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There are some who’d say the answer to this question lies in your market focus. I’d agree with that to a certain degree – though in reality the only market focus that can afford to ignore social media optimisation is the market with no customers involved in a social media circle. That’s a very limited set, the high end of the high end – and even here evidence has shown that social media presence, which is the same thing as social media optimisation, has beneficial effects on both branding and sales.
The thing about social media is that it’s based on the concept of exclusivity. Everyone in a social media stream belongs to a unique club, with everyone else in their circle. An advertiser’s dream if you can get involved – and if you want to create long term brand evangelists and allies then you’re increasingly likely to be looking at ways to get these exclusive clubs to share your brand as a kind of internal piece of knowledge.
For a brand looking to gain or maintain a foothold, the question is not whether Google SEO or social media optimisation is the future, but how people will discover new URLs as the relentless march on the internet continues. And of course the majority of that question will eventually be answered with the words “social media”.
Social media is frightening to some businesses because it is an element hard to control. Keeping your reputation and your currency in the social media streams is like trying to juggle water. The old days, where the search engine was king and everyone found their URLs by typing in a query (remember when the phrase “Google it” became common currency?), were much easier to control. As long as you optimised harder than the competition, or spent more money on PPC, you got your market share.
Social media, on the other hand, is its own master. It’s run by the people for the people and it shows. A business failing to take account of the crowd-sourced nature of social media runs a grave risk of losing face and losing favour. Because now the opinion of every individual adds up to the opinion of the social circle – and that’s increasingly affecting the ratings your URL gets in the traditional SERPs as well as your reputation in social media.
So maybe the question should really be rephrased to “if you had to do without one technique, social media marketing or Google SEO, which would it be?”.
In the short term there’s no answer to that question. Google SEO still brings in valuable visitors. And Google itself, which changes constantly to reflect the ways in which real people are finding websites, isn’t far off the social media model itself. In which case maybe the question will become redundant as doing Google SEO and doing social media optimisation becomes the same thing.
Basically the answer is this. Every way you can develop your reputation on the net, you should. And that means developing consistent quality content and always having something useful to say.