Experiments in Social Media Marketing: A Recap

PSFK readers – thank you for participating in our social media experiment! Between February 9th and March 8th, we engaged in some social media activity to see how it would affect PSFK’s traffic. From social bookmarking to sharing online video, we’ve been tweaking the way we’ve been operating on the web and now we’ve had a chance to […]

Running A Dialogue With Readers via Twitter
What’s a report on social media without a mention of Twitter? The micro-blogging site lets you see what your friends are up to and update them as to your goings-on in 140 characters or less.

Though the box asks “What are you doing?”, Twitterers use it to alert others to their whereabouts, solicit opinions from followers and include links to other sites and articles. One of the reasons Twitter is so popular is that it enables followers to respond publicly by addressing a comment to ”@username.” (It also allows you to send a private direct message, but only if both Twitterers are following each other.) Other common notations used include “RT” (retweet: essentially a forwarding mechanism that can help improve a user’s reputation) and the “#” symbol, which tracks the popularity of the attached word, as in #PSFK.

Before February, our Twitter identity (twitter.com/psfk) was simply an auto-updating feed of links to PSFK.com posts. For our experiment, we decided to survey our readers and ask them how they wanted us to use the tool. From their responses, we changed our Twitter account into a more conversational space, using it to broadcast messages from Piers and PSFK team members, link to interesting sites, and solicit and receive feedback from our followers.

Updating Our Facebook Profile
We realized that although PSFK had both a group and a business page on Facebook, our lack of updates meant our friends had no incentive to keep coming back. We started posting pictures of things we’d seen in our travels and posted news and events more frequently. Our decision to make our page more relevant dovetailed nicely with Facebook’s recent redesign: now any updates show up first on our profile.

Huffington Post
We made a concerted effort to syndicate at least one article per day to the Huffington Post. These articles were kept to half or three-quarters of the original length so that readers were directed to click through to PSFK to finish the article.

Blog Seeding
This consisted of scanning the top 50 design and innovation sites for articles that were related to PSFK’s articles. If we found an appropriate article, we left a short comment along with a link to PSFK’s article.
Traditional PR
We also reached out to companies and people the “old-fashioned” way—by sending them e-mails with links to the articles we’d written about them. Several people and companies replied with a thank you note, and promised to keep us updated on their future projects.
Google
We spent time watching how Google was indexing us. We updated how our site auto-generates a readable sitemap and deleted broken links, including one popular link to a missing ‘Banksy’ art image which was driving a high volume of traffic to the site.

Online Video
We added new videos from our Singapore and San Francisco conferences to both YouTube and Vimeo.

Site Content
Overall frequency of updates on the site remained relatively constant between the two months under consideration. However, during the month of February we encouraged our writers to submit shorter form, ‘snapshot’ posts of inspiring things they came across in their daily lives. (These posts were more image-focused than text-focused.) The push resulted in a higher proportion of bite-sized posts, meant to be more instantly digestable (and hopefully diggable/linkable).

OVERALL RESULTS

So how did a month of social media marketing affect traffic?

Between February 9th and March 8th, PSFK witnessed a 3.78% increase in visits and a 2.27% increase in unique visitors (we encouraged previous visitors to visit more). We also saw a 1.93% increase in pageviews, so people may have visited other articles that we were calling attention to before leaving. A major change though was that referring sites (such as images searches and social media sites) dropped by 9.4% to 31% of traffic!

Why did overall referrals go down when social media site referrals increased? Answer : for most of January, we had a broken link to Banksy photos that turned up in Google image search, accounting for several thousand visitors that month. When we looked at data that excluded traffic to the Banksy image in January and February, February’s count actually revealed a 5% (as opposed to 1.93%) increase in pageviews. Clearly, social media can be a powerful marketing tool, but search engines and popular images are still essential to any site.

The other point of interest is the week of February 23rd to March 1st (the blue line). A quick glance shows the difference from one week to the next:

Basically, it appears that it took 2 weeks of intensive social media work for Stumbling and Digging to take off: referrals from StumbleUpon jumped 112% percent, from 4,389 to 9,305, while Digg referrals increased 1,681%. (No, that’s not a misplaced decimal: the number of visitors coming to our site via Digg was 17 times higher). In fact, on Wednesday, February 25th, the highest point in the graph, referrals from StumbleUpon and Digg alone accounted for over 20% of traffic.

RESULTS BY ACTIVITY

Digg
Even though most of our articles hovered around 5 to 10 diggs, the volume of submissions led to more traffic over time: traffic from Digg went from 94 to 2,316 referrals in a month, a dramatic increase of 2,363%. 89% were new visitors, and overall they spent an average of 51 seconds on our site. Overall, we increased our digging from 25 to 211 articles, a 744% increase.

And we witnessed an interesting event during the period. A popular article we wrote about the National Gallery’s 41,000 LED-light tunnel was picked up by Gizmodo, and subsequently, directed some extra traffic to our site. That part wasn’t surprising – but what was interesting to see was how the Digg community treated and affected the popularity of the post. While our original article only managed to gain 6 diggs, a Digg user with 156 ‘friends’ submitted the Gizmodo reblog and set off a digg chain resulting in 3,046 diggs (and counting). We learned quickly that success in digging isn’t just dependent on the content or speed at which you submit your posts, but the influence (network and number of friends) of the person Digging.

StumbleUpon
StumbleUpon was by far the most successful social media site in terms of attracting new visitors. We went from 12,454 to 19,874 referrals: a 59.6% increase. Better yet, 97% were new visitors, making StumbleUpon the clear favorite for making our online presence known.

However, unlike the Digg readers who stayed on the site a while, the Stumble visitors’ average visit lasted a mere 14 seconds (we assume they came and then stumbled on). They only visited 1.18 pages, as opposed to Digg’s slightly more committed users at 1.28 pages.

Twitter
Upon tweeting, we gained followers at a rate of about 36 per day and increased our Twitter audience 22% in one month, from 2,851 to 3,600 followers (and counting).

During that time we saw a 26% increase in traffic to PSFK from Twitter, from 4,064 to 5,147 referrals. These visitors were also more familiar with PSFK than random visitors like those from StumbleUpon, as only 60% were first-time visitors.

Although the traffic driven was not as impressive as StumbleUpon’s in real terms, Twitter visitors interacted with the site more, exploring an average of 1.6 pages per visit. More importantly, out of our top referral sites, these visitors were on the site for the second-longest time span at 1 minute 35 seconds–only referrals from Google.com stayed longer, for 2 minutes 10 seconds.

Facebook
Modifications to the PSFK group pages started in earnest on February 23 and were a moderate success. PSFK gained a small amount of ‘new friends’ and our referral rate increased nearly 10% over the previous two weeks. Visitors were also moderately involved compared to visitors from other social media sites, looking at an average of 1.55 pages and spending 1 minute 27 seconds on PSFK.

Huffington Post
By posting more frequently (20 articles), we increased referring traffic from the news site from 20 to 249 referrals. With only 249 visitors, we obviously didn’t make the front page on HuffPo but those who came through were very interested in what we had to say: they spent an average of 2 minutes 38 seconds on the site and read 2.14 pages. Furthermore, 76% were new to PSFK’s site.

Blog Seeding
Results were highly dependent on finding appropriate articles within a limited time frame. Some comments generated upwards of 60 referrals, but most only attracted a few. In short, the response to blog seeding was inconsistent and unpredictable.

Traditional PR
We emailed several of the companies that we wrote about on PSFK. This traditional PR generated very little traffic; however, it alerted several companies to PSFK’s presence and may be useful in developing business relationships in the future. Several designers and companies featured on the site were interested in updating us on their future projects and many expressed appreciation for the article.

Google and Other Search Engines
Search engine traffic remained nearly constant, decreasing by just 0.15%. However, we expect a slight increase in search engine traffic as a result of our social media push – as our 932 diggs should boost the likelihood of those articles appearing in search results.

Online Video
By posting our videos on other video hosting sites (Youtube and Vimeo), we gained some new viewers, but not ones that followed through to psfk.com. In fact, referrals from YouTube decreased by a negligible amount. Only 8% of people watching the videos continued on to our site.

Content
In general, the most popular content on social bookmarking sites were “pop” articles: easily digested, highly visual, and with minimal copy, such as Crayon Artwork (5,520 StumbleUpon visits) or the LED Installation (1,855 Digg visits). Surprisingly, many of our top articles didn’t owe their status to social media sites: search engines were still the most consistent means of getting people to an article.

Other Social Media and Blogs
Although we did not specifically target other social media sites, we did see an increase of 27% in traffic from del.icio.us, from 677 to 861 visits. Being mentioned by other popular sites also often sent a quick but brief increase in traffic: for example, a mention on Gothamist.com brought us 611 visitors, up from 2 the month before, however this bump often lasted only a day or two.

Notes
(Monday, February 16th was President’s Day and no publishing or social media acivity took place on this holiday, which may have affected the week’s results.)

LEARNINGS
While our short-burst of social media marketing doesn’t prove that you can rely on the activity to direct people to your website, we would argue that you can’t afford to ignore it, either. At their best, using social media sites and tools can introduce new people to your site. They’re also a good way to increase repeat visits from loyal reader.

Although social media marketing is ostensibly free, it is extremely time-intensive. Updating and adding friends to your social media networks, sending PR emails, and submitting articles on your blog to a variety of social bookmark pages (especially if your site is updated 20 or so times a day, like PSFK) can take hours. Following and responding to blogs, even with an application like Google Reader, could take at least another hour, assuming that you don’t have to hunt down accurate contact information. As for Twitter – you could easily spend 24 hours a day on Twitter, tweeting, @ing, following, replying and never have time for anything else.

Another important factor to keep in mind is redundancy: just because you have a blog, a Facebook account, and a Twitter account, doesn’t mean they should all look the same or have the same information. Each should serve as a different touchpoint and have varying opportunities for customers to interact.

Finally, make sure you can monitor your efforts. Aside from Google analytics, we found snipurl.com and related sites very useful. It works the same way as tinyurl.com (namely, it condenses a long http: address) but also tracks how many unique clicks it receives. Additionally, if you’re going to need lots of snips, we highly recommend that you name each snip based on where you’re posting it.

Before embarking on a social media extravaganza, it may help to first determine your goals: if you’re simply looking for increased pageviews, head to StumbleUpon; if you want to develop a long-term relationship with loyal readers, consider Twitter or blog seeding.

Recommended Social Media Tips for Similar Sites To PSFK

1. Determine whether you’re more interested in increasing traffic numbers or developing more reliable and engaged viewers.

2. Anticipate dedicating at least three hours a day towards social media. It’s best if this is staggered throughout the day, especially if your site is updated frequently. Hitting your Twitter followers with 20 articles all at once is a great way to annoy your followers.

3. Not all social media sites require the same amount of attention. Twitter and bookmarking sites should be updated throughout the day, while Facebook groups can probably be updated once or twice a week. Traditional PR might be more efficient if the top 10 companies of interest are emailed at the end of (or beginning of the next) week.

4. Grow friends on Social Media sites as much as you’re submitting. Be interesting – submit other content from other sites.

5. Don’t assume you can ignore search engines: social media can boost viewership but has not replaced good old, algorithm-based methods.

6. If you want an article to spread quickly, think visually: find an attention-grabbing photo and add no more than a paragraph of text.

We hope that you’ve found this report interesting and look forward to all your comments. And of course, if you think others will find it helpful, please feel free to Stumble, Digg, Twitter, and Facebook it away…

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