One of the most intoxicating measurements in all of marketing is “web traffic.”
It’s measurable. It’s binary. We can actually do something to affect the results. It makes us feel good to see the “hockey stick” graph of all these new visitors surfing our site.
But as any experienced marketer knows, for most businesses, nearly all of this traffic is represented by people who take a quick glance at our site and never return. They are tourists, not residents.
And yet, there is so much emphasis on driving “massive traffic” to a website. When I asked an SEO professional why he put so much emphasis on traffic, he replied with some swagger “Where there’s traffic, there’s hope.”
That’s a nice sound bite, but frankly a lousy marketing strategy. If I presented a marketing strategy based on “hope” to my boss I would probably be kicked out of the office. And, deservedly so.
Instead, I would like to present an alternative view of your online audience. I recently wrote a book called The Content Code and for more than a year I dove deeply into the economic drivers of content and social media marketing.
Here’s a statistic from eMarketer that made me pause – 83 percent of CMOs claim that SOCIAL SHARING is the primary benefit of social media marketing.
You mean it’s not clicks, Likes or new followers? It’s not even TRAFFIC for heaven’s sakes?
The economics of transmission
The CMOs in this study are smart people because they know that 70 percent of their customers are more likely to buy something when they see content about a product or service shared by a friend. People who share content are likely to read and understand what you do before they make a decision to share it. In essence, they are becoming your advocates.
When people “like” something, they are only lightly and temporarily bonding with it. But when they share something, it’s a bold and intimate act. They are raising their hand in a virtual way and saying “I believe in this. I stand for this. Pay attention.”
This forces us to re-consider the best leading indicator of sales: Content that moves.
The power on the web does not come from content alone or traffic. It comes from social transmission. Your investment in content development does nothing for your business if it’s not seen and shared. Content that doesn’t move has the same economic value as the world’s greatest movie script locked in a cold, dark vault.
The psychology of sharing
Let’s peel the onion even further.
WHY do people share? To understand social transmission, we must understand why people decide to share.
There are a lot of reasons why people share content but numerous studies show there are three primary motivators:
The content serves as an extension of their self-identity (it makes me look cool, relevant, smart, etc.)
Sharing is an act of kindness to help others; and
Sharing shows support of a person, brand or cause
These motivations are a tremor in the way we normally think about digital marketing. If the real economic value comes from the transmission of content, and people share content for these intrinsic and emotional reasons, why do companies spend so much money to try to get people to share content for economic reasons?
AdAge recently reported on a renaissance in SEO investments. The reason behind this surge is that so many brands have bought into the content marketing mantra but now find that nobody is consuming it. Why not turn to familiar SEO tactics as a remedy? There’s a place for that, but the problem is, through paid means like SEO, advertising and promotion, we might be able to trick somebody into viewing a piece of content, but we can’t trick them into sharing it.
How do you get people to share?
Emotional ties to content and brands that fuel that transmission are ultimately created by trust.
Trust, not traffic
I want to challenge you. Are you taking the easy way out in your marketing plan? Are you spending money on advertising and SEO because they are familiar and you can get the budget approved? Because it’s convenient to out-source to an ad agency (and out-source accountability)?
On the other hand, building trust instead of traffic takes time, a new content marketing mindset, a new commitment, and perhaps even a leap into the unfamiliar.
If your marketing department was singularly focused on the biggest economic driver on the web – increasing the number of people who share your content – how would that transform your strategy? Your organization? Your budget?
How would you build a marketing strategy based on trust, not traffic?