Analogy time.

Your Website = Shy 8-Year-Old

Social Media = How You Get the Other Kids to Notice You

You’re eight years old, standing on the playground with last year’s high-tops on. All of the other kids in your grade band together, kicking a ball across the field and joking nonchalantly amongst themselves. You bounce around ideas in your mind for how you’ll get these awesome kids to hang with you so you can share your infinite secret knowledge with them. You know they’ll dig what you have to say but how will they know…without you sharing at least some of your impressive knowledge with them?

Believe it or not, your website is much the same as this shy 8-year-old. Your business, nonprofit, or organization has infinite knowledge and resources to share within your niche field. But how will the world find out and appreciate what you know and have to offer unless you’re sharing it with them? You need a way to get this information from the quiet part of the playground to the gathering place with the rest of the kids (i.e. the world). You have to meet them where THEY are. But how do you break into the conversation? How can you get their attention?

So, the bell rings and you hurry back inside, lit with the best idea EVER—you’re going to ask Mrs. Cornbuckle, the sweet old lunch lady, if she could somehow, by the grace of Ali Baba, sell you a few cases of juice. Everyone in your class loves it, and moms and dads only reward juice money a few times a month. You’ve got saved cash from your chores and a little extra birthday money leftover. That should do the trick! At lunch, you ask as she rings you up for your mashed potatoes. She winks, flashing you a toothy grin and says, “Well of course, child.”

You jump up and down doing your happy dance, then run back and let everyone know that juice is on the house courtesy of moi! Your class goes wild, high-fiving you, asking you how you did it, inviting you to sit at their tables and hang out.

You, the lonely little website, just got a lot of love from the community. Now imagine every person that gave you a high-five or even talked about what you did is a social like, comment, retweet, blog post, Google + share, etc. Every time someone talks about their amazing experience in the lunchroom, more and more people in the school find out about you and all that you have to offer. The more other people talk you up, teachers and even the principal start to take notice of the work you’re doing in other areas at school. You have gained attention and credibility with your peers, and you’ve opened up opportunities for conversation (i.e. traffic to your website).

This is how social media influences search engine optimization. The point is to share credible, relevant, keyword-rich content across social platforms, inserting it into meaningful conversations around the topics that you care about, that you’ve created a business around. Others then find your information useful and intriguing and share it with their friends and followers who then hopefully share it with theirs. In that mix of traditional users, it’s likely that bloggers, news editors, fellow businesses, and organizations will also share or incorporate your information into their own research and news.

The great and powerful search engines now sees your content as relevant because other people have found it useful as well.

That’s the secret to how social media works as a mouthpiece to drive engagement and traffic back to your site as well as establish your business as a credible source of information. There is no gimmick or trick. All that you need to do is write engaging, keyword-rich information, publish that written content along with imagery in blogs and optimized landing pages, then share it via social media. (Yes, you should include relevant, valuable keywords for your business in your content. This is not the same as keyword “stuffing”). Just make sure you have a strong social media foundation before you share all your hard work. If you don’t have a strong following made up of an appropriate audience, social media isn’t going to help you that much.

It’s just like when you were young and thinking of fun new ways to talk to people about the things you care about, only now you’re a little older and there are new virtual playgrounds. Now, think of another fun way to talk to your classmates (aka, do your keyword research homework). Share with your classmates and see what they think—and voila, your lonely little website slowly becomes a hub of entertaining, rich information that other people find useful, which drives engagement with your site and in turn makes Google turn their head and pat you on the back.

Want to learn more? Check out this great slideshare from Moz for more on how social media influences SEO.