there comes a point when enough is enough. The problem with all these social media sites being funded is that there can only be a couple of winners in each vertical. What the founders of these companies don’t realize is that by taking VC money they have to build a much bigger business to become successful and cash out. They would be much better off bootstrapping their business to success. In most cases, you don’t need VC money anymore.

SMS: I’m sure many of our readers are familiar with the public outcry that followed the launch of Facebook’s new advertising platform, Beacon. With Facebook struggling to figure out a way to monetize on its popularity beyond a banner ad system, are we looking at the growing pains of a brand new way to advertise or a poorly thought-out business model?

Cameron: It’s only a matter of time before Facebook figures out a solid business model that sticks. I certainly would not mind having their problem – billions of page views every month and no real solid way to capitalize on them. In my opinion, the hard part is getting those users and the page views in the first place. Facebook will continue tweaking and testing their advertising model and soon enough they will come up with something that’s both a major win for advertisers and good for their users at the same time. I don’t see how they can’t with the amount of user data they have – that is absolute gold.

SMS: A recent survey conducted by Prospero Technologies found an alphabet soup of answers to the question of how companies track ROI from social media marketing campaigns (see table below). Clearly, there is no industry-wide standard on measuring the results of such campaigns. How do you usually measure ROI from social media marketing efforts for your clients?

Cameron: The best way to track the ROI for a social media campaign depends largely on the goals set long before they campaign ever starts. If I were hired by a company to build links through linkbaiting, then it wouldn’t really make sense to measure my success by ad revenue. The thing that would make most sense would be to measure the quality and quantity of links. The traffic that comes from Digg is great and everyone loves it, but if no links come from it, then the campaign would not be a success.

When creating a social media marketing strategy, the goals need to be defined beforehand – that is how success should be measured. If you reach the intended goals, it’s a success. If not, then it is not so successful. The good thing about social media is that there are many different ROIs that can be achieved. Just make sure you know what you’re looking to get out of the strategy and how to get that result.

SMS: Comments have been made about traffic from websites like Digg not converting well into sales. In your opinion, what are some of the more realistic goals for a social media marketing campaign?

Cameron: You can still get a lot of sales from a social media marketing campaign, but Digg probably is not the best channel to achieve that. Talking about Digg exclusively, some things you should come to expect from a campaign are traffic, links, branding, and new community members. In general, sales generally aren’t one of the things you should expect, unless you have a very targeted product offering. However, sometimes you do see good sales that come indirectly from Digg. For example, a blog that picks up the story and references it may convert much better than the original Digg post.

Digg is an excellent platform for exposing great content to a large audience. The number-one thing that marketers leverage Digg for is the links, and anyone involved in SEO knows how important links are to SEO. A good piece of content that reaches the Digg homepage can result in anywhere from a couple of hundred links to a couple of thousand. Without social media, this kind of result would take huge amounts of both time and money. With social media, it can be done it only a few short hours. The resulting links are good links, often from authority sites and almost always showing up naturally in bodies of content.

SMS: Some marketers grumble about a lack of control over their social media marketing campaigns. Because there is no sure way to know which content will perform well, it is difficult to define a traffic funnel or even track many aspects of the campaign. Is there any way to gain that pay-per-click-like control?

Cameron: No matter what, with social media you always have to give over some level of control. Sometimes it is a lot, and other times not so much. There are certainly ways to minimize that risk, but there is no way to have complete control over how people will respond to social media marketing campaigns. One complaint I hear a lot, especially through channels like Digg, is that you can’t control the anchor text people use when they link back to you. While that is true, there are definitely some steps you can take to help influence how people link to you. Well-thought-out titles and descriptions can play a very big role in how people link to you, so it is very important to think these through beforehand. Once someone links to you, you no longer have control over that to go back and change it.

SMS: Thanks, Cameron, for your comments on some of the pressing issues in the emerging social media marketing channel. One thing I think we can all agree on is that there is going to be a ton of movement in this arena in 2008 and it will be interesting indeed to watch the situation unfold.

About the Author

Andrey Milyan was the first editor-in-chief of Search Marketing Standard, the leading print publication covering the search marketing industry. He has been following and reporting on industry developments for over 10 years. Andrey now works in the paid search sector of a prominent search marketing agency.

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