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Social Media Optimization: SMO is the New SEO – Part 1

Originally published in the Shutterstock newsletter as a two-part series…Part I

To keep things consistent, I didn’t change the headline. However, for the sake of reading this post in context, SMO should be part of an overall SEO strategy (SEO + SMO = Amplified Findability in the traditional and social Web)

As a brand, publisher, designer, photographer, artist, or filmmaker, the social web is your new distribution channel as well as your portfolio for intellectual assets. Whether you’re in the business of creating, marketing, selling, or distributing media, the social Web is an incredible medium that can create a brand, establish visibility, and build demand, all without active promotion. It’s about letting your expertise or work market itself through the practice of a socialized form of inbound marketing that helps make content discoverable when people search.

This may sound a bit familiar to you; after all, this is the purpose of search engine optimization (SEO) right? We know that people use search engines like Google and Yahoo to find relevant content and as such, we optimize our work so that it is discovered in search engine result pages (SERPs).

However, the technicalities involved with wiring SEO are not the same processes required to boost visibility in social networks like Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and Twitter. And it’s in social networks like these where people are increasingly spending time communicating, finding relevant and interesting content, and sharing it with their connections. So now, in addition to SEO, we have to implement and manage a Social Media Optimization (SMO) program around our content to increase visibility in these new environments.

A failure to do this could be an enormous loss. Everyday people are taking to social networks to discover new content in and around their social graph. According to a recent Nielsen study, social media sites such as Wikipedia, blogs, and social networks account for 18% of where searches begin, outperforming sites that are dedicated to publishing information specifically to help individuals find deeper analysis and details. This is a trend that’s only now gaining momentum; as Nielsen observes, “Social Media is becoming a core product research channel.”

This momentous shift in behavior represents an opportunity to connect your value and insight to those who can benefit from it.

I’m not a professional photographer, but you wouldn’t know that from where my images have appeared. Through the diligent posting of pictures on Flickr and Facebook, my pictures eventually earned the attention of Hollywood, magazines, newspapers, blogs, and event organizers. However, it wasn’t the unique quality of the pictures, the framing of each shot, the artistic views, or the dramatic compositions of my subjects that earned prominence. It was simply making the pictures findable by those looking for related content. The same is true for the many articles and papers I’ve written and published in content networks such as Scribd and Docstoc.

SMO is defined by the distribution of social objects and their ability to rise to the top of any related search query, where and when its performed.

At the center of any successful SMO program are social objects. Social objects represent the content we create in social media, including images, videos, blog posts, comments, status updates, wall posts, and all other social activity that sparks the potential for online conversations. As such, the goal of SMO is to boost the visibility of social objects as a means to connecting with individuals who are proactively seeking additional information and direction.

Serving as conversational hubs, these social objects are personified by the pictures we publish to Flickr, the videos we upload on YouTube, the events posted in, the wall posts shared in Facebook, the tweets that fly across Twitter, the links bookmarked in Delicious, the votes cast in Digg, the places we check into on Foursquare, the documents published in Docstoc, reviews posted in Yelp, communities built around themes in Ning, a thought shared in a blog post or a blog comment, etc. They are to social media what web objects, pages, and sites are to the traditional Web. As SEO helps increase the visibility of content in Google and Yahoo for example, SMO helps build the essential bridges between social objects and the individuals performing searches to find relevant content.

Social objects are also the catalysts for conversations and occurrences — online and in real life — and they affect behavior within their respective societies. Have you ever wondered how YouTube recommends related videos or how content within social networks is linked to the keywords you use in search? Search results in social media are defined by the elements ingrained in each social object, which is commonly referred to as Metadata. Essentially, metadata is the data that defines other data.

The Social Web relies on metadata, leveraging “the crowds” to classify and organize the volumes of user-generated content uploaded to social networks and blogs everywhere. In some ways, we became the web’s librarians by indexing the volumes of useful social objects to help others discover them quickly and easily.

At the very least, social objects are contextualized through keywords, titles, descriptions, and/or tags. Understanding these attributes of social objects, which is a topic I will discuss next month, is one of the most important aspects of a successful Social Media Optimization plan.

Continue to Part Two

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