Social Media Comes Last

There has been A LOT of discussion on Higher Education Blogs and at Higher Education conferences lately about this thing called Social Media. First of all Social Media isn’t all that complicated, in fact it’s the simplest and oldest form of marketing called relationship building.  As I’ve said many times before “social media = building relationships”.  After reading a recent post on SEOmoz about The SEO Fundamentals Pyramid and participating in a panel discussion at CASE V I think it’s important to make sure that people understand that social media comes last.  I know I’ve preached “just do it” when it comes to social media, but unless you have the rest of your eggs in a basket then quite frankly you aren’t ready for social media.

In the post on SEOmoz they built a pyramid where great content then usability and accessibility is the foundation of your website.  If your site isn’t in excellent shape then social media won’t do you a lick of good.  If visitors can’t find what they want on your site then social media won’t do you a lick of good.  If your email marketing isn’t connecting with readers then your social media efforts won’t do you a lick of good.  Do you see where I’m going here?

seo pyramid Social Media Comes Last

Let me try and approach this situation from the other end.  You have a Facebook presence and are engaging prospective students and the conversation gets to a point where you ask them to click over to your institutions website to learn more information.  They click over and your site is a mess.  They can’t find the information that they are looking for, the forums are difficult to use and your content is outdated.  You FAIL.

You have to build your foundation before you build anything else.  Think of social media as the icing on the cake.  You have to learn to crawl before you learn to walk.  Social media is the future and it is turning the technology of the internet into a relational experience but your foundation still needs to be solid to handle the rest of the conversions.

So Where Do I Start?

I would work on building a site in the following order only moving to the next level once you have mastered the previous.  This is also a good blueprint if you are going through a site redesign:

  1. Defining Goals - business goals and what your site must accomplish.  Who is your audience and what makes you special.
  2. Content - creating the great content that tell the stories because if you don’t have this the rest simply doesn’t matter
  3. Site Architecture - Initial layout
  4. Navigation - Usability, crosslinking content, sitemap, footer
  5. Accessibility - 508 Compliance, Search Engine Optimization, CSS friendly
  6. Site Intelligence - Site Search, Analytical tracking
  7. Multimedia/Web 2.0 - videos, audio, flash, blogs, RSS, social bookmarking, dynamic content
  8. Link building - directories and making sure the rest of the web is aware of your great content
  9. Site Optimization - finely tuning the site that you have created now that you have search ranking intelligence and analytical data
  10. Marketing Efforts - Landing Pages, Email Marketing, Advertising, Promotional
  11. Social Media - now you’re ready to jump out there and build the relationships and market your social media using the rest of your wonderfully built site.

So now that you you have a defined path to follow start at the beginning and get to work.  So what did I miss any steps that you think need to be added?  What about order or any other thoughts?  Leave some comments and tell me what you think.

14 Responses to “Social Media Comes Last”

  1. Says:

    I’ve had this same subject on my list of topics to write about at my own site, but now I don’t have to because I would have promoted the same stance — concentrate on website fundamentals before venturing off into projects like social networking. In fact, I would go so far as to say that none of the items on your list are must haves if enough of the others are present as a counter balance.

    My only caveat is to carve out a special place for “defining goals.” Without that, what’s the point of doing or not doing any of the others? How do you balance or counter balance if you don’t know where the fulcrum is? Without a plan, even a basic one, your website will likely devolve into a mess, be difficult (in terms of time, effort and money) to manage, and place you into a reactive state instead of a proactive one.

  2. Says:


    What a fantastic article. I strongly agree with your analysis that most schools have to stick to basics and improve their websites and eMarketing strategy before they can move forward with social media! It’s the same with email marketing…when schools get people to click through, and the website doesn’t do the job…they FAIL as well. Good work with the article.

    - Brad Kleinman

  3. Says:

    Kyle, I’d agree with Web Managerin terms of thinking about the goals very carefully. These determine everything to do with your site.

    I think the goals, your content strategy and your individual circumstances will probably dictate the order you approach things. In my opinion social media doesn’t necessarily come last. I think that through encouraging the use of off-site social media tools you can often make some quick wins – e.g. awareness, contributing to the link building process, utilising additional off-site content that makes the university more real but would get blocked if you tried to put it on your university site. (P.S. I’m guessing as it’s an SEO diagram you use to start your post that you’re thinking of on-site social media which I recognise is probably a bit different.)

    Thanks for the thought provoking post, I definitely agree with the sentiment expressed.

  4. Says:

    @Web Manager& Brendan - You have me thinking… there could probably be a whole post or series of posts just on defining and establishing goals around the web. It really is such an important piece of the puzzle. Also so much of goals is fully understanding what all is possible which is multiple other discussions.

    @Brad - Thanx for your kind words. I’m glad that you enjoyed the post.

  5. Says:

    @Founderand Brendan- I agree that goal setting (or what I also tend to call strategy) is a big topic and something I try to cover from time to time. This post and a couple of others motivated me to put some thoughts down on paper (paper?):

    To be honest, the topic is so large, it’s difficult to only write one post. Perhaps we can all tag team on it.

  6. Says:

    I’ve written another post that touches on this point:

    Thanks for starting this discussion. There’s much to be said about it.

  7. Says:

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


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  9. Says:

    I would say its presenting old wine in a new bottle. Building relationship is not old but building them online is certainly a new thing, i would call it an evolution of sorts

  10. Says:

    Hi Kyle,

    This article is a very good guide to people who are developing new web site. This will give them a great idea of what they actually need to do and in which order. Many of the web master are actually in a hurry to generate quick traffic through social media and social marketing and most of time they completely ignores the importance of other things in web site promotions. This article is an eye opener for them and I hope it will work.

  11. Says:

    Nicely done. I enjoyed your comments very much. The only problem from my perspective is that you describe the impossible. Fix the content on a college website so that it is user oriented? All the colleges and universities that I have worked with are so under resourced in this area that it’s inconceivable that a proessional writer could be engaged to fix the text on an entire institutional website. And that’s assuming critical parties, like the faculty, can be convinced to let someone take a crack at editting their prose. But good for you. I suspect a lot of institutions want to turn to social media as a dodge to overcome the deficiencies of their sites. You make the point that this won’t work.

  12. Says:

    This post, though very true in the here and now, is I think short sighted. The trend that social media is creating is moving away from having your site as a destination. I think eventually admissions offices will not need their own websites, they’ll just have robust facebook pages. Alumni offices will point people to their linkedin group for job networking and to their ning community for social interaction instead of trying to recreate the same on the university’s site. We won’t be focusing on building sites for search engines we’ll be focused on providing our audience, wherever they may be, with a complete tailored experience.

    What you described (using social media to ‘drive’ people somewhere) is still a provider, not user, focused model. Right now its important to have a strong site only because we’re so focused on getting the user to our site. When we get to the point where content and connection is so fluid that the thought of ‘driving’ someone somewhere is obsolete then I think we’ll have truly earned the appellation web2.0

  13. Says:

    I would wish to congratulate for the attempts you have made in penning this read. I am asking the said best work from you in the future also.


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