As a marketer I’m a big fan of the concepts behind Inbound Marketing. For those unfamiliar with the term I’d suggest reading some of the content produced by Hubspot’s CEO Brian Halligan who coined the term. Or for a brief overview, think about inbound marketing as “the process of earning the interest of visitors and customers rather than buying it.” I grabbed this summary from Inbound.org – a little bit of inbound effort itself put together by Hubspot’s Dharmesh Shah and Moz’s Rand Fishkin.
I’m not the only one who’s caught onto the value of an Inbound strategy. Take content marketing as an example which is just one of the tools for building your Inbound strategy among other tactics like SEO and social media marketing. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 90% of B2C and 93% of B2B marketers are investing in a content marketing strategy. It’s exciting that companies are taking notice and making this a part of their marketing planning and budget. Nevertheless, there’s one part of a company’s site which I feel breaks the Inbound flow — and that is the ‘Outbound’ push to view our content.
Let me explain by picking on a big company we all know well: Sony. (Sorry, Sony). Now Sony does a lot of things right to create Inbound interest. They create lots of video content (posted to YouTube) that tells stories for the users of their gaming (Playstation) or computer (Vaio) products. They’ve got various Twitter channels to speak to their many segmented audiences. They even have Blogs geared to different products and audiences like this one for Playstation:
But if you look at the image above and the one below on the Sony homepage, you’ll note a tactic that I’ve never really understood. I’ve circled and highlighted on both what I’ll coin the ‘Outbound Social Strip’.
Let me explain: I found both of these pages through a combination of organic Google and Twitter search, which means that Sony is doing a good job bringing people inbound with content. But once they’ve succeeded in bringing me to their site to discover more (content or product), they are presenting me with links front and centre to leave. I get that they want me to follow them on one of their social channels, be it YouTube, Twitter or Facebook. I’m not suggesting that building these followers does not have value, but we risk losing someone we just spent dollars to bring Inbound by sending them Outbound into the Social desert.
Let’s look at YouTube as an example of the risk that presents with this strategy. I’ll stick with Sony and take you through my path. I clicked on the YouTube button on the Sony home screen and landed on their Sony YouTube Channel. The problem you’ll find lies in YouTube’s recommendation engine: within just two viewed videos one of YouTube’s suggestions was a Panasonic video (Yikes!) as you’ll see in the screen cap below.
Try it yourself. This is not a one off phenomena – I tried the same on their Playstation Channel and somehow within one click was suggested a video titled “Raw Footage: President Obama’s Surprise Lunch Stop” – from there, it was a long dark abyss away from Playstation branded content and messaging. I assure you this is not the content manager’s intention or their VP for that matter.
As brands put in all this effort to bring their audiences Inbound, we need to focus on providing an experience to keep them there, not sending them back into these Outbound desserts. I assure you the same challenge on YouTube is even worse on Twitter and Facebook. Take a look at Cnet’s Twitter page which was just one click away from landing on the Sony Twitter page, based on Twitter’s “Followed By” recommendations, with no link back to where I started. In the image below, you’ll see that the next link I could land is Arianna Huffington. As much as I’m a fan of games like ‘7 degrees of Kevin Bacon’ I’d find it hard to draw a line between Sony and Huff Post.
I’m not saying that brands should not be leveraging these powerful social channels. In fact, channels like YouTube have an amazing network effect which will allow you to bring people to your site. Leverage these networks for as part of your Inbound efforts and look to create strong call to action within your social channels to bring people to your site. What we have to change as marketers is what we do once visitors arrive. We need to provide a journey for discovery that may be filled with thought leadership or product info depending on how warm that lead may be.
The key is to bring your content to live within your site and greet visitors with options. So please do not plaster an Outbound Social Strip by sending earned visitors away from your site as your first impression. If you must link to your social networks put it at the bottom of your site like we do. Rather look to create an experience where you take control of your content marketing efforts – I know we (@Uberflip) would be happy to help!
P.S. I should note that Sony does a lot of great things with content and they are just one of many companies (perhaps like yours) that need to make small tweaks to a great Inbound strategy.