Elance Blog

11 Ways to Market Your New Social Networking Website

“Build it and they will come?” Not anymore (if that was ever really true).


Chris Bennett - Guest Contributor

Just building a feature-filled social networking site with a sound infrastructure is only the start of your website journey. Don’t fret, though, because it’s an exciting journey: social networking sites are the most visited area of the Internet. According to recent statistics from Hitwise.com, social networking actually accounts for 11% of all web visits.

As expected, this popularity begets competition: competition to keep your site from resembling an online ghost town and competition to find and convert the right people for your particular niche.

The good news is that you don’t have to navigate the competitive waters on your own. We asked Chris Bennett, friend of Elance and social networking guru, for ways you can market your social networking website and stand out from the competition:

1. Identify your target audience
Who are you targeting -- specifically? To help answer this question, think about the target age, gender, interest, and geographic location of who you want to use your new site.

Remember, social networkers are already busy on sites like Facebook, MySpace, Digg, and others, so the average person probably won’t add a “general” social networking site to their agenda. So, choose a niche and identify the relevant audience so you can stand out.

Once you know who you are targeting, figure out how many people are in your target audience and might be interested in your site. To do this, think about keyword searches this audience might do to find sites like yours, and then check out keyword search volume on Google and research data on sites like compete.com and hitwise.com. You should also visit Stumbleupon, go to groups, and find out how many people subscribe to the group or groups related to your topic.

2. Beta test – thoroughly
Social networkers have choices, and they definitely don’t have the time or willingness to deal with problems. So before you launch, you need a really strong beta site that’s been tested and tested and tested. And tested one more time for good measure. If you have the budget, consider private or third-party testing – not only will they do a thorough job, but they may notice problems that over time you’ve come to ignore.  The easiest way to turn off a potential customer is to deliver a sub-par experience.

In addition testing the user experience, be sure to include server and load testing: When sites go down, visitors are turned off and leave, most likely for good.

Remember that social media users as a group tend to be more technically savvy, and as a result, more likely to bail on you if they’re unsatisfied. The bottom line is that you’ll want to have your site in top shape before driving traffic to it.

3. Seed your site
Say you’re creating a site for interior designers and your goal is for thousands of designers to upload photos for the community to comment on. At launch, make sure you have tons of photos in place.

A common mistake is assuming visitors will load your content for you, but in reality almost no visitor will commit to making that jump unless they see other people have already done so. Think about it -- would you as a visitor upload photos, add descriptions, and comment on other photos when it is unlikely people will see what you’ve done?

The basic principle is that visiting a social networking site is a lot like using a forum – if there’s no activity, you’ll leave. So seed your site with the kind of content you want users to generate and interact with.

How can you do this? Get a beta group to help you seed your site – even if it’s just your friends and family. Not only will you be seeding, you’ll also be performing additional beta tests in the process.

4. Network to generate traffic
The key message here is that social networking requires online, not offline, buzz generation. Get in touch with online influencers during your website's pre-launch phase and more general blogs and PR sites post-launch.

How? Use Technorati and Google Blog Search to identify the popular blogs that focus on your demographic. Then, after you’ve conducted beta testing and you’re proud of your site, contact the major bloggers and influencers in your demographic and ask them to beta test your site prior to launch. By reaching out early, you’re showing you respect their knowledge and you really value their feedback.

That’s a much better approach than contacting them after the launch. Why? Most will be flattered you sought their opinion ahead of time, and not only will you get valuable feedback, you’re more likely to be reviewed when you do launch. Reviews and mentions by influencers help create buzz – and buzz creates traffic.

Then notify influential blogs like techcrunch.com, mashable.com, and killerstartups.com. Keep in mind they get tons of requests, so make sure your pitch is to the point.

5. Consider traditional online advertising
If you have the budget, contact the large sites and forums in your demographic that sell ad space and buy a few ads (federatedmedia.com could be a good source). But do not delude yourself into buying just any traffic, and don’t focus on general-interest sites even if they get huge amounts of traffic. In the early stages of your website, you want your ads in front of the right eyeballs – not just any eyeballs.

6. Don’t forget SEO
Getting traffic from search engines is key, right? And getting free traffic is even better. To do this, one of the first things you’ll want to do is identify keywords and continually optimize your site and pages and get ranked for those words.

For example, if your niche is interior design, you’ll definitely want to rank for terms like “interior design ideas,” interior design photos,” “interior design community,” etc. Look for keywords that describe the content you offer instead of products and integrate that content into your pages. (Unless your site is devoted to product reviews or discussions, of course.) And remember, it’s hard to rank highly for general terms; it’s much easier to rank highly for specific and focused keywords.

7. Participate on sites related to your niche
If there’s a huge forum or a thriving group in StumbleUpon in your demographic, set up an account, link back to your site, and interact and become well-known in that community and you’ll generate traffic to your site.

When you set up your account, make your username the name of your social site to help further brand you. Make a name for yourself – actually, for your site – in your demographic. Here’s a guide to help you set up a StumbleUpon account and, if you like, becoming a top Stumbler.

8. Create spokes for your hub
Set up Facebook and MySpace pages that are extensions of your site. Then search and network with people who share your interest. Aggregating content from your social site and placing it on your Facebook and MySpace pages will give potential visitors a sense of what is on your main site.

You can also set up a Twitter page, with the name of your site as your Twitter username, and tweet all day about what you’re working on and what’s new on your site. You can also perform searches on Twitter to find people interested in your niche. Many influential bloggers use Twitter to alert their readers about new content – you can too.

Make sure you also link to all your Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and Stumbleupon profiles from your main site – basically, anywhere you’ve created an account related to your brand.

9. Analyze, analyze, analyze
The key to effectively marketing your social networking site is to understand conversions. A conversion in social networking terms is not a sale, it’s a sign-up. (Marketing is, after all, about spreading the word, getting the right visitors, and converting them.) A free tool on blvdstatus.com can help you understand where visitors came from before they signed up, whether based on a keyword, a site, or a blog.

Understanding where your conversions come from helps you determine where to focus your marketing efforts. If a mention on a particular blog resulted in a nice volume of sign-ups from the blog’s readers, you’re on to something. Analytics help you determine where it’s worth spending your marketing time.

10. Encourage your active community
Think of ways to get your community to interact with each other. The benefit is that ever elusive ‘network effect’ – when an active community creates buzz and word of mouth, yielding more users.

Things you should do to facilitate interaction: comment on user comments, create contests for things like adding content, allow users to vote, and let users submit questions.

Note: I’m sure you’ll be surprised by what can create interaction. We work with a best-selling author who, due to time constraints, isn’t easy for the average reader to contact. We asked site users to submit questions they’d like the author to answer, and then the community voted on the top ten questions. It’s so popular it’s become a monthly feature on the site and generates an incredible amount of participation and interaction.

11. When you reach critical mass, work on features to fine-tune the community experience
Once the buzz from the launch dies down, new features can build new excitement, both within your community and outside. So spend time adding features or tools. Then contact bloggers and influencers to let them know what you’ve done – not only will you maintain a vibrant community, but the buzz will help you generate more new users.

About
Chris Bennett is the President and Founder of 97th Floor, a leading edge SEO Firm specializing in Search Engine Optimization, Reputation Management, Social Media Marketing and Blog Optimization. Chris has been involved with the Internet “since the days of Alta Vistas reign, the good ol’ days when you could change your meta tags, submit your site through Inktomi, and see your rankings improve by dinner.”

Comments

Thanks for this blog. I have had a great idea for a social networking site but people have told me it's going to cost so much money to build. I am excited to use your tips and get my site up and running.

Hi Chris, I found your information so wonderful, I'm so new at all this and need all the help I can get. I'm the editor for The College Of Metaphysical Studies and we have over 3000 readers in 16 counties. Needless to say it keeps me very busy. The Newsletter goes out weekly. I have thought myself everything just from reading stuff on line. I wish there was a way to post this on myspace or facebboks, as i know so many would benefit form your knowledge. Thank you so much for sharing, and I will try to implement as many as I can. Thanks again Donna

This is great information Chris. Thank you.

Wow! What a great post! I agree...Participating in site that belong to your niche is a great way to build brand and ultimately acquire new users. It doesn't hurt to create multiple accounts in a community to create initial buzz through posts. For example, with account A you post a question for any good local cafes. You can answer with your account B with a cafe you're trying to promote.

Chris I gotta thank you very much for a well document peice. It sums up what most Books take pages and pages to explain. You give a very clear account on how to market a social web site and very soon I will be launching a social network site www.nicheidentity.com and your article has provided me with some straight answers to some pressing marketing issues. I will certainly follow your suggestion as I launch the BETA site mid October. I would like your feed back on my site once I launch it. So you can certainly check back my url in mid October. Once again thank you for sharing your very clear and direct insight.
Brian

This is THE BEST article I've read on this subject. We have a new version of our site coming out and I'm going to implement as many of the 11 ideas that I can. Thanks !

Great progression on how to get started with a social networking site. This step-by-step process is very relevant for all kinds of marketing, not just online. Thanks for providing an easy to understand synopsis of how an effective and valuable social networking site is created.

Thanks a lot Chris. Never enough of such quality articles. I would only add that just like with everything else, if you are reaching high, expect lots of work. Social networking is no different from other phenomenons, it's hot, but forget about shortcuts to a speedy success. It's still well worth it, think of it as of creating your own community of people. And for those that don't have the resources to start your one social networking site, use one of the existing platforms to gather people around your idea, skills etc. It will pay off, sometimes in the most unexpected way.

Great info. I read this article for ideas on how to optimize my blog, not a networking site, but I see how your ideas could be applicable in both situations. For example, I've noticed that people are more likely to comment once someone posts an initial comment. Any chance you have a machine that I can turn on that will do all this stuff for me? :)

Great article. But I think "#2 Beta test – thoroughly" overlooks the most important part of testing...usability testing. I'm a software developer at a consulting company. Our clients give us a lot of money to build their dream websites. Many of these project fail because the clients usually procrastinate usability testing (not to be confused with beta...bug finding...testing). When they finally get around to it, the small group of testers "just don't get it." The site doesn't make sense to them. At this point, its often too late to make radical design changes. I strongly recommend that you read the classic "Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Guide to Web Usability" before you start forking over $$$. It's a quick read and will save you a lot of grief at the end of the road.

Excellent, refreshing and creative ideas.

Chris, I'm just getting into social networking and found this to be very helpful. It's easy to get overwhelmed by everything out there that is possible, I'm going to try to implement each idea you've provided. Thanks for the clearly written, direct advice.

If the new social network you are growing is seen as a threat by any of the big boy social networks you have created spokes in, won't they just block the links?

Talking about working on features, my guess is those social media sites will ultimately survive which have the best apps for integrating with other social media sites. Facebook seems the clear front runner. I wonder what's ur take on this issue.

I just found this cool bookmarking service socialbookmarker.me
but it seems they are doing the hard way old fashion work building up several connected services related to bookmarking.
I can tell Chris that your part of this new cut n paste generation not to be rude but i am sure you just violated a "stumbled" rule or two since they are owned by ebay i assume its the same princible no where on my ebay adds can i tell any one i own multi-sale.com because it's a competiing auction site eBay even forced me to change my user name not to reflect multi-sale.com any longer they are known for telling people dont do as we practice on our site as we do on others
so i respect socialbookmarker.me when they are changing and updating things by the good old fashion trial and error method

Chris, thanks. Good ideas.

The 11 ways you mentioned here about marketing the social networking site is very interesting to read and the main thing about is that we must be able to provide content for every kind of users according to their taste and must keep them intact from visiting the site more often. The traditional online method is also good.
read more here

That ways on marketing is really great. Thank you for posting. I have tried that one and it's really very effective.
click here for marketing tips

I just accidently stummbled upon this article and although it is several years old, it is still valid. I am thinking of how to promote our activity network, which we initially build for private use, but as we found it very useful in day-to-day business and private life, now want to expand to larger audience. If you find 3min for this, you are welcome to check it at www.spotbe.com and I would highly appreciate any comment, opinion or advice in the "spotBe Discussion and Support" spot. Thank you <3

I have my website tracknext.com can you help me.

Thank you for a great post. Our new social networking site is open for beta signups. It is a site with mix of entertainment and inspiration. http://www.iKareCafe.com

Wow great stuff! Thanks, Chris.. I've read a lot of ebooks and had a few online courses on internet marketing, but your article helped me start an action plan.

The other materials I read have are very specific information on how to do things like making newsletters, blogging and all, but I never got to pin point a starting point and create an action plan.

I just finished the production phase of my cycling social network for the Philippine cycling community, its called www.ridena.com. It took me 2.5 years to design, develop and program it and it did cost a lot of money having a creative agency work on it. Its beta launching now, and I'm getting ready for the marketing battle. Thanks again. :)