The New Earned Media: How SEO and Social Media Can Work Together to Become a True Marketing Discipline
Social media practitioners, whom I occasionally refer to as “socialistas,” attended SMX Advanced in droves this month. Normally, the majority of attendees at the annual gathering in Seattle are the more inward-looking search engine optimization “wizards.” Because these two groups are so culturally different (which I explored in a recent blog post), one wouldn't have expected this mix.
SEO and social media are emerging as the core digital components of the “new earned media." Businesses using these media as marketing channels may not yet refer to them this way, but the demographics of this particular conference vividly illustrated the concerted yet fragmented attempts by organizations of all sizes to stake out common ground between the two disciplines.
SEO and social media share a similar distinction with the original form of “earned media” — i.e., offline publicity in traditional news media. This is true in that editorial exposure cannot be gained by directly paying the medium owner. Marketers cannot pay The Wall Street Journal to run a story about them, just as advertisers cannot pay Google to increase their page ranks or Facebook to generate more mentions. Marketers must earn it through brand building. Both Google and Facebook represent a media type that's digital and intangible in essence, thus the term “new earned media.”
Amongst the "digerati," it's been fashionable to state that search and social media must somehow be integrated. So when Google launched its time-delimited search filters — notably its “latest” filter that turns search results into a list of tweets and blog posts containing the search term — SEO became SSO (social search optimization). What was once fashionable is now obvious.
Still, both SEO and social media are nascent disciplines. They must earn their stripes to be taken more seriously within organizations. Being earned forms of media already puts them at a disadvantage, as businesses are accustomed to attributing sales conversions to paid media forms. Public relations professionals have always wrestled with this conundrum, and have reacted by developing metrics to try to measure the effectiveness of publicity.
Rather than being reactive, SEO and social media working together can become true marketing partners by following the lead of counterparts in paid search, which focus on measureable channels and subscribe to the principle that marketing is an investment, not a cost center.
That’s a tall order, given that earned media affects the upper portion of the sales funnel, where measuring performance can be tenuous.
At the SMX session I moderated, Beth Lubov Butrymowicz, Intel’s global media manager, said one solution for assessing SEO and social media is the “Intel Value Point System,” which is currently being used to measure visitor engagement through display advertising and paid search. This system assigns values to actions users perform on Intel's website, such as sharing a video, forwarding information to a friend or joining an Intel community. Each action is tracked and points are accrued to the marketing channels that a person touches along the way. These insights help Intel refine their marketing strategies, creative campaigns and media planning.
This type of metrics framework can help SEO and social media begin playing in the paid media arena, as it provides a degree of rigor for marketing leaders who are most comfortable being in complete control of their environments. Nevertheless, marketers have begun to realize the benefits from the openness that user-generated social media interaction forces upon organizations.