Social media sites are great for gathering an audience, but they do more than just give you the additional exposure and reputation you need to succeed online. You can also use them for other tasks, from content promotion to link building in a directed, organic way. In fact, link building through social media can be incredibly valuable; some of your best network partners may be people you would never find through other means.
There’s more to the process than just posting and asking for backlinks, however. You can certainly do that, but consider; only a small percentage of your social followers are themselves content producers. You need to target those content producers. Anyone else lacks either the means or the motivation to provide a quality backlink. So, how do you identify and target those content producers, and encourage them to link to your content?
Step 1: Identify Your Audience
For the first step, you’re going to want to put a lot of analytical tools to work identifying key features of your audience. What are the age ranges, gender distributions and levels of engagement throughout your audience? You’re doing this basically to get to know who they are and how they think.
The next part, beyond demographics, is social listening. Once you have an idea of how your users think, you can put keywords into these tools that they might be using. On one hand, these are likely keywords you were guiding your site content already. On the other hand, you’re looking for users who haven’t found your content yet or, if they have, haven’t engaged on the deep level you want.
There are a wide range of paid and free tools you can use for demographics and social listening. ComScore, QuantCast, Social Mention, Radian6: these can all be used to gather potentially valuable information about your site and audience.
Step 2: Create User Personas
At this point, you have a list of names of the people who use your site, and a general demographic idea of who they represent. This isn’t enough to put the puzzle together, but it allows to you build a framework. This framework is composed of personas.
Think of personas like mannequins you create, to fit different demographic trends within your audience. For example, pretend you run a shoe store. If one significant segment of your audience is young white teenage girls with a deep interest in fashion, that can be one persona. Another might be joggers and runners who are into physical fitness. A third may be the professional runners who work in gyms and train the previous persona. These are three fairly different groups of people, and they all form a basis for further reach.
Step 3: Use Personas to Identify Real People
At this point, you need to use a little psychology. Put yourself in the shoes of your shoe-buying personas and identify the sorts of interests and words they’re into when they use social media. You’re going to make use of two primary tools for this step.
Follower Wonk – and any tools like it – help you scan specific social networks. In the case of FW, it’s Twitter. Using the keywords you identified with your personas, you can find the people who fit that persona and actively use Twitter. In the shoe store example, you can now identify the specific usernames of the teen socialites, the fitness gurus and the jogging hobbyists.
Knowem.com is essentially a username checker. Once you have usernames from previous steps, you can plug them into this tool and find out what other sites those people use. There will be some fuzziness to the results; common usernames might not be owned by the same person across all social sites. Even so, you can get a good idea of where your audience is and how you need to target them. Some, for example, will spend most of their time on Facebook and YouTube, with very little on Twitter and Pinterest. Others may have a broader base.
Step 4: Create an Online Presence of Authority
At this point, you have a list of users with specifics; their usernames, their names, their social profile links and their demographic information. You know which persona they fall into. With all of this information, you can develop a specific plan to contact them and draw them in.
Part of this plan will be to make sure you have content on your site that these people will find valuable. With the various personas, this can be a wide range of related content. The teen socialite is going to have a different set of interests from the gym worker. You need to make sure you have content that will appeal to both.
Chances are you’ll be around the middle of the road here. You have some content that works, but a lot of your content won’t quite fit the profile. This is okay; you can always create and publish more content.
Step 5: Reach Out to Deliver Content to Users
Now you have content your users will find valuable, and you have a list of those users. It’s time to actually target them. Keep an eye on their social conversations and, when your topic comes up, step in to offer your value. This is easiest on Twitter, where you don’t have restrictions on contacting users. Facebook and other social media sites are a bit harder to use this way. For these, you may want to run targeted ads to attract their attention.
The goal here is to insert yourself into the conversation and open up communication with these users. Remember, you’ve been targeting users who have the capacity to share your content in various ways. Content producers, those with industry-related blogs, are the most valuable. You need a diverse link profile, however, so social shares are perfectly acceptable.
Step 6: Actively Provide Continued Value
This is both the hardest and the easiest part of the process. Mechanically, the process of gathering and identifying users was difficult. Socially, engaging them in conversation and keeping them interested is difficult. At this point, some of them are going to drop off or not respond. You never have a 100 percent conversion rate on anything you do, no matter how good you are at it; this is to be expected.
Continue to provide value and to engage these users in conversation. As they find your content valuable, they will share it. If they find it particularly useful, and they are content creators, they will link to it on their sites. These links may range in quality, but they are organic backlinks, which are quite valuable even on the low end.
Step 7: Use Contests to Accumulate Additional Links
You can also leverage your audience with link contests. Again, with your shoe store example, you can have a handful of pairs of shoes to give away. You can run a contest with links as the price of entry. Encourage users to blog their personal stories involving their shoes, preferably in a way that links to your site. Pick winners and give out prizes. The contest model is beneficial; you’re not paying for links with products, like you would be if you approached individuals and asked them for links in exchange for shoes. Instead, you’re accumulating organic links and giving out products in support, at a rate of one product to many links. It’s a much better value.
The core of this whole exercise is the process of creating personas and finding the real people who correspond with those personas. Once you have that process down, you can perform all sorts of valuable research.