Internet users are finally taking searching and finding into their own hands. The concept of saving, tagging and sharing bookmarks – "social bookmarking" – is no longer a Web 2.0 gimmick or just a convenient way to access your Favorites at the Internet café. Social bookmarking is poised to become the real social search and it promises to be the next frontier for performance marketing retailers.
Social search sounds like the greatest thing since the five-minute WordPress install if you’re a searcher who is sick of searching through spam. After Googling through endless spam sites, it’s a breath of fresh air to soar into those tag clouds where people – not search engine algorithms – are considered the best judges of quality and relevancy. Quality sites far outnumber the junk and you find yourself wondering why you bother with dubious relevance and results from the Big 3 search engine powers.
If you’re a performance marketing retailer with vision and imagination one look at the social bookmarking scene reveals a map of a billion-acre wilderness filled with frontier-style opportunities.
For some time you’ve known that there are online markets you can’t reach with PPC or organic search because even though they need your product, they don’t know it yet. They aren’t looking for it by typing query strings into a search box. Social bookmarking offers the possibility of tactfully and intelligently touching those markets – and making sales – without having to compete against SEO-spam sites.
Your colleagues see thousands of people moving their Favorites from their local computer to social bookmarking sites as just one more Web 2.0 fad, but when you visit sites such as Ma.gnolia.com, you see much more. It’s a shared environment in which word-of-mouth marketing can flourish in the ultimate human-edited link exchange. At this moment, you can insert your online presence in a thousand different places – all without interrupting or alienating consumers.
As a forward-looking retailer, you must penetrate into social bookmarking spaces to gain consumer trust in the future. Although Google, Yahoo and MSN would have you believe otherwise, typing words into a search engine query box is not the be-all and end-all when people make buying decisions.
A study published by the nonprofit Pew Internet & American Life Project in early 2005 showed that close to half of respondents only use search engines a few times a week and two-thirds "could walk away from search engines without upsetting their lives very much."
Another Pew study in January 2006 showed that 34 percent of respondents said the Internet helped them find advice and support from other people and concluded that: "The Internet helps build social capital. … The Internet supports social networks."
The term social networks is a fancy way of saying that real people connect with other real people online. Social capital means that human relationships can be a tangible business asset.
And if you’re a visionary retailer, you realize that social bookmarking generates social proof – that elusive marketing energy that multiplies the power of all your marketing channels. The more social bookmarking capital you own, the more marketing energy you create.
First, organic search engine placement doesn’t have the same impact it once did. With only 10 first-page spots available for any Google keyword, holding a top placement for any length of time seems unlikely. The algorithm must evolve, and you might get devolved with it. But if you offer consumers a great shopping experience and it’s tagged for your keyword by 10,000 social bookmarkers, the backlinks and traffic will continue to flow. And rigging the social bookmark system is virtually impossible. The junk naturally falls to the bottom – instead of the top – of the heap.
Second, the more social bookmarking capital you acquire, the more potential marketing points open up. Pushing your message and interrupting consumers becomes a thing of the past. Tag clouds take care of agility, timeliness and relevancy for you, since real people tag sites based on what’s in their mind at the time. And while your site may get tagged in some quirky ways, quirks are what make the human brain much less prone to manipulation than an algorithm.
And finally, it’s clear that affiliates are the only marketing force that can efficiently generate social bookmarking capital. Your business can’t and shouldn’t spam the social bookmark sites. Commercializing a social bookmark space is generally frowned upon, if not forbidden.
For merchants, your affiliates are really in the best position to plug in to the minds of these social networks and place links to their pre-sales pages appropriately, within a human context of trusted recommendations. Today’s savvy affiliates are becoming experts at navigating social networks for a very good reason: They’ve had their content-filled, high-quality, user-oriented sites shunned by the search engines. Undaunted, they compete by joining grassroots Web 2.0 communities and tucking their affiliate sites deep into the heart of the social bookmarking universe. If you’re a forward-looking retailer, you want these pioneer affiliates representing you now.
ANIK SINGAL is CEO of Affiliate Classroom, which he founded in 2004 along with the Affiliate Classroom magazine. He started off as an Internet marketer and an affiliate in 2001 before becoming an online marketing consultant.