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Like me. Share me. Pin me. Favorite me... Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. are supposed to engage your fans. But if you’re not careful, social media can have an awfully needy ring to it. Why would customers want to support your pleas for attention? And why does it matter if they do?

Let’s take the second question first. According to HubSpot, consumers are 71 percent more likely to purchase based on social media referrals. Friends, family, even B2B peers trust each other more than they trust a marketing department. So now social signals—in the form of likes, tweets, shares and G+1's—are all powerful indicators that your content (and in turn, your product and expertise) is worthwhile.

Social signals are so powerful, in fact, that the search engines use these votes to influence your ranking in the results pages. If lots of people want to share your advice, search engines want to give you a more prominent position because your content is demonstrating true relevance and authority on a particular topic. This is just one example of how old SEO tactics have been being replaced by customer-centric content marketing.

(Yes, there are many other factors—beyond social signals—that influence how search engines weigh good content; on-page seo attributes, time spent on page, page load time, bounce rate, and other ways visitors interact with your website content, etc.)

But social media engagement still remains among the most important pieces to the optimization puzzle. So how do you attract more social signals for better rankings? How do you leverage social media the right way—without all the “me, me, me!” messaging that customers ignore?

1. Write great content. 

Write with your audience in mind—solve a problem, share your knowledge, engage your reader, make it relevant. Also, don’t position your services or products as the answer to every question you pose. If readers see that you’re helpful enough to reference other companies and industry resources when those make the most sense, they are more likely to trust your self-promotional content.

2. Encourage engagement.

Online audiences are a savvy bunch. They don’t necessarily respond to the traditional, “act fast!” imperatives, but they still appreciate guidance on what to do next. Include some “direction” in your content. Ask readers to comment; encourage them to share; pose a question that begs to be answered. Use storytelling techniques to draw your audience in and keep them engaged.

3. Make it easy to share.

Don’t hide sharing icons because you think they are distracting. Instead, make them big, make them obvious, and consider placing them at the top and the bottom of your content (or in a moving position on the left-hand side). Most blogging tools automatically add social icons with each post. Test how obvious your icons are by investigating if someone with limited social media knowledge can find and use them.

4. Make it visual.

Our mind processes visuals faster than words. Add a relevant image to your content to help people make the connection between what they are reading and what it means.

5. Don’t be boring.

Even in the world of B2B marketing, where many businesses don't exactly offer the most exciting product or service, you can still leverage content (both on your website and via social media) to connect with your audience. Be unexpected. Be controversial. Be funny. But always be authentic.

SEO experts have been talking about social signals for years, but it's been proven that there is a direct correlation between social and rankings. This validates what good marketers have advised all along—don’t play games to get the search engines to rank you. Think about your audience first—if you deliver for them, the rankings will follow.

About the Author

Susan LaPlante-Dube | PMG Principal
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Susan LaPlante-Dube, PMG Principal

Susan LaPlante-Dube created PMG in 2002 and acts as one of PMG’s Principals. As a jack-of-all-trades in marketing, she loves digging deep on a topic and finding new ways to spin old ideas. While she would prefer having some high-tech voice software to record all of her blog thoughts instead of having to write them down, she loves the satisfaction of helping her readers learn something new.

 Tags: Social Media Marketing

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