A good number of years ago my friend Richard asked me to co-host a Scottish Enterprise seminar to SMEs on search engine optimisation. Now, Richard happened to own Amber Green, a successful SEO company in Edinburgh, whereas I on the other hand, believed that SEO companies were staffed with snake oil salesmen.

Despite my confession of lack of insight when it came to SEO, Richard insisted that I would make a valuable contribution and besides, he would buy me lunch afterwards.

Sold.

It turned out that Richard was actually quite a clever chap. Despite his excuse that I would provide some entertainment amongst his dry statistics, it turned out that he had an ulterior motive.

They were all there to learn how to
get more visitors to there websites

Once up on stage, Richard pointed out the raw truth of why everyone in the audience had take time away from running their business to listen to us. They were all there to learn how to get more visitors to their websites. They were there to hear how to tweak to the design or markup of their online presence in order to get them to number one in Google. And he was right.

But then he said something that floored me, and has served as an inspiration ever since. He explained that many of the audience were considering allocating budget to hire a company like his to work on their natural search, but for most of them it would be a complete waste of money. He described it as the being like the kid with rich parents who buys his classmates football stickers on the way home from school. As long as the money keeps flowing they are popular, but secretly everyone either hates or pities them.

the first step in creating a successful website.
Make something that people want to see

He then had me present a collection of my viral marketing work that had proved successful in drawing large crowds. This, he explained, was the first step in creating a popular website. Make something that people want to see.

Fast forward 8 years and we have evolved somewhat, so that spanking the monkey is no longer the route to a successful site, but his principle stands true. It doesn’t matter how much money you spend on advertising, or optimising your site, if you don’t have compelling content that educates, entertains, or enriches visitors’ lives then once people arrive at your site they will not be compelled to stay, or come back.

When we talk about buying friends,
alarm bells start ringing in my head

But now, history is repeating itself. Every day I hear of the CPF of FACs (Cost Per Friend/Follower of Friend/Follower Acquisition Campaigns). When we talk about buying friends, alarm bells start ringing in my head. I have a natural adversity to this, as it just sounds nasty.

But it turns out that it can be good. It turns out it can be very good. At Starworks we recently ran a FAC for Kate Spade that was hugely successful (with a CPF of half the industry standard). But this would all have been in vain if Kate Spade didn’t have an audience eager to discover more about the brand, and a site chock full of great content.

But sadly this is not the norm.

Ever since we started attending school, we’ve been obsessed by the cult of popularity. Covertly we desire to be that popular kid with all the friends so that we too could have their perfect life. If we could be that popular then our online store would make us so much more money. We lose sight of what’s important by refusing to lift our heads from our friend count.

And this is the reason so many brands are throwing money at ‘Social’ without a real idea of how they will make use of their new found following. Let’s be clear about this—your online fan base is a means to an end. Twitter don’t hand out prizes to the people with the most followers. What are you going to do with your new friends?

If your site isn’t truly compelling then take a deep breath and and put a hold on that payment to your new social marketing company

So now you know how to waste your money on ‘Social’, how do you exploit this medium to it’s best advantage? Like everything else online, put yourself in the shoes of your visitors. What do they want from your site. What true value does your site offer them? If your site isn’t truly compelling then take a deep breath and and put a hold on that payment to your new social marketing company.

Why does this matter to you? Well, once upon a time, in a far, far away land, in the year 2002, there were big management consultancy companies that big wealthy companies would hire to send crack teams in to analyse their company’s operations and suggest how best to optimise them. An old friend of mine did just this, working for the consulting side of one of the biggies. Within a year of leaving college, when we all still know fuck all about fuck all, he would be sent to some big, wealthy organisation following in the path of a senior partner who’d paved the way by regaling senior management with tales of their amazing success with America’s biggest success stories, such as Enron.

My friend, as it turns out, punched well above his weight and, despite his lack of experience, survived a few years in the organisation, visiting companies to tell them the time with their own watch.

These days, nobody has the money to pay these strokers (my friend excepted), but something remarkable has happened. Remember those web design companies that were all the rage way back in 2005? Here’s the thing. Their designers have evolved the most wonderful ability to understand what content is required to deliver a compelling user experience. I know you consider them as HTML monkeys now you have your new Facebook and Twitter consultant friends, but while you weren’t looking, the best of them became UX specialists.

they have become way more adept strategic business consultants than half of the trained up diddies in the big consulting companies

But here’s the best bit. The very best of those designers—the ones with the analytical minds—have spent so much time studying businesses and their systems over the years while working on pitches and live projects, that they have become way more adept strategic business consultants than half of the trained up diddies in the big consulting companies.

But hold on, there’s even more good news! Most of them don’t realise the value of the skills they have developed, so they’ll do the work that Arthur Anderson would have charged you 250k for—wait for it—for free, as part of their pitch to try and win your 100k website project! And yet you still want to halve your website budget to free up spend for your new Friend Acquisition Campaign?

Do yourself a favour, get your house in order before you pay for a load of new friends to come round to party. To quote the spirit of Jim Morrison in Wayne’s World 2, “If you book them, they will come.”

And if they don’t, give us a shout at Starworks and we’ll get you more friends per dollar than our competitors. ;)