If you have been anxiously watching developments in the online world and trying to second guess them in order to reposition your SEO and marketing efforts you will have noticed the development of a paradox. The approved social media metrics which companies and social media specialists are trying to focus on, are incredibly poor in terms of delivering measurable value.
Facebook ‘Likes’, the number of fans on a Facebook page, Twitter followers and even G+ circlers, tend to translate very poorly in terms of the impact they have on sales and, even traffic, to websites. The reason we expect them to deliver lies in pure logic: X number of followers in a particular medium should provide a Y number of followers who respond to a particular marketing message in that medium who then convert to Z number of sales once they get funnelled off to the website.
The problem lies not with the logic of this, which is sound but with the frequently overlooked fact that we do not behave logically in any arena and the online one is a case in point. No one frequents a social network because it is good for their health (it might be but we won’t know this until studies are carried out and the results verified), or because they learn new, cool things. Social networks attract us because each represents something specific about the way we socialise.
We go to Facebook to hangout with friends and Twitter to get a message out in real-time and Google Plus to find new people, share information and absorb new information and each platform has a distinct place in our internal psychological map of relative values. We behave differently in each one and are also likely to project a slightly different tone and ‘voice’ in each one. It is this approach which has stymied those looking for a quick way to cash in on numbers and social habits.
The Social Graph is Who You Know
The essential element of the social graph (a term popularized by Zuckerberg at the Facebook f8 conference on May 24, 2007) is that it is all about who you know and how you are related to them. In principle it is possible for a social network website to map every friend, colleague, acquaintance you’ve ever had and present that information to advertisers.
To go, however, from that point to one where you end up making a purchase of something simply because one of your friends, colleagues or acquaintances also bought it, is a stretch which is indeed proving to be, too far. This isn’t so hard to understand. We may all like hanging around our favourite watering hole after work, shooting the wind with friends, but to then go and buy a car simply because one of them bought one is not really the way we behave. The ‘sale’ message becomes even harder to swallow when it happens in the form of a salesman entering our drinking place to talk business at a time when we are focused on fun.
The apparent failure of Facebook Stores with major brands pulling back barely six months after establishing a presence there argues that when it comes to social media and its use in eCommerce the same rules apply as in traditional advertising, namely that in order to work the message must find, the right person, at the right moment with the right offer.
That’s not how social media works however. The entire idea of the online environment is that it does away with traditional top-down marketing techniques, creates lifelong friends out of customers and allows brands to cordially sell you stuff like you were their best bud.
Well… that works, yes but in a slightly different social media environment.
The Interest Graph is What You Like
It is now becoming possible to also curate data about ourselves which is directly relevant to our hobbies, professional interests, work concerns and career aspirations. Whereas the social graph is keeping us entertained the interest graph is keeping us intellectually engaged and it is in this latter quality that marketers begin to mine gold.
It is one reason why Facebook with over 850 million users can barely generate any sales for brands and eCommerce sites while Pinterest which barely tops 11 million is creating the kind of revenue streams retailers and marketers love.
What You Should Do to Target the Interest Graph
The interest graph should allow you to focus your SEO content more tightly to reflect the interests of your target audience (creating true traffic bait) and help you target your place of marketing a little more tightly.
So, for instance, suppose you are selling shoes (my favourite example) you would want to pin great pictures of shoes with a direct link back to your site on Pinterest, you would want to Tweet about your new range on Twitter, you would want to discuss the features of this range and their merits on G+ and you would want to put a lot of nicely shot pictures, branded pictures, at intervals on Facebook. Of these the first three are aimed at the interest graph while the Facebook non-selling pictures are part of the conversation your website brand is having with its fans.
This is obviously an example and before you even begin to instinctively do anything you should first put in place a clearly thought out marketing plan and this starts with research. Search for ‘shoes’ on Pinterest and you find boards on the subject, some of which you can directly contribute to, complete with links to your site.
On Twitter search for “shoes” OR “fashion shoes” OR “latest shoes” -rt filter:links in order to find the relevant tweets without including the many re-tweets that are being made.
On Google Plus you can search using both a hashtag (i.e. #fashionshoes) and your normal search terms for the type of shoes you are selling.
Having down your research you will need to explore just how you target the audience, with what.
How does the Interest Graph affect your SEO?
The interest graph is about what’s important to the potential customers you are trying to attract. They are giving you, through their interactions, shared interests and (on Pinterest) tags, the very keywords you need to know in order to also attract them through Google search.
These should inform the creation of your SEO content and the posts you create on your own website.
UPDATE 16.08.13: Yahoo's CEO, Marisa Mayer, may as well have been reading over my shoulder when I wrote this post. The YouTube interview she gave below pretty much covers Yahoo's intent to market to the interest graph rather than target the social graph:
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