Cultivating Culture: A Vital Strategy For Building A Web Brand Through Social Media

image credit:  bbsc30 via flickr

I receieve a decent amount of reader questions via email.  I always take time to give a response, as generally email questions are quick one-offs, and I’m happy to answer.

Once in awhile I get an email question asking for detailed, specific advice and seeking a more in-depth response.  When that happens, I give the writer two options:

1)  I can answer the question in an open-format for all my readers to see and get value from.  In this case I can either give detailed advice to your company if you’re willing to let me disclose your company name and issues publicly, or I can tackle the question from a general perspective and keep your company name private (unfortunately with this method, I can never be as thorough with an answer).


2)  If you’d like an ultra-high level of consulting and analysis privately, you can engage my services through the firm I work for.

I think this method is more than fair, and is the best way I can help everyone seeking my advice.

Today, I have a good question from the marketing assistant for a popular up-and-coming web brand which I will tackle from a general perspective, as they asked me not to disclose their company name.  For perspective, the website’s Alexa rank is around 50,000 (a decently popular site).

I edited out the specific name of the .com in the email, as well as the intro and will just show you the meat of their question:

We have several marketing strategies currently inplay, for example, we recently developed partnerships with several large online media blogs, which are sending us significant regular traffic (sites with readership comparable to the Huffington Post).

We also regularly run specific initiatives and target our network of bloggers, many of whom we have built good working relationships with.  For example, this week we created a campaign around a current event, marketed it through blogs, Twitter, comment boards and other social networking sites, all of which drive a decent amount of traffic.

Currently about half of our traffic is coming from search. We are participating actively in social media sites to build community, although are careful not to submit any of our own content. If we are submitted by someone else and get a popular article, then that’s a bonus, but it’s not our goal.

I would be really keen to hear any thoughts you might have around

a) How you think we could optimize our site for social media sites, and

b) Any specific tips you might have on building good karma and a good network on Reddit specifically.

I do wish they had let me tackle this specifically for their .com as have a few ideas targeted directly at their site.  No matter, we’ll tackle this as tips all of you can benefit from.

Let’s spin the first question to a more general perspective:

How you think a company can optimize an already popular .com for social media sites?

I’m going to approach this from a marketing/PR/branding angle, as that’s what this blog is about.  Let’s also break this up into strategies for service and content based sites.

Service-based sites, web applications, up-and-coming social networking sites, etc.

Service-based sites can spread in social media, sure, especially if the service is brand new and innovative.  But, after the first wave of exposure for a new service has happened in social media, that’s probably the biggest bump they will receieve.  Unless that brand cultivates some serious culture around it.

Gmail is a great case study to look at for this.  They have cultivated culture around their product in so many ways I can’t possibly list them all here.  They have done things like keep the Gmail development blog, which is truly deep and let’s users get a glimpse of what they are working on.  They have built support behind their brand among bloggers, social media users, and web professionals (read my post yestarday on why it’s such a great service).

Gmail inspires so much content to be created behind their brand because of their sheer dedication to the product.  You don’t see people creating videos like this for Yahoo mail or Hotmail:

[youtube qKAInP_tmHk]

You don’t see this many front page stories on Digg for Hotmail:

Check out 25 pages of front page Digg stories about Gmail.  Compare that with only 3 pages of stories about Hotmail (and there is a ton of negativity surrounding them – if you want to see what Digg users really think of Hotmail, read the comments in some of those stories).  It could not be more clear what service the early adopters favor.

Bottom line:  create raving fans around your product, and they will spread it for you through social media.  One great way this is done is by building up a culture behind your product.  How you do that, I leave to you.  Digg has built up an absolutely amazing culture behind their brand by putting dynamic people like Kevin Rose and Jay Adelson in the spotlight and hosting meetups and town halls.  Google opens up the creative and development process to let their fans have an insight into what makes them tick.  You have to do so in a way which makes sense for your brand.

Once you have a community of people living and breathing your culture as a web brand, you’ll enjoy an influx of people blogging about your service, sharing their personal experiences with your brand and spreading positive word of mouth buzz (the most powerful kind) across platforms.

You’ll end up highlighted in social media too, however it is an indirect result of building your web brand by creating community surrounding it.  It takes time and it’s not something all brands have the drive to achieve, but the results are cumulative.  It’s a strategy for a passionate brand, and in fact some brands seem to achieve it almost effortlessly.

Content-based sites

Content-based sites are different, as they are constantly updated with new content of all types.  There is always something fresh that can be shared around social media, and thus presents many opportunities to tap into that flow of traffic and users.

If you’re making content that vibes with a good amount of people, chances are it will end up on the many content sharing sites around the web.  Certainly, this is a great way to spread some exposure for your brand.

A quick disclaimer though in case any of you think this is a shortcut to popularity:  social media sites are not overnight king-makers for your content brand on the web.  They can help you along the way, but diversifying your traffic streams is the smartest way to go for sustainable results, not just spikes.

With that said, there are a plethora of sites devoted to helping you create content that has the best chances to spread across social media.  Here’s a few resources to help you get started:

37 Viral Post Ideas You Can Use Today (SkellieWag)

A 3 Step Approach To Strategic Content Development (CopyBlogger)

5 Rules Of Social Media Optimization (Influencial Marketing Blog)

6 Viral Seeding Must-Haves (Dan Zarella)

On Linkbaits, Socialbaits, and Viral Content (Daily Blog Tips)

How To Get To The Front Page Of Digg – 6 Ingredients Of A Successful Digg Campaign (ProBlogger)

Even for a content-based site, cultivating a strong culture behind your brand will help you long-term.

If it’s a blog your running, great – your personality is the defining characteristic behind the site.  If you’re an interesting blogger, this should in time build subscribers around your blog that reflects your personal brand.  It’s the law of attraction in action.

Question two was:

b) Any specific tips you might have on building good karma and a good network on Reddit specifically.

I would say become an active user on the network, and contribute to the network frequently with comments, submissions and voting.  Become a respected power-user of that community.

You should never attempt to game the system of Digg, Reddit or any type of content sharing site.  It is unsustainable, and you will ultimately get caught and thrown on display for the whole network to see.  Not that they asked about gaming the system, it certainly seems like this person wants to go about things in the proper way, I am just clarifying that for those who have thought about gaming the system somewhere.

Certainly, getting social is a great way to build new interest in whatever you’re doing on the web.  You can create a social networking personality across platforms as a brand, as long as you do so transparently.

The thing is, if you’re already at a tipping point with traffic (for example, if you have an Alexa rank of 50,000) and one of your goals is to increase social media exposure, you probably need to take stock of things from an internal perspective, audit the current level of social media traffic, mentions and interest, and ask yourself if what you’re doing is something that can realistically be shared across social media.

At a high level of traffic/subscribers, you will have a built-in audience of social media users who could potentially share something about your service on their blog, on Digg, through Facebook, on Twitter or any other channel.  You have to ask yourself the question:  what would actually inspire my users to share this?

Related articles from The Future Buzz

Influencing Social Media:  What Drives Digg And Reddit Users

How To Effectively Target Networks Or Specific Groups Of People

A Guilty Pleasure Of The Blogosphere And Social Media:  Lists

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Giving A Brand Personality (Connie Bensen)

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