Boosting Your Small Business Social Signals: Will You Incentivize Your Audience?

There are some talks about social media marketing for small business that leads to one big question: Does boosting your small business’ social signals matter in improving your bottom line?

The answer is pretty obscure, in my opinion.

Facebook Like brownie
photo credit: Andreas Ivarsson

You see, social signals are supposed to now be major factor Google uses to find relevant content for their users since the complete “Hummingbird” overhaul last year. That fact is pure speculation though.

Yet, many social media marketers and inbound marketers are offering a service to grow your social signals by getting a number of social media likes, shares, and tweets to the content of your small business website.

By “growing,” some use legitimate methods but many uses questionable methods.

Let’s examine why, by first looking at the current landscape for otherwise “engineered” social signals.

Ways of gaining Social Signals: Natural vs. Unnatural

Before we move on, let’s define what “natural” is. To me, natural means gaining social media likes, shares and mentions without offering any incentives.

Examples of incentive: “I will tweet your status update if you tweet mine.” “If you ‘Like’ my Facebook page, you can access my free report.” “I will pay you $X if you pin my page on your Pinterest Pinboard.”

Now, don’t get me wrong: There is nothing illegal using the above methods. However, you need to understand that there are some hidden implications if you take certain paths for growing your social signals.

Let’s explore a bit deeper. To get started, here are some typical methods people do to gain social signals:

  • Join a group of people doing back-scratching (“I do A if you do B for me”) by liking, sharing, or tweeting each other posts: This is how a typical social media exchange is set up.)
  • Buy Fiverr gigs – or similar arrangements – on the cheap for individual or packaged social services: Fake! Possibly detrimental to your brand – if not immediately than in the near future when Google learns to interpret “social footprints” more accurately. The typical pitch; “Buy 10,000 real Facebook fans for $X” Did you know what “real” means? They create social media account with fictional name (with stolen name, at times) and make the account looks active.
  • Hire the services of a reputable (or cheap?) social media service or SEO firm to boost your social profile: Again, they’re likely leaving a big honkin’ footprint. Even the smarter ones who use a drip method will still be using fake profiles or incentivizing the process in some way.
  • Offer incentives to your current traffic/followers: Free reports, free products, email updates about deals – or… that the pretty girl in the picture will talk to them if they “like” your page.

Can you see where this is going?

While some legitimate methods of gaining social signals can definitely drive traffic and bring in leads, many methods are there to simply inflate the numbers of fans and followers, including likes, tweets and shares for SEO purposes.

The impact of social signals on Google ranking

Look at it from this perspective too: If Google has learned find and slap the hell out of hollow sites with fake or otherwise meaningless link profiles – which connect to sites that contain nothing but gibberish or purely sales-motivated content – don’t you think they (Google) can spot a Facebook profile that has thousands of likes (probably in short time span) to nothing but products and/or marketing material?

I know I can tell the difference. Most of you can too. Sooner or later, Google will be able to do that too. And if Google is ready, entities participating in the social media exchanges will likely to face a similar fate as Google’s crackdown on guest posting.

Unfortunately (or fortunately?) Google isn’t there yet

Most experts in the space, other than the owners of social media exchange services, tell us that Google hasn’t yet refined this part of their algo yet (obviously the paid social services have to market their product based on the premise that you’ll gain traffic, and eventually real followers and social signals, otherwise they’d be out of business.)

Matt Cutts, the head of Google webspam team, himself said so.

Though many a hopeful webmaster out there would like to speculate that he’s just trying to fool us so we don’t run out and join an exchange program and/or buy a thousand fake “likes” or “tweets” on Fiverr for pennies on the dollar.

The main thinking among hopeful believers of this conspiracy theory is that Cutts lies to prevent us from gaining ethically-questionable search engine rankings, or joining a popular social media exchanges and try to get an extra boost.

Ranking factors
Social signals as ranking factors – via Searchmetrics

Social not currently a game-changer for search engines, but…

Your social presence and impact can most certainly have a positive consequence your traffic numbers. And “real” social signals definitely help to build your brand. If real people are actually sharing links on the bigger social networks, then that’s going to help your branding and sales.

Reputation is a major decision-making factor for all of us, and we buy based on what the people we trust have experience with. We trust Google to an extent, but those we know and trust even more.

Why pay a questionable cellphone unlock service you’ve never heard of a $100 bucks just because Google has it on the front page, when your friend Johnny has already tried another service that maybe costs $120 but he’s assured you that the service works and they won’t wreck your phone?

So, is there any networks offering real social shares done by real people? Yes, there are. Only a handful of quality ones available, unfortunately:

  1. Triber: Non-incentivized; unless you rock big time, it’s quite difficult to gain social shares.
  2. Social Buzz Club: The world’s first collaborative content syndication site and pay-it-forward social marketing tool founded by Kathryn Rose and Laura Rubinstein, both are reputable Social Media Strategist.\
  3. Viral Content Bee: Similar to Social Buzz Club, founded by Gerald Weber, Internet Entrepreneur and Ann Smarty, SEO Expert.

So, is social signal a numbers game?

Obviously not. Well not entirely anyhow.

We heard from Matt Cutts that the big “G” doesn’t care currently or doesn’t have the means to measure social impact. Not enough to give preference to a brand on their first page that has 5000 Facebook likes, versus a competitor on page two who has double that amount.


Real people do care though. And that’s big for brand-building and gaining consumer trust and loyalty.

A Facebook page that has 800 fans is perceived to be more trusted by a page which has 80 fans.

A blog post that has 500 social shares is perceived to be more reputable by visitors than the one with 50 social shares.

…even a fake Twitter profile with 100,000 followers is deemed to be more reputable than a real Twitter profile with 1,000 followers.

…even Google favors big brands over smaller brands.

Whether you like it or not, that’s how things work on the WWW.

Final thought: Why “Unnatural” is not all that bad

Just like what I’ve mentioned above, “unnatural” doesn’t mean illegal. It’s just, well, unnatural: You use certain methods to attract people to like you, follow you and share your updates.

The funny thing about Google is the fact that even the most natural of all is still getting into trouble in one way or another when it comes to Google algorithm. Going all natural does work, but it’s not for the majority’s cup of tea.

So, from my very own experience – and from the people who shared their story with me – no matter how hard you try to follow Google TOS, your website will be impacted by Google algorithms – present and future – eventually.

The cold, hard truth is this: “Just build it and they will come” doesn’t work; The business world doesn’t work that way. You need to help your small business in getting found online – and the only way to do it is via marketing.

While big businesses have all the budget to buy Google and Facebook ads, small businesses often have limited marketing budget to get the words out. They need to use creative ways to promote their products and services, and one of the ways is by acquiring social traffic using the “unnatural” methods.

And perhaps you can do way much better if you stop relying on Google for gaining traffic, leads and brand reputation.

Going back to the natural vs. unnatural topic: While I against buying followers, likes and shares (simply because they don’t work, in my case) I do believe that some influencer networks can facilitate a more natural approach: Instead of doing social media exchange, we can pitch the network with our content and if they deem the content worthy to be shared – incentivised or not – they will do just that.

All in all, it’s coming back to your overall social media strategy, really. Using all-natural methods of gaining social signals, traffic and leads can work very well. However, “all natural” means that you need to create exceptional content and have a dedicated social media team – something that is a luxury to small business.

So, how about you? Will you use unnatural ways to gain social signals?