In the time I’ve spent playing in the social media space and in an official capacity advising folks on how to behave here, those unfamiliar with the surroundings have a tendency to think social media can do two things. The requests I face most often are to A) “Make this viral” and B) “Go find some traffic.”

Fixin’ it!Friends who play in the social media sandbox can relate and probably won’t get more than entertaining prose out of this post. What I’m going to write here is for clients, corporations and colleagues. This is not so much a listing of what social media is but rather what social media isn’t.

“Make This Viral!”

The keystone of social media thinking is engagement. It is achieved by creating interesting content. Whether you’re contributing videos, images, stories or reviews, contributing something meaningful to the community is your admission fee. You are allowed to play here if you can show the ability to add something of value to our little party.

Content that becomes viral – that which is shared by members of the community with others who, likewise, share with more – is not made. It is born that way. A brilliant blog post is a brilliant blog post, even in a vacuum. The funniest video you’ve ever seen on YouTube is funny because of what was videoed, not what was done with it afterwards.

Let’s say you have a moderately amusing television commercial in your company’s archives from 10 years ago. No matter how hard you try, no matter what social media, digital marketing or interactive genius you hire, you will not make that video viral. Why? Because it is a moderately amusing television commercial. The only way to produce a viral effect is to add strategic thinking, commentary, additional video or some other such resource to the video to amplify amusement to the point of being strange, hysterical, bizarre or shocking.

My point is that no matter how many coats of paint you put on a turd, it’s still a turd. And the online audiences will watch and say, “Dude? That’s a turd!”

A more appropriate approach would be for you to say to someone like me, “Help me create content that could become viral and thus promote my product, service or website.”

“Go Find Some Traffic!”

Building websites has changed. While the purpose of some is still to drive buyers to online stores or provide basic information, those that are most successful today are built with the Web 2.0 online participant (and consumer) in mind. They are constructed to engage the audience which attracts return visits, inbound links and high search engine positioning. Again, engagement is the goal.

Unfortunately, many companies build fancy websites chock full of information, images and slick videos that would have been lauded as groundbreaking and beautiful five to seven years ago. But, they are still online billboards because they are planned to be, well … online billboards.

The site is launched, no one is coming and everyone’s trying to figure out why. The popular course of action seems to be to bring in the social media guy to promote the site. “Make it viral!” “Go get us traffic!”

The root of the problem is the site concept wasn’t created with driving traffic in mind. It was created with a fancy billboard in mind. You’re essentially asking your social media advisor to figure out a way to make people want to stop, get out of their cars, climb the pole and have a conversation with the billboard.

Content generation should be the prerequisite focus that dictates the design and development of your website. If it wasn’t, you’ll have to dive in and find a way to make the site dynamic and interesting, with content, not Flash presentations and videos, to compel people to come and come back.

And, as an aside, what about a video or a Flash presentation is interactive? A presentation is something you watch, not participate in. There’s no interactivity in either.

Clearly, the understanding of social media is imperative for co-workers, colleagues, clients and other C-words to appropriately direct its usage in building engaging websites and creating viral content. Until social media enthusiasts can successfully educate them all, we will be called upon to “make something viral” and “got get traffic.”

And we will, as best we can, and hope for the day when our clients, companies and colleagues all see the underlying truth: Social media shouldn’t be a fix. It should be a strategy.

Other posts you’ll find interesting:

  1. Make Your Website Linkable
  2. 99 Resources For Web 2.0 Design
  3. How To Make Your Website Appealing To The Masses
  4. SES Session: Igniting Viral Campaigns
  5. How To Write Excellent Blog Content

[tags]social media, optimization, website, design, viral content, creating viral content, viral campaigns, web design[/tags]

IMAGE: “Drivers fixing car muhumbili 2″ from Malangali on Flickr.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://occamsrazr.com Ike

    “Go find us some traffic.”

    Funny, because this flies in the face of the entire AdSense model. It’s not about funneling traffic, it’s about targeting the few you wanted to get anyway!

    Criminy!

  • http://vandelaydesign.com Steven Snell

    Thanks for the mention! Yeah, you’re definitely right. The point of most social media sites is to share the best content (or at least what the users like). Poor content will go nowhere.

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com Jason Falls

    Ike and Steven: Thanks for the responses. This was written after a day of repetitive head banging against the wall because several folks just don’t get it … God, love ‘em, as my grandmother used to say.

    Fortunately, one-by-one, they start to see the light.

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