Today’s Web has become a “social medium” as seen with digg, friendster, youtube, flickr, blogs, podcasts, wikis, and so on, reflecting the fact that the 21st century is driven by people that tend to interact and being social. The future will have to deal with a growing socio-technical system of the Web that works only in the combination of technology and people. Google, for example, is in fact a social search engine as it relies first and foremost on what people link to. Social bookmarking giants like Digg, Yahoo!Buzz, StumpleUpon or AOL's Propeller are news sites that encourage users to vote information or articles up or and down according to what they believe to be most relevant and valuable. News with the highest number of consumer votes in the shortest amount of time get listed higher. These sites then in turn can get tens of thousands of visitors within 24 hours, so from a marketing perspective it becomes very apparent how this could be used to increase awareness for a product or service. There are no editors involved as the intention is to provide a place where people can collectively determine the value of content. By looking at information through the lens of the collective community, every piece of content on the web gets an equal shot at being the next big thing.
Social bookmarking has definitely changed the way people consume information online. And Asian e-Marketing got curious when hearing the latest buzz about a young entrepreneur from Australia, who claims to be able to beat the multi-million-dollar social bookmarking giants at their own game.
23 year-old Brisbane-based Leon Hill’s online traffic generation business uSocial.net (http://usocial.net/) takes advantage of flaws in the systems of social bookmarking sites. He created uSocial.net as a way of providing businesses with web traffic and advertising that is not only effective, but extremely cheap when compared to other means. Describing himself as an avid entrepreneur who loves finding solutions to problems which he can then turn into an effective business model, is proved by the fact that he started the business with his computer only, little capital and a tiny amount of knowledge about how social bookmarking sites work.
When asked what he personally thinks of social media as a marketing platform, he said: “Social media is an extremely effective marketing platform in most cases and can provide many benefits to a website or business, however the downside to it has always been that it can become time consuming and in terms of solid traffic, only good in the long-run unless a front-page ranking on a social bookmarking site can be achieved.” With Digg, less than 1% of all content actually achieves a front-page listing and most of the content which appears there has been submitted or voted on by the top users of the site, which makes getting there an unrealistic prospect for most. It was this problem that made him decide to create uSocial “to give everyone an even advantage and opportunity to get the traffic and advertising benefit a front-page listing on Digg can provide.”
Actually he searched around the web to see if there were companies who offered a service to sell votes on Digg and other sites as he could recognize the benefit it could have given his existing businesses. As the only company he could find, who did offer the service, had closed down and as nobody had filled the market, he decided to give it a go and so far, it's been working pretty well for him.
Of course Asian e-Marketing was interested in getting some insights into his solution and Leon Hill was open to do it, explaining: “We provide clients the ability to purchase packages of votes for a number of social bookmarking sites which at the moment include Digg, StumbleUpon and Propeller”, adding that they will be launching two more in the very near future.
uSocial.net’s packages come in at between 100 to 1,000 votes and allow clients to increase their ranking on these social media sites that should achieve in the end, a front-page listing. While most companies offering this service at present charge between $300-$1000+ to send just one release, they are going to be giving their clients a service where they will be able to send an unlimited amount of press releases per month or per year for just a fraction of that cost. The company developed a piece of software which allows them to submit links to over 170 social bookmarking sites at the click of a button. And as they wanted to make their service as easy as possible for users, instead of selling a software and leaving the users alone with the hassle of creating needed accounts and spending time submitting their links every day, they offer a compact and simple solution. On their Website they announce that for only $47 per month, as many links can be sent as wanted and the company would submit them for you to the mentioned more than 170 social bookmarking sites. No download of software nor browser-based auto-fill window is needed, only an email that contains the links as they offer a fully automated service.
And best of all, if you're not completely happy with the service and the results it brings within the first month, they'll give you the cash back, as they are convinced they have the “most cost-effective and powerful social bookmarking service” on the planet.
Leon reveals further that their paid vote service is going phenomenally and that they plan to expand their suite of services over the coming months. Right now uSocial.net is in addition working on launching a press release distribution service for their clients which will reach over 520,000 journalists and media contacts worldwide
As uSocial.net unique value propositions, he sees the fact that they can provide their clients with extremely high-volumes of advertising and quality web traffic at a cost that simply cannot be matched elsewhere. According to him they even conducted an independent study into the costs of advertising online using pay-per-click (PPC) and banner advertising over a range of fields from fashion, beauty, electronics, automotive and many more of around 45 industries. What they looked at was the average cost of generating 100,000 visitors to a website in those fields and said that the results astounded them. With PPC, the average cost of 100,000 visitors was $56,000 USD (at an average cost of $0.56 per click) and the cost of banner advertising was less at $26,600 USD. For most businesses, especially small business, this type of money is just out of reach, especially in these times of recession. With uSocial, they could provide clients with the same amount of traffic -- around 100,000 visitors -- with an average investment of between $300-$500 USD, which is around 99.5% less than traditional means. Not only that, but uSocial.net claims that they are able to bring that traffic to a website sometimes in as little as 24 hours meaning the results it brings are instantaneous, there is no waiting and there are simply no large amounts of cash needed for a high-quality advertising campaign.
Indeed, measuring the effectiveness of social media is a hot topic right now, whereas influence and engagement are seen here in general, as the core metrics. Asked to share his perspective on that and what metrics make the most impact when used for reporting, uSocial.net’s director said: “Influence is by far the most important thing in social media in my opinion as those who carry the most are achieving the best results. For businesses that market through Myspace for example, it's those with the largest "friends" base that usually achieve the best results. For those looking at marketing with sites like Digg, it's the influence of achieving a front-page listing that can achieve 100,000 visitors in a day or more. Influence is everything. Social media marketing is extremely effective, though the problem for most is the time it generally takes to achieve that influence which brings results, which is why they can now effectively buy that influence on social media sites with uSocial.net. Another important metric which we advise clients to look at when creating any kind of campaign is how they can weave their advertising in with current events and ride the wave of popularity. A good example of this is the guy who recently sold the Chrysler 300C that was previously owned by US president Barack Obama. While he owned the car for some time, the seller waited until several weeks just before Obama's inauguration to announce the sale of the car, when interest in Obama was at fever-levels. This resulted in dozens of media interviews and the sale of the vehicle at several times what it was purchased for. Would he have still got the same price if he sold it 6 months before or after Obama's inauguration? I'd say probably not. This is just a great example how he used the 'influence' of the president’s inauguration to sell something extremely well. Social media and word of mouth carried that story around the world and did most of the selling for him. All he had to do was use the influence of an event to time it perfectly.”
Further, Leon highly recommends using social media to funnel traffic for affiliate revenues, though he warns that it has to be done the right way, saying: “We have had clients use our service who were using it to promote products via affiliate links and some have done quite well. However, I have to admit that some failed miserably. It has all to do with the way the service is used to promote. For example, a client of ours requested a package of 300 votes be placed on the sales page of a digital product which was obviously promotional. When a visitor was directed from Digg to his site, they weren't greeted with an article or anything like that, simply a sales page which was blatantly trying to sell them a product. We advised the client against this as we knew that social media users don't respond well to this, however the client insisted against our recommendation and we started the campaign anyway. The results were disappointing with most users immediately clicking back as soon as they reached the page. While the client did receive a decent amount of traffic of around 11,000 visitors, they didn't achieve a front-page listing on Digg as the moderators considered its content as un-newsworthy. Of all the traffic we sent his way, he only managed a handful of sales which didn't even return his investment. However, we have had several clients who have done it the right way, too. For example, we had a client who wished to promote his fitness DVD and instead of simply requesting us to send traffic to his sales page, he created an article about the top 5 reasons people fail to keep motivated with exercise. The article was well-written and at the end he very subtly wove his product into the article. People saw this as interesting content, he build trust and rapport throughout the article and at the end when he mentioned a fitness DVD which could help people stay motivated and get fit in as little as 15 minutes a day in front of their television, people saw the solution and bought it in droves. In total he sold 177 of his fitness DVDs in a day using the traffic we sent him, with himself making around $12 per DVD. So the result had been almost $2,200 in profit in just one day with an investment of only $171 buying a package of 200 votes. So yes, I would definitely say that social media and uSocial in particular can be used for affiliate products, though it has to be done in the right manner to achieve success.”
One of the best resources Leon uses and recommends are free blogs and the mailing lists of bloggers and Internet experts in the field, saying that there would always be informed and knowledgeable people out there who are willing to share great information at no cost. And by having this knowledge delivered on almost a daily basis to the personal inbox or RSS reader, everybody can always stay on top of the game and learn new tactics and information.
uSocial.net eyes mainly the US social media market as “for the most part, localized social media organizations, websites and companies are being swallowed up and eclipsed by US-based social media entities that hold the largest market share and as a result, have the largest amount of gravitation towards them”, Leon said. As most of his clientele expect the best results for their investment, he has focused all his efforts on the largest and most prominent sites and unfortunately for the rest of the world, this has resulted in so far, only US sites being targeted.
The company’s main challenge right now is getting new clients, whether small or large businesses, to accept social media marketing on the whole. Everybody knows about advertising with regards to PPC and banner advertising and the like because it's seen everywhere online and people are comfortable with what they're used to and what they've been subjected to for a long time. As many businesses and organizations don't understand social media marketing, especially the process of buying social media votes as uSocial sells, it's sometimes hard to convince them that it's actually effective for the price. Leon hopes that this will change in the future and believes having some large clients like the Korean Department of Tourism, DARPA and the Church of Latter-Day Saints on board will help them not only get more publicity, but credibility as well.
For the industry in the Asia Pacific region, it will be challenging to carve out its own identity as American sites like Digg, Propeller and StumbleUpon have already established a very prominent place in the market. Also, most of the large social media organizations around the globe are US-based sites, meaning most of the content is designed for and targeted at a US audience. While the world in general is becoming more Westernized and is accepting a US culture more freely, it means that all the other regions of the world are losing out as “we're succumbing and accepting too easily to the thinking of US sites and the populace, and not creating our own social media identity online”, Leon believes. “There are exceptions to this rule, though by default most people gravitate towards the US sites as they are unfortunately in most cases the best alternatives,” he adds.
By Daniela La Marca
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