posted 8 Mar 2007 in Volume 10 Issue 6
Workshop: Social networking software
Introducing social-media optimisation
Has the boss started blogging? Is the organisation expected to use the CEO’s blog (and podcasts, perhaps) to publicise the company? What’s required is social-media optimisation.
By Gallianno Cosme
Search-engine optimisation (SEO) is a well-known technique for enabling one website or group of websites to leapfrog others in the all-important search engine rankings. And the higher a search engine ranking, of course, the more chance that more people will see that website, visit it, buy from it or whatever.
In many respects, it is about taking advantage of the rules by which those search engines (whether it’s Google, Yahoo, Microsoft or one of the many other search engines out there) categorise websites and present them to users – without resorting to techniques that the operators of those websites might regard as cheating and act accordingly.
While the TLA [three-letter acronym] SEO has become well known in the information-management industry, SMO isn’t – yet. But it may soon be.
SMO stands for social-media optimisation. It is, in many respects, the next step for social media. It’s all very well for the chief executive of your company, for example, to blog away to his heart’s content (or, perhaps more accurately, his public relations team to ghost-blog on his behalf…) but what good is it if no one reads his wise words or hears his inspiring podcast?
What is social-media optimisation?
Social-media optimisation is the process of optimising a website so that its content can be easily spread on the internet by the website’s own visitors to off-site social and online communities – basically making it ‘socially friendly’, helping others to propagate it, thus multiplying the benefit and getting the message in front of many more eyes.
The most common example is adding social bookmarks, trackbacks and ‘widgets’ to a site’s page, such as ‘add to del.icio.us’ links and the MyBlogLog widget. Sites like Digg and Del.icio.us make use of a collective wisdom to help web users sift through the large amount of information on the internet, in turn helping them find good content that is of relevance to them.
By adding tools like these to a site’s content, website owners will help users ‘vote’ for and refer the site’s content to their online communities in a simple and user-friendly manner. Bookmarked content that is shared – most of it is – and that received many ‘votes of approval’ can make a site’s content visible to a lot of new users who would otherwise not have come across the website before. Getting a spot on Digg’s homepage, for example, will also see a site’s traffic boom, in turn generating possible new RSS [really simple syndication] feed subscribers and regular readers.
But it doesn’t stop there.
While these represent a first step, on their own they serve little purpose. You see, in order for these social bookmarks or widgets to be of any benefit, the page containing them needs to have compelling content; content that is of interest to the user and, most importantly, content that the user will want to share with his or her online community, whether they are strangers or personal contacts.
Some people like to refer to the creation of social content as social-media marketing (SMM). While I agree somewhat, I think there is a fine line. Like SEO, social media optimisation is an ongoing process. It is about making your site ‘distributable’ to the social web, which includes creating socially interesting content on your site – content that will be of wider interest.
Having said that, social-media marketing is similar in concept (creating compelling content) but the difference is that the content usually has a marketing angle – at least in the business sense – and it generally happens off-site. The best way to describe social media marketing is to compare it to viral marketing – create something that gains a lot of interest and that gets spread to other users quickly by their friends and e-mail contacts.
Is SMO taking over SEO?
Social media optimisation is not about building incoming links and associated traffic only, nor is it about purely increasing a website’s rankings with different search engines (indeed, search algorithms are evolving to include social media ‘weight’ in defining a search-relevant site).
It is much more subtle than that, but involves using the web’s own dynamics to your advantage. When we look at the above description of social media marketing, its focus is on the marketing mainstream and on building ‘buzz’ online – then generating website traffic from these interested parties (what we call targeted traffic).
What’s really nice about off-site social-media-marketing-specific activity is that it becomes a good partner to search-engine marketing. While search-engine traffic will remain one of the most important long-term traffic generators, search engine optimisation takes time and demands patience.
In the past, the best way to get traffic to a site for specific campaigns was search engine marketing (SEM) and pay per click (PPC) campaigns. With social-media marketing, website owners can now supplement their campaign-specific traffic with the ‘free traffic’ that social media can provide them. Adding a video on YouTube, for example, might attract more targeted traffic for a popular brand instead of spending money on other online advertising, such as PPC.
Social media therefore equals more talk about your corporate brand online without the expense of advertising.
Something very important that works hand-in-hand with social-media activity is reputation management. Opening an organisation to social-media optimisation means that more people will become aware of your content and will therefore be inclined to discuss and use that content on their own sites and community portals.
But that also means, of course, that there is also a greater risk of attracting public criticism and in cyber-space, this can snowball very quickly.
In order to plan any marketing activity that incorporates social-media activity, the campaign manager must monitor all associated social activity. A reputation-management strategy ought to address this (and other online activity) by keeping people within the organisation informed about what the community is saying about it and helping with the preparation of ongoing social media work.
Reputation management itself is a separate discipline entirely – deserving of a separate article – but the point I would like to emphasise is that one mechanic alone could be dangerous when it comes to fulfilling your e-marketing objectives. The key here is to harness as much complementary e-marketing activity as possible and then integrate those activities in a holistic fashion. Social-media optimisation is no different.
Practice makes perfect
As with all online mechanics, social media is a constantly changing practice. To be successful at it, organisations need to keep up to speed on the new tools that emerge and the changing trends – it is a social arena. Also, as with any e-marketing discipline, developing a rounded strategy will be pivotal to its success.
In the context of a social-media-optimisation strategy, this needs to outline the desired objectives that social-media activity must meet. You see, SMO has the possibility of delivering many outcomes (traffic, sales, credibility, etc.) and it’s important to focus on those that are relevant to our business or campaign.
Today, SEO and SEM have become mainstream activities. Soon, SMO and SMM will join them as being important aspects of any site owner’s e-marketing activity. Sticking around to see how other sites have benefited from it could take time, and by then something else would have evolved as the ‘next best thing’. Start experimenting today and develop your social-media activity accordingly.
Gallianno Cosme (aka Gino) is a new media consultant specialising in e-marketing. His website can be found at www.cosmedia.co.za and he can be contacted directly by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
A popular blog or blogger;
A collection of links to other weblogs;
A weblog that publishes posts written by multiple users;
A folksonomy is a user-generated taxonomy, typically internet based, that categorizes content such as web pages, photographs, web links and other web content, using open-ended labels called tags;
A service by Yahoo that connects blog readers and publicises
Online reputation management
A process of tracking online conversations about a brand, company or person, reporting on them, and most importantly managing them in a proactive and responsive manner;
A web-based service enabling users to publish and share popular bookmarked content. Most popular services include Del.icio.us, Reddit and Digg;
A trackback is a methods for a web authors to request notification when somebody links to one of their documents – it provides bloggers with a means of finding out how widely discussed (via links) they are;
In this context, an element with a graphical interface that displays information on a site (such as latest visited users or RSS headlines) enabling a user to interact with it, such as linking to a person’s profile or visiting a headline’s site.