There are many ways to attract people to your blog, but few that you are in more control of than social media.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a game of chance and word of mouth is a wild beast that cannot be tamed, but you can control social media. If you are prepared to put the hard yards in and work smart, you can build a considerable social media presence in a relatively short space of time.
In this post, I focus on strategies for social media and offer tips specific to the two most important social networks for most bloggers: Facebook and Twitter. Yet, many of the principles I discuss in this post are equally applicable to the likes of Google+ and Pinterest.
If you're ready to build social media "outposts" that drive traffic to your authority blog consistently, over the long-term, read on.
What Most People Don't Get About Social Media
Social media is not about the next fancy trick; it's about engendering interaction. It's about consistently compelling people to engage with you and share your content.
That is the purpose of social media and it applies across all networks (past, present and future). There's no secret sauce required to become a social media success story, just compelling human interaction.
You may wonder exactly what I mean by "compelling human interaction." The precise definition will depend upon your blog, but generally speaking you want to be involving people in conversations relating to your topic. Nothing more complicated than that.
Here's an example from my blog's Facebook page:
It isn't complicated. The key is interaction; social media, by definition, should always be a two-way street.
Most blogging social media enthusiasts are as obsessed with the number of likes or followers they have as they are with the amount of traffic they get to their blog. But in reality, those numbers pale in comparison to the true metrics of success.
Instead of focusing on the amount of new likes you're getting, focus on how many people are commenting and sharing your content. That is the true measure engagement. The more people who engage with your content, the more likely they are to share it, thus increasing your exposure.
What Should You Post?
As a rule of thumb, Facebook is great for sharing images and Twitter is great for short, sharp exchanges. However, either approach can work over either platform so don't be afraid to try different things.
Figure out what things result in a high level of engagement and interaction, then repeat them.
The key is to experiment and note what works best. Figure out what things result in a high level of engagement and interaction, then repeat them. I could write a whole bunch of stuff on what has worked for me in the past across several platforms, but in doing so I would be missing the point. Social media is a very personal means of communicating with your audience; what works for me may not work for you, and vice versa.
Reading all of the advice in the world about how to engage with your users pales in comparative effectiveness to doing what you think is right for your audience, measuring the impact, and adjusting accordingly.
The Point of Social Media
People tend to waste energy on social media. They try to drive their blog's readers to their social media profiles. That is the complete opposite of what you want to do. Ultimately, you want to drive people from social media sites to your blog, not vice versa.
Your social media profiles are "outposts" that you use to attract people to your blog. You shouldn't be focused on sending people to the outposts from your blog. Your social media profiles should stand solidly on their own two feet.
That's why I have such a strong focus on building your email list as per my post on building a blog that will engage with your target audience. If you want to ask people to sign up to your social media profiles, do so via an email auto responder once they have subscribed, but not before. Keep their options limited and they'll be far more likely to make the right decision (i.e. the one that you want them to take).
So How Do You Build Social Media Profiles?
I've already mentioned that you need to create compelling content consistently, but that alone won't build you an audience. After all, if no one is reading your compelling updates then no one will be sharing them.
In order to best leverage social media, you need to pass the tipping point where the number of people you have following you is enough to provide perpetual growth via the sharing of your updates. Getting to that point is easier said than done.
As mentioned, you should direct people from your email list to your social media sites, but unless you are getting a huge number of new email subscribers daily, that is unlikely to provide anything more than a trickle of new followers and fans. If you've had an email list for a while then you should take this opportunity to ask existing subscribers to join you. But beyond that, you're need to tap into the existing social networks to get new fans.
I believe Facebook to be the most challenging social network when it comes to building a following at no cost. However, it also offers the greatest rewards and is well worth investing time (and even money) in.
The easiest way to get new fans on Facebook is to purchase them. That may sound seedy, but I am in fact talking about advertising as opposed to literally purchasing "numbers" (rather than people). Facebook ads can be targeted to specific groups of people, thus encouraging them to check out your page and like it. At that point you have the opportunity to engage with them consistently and hopefully direct them to your blog in time.
While I am loath to recommend spending money as the best way to build a following, using Facebook ads is a quick and easy method which can get you to that tipping point far sooner than you would otherwise. In terms of cost, you can expect to pay anywhere from 50 cents to a dollar per visitor (sometimes more, sometimes less). That may sound like a lot until you realize that Facebook likes can be worth much more than that. Furthermore, although you are technically "buying" these likes, each one of the new fans has made a conscious decision to engage with your content. There is nothing fake about their interest.
It is far easier to build a network on Twitter than it is on Facebook.
The principle for attracting followers on Twitter is simple: follow people who you think may be interested in following you. Interact with them. Some will follow you back, thus growing your network. Un-follow those people who don't follow you back, then repeat the process. I've written about this process in-depth on my blog.
There are many tools (both free and paid) that you can use to do this but my personal choice is TweetAdder. It is approved by Twitter, so you have nothing to worry about on that front (unless you start following thousands of people per day, in which case they will probably suspend your ability to follow temporarily). A good free alternative (with premium options) is Tweepi.
The key is to only follow those people who you think may have an interest in you; to follow people at random is tantamount to spamming, and you may be penalized accordingly.
Driving People Back to Your Blog
All of the work you do to build a following is worth little if you do not make a conscious effort to ensure that your fans and followers find their way back to your blog (preferably on a regular basis). As with growing a following, there are different approaches for each network.
The primary way to drive traffic back to your site is to provide links to articles—both new and old. Obviously you should be notifying your Facebook fans of new posts, but you should accompany those updates with pertinent questions that will encourage comments and likes. This will boost the reach of the update.
Furthermore, you should occasionally provide links to older articles (again, accompanied by a question). So long as the content is still relevant and you're not doing it too often, your fans will be interested in this older stuff.
Finally, don't be afraid to ask people to spread the word and like your articles. If they like you then they'll be happy to do so.
Twitter is different to Facebook -- it is an ever-moving "disposable" stream of information. Because of that, updates can often get lost in the mix, which is why you should tweet out new posts more than once. I find three times to be a good number, spaced out by about six hours each, so that you have a good chance of hitting all time zones (on the assumption that you are catering to an international audience).
You can easily do this with Buffer App, which enables you to schedule tweets to be sent out at specific times. Don't be afraid to occasionally ask people to re-tweet your new posts too. It doesn't hurt to ask (as long as you don't overdo it).
You should also periodically tweet out archived blog posts. To do this I recommend a plugin I developed for that exact purpose: Evergreen Post Tweeter.
Driving Traffic from Social Media
Many bloggers lose sight of the fact that the value of social media is in how many people their profiles can drive back to their blog. Make sure that you don't lose sight of that. While social media brings other benefits (such as branding and social proof), those are secondary to driving traffic.
There's no need to spend hours on social media every day (it's simply not worth it; you've got more important things to be getting on with). I spend around 5-10 minutes per day on social media and still manage to maintain active profiles on Facebook and Twitter. It's just a case of making sure that those few minutes are used in a highly efficient and productive manner.
You've got plenty of other things to be getting on with that are more important than fiddling around with social media, like creating the stellar content that people on Facebook and Twitter will want to share. Leverage social media to your advantage but don't get lost in it. Don't lose sight of what is most important to the development of your blog.