Buffer, the service that distributes your content to social media networks to help drive traffic to your website, recently revealed that it had lost nearly half its traffic from social media over the course of 12 months.
Why is this shocking? Because if Buffer can’t attract visitors — and that’s their sole business focus — what hope is there for the rest of us whose blogs and websites are competing for readers and customers? It’s enough to make you cry.
What’s Going On?
I give all due credit to Kevan Lee, who creates the content for Buffer’s blog, for freely admitting his dilemma. He doesn’t have all the answers but he makes a compelling analysis of what might be going wrong in his post and this PowerPoint presentation.
Take a look and then I’ll chime in with my two cents.
Drowning in Content
Social networks are drowning in content, as Kevan states. As I reported in a post I wrote a little over a year ago, social networks can’t possibly show you all the content they receive.
I quoted Facebook’s Brian Boland at the time, “Rather than showing people all possible content, News Feed is designed to show each person on Facebook the content that’s most relevant to them.
“Of the 1,500+ stories a person might see whenever they log onto Facebook, News Feed displays approximately 300. To choose which stories to show, News Feed ranks each possible story (from more to less important) by looking at thousands of factors relative to each person.”
Facebook and, increasingly other networks, are showing you what they think you should be seeing. So when Buffer (or Hootsuite, or Tweetdeck, et al) distributes your content to social media, chances are that no one will see it. All that work, and nothing to show for it.
If your strategy is to sell from your website, you are potentially missing out on many buyers.
I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but I think social media is being oversold to entrepreneurs as a source of business. Note that consumer products companies are still advertising, mounting major PR campaigns and sponsoring events.
They’ve invested in social media for sure, but it is but one tool in their communications arsenal.
I’ve certainly seen a drop in social media network referrals. When I first starting blogging almost seven years ago, LinkedIn was my primary source for all traffic, not search. Now LinkedIn, like the other networks, keeps changing the rules on us, and it accounts for a tiny fraction of my traffic.
What a brouhaha LinkedIn stirred up when they changed how Groups operate. Even the network’s new design makes it difficult to locate the groups you belong to. More drop down menus.
I find myself less active than ever in my groups. LinkedIn also eliminated the Promotions tab making it more difficult to promote your business.
The reality is that all the social media networks are moving to “pay to play.” The free rent option is disappearing or becoming more difficult to leverage.
What to do? Social proof will continue to be important to your business. But it will be risky to rely on social media to drive potential customers to your site.
I believe that entrepreneurs will need to harness the power of advertising, networking, public relations, direct response and personal/client referrals to build their business. It’s old-fashioned, but it still works.
Try Other Tools
There are other communications tools you can use to reach your target audiences. Sure, it requires a financial investment but you may find that’s it’s less expensive than you think. For example:
- Have you tried Google AdWords? You can slice your audience into tiny segments by geography and bring the cost way down.
- Google AdSense works similarly, in that you bid for ad space on an owner’s website instead of on Google’s search pages.
- Both large and small businesses have had success using matte press release services, such as NewsUSA, that guarantees 1,000 placements for your release. You can also combine the traditional print distribution with social syndication to expand your universe.
You may think I’ve soured on social media. I haven’t. Social proof is important to your business because potential clients want to know that you’re active and getting noticed on social media. Social proof gives you credibility. You can also identify potential clients and start to engage them in conversations.
We’ve learned that social media isn’t the magic bullet. It never was, but we’ve been seduced by the hype. Buffer’s experience was a clear signal to me that while we can try harder to get our content read on social media, we don’t have control over what Facebook and other networks actually use, and that’s a dilemma.