Bloggers are fiercely divided when it comes to deciding the value of social media traffic.
Some crave it or even become addicted to it, writing every post with an aim to hit the front-page of Digg and spending hours trying to promote their own content. Others feel it has little value and largely ignore it, citing poor rates of conversion into ads clicked and subscribers gained. Others loathe social media traffic for the atmosphere it brings (real or imagined) and will do anything to avoid being discovered by social media–usually the result of being hit by a slew of negative comments on a post that rubbed digg users the wrong way.
Regardless of which camp you find yourself in, I want to take an objective look at the real value of a social media visitor for bloggers trying to make money online. If I can be allowed to skip to the end before I’ve even started, my argument is that social media visitors are neither a godsend or a curse. Instead, they’re great for some things, and not so great for others.
1. Not for clicking on ads
It has been well-documented that visitors from social media platforms like Digg and StumbleUpon click on ads much less often compared to search visitors. Various theories have been put forward as to why this is, but I think it’s simply because social media visitors are ‘focused’ browsing. They are in the middle of doing something (using social media, usually at a fast pace), and are therefore less likely to wander off in a new direction by clicking an ad. Another reason is that social media users spend more time online than the average web user and are more likely to have developed a sort of ‘blindness’ to ads.
If all your ads are CPC (cost per click) then social media traffic is not going to add much direct monetary value to your blog–though they may go on to do so indirectly. Instead, focus on search traffic and links for direct income. By contrast, if you use a mixture of CPC and CPM (cost per thousand impression) ads, or only CPM ads, social media traffic will have more value for you. This is because it’s…
2. Really good for page views
A stint on the Digg front-page or becoming hot on StumbleUpon can send more visitors than many blogs receive in a month. Whatever these visitors are doing when they arrive at your blog, they still register on your stat counter and provide ‘impressions’ (page views) to present to potential advertisers. This may also cause your Alexa rank to increase.
Page views are the determining factor in how much a CPM advertisement is worth on your blog. More page views equals higher prices, and social media traffic can drastically increase your page views. For this reason, it’s an important source of traffic for anyone offering CPM advertising.
One potential pitfall to be wary of is that, though advertisers are probably only looking at number of page views and not the source, some will want to know where it all came from. In my experience, though, most advertisers don’t ask this question. If they end up buying an ad spot on your blog they might find the click-throughs to be disproportionate to the amount of impressions they’ve paid for. This is mainly an issue when the blog has a very high proportion of social media traffic compared to other sources. Advertisers who find click-throughs are low will be unlikely to renew with you. If this turns out to be a problem for your blog, try weighting social media traffic differently when calculating your rates. After all, social media visitors are…
3. Not initially invested in your blog
People often complain that social media visitors are disrespectful or plain rude, particularly when they come from Digg. However, it’s not hard to see why social media visitors would be tougher than your usual blog visitor. They may not follow many individual blogs. They may have clicked on a submission based on its headline and not quite known what they were getting. They might have clicked through to your blog just because they think your topic is stupid (maybe you write about a sports team that they despise, or a politician they loathe).
Search visitors are generally too busy looking for something to be nasty, and referral visitors are probably already reading other blogs in your niche, and are unlikely to find yours suddenly provokes them to lash out. When they arrive at your blog, they are partially invested in it. Social media visitors are not. At least, they don’t start out that way.
Photo by Johan Larsson.
A number of people are particularly bothered by the comments that digg users leave on their blogs. These are less troubling when you know why they occur. At digg, the comment culture there operates on a system of ‘diggs’ and ‘buries’. Comments that the community likes tend to get ‘dugg’ and comments the community doesn’t like tend to get ‘buried’. There isn’t any reward or penalty for either, but that doesn’t stop people fighting for imaginary brownie points. The quickest route to a ‘dugg’ comment is to post something insightful, add something to the content, make a joke about something mentioned in the story or to criticize or insult the content or its author–often trying to be funny at the same time, but sometimes not. Digg users have a lot of stories to read and, err, a lot of ground to make up on Mr. BabyMan, so they’ll usually go the quickest and easiest option: a witty remark, or a criticism, or an insult, or some combination of the three.
When the digg users get to your content itself they often approach commenting with the same attitude as they did when they were at digg, because digg is often where they’ve ‘learned’ how to approach commenting. Sometimes the results can be genuinely funny and clever, but other-times they can be a bit depressing! Usually this depends on the particular combination of digg users with your content’s topic. Sometimes digg comments will add a breath of fresh air to your blog and other-times you’ll wish you could delete them (and hey, you can). After all, they’re never going to come back, right?
4. Can yield new subscribers depending on the topic
A common question about social media traffic is why it often doesn’t translate into a subscriber boost. Some people claim it never does. Not for them, perhaps, but I’ve heard many stories of people gaining–and keeping–subscribers when their content goes popular on social media (and this is something I’ve personally experienced on my own blog).
For those who’ve never experienced a subscriber boost from social media traffic, you’re probably thinking: “OK then, what am I, apparently, doing wrong?”
The answer is: nothing. Social media users are generally interested in some topics in a deep way and not others. Just because they liked your post on personal bio-domes doesn’t mean they want to read about environmentally friendly inventions every day (thought it doesn’t mean they won’t either). This probably appeals to the visitor’s ‘surface interest’. They might read about the topic once in a while but not have any real passion for it. They might also find that, though they loved the post they just voted for, the rest of your blog is on a slightly different topic that they’re not interested in. After all, a lot of people bring new topics into their blog because they have more appeal to social media, but perhaps the social media visitor is interested in that topic and not any of the others you write about?
Photo by ojbyrne
From, for example, I often Digg stories related to the environment and environmental innovation but I don’t subscribe to any blogs on this topic. I’m interested in it but don’t consider subscribing because I don’t have time to read blogs that don’t directly benefit the work that I do online. I do the same for content on video gaming, computers, technological innovation and so on. It’s not that I have a predisposition not to subscribe, but rather that I’m exposed to a lot of content I wouldn’t seek out otherwise, and that I am happy to enjoy in small doses.
It’s also worth remembering that many social media visitors interact with web content primarily through social media, rather than through RSS feeds or by bookmarking a handful of their favorite blogs. Their favorite social media platform delivers so much content they enjoy and is so time-consuming to be involved in that many–but certainly not all– don’t have the desire or time to follow blogs that may or may not produce good content in future. Is this to suggest all social media visitors fit this mould? Not at all, but it might help explain why they are less likely than referral and direct traffic to stick around for the long-haul.
If you do want to turn social media traffic into subscribers, make sure your social media optimized content sticks very close to the topics you write about on a daily basis. Aside from that, you might just have to hope that people interested in the topic of your blog are also likely to be reading blogs on a regular basis.
5. Likely to have a well-developed network
Social media is often just that: social. An active social media user might be in regular contact with dozens of other users and regularly share content with them. If your content hits a nerve (in a good or bad way) it is likely to be shared through that network by word-of-mouth as well as on the service itself. If the recommendation is positive then this can be a good way to get engaged readers visiting your blog. The recommendation of a friend gives them a reason to be much more invested than the average social media user.
6. Can trigger a domino effect on other social media platforms
If you look at the profile of an active social media user, you’re likely to find that they are not putting all their eggs in one basket. Many digg users have active StumbleUpon accounts, and so on. A stumble may also lead to a digg and delicious bookmark. A reddit may lead to a mixx. This can lead to a ‘domino effect’ where your content goes popular on more than one service. That’s not a bad situation to be in–unless your blog goes down, of course!
7. Can help promote other content in future
A social media visitor who votes for your content and then decides to visit your blog in future can be a valuable asset to you. They might submit future content to social media, or refer other social media using friends to your blog. The best way to have social media success is to have loyal readers who are active on social media.
It’s important not to fall into the trap of thinking of social media visitors as ‘this other thing’, separate from your audience–a teeming mass doing their own thing somewhere else and occasionally paying a visit. At least some proportion of your own most loyal readers are likely to be using social media.
8. Are good for search rankings
Digg, delicious and Reddit in particular are good for this. When a story becomes popular many social media users link to it, in addition to Digg itself, which is a very high PR site. Many people even autopublish delicious bookmarks to their blogs. Going popular on any of these services can connect dozens of high-quality links into your blogs (and, as always, a whole bunch of scrapers).
As much as I love StumbleUpon, it is weakest here. So much of the interaction with it occurs through the toolbar rather than through a webpage. There is no iconic page of ‘Top stories’ on StumbleUpon (I’m pretty sure there is a page for popular stories, but it receives little attention compared to the ‘front pages’ of Digg, delicious and Reddit). There is no general RSS feed to subscribe to. What all of this means is that going popular on StumbleUpon rarely brings a whole bunch of incoming links with it, causing it to have less SEO benefit than success on the others.
With the above eight points I hope I’ve led you to think about the value of social media visitors to your own blog. They can certainly provide plenty of value, but tapping into that value will require that you begin to get a sense of the faces behind social media traffic, and to understand the ‘culture’ of social media, which leads to certain behaviours being prevalent in its users and others not so. The more realistic your expectations are, the better you will become at harnessing social media traffic.
While reading posts like this does help, you can never truly ‘get’ social media and its culture until you immerse yourself in it. You certainly don’t need to be a power-user (and for most this is unlikely to be an efficient use of your time), but spending a couple of hours a week participating in a social media service you enjoy will provide invaluable knowledge about your audience. I’d suggest going with at least one of the big three that most people are using: StumbleUpon, Digg or Reddit. In fact, I want to suggest that using a social media service for even an hour will teach you more about writing social media optimized content than any blog post you could read.
You should always strive to know your audience better.