What is social media? What is SMO?

Social Media refers to media and content generated for/from social interactions. It is generally used in the context of web based technologies in the creation and generation of user content. Think of it as the dialog or the text of communication between two people, on the internet. This also extends to a group of people and exchanging communication between them. Social Media is considered a foundation of Web2.0 when the technologies started leveraging this UGC (User Generated Content). The simplest form of social media is a Blog while the other forms can include social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, collaboration and knowledge sharing aspects of Wiki, Social Bookmarking (Delicious), user reviews like epinion/yelp, and discussion groups.
In shorts, Social Media is any form of UGC available on the net which is used for social interaction and sharing.

SMO (Social Media Optimization), on the other hand, is a process of using Social Media to attract attention to products and services on the Web. It is a collection of techniques to use social media to bring more customers to a website or to increase brand aware ness or to manage brand/product reputation on the internet.

Fewaspects  SMO are viral marketing, online reputation management, brand building, customer satisfaction, knowledge management, business development, attracting visitors, and product development.
Some of the ways to perform SMO (or attract eyes to your website content) is by RSS Feeds, ‘Sharing buttons’, blogs, diverting people from other blogs/discussion groups to your official blog, and posting updates etc.

How does it differ from SEO?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an art solely dedicated to improving the website ranking (and visibility) for a search engine. The whole purpose of SEO is to get a website or a web page ranked higher in the search results so they show up ‘above the fold’ and hence potentially getting more traffic.

SEO is very specific and there are a laundry list of tasks and strategies which you do to achieve that. You can use the same strategy for different products/sites/pages to improve their visibility. While on the other hand, SMO may require a lot more knowledge and understanding about the client/product and at the same time would need active involvement and maintaining reputation. SMO is more closely tied to the brand reputation when compared to SEO.

Suppose I have a brand ‘Buzzolium’ which is a handbag line incorporating the use of hand-woven silk. The SEO task to promote the brand and the products will be to get my website to rank higher when someone searches on ‘silk handbags’, ‘hand woven silk bags’, ‘silk bags’ etc.

While the typical SMO activities will be to expose my brand in all the forums, blogs, facebook fan pages, discussions groups of ‘silk bags’. The goal being that all the places on the internet which talk about silk-bags, would get a  reference to Buzzolium silk bags so I get the exposure in the right  circle and then bring the users to my own website.

So you can see that they are very different activities and require different expertise and skill levels.

Do I need to use SMO?

Everyone or anyone looking to use internet to gain popularity and raise aware about themselves or their products. If you think you can benefit from more people knowing about your brand then you need it.

What do I need to do if I decide to engage in SMO?

Once you know that you want to extend your reach thing SMO, it’s a simple three step process to get SMO working for you: a) Discover, b) Strategize, and c) Optimize.

The Discover phase refers to understanding your environment, your assets, opportunities, market, potential clients/users, niche areas etc.

The Strategize phase defines the communication plan, defining KPIs (key performance indicators) and how the actions will generate results.

The last phase of Optimize puts the plan in action. It creates the engagements, deploys the plan, measures the actions against the goals, and finds new opportunities.

Typically an organization will put their Marketing Director or Manager in a similar role while many of the tasks can be done by a simpler role.

You can perform these activities yourself or completely outsource but making sure that the outside team understands your brand positioning and feels passionate to promote it. You can also have a mixed model where you use external tools to monitor your brand, competition, events and then take decisions internally to bring in the traffic to your official content (blog, facebook fan page, twitter stream, etc)

Can an SEO expert do SMO also?

SEO and SMO are different ways of achieving the same result and they both are important. SEO has been there for few years now and SMO is just getting started. We strongly believe that SMO will be huge in coming months/years and will need a platform for manage it for any brand. They are often mentioned together and everyone offering a SEO service has also started offering SMO. SMO requires different skills and more engagement for every brand. It needs a custom strategy for reaching out to the right demographics and customer base so its more involved as compared to SEO.

You also need a lot more tools to support SMO.

What differentiates a good SMO from a bad one?

Making social media work for you needs a custom strategy which suits your specific business. Although the channels might be same, they need custom editorial and strategy to make it successful. Some of the channels are:

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs, discussion forums, social bookmarking, Wiki pages, photo/video sharing, classifieds, directory submission, article writing, press releases, activities like Fourquare etc.

A good SMO strategy will not only improve your own content in the above networks, it’ll bring in more traffic and people to your content. While a not-so-good SMO might just charge you for writing X number of Facebook status updates or Y tweets per week. This will just put more content on the pages and will not proactively bring traffic from other sites and forums.
What should I not do with SMO?

Don’t engage in SMO without understand what you want from it. Don’t do it for the sake of doing it and then just pay someone hundreds of dollars a month to create a Facebook account, a fan page, 8 posts, 1 blog and 4 posts, 4 articles, 10 images and 4 video uploads.

What SMO offerings are out there?

Just search for social media optimization/marketing and there are many companies doing it. Pretty much every SEO is also doing SMO these days. Some of them are Radian6, Trackur, and Scoutlabs

How to evaluate if an SMO offering is good for me?

This is where it gets a little tricky. There’s no magic formula to find a good SMO product as it depends on your requirements and how much you want to be involved. I’ll list a set questions which, when answered, would tell you how to evaluate such a product.

a) How much do you already spend on SMO activities? Many companies have Marketing directors and manages spending an average of 6-8 hours per week which could get pricy.

b) Do you know what you want from SMO? Generate exposure, increase traffic, lead generation, increase search ranking, new business partnerships, sell products and services, reduce marketing expense or something else?

c) Where’s your market and where do they hangout on the internet?

d) What part of SMO you want to do in-house? Building the tools, configuration of tools to monitor relevant information, figuring out trends, generating reports, responding to feedback, editorial content, driving traffic from other websites and destinations, promotional events, identify influential consumers, groups and networks, understanding consumer behavior and motivations, etc.

e) How do I measure the effectiveness of a campaign or ROI ?

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