You can't buy social media
While watching stats for the LOST project, I noticed a huge spike in registrations. As we did our research, it seems to have been from a twitter posting by @Agent_M, the Editor of Marvel.com. He has around 1.4 million followers, so you have to figure a lot of people see his postings even when you take into account the transitory nature of Twitter postings.
In a moment of blatant self-promotion, I posted "Looks like @Agent_M tweeted the LOST Sweepstakes and created a traffic surge to the microsite. I love it when Social Media works." CarriBugbee responded "That's surprising to hear from a social media curmudgeon" which got me into a little online discussion with her about the fact that I'm NOT a Social Media curmudgeon, I'm a sales curmudgeon.
I think what's happening with communication tools is amazing, but it's not a product, and it's not something you can create out of nothing. Words like "authenticity" are tossed about by inauthentic speakers (see my blog about wayward words with baggage). Social Media "experts" talk about being able to manipulate people's passions to commercial ends -- and that may be true some of the time, but you have to start and end with something that people love.
The reason Agent_M has 1.4 million followers is because he's got an inside line on comic books and movies -- it's a broad audience, and it's something he does every day, not just a part time promotional gig. When he mentioned LOST, there was a core group of people who were right in the sweet spot for our promotion. It was relevant, but more importantly, it was spontaneous and something that the guy felt was relevant. We didn't buy his time, he just passed along a message he thought people would like.
And, even aside from the spike from this one, popular, twitterer, it's the fact that the fans of LOST were excited to have a chance to win something relevant to the show they love.
Bottom line -- organic traffic is honest traffic, and honest traffic can't be bought.