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What is the Real Value of a Social Media Visitor?

Keeping You Posted by Skellie.Skellie wrote this post. She writes plenty more advanced blogging tips and strategies at Skelliewag.org. You can also get to know Skellie on Twitter.

Bloggers are fiercely divided when it comes to deciding the value of social media traffic.

Some crave it or even become addicted to it, writing every post with an aim to hit the front-page of Digg and spending hours trying to promote their own content. Others feel it has little value and largely ignore it, citing poor rates of conversion into ads clicked and subscribers gained. Others loathe social media traffic for the atmosphere it brings (real or imagined) and will do anything to avoid being discovered by social media–usually the result of being hit by a slew of negative comments on a post that rubbed digg users the wrong way.

Regardless of which camp you find yourself in, I want to take an objective look at the real value of a social media visitor for bloggers trying to make money online. If I can be allowed to skip to the end before I’ve even started, my argument is that social media visitors are neither a godsend or a curse. Instead, they’re great for some things, and not so great for others.

1. Not for clicking on ads

It has been well-documented that visitors from social media platforms like Digg and StumbleUpon click on ads much less often compared to search visitors. Various theories have been put forward as to why this is, but I think it’s simply because social media visitors are ‘focused’ browsing. They are in the middle of doing something (using social media, usually at a fast pace), and are therefore less likely to wander off in a new direction by clicking an ad. Another reason is that social media users spend more time online than the average web user and are more likely to have developed a sort of ‘blindness’ to ads.

If all your ads are CPC (cost per click) then social media traffic is not going to add much direct monetary value to your blog–though they may go on to do so indirectly. Instead, focus on search traffic and links for direct income. By contrast, if you use a mixture of CPC and CPM (cost per thousand impression) ads, or only CPM ads, social media traffic will have more value for you. This is because it’s…

2. Really good for page views

A stint on the Digg front-page or becoming hot on StumbleUpon can send more visitors than many blogs receive in a month. Whatever these visitors are doing when they arrive at your blog, they still register on your stat counter and provide ‘impressions’ (page views) to present to potential advertisers. This may also cause your Alexa rank to increase.

Page views are the determining factor in how much a CPM advertisement is worth on your blog. More page views equals higher prices, and social media traffic can drastically increase your page views. For this reason, it’s an important source of traffic for anyone offering CPM advertising.

One potential pitfall to be wary of is that, though advertisers are probably only looking at number of page views and not the source, some will want to know where it all came from. In my experience, though, most advertisers don’t ask this question. If they end up buying an ad spot on your blog they might find the click-throughs to be disproportionate to the amount of impressions they’ve paid for. This is mainly an issue when the blog has a very high proportion of social media traffic compared to other sources. Advertisers who find click-throughs are low will be unlikely to renew with you. If this turns out to be a problem for your blog, try weighting social media traffic differently when calculating your rates. After all, social media visitors are…

3. Not initially invested in your blog

People often complain that social media visitors are disrespectful or plain rude, particularly when they come from Digg. However, it’s not hard to see why social media visitors would be tougher than your usual blog visitor. They may not follow many individual blogs. They may have clicked on a submission based on its headline and not quite known what they were getting. They might have clicked through to your blog just because they think your topic is stupid (maybe you write about a sports team that they despise, or a politician they loathe).

Search visitors are generally too busy looking for something to be nasty, and referral visitors are probably already reading other blogs in your niche, and are unlikely to find yours suddenly provokes them to lash out. When they arrive at your blog, they are partially invested in it. Social media visitors are not. At least, they don’t start out that way.


Photo by Johan Larsson.

A number of people are particularly bothered by the comments that digg users leave on their blogs. These are less troubling when you know why they occur. At digg, the comment culture there operates on a system of ‘diggs’ and ‘buries’. Comments that the community likes tend to get ‘dugg’ and comments the community doesn’t like tend to get ‘buried’. There isn’t any reward or penalty for either, but that doesn’t stop people fighting for imaginary brownie points. The quickest route to a ‘dugg’ comment is to post something insightful, add something to the content, make a joke about something mentioned in the story or to criticize or insult the content or its author–often trying to be funny at the same time, but sometimes not. Digg users have a lot of stories to read and, err, a lot of ground to make up on Mr. BabyMan, so they’ll usually go the quickest and easiest option: a witty remark, or a criticism, or an insult, or some combination of the three.

When the digg users get to your content itself they often approach commenting with the same attitude as they did when they were at digg, because digg is often where they’ve ‘learned’ how to approach commenting. Sometimes the results can be genuinely funny and clever, but other-times they can be a bit depressing! Usually this depends on the particular combination of digg users with your content’s topic. Sometimes digg comments will add a breath of fresh air to your blog and other-times you’ll wish you could delete them (and hey, you can). After all, they’re never going to come back, right?

Not necessarily…

4. Can yield new subscribers depending on the topic

A common question about social media traffic is why it often doesn’t translate into a subscriber boost. Some people claim it never does. Not for them, perhaps, but I’ve heard many stories of people gaining–and keeping–subscribers when their content goes popular on social media (and this is something I’ve personally experienced on my own blog).

For those who’ve never experienced a subscriber boost from social media traffic, you’re probably thinking: “OK then, what am I, apparently, doing wrong?”

The answer is: nothing. Social media users are generally interested in some topics in a deep way and not others. Just because they liked your post on personal bio-domes doesn’t mean they want to read about environmentally friendly inventions every day (thought it doesn’t mean they won’t either). This probably appeals to the visitor’s ‘surface interest’. They might read about the topic once in a while but not have any real passion for it. They might also find that, though they loved the post they just voted for, the rest of your blog is on a slightly different topic that they’re not interested in. After all, a lot of people bring new topics into their blog because they have more appeal to social media, but perhaps the social media visitor is interested in that topic and not any of the others you write about?


Photo by ojbyrne

From my own use of Digg, for example, I often Digg stories related to the environment and environmental innovation but I don’t subscribe to any blogs on this topic. I’m interested in it but don’t consider subscribing because I don’t have time to read blogs that don’t directly benefit the work that I do online. I do the same for content on video gaming, computers, technological innovation and so on. It’s not that I have a predisposition not to subscribe, but rather that I’m exposed to a lot of content I wouldn’t seek out otherwise, and that I am happy to enjoy in small doses.

It’s also worth remembering that many social media visitors interact with web content primarily through social media, rather than through RSS feeds or by bookmarking a handful of their favorite blogs. Their favorite social media platform delivers so much content they enjoy and is so time-consuming to be involved in that many–but certainly not all– don’t have the desire or time to follow blogs that may or may not produce good content in future. Is this to suggest all social media visitors fit this mould? Not at all, but it might help explain why they are less likely than referral and direct traffic to stick around for the long-haul.

If you do want to turn social media traffic into subscribers, make sure your social media optimized content sticks very close to the topics you write about on a daily basis. Aside from that, you might just have to hope that people interested in the topic of your blog are also likely to be reading blogs on a regular basis.

5. Likely to have a well-developed network

Social media is often just that: social. An active social media user might be in regular contact with dozens of other users and regularly share content with them. If your content hits a nerve (in a good or bad way) it is likely to be shared through that network by word-of-mouth as well as on the service itself. If the recommendation is positive then this can be a good way to get engaged readers visiting your blog. The recommendation of a friend gives them a reason to be much more invested than the average social media user.

6. Can trigger a domino effect on other social media platforms

If you look at the profile of an active social media user, you’re likely to find that they are not putting all their eggs in one basket. Many digg users have active StumbleUpon accounts, and so on. A stumble may also lead to a digg and delicious bookmark. A reddit may lead to a mixx. This can lead to a ‘domino effect’ where your content goes popular on more than one service. That’s not a bad situation to be in–unless your blog goes down, of course!

7. Can help promote other content in future

A social media visitor who votes for your content and then decides to visit your blog in future can be a valuable asset to you. They might submit future content to social media, or refer other social media using friends to your blog. The best way to have social media success is to have loyal readers who are active on social media.

It’s important not to fall into the trap of thinking of social media visitors as ‘this other thing’, separate from your audience–a teeming mass doing their own thing somewhere else and occasionally paying a visit. At least some proportion of your own most loyal readers are likely to be using social media.

8. Are good for search rankings

Digg, delicious and Reddit in particular are good for this. When a story becomes popular many social media users link to it, in addition to Digg itself, which is a very high PR site. Many people even autopublish delicious bookmarks to their blogs. Going popular on any of these services can connect dozens of high-quality links into your blogs (and, as always, a whole bunch of scrapers).

As much as I love StumbleUpon, it is weakest here. So much of the interaction with it occurs through the toolbar rather than through a webpage. There is no iconic page of ‘Top stories’ on StumbleUpon (I’m pretty sure there is a page for popular stories, but it receives little attention compared to the ‘front pages’ of Digg, delicious and Reddit). There is no general RSS feed to subscribe to. What all of this means is that going popular on StumbleUpon rarely brings a whole bunch of incoming links with it, causing it to have less SEO benefit than success on the others.

***

With the above eight points I hope I’ve led you to think about the value of social media visitors to your own blog. They can certainly provide plenty of value, but tapping into that value will require that you begin to get a sense of the faces behind social media traffic, and to understand the ‘culture’ of social media, which leads to certain behaviours being prevalent in its users and others not so. The more realistic your expectations are, the better you will become at harnessing social media traffic.

While reading posts like this does help, you can never truly ‘get’ social media and its culture until you immerse yourself in it. You certainly don’t need to be a power-user (and for most this is unlikely to be an efficient use of your time), but spending a couple of hours a week participating in a social media service you enjoy will provide invaluable knowledge about your audience. I’d suggest going with at least one of the big three that most people are using: StumbleUpon, Digg or Reddit. In fact, I want to suggest that using a social media service for even an hour will teach you more about writing social media optimized content than any blog post you could read.

You should always strive to know your audience better.

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Comments

  1. BlackhatWay says:

    Thanks for this post!
    Learnt something new about social media visitors.

  2. Totally agree. Sites like Digg or Stumbleupon tend to yeild MUCH lower conversion rates. I think SEOMOZ did a comparison a while back… and digg came out last in term of conversion.

    However, sites like twitter does help you build relationship with your followers. In terms of a traffic generation tool, social media is pretty much useless (there are rare exceptions)

    Stanley

  3. Great points, specifically about StumbleUpon. I’ve written several articles that have generated thousands of visitors from Stumble, but didn’t get any links. I might be switching my focus, then.

    Thanks, Darren!

  4. While it is great to get a surge in traffic, I have also found that social media visitors usually only view one page – often for mere seconds – before leaving.

    Referral links and search visitors are much more engaged in reading, commenting, and signing up for my mailing list.

    I do try to get a bit of traffic from Reddit.com, but I largely ignore most social media sites and focus on writing good articles and developing good connections with people who are genuinely interested in my topic.

  5. I do not particularly care too much about getting digg traffic. The people that come from their do seem to post comments that bother people like you mentioned. I know it can help your CPM but I really do not think it’s worth it. The digg is made up of 95% males and they are not kind at all. If you just go to the digg web site you will find that the comments left to be quite disturbing. Instead, bloggers should always go for stumbleupon traffic because they are not likely to leave these kind of comments. I know my blogs have had success with stumbleupon and it has given me many more subscribers. If you ask me I recommend stumbleupon the whole way.

  6. Robert says:

    I find that most of my visitors come from social media websites.

    For the most part, I find that visitors from social media sites tend to spend more time on my blog than search engine visitors. But search engine visitors click my adds on a more frequent basis.

    I like what you guys have said here.

  7. 1. Not for clicking on ads.

    Hmmm, I see you say it is well-documented, but has it been documented by niche or just in general?

    The reason I ask is that I have blogs that do very well with adsense and most of the traffic is social bookmarking.

    Exception to the rule or does it just depend on the topic?

  8. Aira Bongco says:

    I think the visitor conversions depends on the quality of the content and the target audience of the advertisements. If a review of a particular site made it on Digg, I figure the clicks would have been higher if the links are inside the article.

    The sudden outburst of traffic surely has its pros and cons. But I would enjoy the rewards. Traffic is still traffic. The content is the only thing that can foster repeat visitors which is something each blog would enjoy to have.

  9. Interesting post. I think right now I belong to the school of thought that doesn’t particularly care too much for social media visitors. For the current stage that my blog is in, I assume them to be quite fickle and hard to please – particularly stumblers who probably read 1 out of 10 pages they stumble upon. When they do read, a smaller percentage actually take the time to thumbs up or thumbs down the page.
    Digg on the other hand, I’ll worry about later, as my journey to the top of the list seems to be a while away. :)

    One thing you noted that I think is quite important is that visits from such readers are good for page view statistics (at best) and they rarely form the core of a large number of site’s return visitors – everyone can’t be ranked high.

  10. Sunil Pathak says:

    Hi Skellie Great to see you back

    While social media traffic have litle value for many established blogger, i see it as a motivation tool for new blogger, who hardly see their stats graph flicker in a day, when such bloggers post hit the front page of digg or get few stumble review, they see high tide in their stats, which is great encouragement,

    i dont know about you guys but checking my stats ever hour or so was a routine when i 1st started my blog, and a little spike in my incoming traffic was like WOW

  11. Linda McKee says:

    This post was a really great help and answered a lot of questions I had on Social media. Thanks

  12. FFB says:

    A lot of it seems to be getting your site’s brand out. There more someone sees it the more likely there are to remember it. Over time this can build up traffic and readers. Over the short run these sites build up traffic but it’s hit or miss whether they stay. Still I’ll take any exposure!

    Now for Reddit – I just started using it and I can’t get my head around it too well. Are there any good sources for how to use reddit?

  13. Very Informative post. Im having a new blog built as we speak (design) and have aimed to incorp full size digg, buzz and stumble buttons as I plan on targeting this medium for traffic as well as long tail in the SE’s. Keen to get going :)

  14. Mike Vizdos says:

    Hi,

    I agree with most of what you said above. I am always interested in “why” people “Digg” their own stuff — seems a little off to me.

    With regards to social media, I did a posting a while back (with a cartoon) about it and it was within context for my niche (mostly geeks and their managers working in an agile software development environment).

    A cartoon in regards to the posting can be found here:

    http://www.implementingscrum.com/2008/01/15/social-networking-and-scrum-is-there-any-connection-in-reality/

    I put this up as an example of how “I” talk about it to a niche that I work with on a daily basis — like almost all blogger SHOULD do ;).

    That being said, I have seen an increase in the number of people I do communicate with. I am not worried about advertising anymore (I was for a while, but took it all down for now as a test).

    I do not see a down side.

    - mike vizdos
    http://www.michaelvizdos.com
    http://www.implementingscrum.com

  15. I don’t subscribe to the notion that hits from social media are empty.

    For one, they raise your alexa ranking. This gives your blog an air of respect – for better or worse. People tend to respect blogs which receive more traffic. Period.

    Secondly, subscribers are very difficult to attain. They just are. Any subscribers one gains from SU or any other social media outlet, is valuable.

  16. Bill Masson says:

    A lot of great comments, I find that any traffic no matter where it comes from is valuable. I use Stumble and to a lesser degree Digg and Delicious,
    But my best boost for traffic and especially Google ranking has to be MyBlogLog which okay maybe doesn’t generate subscribers but do click through affiliate ads. I can target people better from MyBlogLog.

    You just can’t ignore the social media platforms; I would agree that converting search engine referrals is a lot more profitable,but the social links to your site do improve your Alexa ranking immensely.

  17. Other than the negative comments, as you pointed out, I welcome the sudden influx of traffic.

    What happens to new bloggers that cause them to be a little bitter about it, is that they suddenly think their blog is reaching new levels. But when their stats drop back to normal, a day or two later, they become disappointed. Over time you come to expect this and it becomes a non issue.

  18. Dollface says:

    Great advice. I’ve noticed with my blog especially, reddit.com users are pretty mean/rude/insulting. I’ve gotten my most prejudiced commenters from using reddit.com. However if I can get one or two loyal readers out of the multitude, then I feel like posting on reddit is worthwhile.

    Thanks for the post!

  19. I have had a lot of success with StumbleUpon, but I also did not see much in return as far as links, comments, etc. I guess getting a few readers out of a thousand or so hits isn’t so bad though, since they continue to come back often.

    Informative post by the way, really good read.

  20. I do agree that, Social Media Visitors will definitely helpful for PR. Otherwise they never can be the targetted audience.

    Bala

  21. I just realized that it was Skellie who wrote that; I was under the impression that she wouldn’t start till tomorrow. Sorry! :P

  22. Mat Packer says:

    In the past I’ve had the best response from StumbleUpon, however SU always breaks in my browser so I never end up using it myself.

    Nice post Skellie

  23. Norm says:

    1. Not for clicking on ads

    I think it really depends on what is the user intention when they visit your site. Are they looking for information about a topic, are they looking to buy something or are they looking for something that may caught their eye.

    It all depends on the nature of your site as well

    Norm

  24. Ryan McLean says:

    This is a really good post about the value (or lack the of in some cases) of social media traffic. The one I like the most is that the increase in pageviews increase the amount you can earn in a month. Currently I get about 8,000 pageviews per month. If I was to hit the front page of digg and get 20,000 pageviews you can imagine how my income would increase slightly (more than double!!!)
    I haven’t really focused much on social media sites. Mainly because I haven’t had much success but now I think I might try and write a post to drive some traffic to my site from social media

  25. Skellie says:

    Thanks for the interesting thoughts and kind comments everyone!

    @ Chris McElroy: I think the general rule is that they click ads less but I’m sure that varies depending on the niche. Different topics are likely to attract different kinds of social media users who might have different behaviors from the general trend.

  26. Pras says:

    Hi, I think social media visitors may not click on ads but, a large number of social media visitors can help a small publisher to increase his confidence level. This will surely help such publishers in their long blogging journey.

  27. goodfather says:

    Great post. I didn’t understand the ‘clicking patterns’ of tracking coming from Digg or other bookmarking sites. I also really liked your explanation of CPC vs. CPM.

    Thanks!

  28. Infonote says:

    The feed for popular Stumbleupon stories is the following.

    http://rss.stumbleupon.com/buzz/

    The actual site is http://buzz.stumbleupon.com/

    You have made an honest analysis of social sites and it’s ROI.

  29. moneymanager says:

    hi skellie,
    firstly welcome to darrens den.
    great seeing you here.
    a long time fan of yours,
    i have read your earlier articles on the same topic in skelliewag, and this a step further on them.
    while the traffic from social media sites is great(which blogger doesent like the site counter ticking?), but the point in hindsight is one need not be a slave to the practice of pushing blog up at any cost, there is fear of you loosing your focus on your topic of the blogs,
    nice article,best wishes

  30. J.D. Meier says:

    You never cease to amaze me.

    You ask the tough questions. You organize a frame for analyzing it. You provide insight and experience that trumps the stuff you find in books … and you always close with a bang.

  31. JB says:

    awesome post! best I have read here in a while.

  32. Sarah Watts says:

    Audience is audience no matter where it comes from; it all depends on targeting. Some bloggers like to target social bookmarking websites and some bloggers target direct traffic from other blogs and websites and search engines. This is why crafting a detailed strategy for your blog is so crucial; once you have a strategy you know for sure what sort of traffic you want to attract your blog.

    I personally think traffic from Digg and other such websites is much overhyped. Rather one should focus on intentional traffic — traffic from search engines where people are looking for a specific search term and from other blogs and websites where they can clearly see what you are publishing on your blog or website. It is less confusing and hence less frustrating for them.

  33. rjani says:

    Great post Skellie. I think participating in social media sites is not much of a burden if you use it for your own purposes, I mean surf pages you like and have a great time instead of thinking about promoting your blog there.

  34. Haroun Kola says:

    Thanks for this post. I’ve never written article for social media before, though I have shared on facebook and twitter, which is more “friendly”
    Maybe I’ll try out some of these sites :)

  35. CoolProducts says:

    Thanks for the insight on this! Looking forward to seeing more of your articles on ProBlogger Skellie!

  36. Twitter and StumbleUpon have given me my highest amount of traffic, but the bounce rates are high. I’m still waiting for the search engines to kick in as my blog is fairly new.

  37. Sara says:

    Wow, great post, Skellie. You really looked at this in a comprehensive way. On my blog I’ve noticed that visitors from SU tend to look at more pages, while Digg users don’t – I think SU users are perhaps interested in the topics while with Digg it’s more about instant gratification of a particular post. But you are right, the standard assumptions about social media visitors just aren’t always true. Also, rjani, I totally agree with you – use social media because you love it and enjoy being social and learning, not to self-promote. :)

  38. SEO Genius says:

    Another excellent post, very well written and rather interesting. Excellent, seems like your taking over ProBlogger :D

  39. moneymanager says:

    just an after thought skellie,
    the latest buzz is that stumbleupon been put on block,
    up for grabs!!!!!!!
    guess things are not going that great, is it?

  40. Thank you skellie. I’ve seen great results from social media for most of the blogs I own or manage, but there are always some that don’t do as well just as you suggested.

  41. Andre says:

    I currently have Share This buttons available on both of my sites, though it’s not the main focus. Social media traffic is a helpful but it’s more of an ego boost for me and the folks that contribute to my other site, The Terminal than anything else. It lets us know that we’re doing something right. But I would also consider Twitter and Plurk as good sources of social media traffic and they help build those relationships that we so desperately got into for, at least I like the idea of “meeting” people and encouraging more of those types of conversation both on the web and in person.

  42. I have heard the same complaints on my fav forums like DP and SitePoint. They all say that the only thing digg and SU users can do is eat up your bandwidth. Then they say they never click on any of their ads, QQ,QQ,QQ. and how they only cost them money.

    I think that these guys aren’t looking at the big picture. These users are still readers and you could score some good subscribers / people referring your site to friends. I think its a good way to spark your blog

  43. javed Khalil says:

    Wow. I am impressed and I agree. Very useful post for those who give less attention towards social media, like myself…

  44. francis says:

    One potential pitfall to be wary of is that, though advertisers are probably only looking at number of page views and not the source, some will want to know where it all came from. In my experience, though, most advertisers don’t ask this question. If they end up buying an ad spot on the blog they might find the click-throughs to be disproportionate to the amount of impressions they’ve paid for. This is mainly an issue when the blog has a very high proportion of social media traffic compared to other sources. Advertisers who find click-throughs are low will be unlikely to renew with one. If this turns out to be a problem for the blog, try weighting social media traffic differently when calculating the rates.
    ———————————
    francis
    Link Building

  45. mysapce says:

    I like digg. The whole concept of that social media is really cool.

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