Ever wonder why big brands and major websites often have an array of icons somewhere on their homepage, leading to popular sites like YouTube and Twitter? Follow us on Twitter! Like us on Facebook! It all seems so needy and desperate, as if the business or site has a self-esteem problem.
And why try to lure you off to another site? They’ve got you there on their site looking at their stuff, which is usually a big part of the battle in promoting anything on the Internet. Wouldn’t getting people to go elsewhere be entirely counter-productive? Well, maybe. But there is a method to their madness.
You may be inclined to say, “Well social media is the thing these days, that’s all it is.” But there’s more to it than that.
If you are trying to promote anything – be it a charity, or a good idea, or a product – a key technique on the modern web is to maintain a presence on as many popular sites as you can manage. In this post, I will attempt to explain the rationale behind that, and how you can take advantage of it in your own efforts.
Home Base Comes First
Before you can take advantage of these techniques, it’s important to establish a home page for your project or venture. Be it a blog, a non-profit, a local group, event or anything – you need to you have your own site. That means you absolutely must register a domain name that you control. Fortunately, this is dirt cheap these days and there are many different providers.
Owning your own domain name is the only way to truly control the fate of your presence online – whenever you rely on a presence on someone else’s platform, you are at the whim and mercy of their policies. Many a rising YouTube star has suddenly discovered that a seemingly small copyright mistake or a few maliciously filed reports against your channel can cause your budding media empire to crash down.
A recent incident involving a psychic filing a complaint about Doubtful News was a fine example of this. A psychic erroneously accused the site of infringing her trademark, in an article that was not about that psychic at all. Sharon Hill was able to pick up the site and move it to a different provider when she found her existing provider did not “have her back” in this entirely bogus trademark dispute.
If you don’t have the skills or manpower to create your own site, you can start out by merely having your domain redirect people to a YouTube profile or a Facebook page. I’ve seen several events, for instance, get away with merely redirecting their domain to the Facebook Event page they used to coordinate information about the event.
But owning the domain name means you can always move it to a different provider when problems occur, or if you decide on a change in strategy. And of course, be sure to promote your URL using the domain you own, regardless of where it takes readers currently.
This site is currently hosted on skeptools.wordpress.com, which means I’m subject to the rules set by that free service. If WordPress were to suddenly decide to stop offering free hosting, or go out of business, or otherwise change negatively, I would lose access to that address. And thus I own skeptools.com, which is my own domain name and which is currently configured to bring you here. If push comes to shove, I can move my blog elsewhere and reconfigure skeptools.com to point there. Thus all the work I’ve done promoting that name in talks and on podcasts is maintained.
But that brings us back to our original question. Once your home base is established, why mess with those other sites? There are several reasons….
The Social Media Bump
Of course as I alluded to above, the big reason you want a presence on sites like Twitter and Facebook is to take advantage of so-called social media. These sites (and others like YouTube, Tumblr and so on) have many built-in features that encourage users to re-share content they find in various ways. So a simple announcement of a new blog post or video diary item or scheduling an event date, can be amplified tremendously if users find it worthy and re-share it amongst their friends. If you’re lucky, something goes completely viral and you can reap a huge PR benefit.
Taking full advantage of social media is a much bigger topic than I can cover in this post, as each site has its own rules and expectations. But it’s important to remember that “social” implies two-way communication. If you simply use Twitter or Facebook to blast a constant stream of self-promotion, you will not be reaping the full advantage of those sites – and may encounter some backlash. And of course just last week I wrote about how skeptics who post the wrong links on Facebook are actually hurting our cause.
Addressing That Site’s Audience
Many successful platforms boast a thriving community users who spend most of their time using that site. Facebook has over a billion users worldwide, and many people spend hours a day interacting there. Twitter has far fewer, but still in the hundreds of millions by most estimates. There is a huge community (of younger people in particular) who spend a large amount of time on YouTube. There’s even some evidence that some young people use YouTube’s search box as if it were a search of the entire Internet – i.e. if you don’t have a YouTube channel, you’re not going to reach those kids. Twitter is very popular among journalists.
Those communities and sites (even ones that aren’t “social media” oriented) are a great opportunity to reach people, and the only way to do that is to have a presence on those sites. Which sites you choose will depend on the audience you are trying to reach, so you need to understand your audience to some degree. There are services like comScore which track the demographics, geographic reach and so on for these sites, you may be able to use them to choose targets. Sometimes you just need to know the community involved, for instance if you are trying to reach skeptics the JREF Forum is a community that can be useful.
And this is one key place where those “follow me” links come in handy. Your visibility on services like YouTube depends on many factors such as how many views your videos get, how many subscribers you have, and so on. By encouraging your home page visitors (who may already be supporters) to like or subscribe elsewhere, the site can raise it’s visibility on the other platform.
Leverage Some Technology
Sometimes the other site can solve a technological problem for you as well. The most obvious example of this is YouTube, which elegantly solves the issue of cross-platform access to video. By posting your video content on YouTube and then embedding it back on your own site, you can (for free) guarantee your content is viewable by a bewildering array of devices from mobile phones to full-size televisions. This is far easier and cheaper than trying to host video yourself on your own servers.
Similarly SoundCloud is an awesome service if you are posting audio content such as music or podcasts. (Though with just a little extra work you can use YouTube for that too – just marry your audio content with a promotional graphic and post it as a video).
If you are a local group or an event promoter, sites like Meetup and Lanyrd allow you to publicize your events and let you embed or feed a calendar of events back out in formats such as RSS or iCalendar. This can be far easier than trying to develop or configure your own on-site calendar feature and get people to use it. So the simple act of trying to solve a technical problem can also provide you a means of promotion as well.
And remember, there’s no reason you can’t post information redundantly in more than one place, to improve the chance it can be found. For instance, go ahead and post your event on Meetup, Lanyrd and Facebook simultaneously. Or upload a copy of each of your YouTube videos to Vimeo as well. It’s a little extra work to do some redundant data entry or uploading, but the promotional benefit you reap could be huge. (There are some down sides of course – for instance it is harder to estimate total viewership for videos or get a head-count for your group meeting if it is cross-posted. Weigh these on a case-by-case basis).
Leverage The Other Site’s SEO
Finally, we come back to a common topic on this blog – SEO. Search Engine Optimization is the art and science of making sure your site is easily discoverable in Google, Bing and so on. It’s essential if you want to be found. If you are launching a brand new site, it can take some time to get results for it to appear properly in the search engines.
Social media linking can help your site’s SEO, though not in the classic sense most SEO guides talk about. This is because most social media sites NOFOLLOW the links they post to discourage spam. But this is a rapidly evolving area as search engines adapt to social media use.
The important thing to remember is that sites like YouTube, Meetup, Lanyrd and so on are run by for-profit companies that have already done their SEO homework for their own pages. As a result, content directly hosted on them can often appear very highly in relevant search engine result pages (SERPs) with very little work.
And so, by posting some content on these sites, you can sometimes get onto relevant SERPs much more quickly and easily. In order to do this, you need to make sure you include as much relevant text as possible with your posts on the other site – fill in all the boxes! Description, tags, keywords – whatever the site calls it, make sure you put something relevant here so new subscribers can find your content in a search.
Here’s a good example. Suppose you want to attend a skepticism conference this year, so you perform a Google or Bing search and type in “skepticism conferences in 2014” or “skeptic events 2014”. In the results of both search engines as I write this (and number one on most) is my guide to skepticism conferences on Lanyrd.
Now, I could have compiled that same information into a web page here on my blog, or launched another site to host it. But by putting that information into Lanyrd’s database, I took advantage of that site’s search engine placement to make the information far more visible to the general public. And Lanyrd’s RSS feeds allow me to pull the information right back here to my blog to display that list of upcoming events you see on the right – solving a technical problem.
- Choose carefully those foreign sites that will be most advantageous to your topic or focus. You don’t want to over-reach and end up doing a poor job with your presence on the other site – it may reflect badly on you.
- Choose sites based on the topic focus, demographics and geography of your target audience. If you need to reach college students, Facebook is a must; to reach journalists and the news media you must be on Twitter. Different social networks are more or less popular in different countries. Rating services like comScore can help here.
- Choose sites based on the technological advantages they can offer you. YouTube, Vimeo other video sites for posting videos. SoundCloud for posting pure audio. Lanyrd and Meetup for promoting events and event calendars. Lanyrd is also great if you are a public speaker and need to publish your upcoming speaking schedule. Google Plus is a must if you write online at all (for authorship links) or need to do live panel webcasts (for Hangouts).
- Redundancy is fine – if video is your chosen medium, cross-post content to YouTube, Vimeo, DailyMotion and perhaps others. It widens your reach and provides a nice online backup in case of trouble.
- Link in from your presence on each foreign site back to your home page. Be sure to completely fill out your profile so users on that site can learn about you or your project without leaving that site.
- Link out to your presence on each foreign site from your home page. Users who are more comfortable on the other site may prefer to follow you there instead of returning to your page. Each additional follower usually makes you slightly more likely to be found by others.
- Follow the rules and conventions of each site carefully. For instance, engage users on each site directly and be social – don’t use them merely as another way to broadcast. This helps build your audience.
- Take advantage of every bit of meta-data you can when posting content to other sites – include tags, keywords, dates, locations, descriptions, captioning for spoken word content and anything else that is appropriate. That will help users on that site find you, and help your content appear in search engines.
- Use automated tools when you can to make things easier. Tools like HootSuite and SocialOomph can allow you to schedule posts to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and your blog using a single console. (I use HootSuite to pre-schedule most of my social media posts).
No matter what you are trying to promote online – be it a blog, a business, a non-profit or event – you need a home page. But establishing presences on other sites can help expand you reach, solve technological issues, bring people back to your home page and ideally help your content go viral. Be smart about it, and choose your locations wisely. Automation tools can make the job easier.
Watch in coming weeks for more posts which flesh out some of the details I’ve alluded to here, such as the use of meta-data.