The new 2013 Searchmetrics’ study of 300,000 websites reported that social sharing behavior is even more strongly correlated with high page rank.

Top highlights of 2013:

  1. Keyword domains and keyword links have lost relevance
  2. Brands are the exception to many rules
  3. Social signals continue to correlate very well with better rankings
  4. Good content is always important: it comes to quality!
  5. The number of backlinks remains immensely important
  6. On-page technology remains one of the basics

The updated report is available in its entirety here: http://www.searchmetrics.com/en/services/ranking-factors-2013/

According to the report, sharing engaging content in social networks correlates with higher search rankings much more than traditional SEO techniques.  See the chart below.

SEO search ranking factors 2013Pretty much mimics the 2012 results, except that social signals are even stronger predictors of search performance.

Takeaways from this study for me include:

  • Sharing your content on Facebook and Twitter and getting people to engage with it is much more strongly correlated with SEO performance than all traditional SEO methods save one: the number of backlinks.  The quality of those backlinks wasn’t measured in this study, but Google is prioritizing quality.
  • As I hypothesized in my earlier version of this post, Google+ beats other social networks when it comes to SEO.
  • Many traditional SEO tactics aren’t as effective as social sharing.  This includes positioning Keywords correctly and making sure the right Keywords are in your URLs, Title and Description.

Search geeks, take heed: according to Eric Schmidt, social signals will become fundamental to ranking well – for human factor reasons that are hard to argue.  In his new book he says,

Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance.

To learn more about the changing relationship between social sharing and SEO performance, check out SEOMoz’s Daily SEO Blog / Social Media section. Rand Fishkin’s blog team does an awesome job covering the really important topic.

Here are some recent posts about this subject:

About the Searchmetrics Study

The study analyzed Google search results for 10,000 keywords as well as billions of backlinks, Tweets, Google +1s and Facebook likes, shares and comments. The data was collected in early 2013. The correlations between different factors and the Google search results were calculated using Spearman’s rank correlation coefficient.

The corpus of content related to these keywords include:

  • 30,000 SERPs (search engine result pages)
  • 300,000 titles, descriptions, URLs, etc.
  • Approx. 150 GB of data
  • Approx. 600,000 AdSense blocks
  • Approx. 5,300,000,000 backlinks
  • Approx. 4,150,000,000 Facebook shares
  • Approx. 12,950,000,000 Facebook likes
  • Approx. 600,000,000 Facebook comments
  • Approx. 1,000,000,000 tweets
  • Approx. 330,000,000 Google plus ones
  • Approx. 14,500,000 Pins
Marketing With One Eye Closed: Closing the Gap Between Social Media & Marketing Automation
Did you know? Dolphin teeth are used for grasping, not chewing. They have no jaw muscles for chewing.

Marketing with One Eye Closed

For many months, I’ve been stewing about the obvious lack of integration between social media monitoring software (SMMS) and marketing automation platforms (MAP).

I’ve been thinking about it because NeedTagger’s users are evenly split between marketing and sales professionals. Both use our tool to connect with customers and prospects on Twitter (for different purposes).

Popeye-pipe-logoEvery day, I see how disconnected social selling pros are from inbound marketing and lead generation teams. At times, it’s like they live in two different worlds. 

That’s unfortunate, because both teams are trying to communicate with the same people for basically the same reason. It’s also unfortunate for the prospect or contact being targeted, because the messages they receive can be redundant, conflicting or downright confusing.

As a social selling professional, I need to know what our marketing team knows about the person I’m talking to right now, for example:

  • what were the last few marketing emails we sent to them?
  • what marketing content is available to share with this person?
  • what content are we sharing today from our key social media accounts?

Likewise, marketing automation platforms send emails to contacts all the time without considering important information available in social media, such as:

  • what is our history of social interactions with this person?
  • what recent signals of purchase intent – positive or negative – has this person demonstrated in social meda?
  • are there any outstanding questions or complaints posted by this person on Twitter?

Perhaps this disconnect persists because social media is so new that marketing automation platforms haven’t caught up. Or maybe it’s because social prospecting and selling tend to be more of a “grass-roots” initiative by sales reps, whereas marketing automation tends to be a top-down budgeted program.

Whatever the reasons, real-time, cross-channel engagement with individuals is a bit of a mess from the customer’s point of view – so we’d better clean things up!

Of course, our company sells a social media monitoring/prospecting tool, which means we own 1/2 of this problem.

During the past couple of months, I’ve reached out to leading marketing automation consultants and platform providers to discuss the gaps between our types of solutions and to identify ways we might integrate our apps and data with their platforms. This post is based on those conversations.

This is a long read because we address a number of related topics:

  • why seamless integration between social media and marketing automation technology is a must, moving forward.
  • how social media and marketing automation solutions are evolving to adapt to the new world of the real time customer
  • what gaps must be closed between social media and marketing automation platforms
  • where the software industry stands today re. closing these gaps. 

Marketing’s Future: Real Time, Personal & Data-Driven

Marketing professionals are under increasing pressure to master the art of real-time, data-driven personalized marketing in all channels.

As a member of a real time marketing team, you are – or soon will be – charged with listening to your market and engaging with prospects and customers “in the moment”. Your responsibilities may include:

  • monitoring social media and the real-time web for engagement opportunities

  • engaging directly with prospects & customers in real time

  • activating influencers

  • recruiting & rewarding brand advocates, and,

  • creating, curating and publishing reams of fresh content to take advantage of trends.

In his recent response to Salesforce’s acquisition of ExactTarget, Phil Fernandez, CEO of Marketo, explained where the pressure is coming from:

Twitter_Phil

Phil Fernandez

We believe that marketing is undergoing a deep transformation driven by large-scale trends such as the rise of self-directed consumers and broad and instant availability of information online. This means marketers must fundamentally change how they engage with prospects and customers.

 

And this in turn requires a new kind of technology solution – one that helps them to create relationship-building dialogs across fragmented channels, one that helps them think holistically about the entire range of responsibilities of the modern marketing professional, and one that is powered by deep insight and analytics.

For those who step up to the data-driven marketing challenge, the good news is that there is no shortage of real-time data to mine for opportunity. Especially in social media, the world’s largest real-time customer database.  

But mining data is only half the story.  Marketing in a social world also requires getting personalThe importance of real-time, personal engagement was highlighted when HubSpot CEO, Brian Halligan, discussed why they released their new 1-to-1 social media monitoring and engagement panel, Social Inbox:

Brian Halligan, CEO of Hubspot

Brian Halligan

Over the last five years, social media marketing has been far from lovable; in fact, brands were typically using social media to push out contests, sweepstakes, and promotional content—tactics that are impersonal for customers and ineffective for marketers. HubSpot Social Inbox allows marketers to create, share, promote, monitor, respond, and integrate social media into their overall marketing approach. Social Inbox is a powerful vehicle for marketers that results in a singular narrative for customers.

Not many organizations are experts at turning real-time social data into personalized marketing and selling actions.

But that’s starting to change.

Social Listening Moves From Analytics to Action

First-generation social media monitoring platforms like Marketwired (Sysomos) and Salesforce (Radian6) led the social data mining charge by helping marketers convert social data into useful insights. Social media monitoring and analytics are still powerful ways to monitor and learn about your market.

The problem is that in most companies today, social data is not being mined in a systemic way to generate sales, leads and customer satisfactionInstead, most of it is still stuck in analytics for market research, branding, PR and advertising. 

When it is leveraged for action, social data is recirculated within social media marketing silos – we see an opportunity on Twitter, so we respond on Twitter – as though our customers only live on Twitter! Very little social data is being leveraged to drive actions in the channels that we know work best – be that email, direct mail or a telephone call.

Radian6 Dashboard

Radian6 Dashboard

But times are changing.  Social data mining is moving past its role as an analytics tool into driving results in real time.

New targeted ad products from Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are examples of how social data mining can drive bottom-line performance. For example, Twitter just launched a new lead generation card.

Twitter's New Lead Generation Card

Twitter’s New Lead Generation Card

In addition, new data mining and social selling tools have arrived that makes it easier to spot business opportunities & to engage with prospects in social media, in real time.

Using NeedTagger to Mine for Customers in HootSuite (live demo)

New social data mining APIs (like our new Social Signals API) are making it easier for marketers to listen for buying signals in social media and take action in other channels – in a fully automated way.

Yet another example of data mining for action is the new crop of predictive sales intelligence applications like LatticeEngines that analyze your customer data, then scan social media and the web to identify high-probability prospects for your business.

Clearly, social data mining has moved into the “action zone”.

But is it producing results?

Social Media’s ROI Problem

Wimpy - well fundedMany smart people claim that social media marketing will never pay like we think it will. That it may never generate sales and leads. That it’s all about “top of the funnel”.

Their claims ignore a large & growing body of evidence that social media marketing actually does generate sales, improves the performance of inbound marketing and can reduce lead costs by more than half. Those of us who serve customer-facing professionals with social media technology know the ROI is there.

But to be fair, the skeptics are correct that it has been really difficult to impossible to prove social media marketing impacts sales and lowers costs in a consistent, reliable way.

Why is this so? We think for three reasons:

  1. Harvesting social media for leads and sales is mostly a manual process today: finding business opportunities in noisy social networks is an expensive, error-prone task. Record keeping is abysmal. Better advertising options are coming along, but they are siloed within each social network.

  2. Social media marketing systems remain mostly disconnected from other marketing and CRM systems. So, the full range of social interactions with a given person isn’t being tracked.

  3. Sales attribution is a mess across all digital channels, anyway. Before social media it was really hard to know what specific actions drove each sale. Now, it’s harder. Let’s face it: “last-click” attribution is not an accurate way to measure social media’s impact on sales.

In other words, a lot of Social Media’s ROI problem is due to a lack of integration with other customer systems of record.

Obviously, we need to clear up this confusion. But how?

Marketing Automation’s Future: Real Time Demand Generation

Like other CEOs of marketing and sales technology companies, I believe that the real-time and pervasive nature of social media is forcing enterprise marketers to integrate the best features from their social media listening platforms, CRM and marketing automation platforms into a real-time demand generation platform.  By hook or by crook, we’ll all have to get there.

The real time demand generation platform of the future will serve as a company’s system of engagement with a wide variety of external stakeholders – not just email contacts and social media followers. More specifically, it will do at least six things well:

  1. listen and respond to individuals on a 1-to-1 basis, in real time (in any channel): to do this, we have to manage and track every type of communication, marketing action and selling interaction we have with each person, in real time. This is not a recommendation that we should respond to every signal in real time, nor that every engagement needs to be personalized – that’s not scalable. But we do need to keep tabs on people in real time and be ready to respond in a personal way & in the most appropriate channel, when needed.
  2. listen to every person that matters in our market (not just our contacts & followers): maintain real-time intelligence on every person that matters to our business: prospects, customers, contacts, influencers, advocates and partners. Social media’s strength lies in its ability to not only listen to everyone that matters, but to leverage social relationships where possible to spread the word. In contrast, most marketing automation platforms restrict our market reach to email contacts & followers.
  3. completely inform every engagement and action we take with every person: capture a complete & accurate view of each person’s behavior, profile and history of our interactions (manual or automated) throughout the lifecycle of our relationship with them. Then, make this profile available to every automated system and to every employee that might interact with that person.
  4. select the right channel for every engagement and automated action: marketers should be able to leverage all of the intelligence we have on a person to take action in the channel(s) that make the most sense for each interaction.  We should be able to listen in one channel and act in another – seamlessly.
  5. automate as much work as possible, reserving the hardest problems & most sensitive interactions for our most valuable resource (our employees): using a blend of predictive analytics, natural language processing and human expertise, we should automate as much predictable work as we can, so we can spend our scarcest resource – skilled labor – on the most important people, events and exceptions.
  6. provide analytics suitable for A/B testing cross-channel, real time engagement with individuals: support agile, data-based decision making regarding the owned, earned and paid media investments we make, down to the individual person or persona where needed. Content, contacts and market segments will be shared across multiple channels and across owned, earned and paid media. We need analytics that can deal with this complexity.

Note: some MAP vendors call their vision, “Revenue Generation” – but unless their system is closing the deal and taking the order, I think that’s stretching it a bit.

Putting aside the jargon, I think it’s easy to understand why we’ll need marketing technology like this in the future.

It’s because our customers are pressuring us to get our digital act together – and real-time, personalized engagement is what they increasingly expect. Social media makes it too darn easy for people to share bad experiences, so you must respond to people and address those issues in real time if you want to compete in the public marketplace of the future.

I am a customer of many brands myself, and I would love it if the brands I do business with would behave in such an informed & responsive manner. Wouldn’t you?

Of course, I am not the first to point out what we need. Lots of visionary technology leaders led the way. Some of them are putting their words in to product.

If you attended Marc Benioff’s keynote at last year’s Dreamforce event in San Francisco (“Business is Social”), then you heard this integrated vision in spades. With lots of emphasis on “social”.

Bill Nussey, CEO of Silverpop, describes their company as a enabler of Behavioral Marketing, which is:

Silverpop CEO, Bill Nussey

Bill Nussey

…real-time, cross-channel, insanely relevant campaigns to one person at a time automatically driven by analytics of their actions, preferences and profiles.

 

 

Silverpop’s Director of Product Strategy, Bryan Brown, further explains how real time behaviors can, and should, drive better performance:

Marc, Phil, Brian, Bryan and Bill all seem to agree that marketing is going to be real time, personal, social and data-driven. They also understand that more social media marketing features must be integrated within their platforms (see update below).

Of course, implementing this real-time demand-gen nirvana will take time and effort. There are challenges we have to overcome – starting with where we will store all of our real-time data about people.

What’s Missing: A Complete System of Record for 1-to-1 Engagement

One thing I’m sure we need (soon) is a single system of record (SOR) to house all of the data about the people that make up our market – especially social data, which is the largest data resource available about people.

Some of my colleagues in the software industry might argue that we already have this system of record – theirs – but I disagree. We’re not there yet.

So what type of enterprise platform should house it? In the enterprise software world, there seem to be four candidates:

  1. a social media monitoring/management system (SMMS): HootSuite, Sprinklr, et al
  2. a customer relationship management (CRM) system: Salesforce, SugarCRM, NimbleCRM, et al
  3. a marketing automation platform (MAP): Marketo, Eloqua, ExactTarget, Hubspot, Responsys, et al
  4. a new type of real-time marketing/customer experience platform (RTM/CEX?):  lots of startups chasing this right now

I don’t think there are any social media monitoring systems out there that are capable of serving as a single system of record for multi-channel digital marketing and engagement, so I’m not going to analyze the pros/cons of doing that.

Some think the best system of record for real-time 1-to-1 engagement is a CRM system like Salesforce.com. There are good arguments for doing this. And, there are new “Social CRM” platforms like Nimble CRM (which we use) that provide much better 360-degree views of your interactions with a person online.

Today’s SocialCRM platforms work well for on-the-ground social selling and relationship management, but there’s still that nagging issue that each person’s marketing context is missing. For example, we don’t know what emails our marketing team sent to that lead. And, we don’t know what sort of content they’ve clicked on in Twitter. It’s easy to ruin a good sales opportunity when you work like this.

While it’s theoretically possible that some of the new crop of startups focused on real time advertising and marketing in social media will take the lead, I won’t address that group here because I think it’s too early to know.

Besides, this post is long enough! There are many new companies focused on parts of this problem – just in social media (chart courtesy LUMA Partners):

Social LUMAscape

Social LUMAscape

Another potential system of record for 1-to-1 engagement is a marketing automation platform (MAP). 

Using a MAP as the system of record for real-time demand generation makes a lot of sense to me for several reasons:

  • we maintain our marketing contacts there
  • we measure cross-channel digital marketing performance there
  • we analyze and score our leads there
  • most social media engagement and marketing activity is top- (or middle-)of-the-funnel
  • most MAPs are already integrated with that other important system of record, CRM. 

If you use a MAP & a CRM platform today, then using your MAP as your marketing system of record is a “duh” conclusion.

But half of businesses haven’t made that leap yet. For them, here is a quick overview of what a marketing automation platform does:

WHAT IS A MARKETING AUTOMATION PLATFORM (MAP)?

Marketing automation platforms reduce the cost of acquiring customers by automating and integrating digital marketing tasks that companies traditionally perform in a solo’d fashion, including:

Marketing Automation features by Marketo

Marketing Automation features (by Marketo)

Marketing automation is also referred to as inbound marketing (Hubspot), behavioral marketing (Silverpop) revenue performance management (Marketo and Eloqua) and revenue marketing (The Pedowitz Group).

An important side-effect of integrating so many marketing activities around a single contact data base is that you get much better insight (and hard data) regarding how well your marketing investments are paying off in terms of leads, sales and satisfied customers. As long as all channels are integrated with your MAP, that is.

More than 20 vendors offer full-featured platforms for various industries and company sizes. Most marketing automation platforms were designed in the early- or mid-2000s, before social media came on the scene. They were designed to optimize web content management, SEO and email marketing activities. So, naturally, that’s where most of their capabilities lie. 

And business is good – demand for MAP technology increased by more than 50% in 2012.

Enter the new kid on the block, social media marketing.

In just a few years, social media marketing has grown from an experiment into a legitimate digital marketing channel that competes for billions in budget with search engines, display and email.

Closing the Gaps

mind the gap

For most digital marketers today, it is obvious that their social media data and applications must be integrated with other digital marketing efforts (eventually). Otherwise, we’re just marketing with one eye closed.

Likewise, most of the marketing automation industry executives I’ve talked with readily admit their platforms will need to integrate with many social media marketing activities.  Many are working to accomplish this right now.

But how, exactly, should these two worlds come together? what are the specific gaps that need to be closed?

Integration gaps exist on both sides of the divide: within social media monitoring and marketing platforms; and, within marketing automation platforms.

In social media platforms, for example, users do not have access to critical information about customers and prospects stored in CRM and MAP platforms. As a result, many social media teams lack a complete view of the company’s relationship with a person during an engagement. This is not a good thing.

On the marketing automation side of the house, there are at least four integration gaps with social media platforms that need to be addressed:

  1. most MAPs treat social media as a content publishing (broadcast) channel, rather than as a place to engage with people directly (which is what it is). For example, most MAPs lack social media prospecting tools, social customer segmentation, social lead scoring and real-time 1-to-1 engagement panels. Hubspot’s new Social InBox product stands out as an exception.

  2. most MAPs limit your social marketing reach to existing contacts (email contacts and followers). This flies in the face of the reality that very few brands are directly connected to more than 10% of their socially-active prospects on any social network. If you limit your reach to fans and followers, then you’re ignoring 90% of your prospects!  Act-On’s Twitter Prospector tool, LoopFuse’s Nearstream tool and Vocus’ Buying Signals offering are recent attempts by marketing automation providers to close this gap.

  3. MAPs rely on keywords to identify social media posts that matter. Analyzing people and posts for commercial intent is extremely important in social media marketing because that’s how we identify actionable events, prioritize our work & save time monitoring. Unfortunately, due to the conversational language of social networks, searching posts for keywords is not a reliable way to surface commercial intent in social media. Leading social media monitoring platforms offer natural language processing options for this reason. To get a feel for the difference, watch this video in which we demo keyword-filtered streams next to intent-filtered streams inside HootSuite.

  4. MAPs don’t incorporate enough social data in their analytics. Hubspot’s Megan Kearney recently wrote an excellent piece about the gaps between SMMS and MAP platforms, in which she commented on the social analytics gap:

By integrating social media into full marketing analytics that pull data from all channels, more and more marketers are starting to be able to understand how many leads, customers, and dollars their social media efforts are generating and what type of content generates the highest quality lead.

The Race To Integrate Is Underway

salesforce-exacttarget

Oracle’s recent acquisitions of Eloqua & Collective Intellect and Salesforce.com’s acquisitions of Radian6 and ExactTarget/Pardot are clear signals that more MAP-social integration is in the cards.

It will take time for these products to be integrated, but it’s pretty clear that real-time demand generation platforms are on the way.

Another sign: leading marketing automation providers are now adding native social media marketing features to their offerings, for example:

Nice progress, but a lot of integration remains.

Which begs the question: what can a marketer do today to bridge the social-MAP gap?


NOTE: If you had the patience to get this far, then I’ll let you in on a secret: this is the first of a series of three articles. In our next two posts, we’ll explain how you can tap into the massive amount of social data created every day to improve the performance of your marketing automation systems – even if your organization doesn’t use social media that much.

How Much Do Influencers Really Matter in Social Media?
Did you know? The maximum age for bottlenose dolphins is between 40 and 50 years.

A recent excellent Harvard Business Review article pointed out the dangers of relying on social media data as proof of social media influence.

What Would Ashton Do—and Does It Matter?

In his article, Sinan Aral points out the simple fact that people don’t live inside social media silos. We live in the real world, where many more factors than social media “influence” our purchasing behavior.

If HBR is correct, then the “social media influence” we are measuring right now is not necessarily the result of one person actively influencing another’s behavior through social media (whatever that means). A lot of that behavior was gonna happen, anyway.

The implication: if you want to measure the true influence of your social media outreach on purchase behavior, then you need a more sophisticated model than a Klout score or number of followers provides.

Looking for inspiration on how to measure true influence in social media? Danny Brown and Sam Fiorella recently published a new book, Influence Marketing, that does a great job outlining the complexities involved and proposes a new model for influencer marketing.

book cover - influence marketing by Danny Brown and Sam Fiorella