September 13, 2012
How To

Inbound Marketing 101: 5 steps to help you get started

SUMMARY: At MarketingSherpa, we often publish case studies or how-to articles that focus on a specific tactic or campaign. Today's Consumer Marketing newsletter steps back to give you the basics on getting started (or improving your efforts) in an emerging area -- inbound marketing.

The article is based on a recent webinar, \"Think Different about Social Media: Four steps to transforming your marketing program,\" (sponsored by Act-On) presented by MECLABS' Todd Lebo and Sergio Balegno. Read the webinar recap article, and watch the full webinar replay, to learn more about inbound marketing.
by Courtney Eckerle, Reporter

Inbound marketing tactics, like search engine optimization and social media marketing, are effective tactics for marketers in their own right. However, even more ROI lies at their intersection. In fact, marketers who integrated search and social media marketing realized a 59% conversion rate improvement, according to the MarketingSherpa 2009-2010 Search Marketing Benchmark Report.

For those looking to improve their inbound marketing effectiveness, mapping a strategic inbound process will not only force critical thinking about how to best integrate different tactics, but also enable you to prove the value of tactics like social media to budget-conscious business leaders.

Strategic inbound marketing integration can help you set goals and achievable objectives. Plus, expanded content in search results, improved organic search rankings, increased targeted keyword traffic and a higher generation of qualified leads are all achievable objectives through integration.

Now that you know why you should integrate your inbound marketing tactics, let’s look at how you can do it.

Step 1. Identify where your organization is on the path to a social media marketing process

As with any worthy expedition, before you begin, you must assess where you have been. Making an honest assessment of where your organization’s social media marketing process stands today is a critical first step.
  • The Trial phase, where the organization has no process or guideline for performing in social media marketing

  • The Transition phase, the organization has an informal process

  • The Strategic phase, where your organization already has thorough guidelines it routinely performs

Formalize your social media plan

After determining the rigor of your organization’s current social media process, the focus turns to how to improve it. By concentrating on creating a formal approach to social media you can
  • encourage -- rather than discourage -- participation in content creation,

  • align new work with existing company values and guidelines, and

  • safeguard reputation and intellectual property.

Step 2. Determine what will appeal to the potential customer across many inbound channels

As with any marketing effort, value is vital. For instance, with tactics that are inbound in nature, your process should always focus on what will appeal to the potential consumer.

"How is your market talking? What are the words they are using? Just observing and watching what people are saying can really help give you the insight and competitive analysis to put into your value proposition," Lebo said.

The value proposition is the reason why potential customers should follow your Twitter account or click through to your website.

The integration process should focus on targeted keywords, according to Lebo, in which both search and social are instrumental. Search identifies the demand of key terms with high search volume or competition. Social then contributes identification of consumer language, hot topics and trends.

Combined, they power a marketing domino effect: Rankings are driven by relevance, relevance increases credibility, and credibility drives conversions. This is why, according to our 2011 Social Marketing Benchmark Report, 76% of marketers agreed that "many natural search listings today are linked to social media content, so the integration of social media and SEO tactics is absolutely essential."

Here are some examples of how you can use information about what appeals to your customers in different inbound channels:

Website marketing: Create relevant content by recruiting partners as subject matter experts, and offer an opportunity for customers to buy.

Search marketing: Optimize website for keywords in copy, titles, meta tags and other SEO elements, then create search engine desirable content through partner programs building links and posting thought-leading articles on blogs.

Social marketing: Find where your clients are using social media and join, be an active participant in LinkedIn discussion groups on topics that are of interest to clients, and create brand pages on sites such as Facebook or Twitter.

Step 3. Create an inbound infrastructure

To develop an effective social media marketing strategy, a methodical process is necessary. Social media marketing architecture is the key to achieving the objective of using social media to systematically achieve (or increase) measurable ROI.

Without architecture, what’s left is "random acts of social marketing" that have no plan or purpose. These are conversations and people moving aimlessly through your social media environment without being directed anywhere specific. They are not ending at a point of conversion where you can make use of them.

Hub and Spoke

"Everything begins with a search" is the mantra of the hub and spoke architecture, which acts as a cyber-guide for your consumers, leading them to conversion. It creates a synergy between search, social media and content, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

In this type of architecture, the number of spokes is unimportant, but having a plan and a purpose for each site is vital. Two common spoke sites:
  1. Social networks are for building communities and relationships through trustworthy engagement.

  2. Multimedia platforms are for storing content and making it accessible throughout architecture.

These converge on two different types of hub sites:
  1. Blogs act as the hub of content for social marketing strategy to converge leads.

  2. Websites are the hub of the overall marketing strategy and leads conversion.

You can also build out this infrastructure with a specific, relevant landing page at the hub. You may only have one landing page, or have many landing pages for many different segments, campaigns, products and the like.

Landing page optimization becomes critical to rate of conversion and ROI, because with the spokes, you are increasing the traffic coming to your site. Using landing page optimization, you can test to learn the best ways to convert that traffic.

Step 4. Choose the best tactics and practices for you

To understand where you will have the largest impact, it is important to understand and be familiar with a variety of formats. No matter how popular or buzzworthy any specific site or tactic becomes, you must recognize that not all of these sites may suit your needs, nor will they all suit the needs of your ideal consumer.

Once you determine the appropriate formats, the quest becomes involving thought leaders and consumers. Individual formats have varying tools to achieve this, and Lebo maintains that beginning the process of sharing "is just making it easy for them."


  • Brand and personify your blog. Focus on building personalized relationships, and create a "voice" that is appealing to your audience.

  • Be engaging, and write compelling content with the goal of triggering reactions and commentary that has inherent value.

  • Define your community. Your readers must understand and be drawn to the topic of your blog.

  • Plan your content mix by using interwoven posts and content.

  • Drive conversions with relevant links to posts that lead readers to landing page conversion points.

Microblogging (i.e., Twitter)

  • Build a following. Post keyword-rich messages that will be found and followed by your intended audience. The pure number of followers isn’t always important -- it is about getting the right people.

  • Post a relevant mix of messages that link to conversion points, as well as third-party content.

  • Individually engage those you are following and who are following you to begin a conversation using @ replies and direct messages.

  • Add the hashtag symbol to keywords to track a conversation and connect an audience.

Social networking

  • Build a community and develop a following of people interested in your organization.

  • Instigate a mob mentality by attracting like-minded people who share common interests.

  • Make it eventful -- give a little pizzazz to events to keep them interested.

  • Q&A: Ask thought-provoking questions and demonstrate thought leadership, and your followers will pass it on.

  • Post a relevant mix by balancing original and third-party content to keep a fresh perspective.

  • Gather insights interactively through fan surveys and polls.


  • Find content everywhere: training videos, sales presentations, event photos, customers’ pictures of your products, etc.

  • Publish everywhere: embed links to multimedia on blog posts, website landing pages, in emails, etc.

  • Generate leads by adding links to offer landing pages on videos, photos, presentations and documents.

  • Use keyword-rich descriptions and tags for search engines.

Social bookmarking

  • Start by sharing content yourself -- bookmark your own website, blog or other content hub.

  • Add sharing buttons. Include social bookmark sharing buttons on blog posts and outbound communication.

  • Identify relevant content and engage contributors. Interact with those who bookmark relevant content to build a community.

Step 5. Recycle, reuse and repurpose

According to Lebo, one of the scariest components of social media for marketers is the question, "Where am I going to get all this content?"

His advice is to take a step back and review assets already in your arsenal that may not be immediately apparent.

"Take a deep breath, and look and see how can we repurpose content we already have. You might be pleasantly surprised in knowing that you might have more content, and more ways of using it than you realized."

Content creation can be costly, both time and money wise. Repurposing content is an effective tactic for reducing cost in both of these areas, and was listed as a top tactic for 64% of marketers in content creation, as reported in MarketingSherpa’s 2011 B2B Marketing Benchmark Report. It can also be a useful way to readdress and update issues or talking points for consumers, while lightening your content-producing load.

Watch the replay

For more actionable advice about social media integration, listen to Todd Lebo and Sergio Balegno in the full webinar replay:

Related Resources

Download the free excerpt of the 2011 Social Marketing Benchmark Report

Social Media Marketing: 7 steps for using contests and sweepstakes to promote your brand

Email Summit 2012: Integrating mobile, social and email marketing channels

Social Media Measurement: Moving forward with the data and tools at hand

Homepage Optimization: Free trial vs. demo (via MarketingExperiments)

Social Media Platform Selection

Guide to Facebook Ads


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