Last week I attended the Social Media Optimization Conference (SMOC) in San Francisco where I spoke on a panel entitled Reputation Management and Social Media: Strategic Moves for Handling a Flash Crisis. I’ll circle back and discuss that in a later post but today’s post is going to cover the first keynote from Brian Solis. Brian is the author of Engage, the complete guide to build, cultivate and measure success in the social web. He was a very insightful and forward-thinking speaker and the following is a summary of his keynote address.
From SEO to SMO: How Creating Content is Only Just the Beginning
Brian began his message by stating that content development originally started with making content findable and it has now evolved to making it sharable. Social media, the act of sharing content, is “more organic” and he even referred to it as the “new SEO.” In a week where Twitter released the one click follow button and Google launched +1 buttons for websites, the point couldn’t be more spot-on.
But he clarified that statement further. SMO is not displacing SEO but is actually SEO for a new type of venue and consumer. Actually, I don’t think SEO can be replaced. The name may change someday, but the principle of making digital content findable though clarity in description and ease of accessibility is always going to be a need. Social sharing offers a different way for people to find things via the recommendations of people rather than mathematical algorithms – and that will often reside completely outside of a search engine website.
Brian presented a frequent challenge faced by companies eager to jump into the social space and immediately do something that “goes viral.” But what does that really mean? Good question. From my perspective, you might as well have the desire to be popular, funny or the most interesting man on the planet. The key, says Brian, is to start with the basics.
SEO, Status Optimization and News Feed Optimization are some of the fundamentals that create the buzz around sharing something. SMO=the distribution of social objects and their ability to rise to the top. SEO + SMO = amplified visibility and findability. Brian likes word formulas.
In Web 2.0, stated Brian, we the people became the web’s librarians who defined the metadata of the Web’s content.
For those of us who searched the Web with Alta Vista and Hotbot, metadata was the key to top rankings. Google changed this by introducing pageRank and utilizing the Web’s link graph to define relevance. But in the world of social sharing, according to Brian, the “people formerly known as the audience” are no longer the audience, but a medium of content distribution. What makes this audience unique is that each audience, each person, is an audience with audiences.
Social media is about creating and sharing experience. Social actions create bridges between content and people and foster “shareability.” In order to succeed in creating relevant social initiatives, start by thinking about the effect of any social effort. In other words, have a plan! Brain emphasized that “everything starts with search” and there are 4 types of search: traditional, real time, social search and social network search.
Brian shared an example where he tagged a photo of a wine bar in Spain. He was traveling and looking for a place to try some new wines, and he couldn’t find a wine bar by searching. So when he found what he was looking for, he made it easier for others to find it. He intelligently tagged his photo with the exact keywords he was using when he was trying to find a wine bar, and now his Flickr page is #1 in Google for the search term (in Spanish). Oddly enough, a very traditional SEO practice is now being hailed as social sharing. This is definitely an area where SEO and social meet.
Brian put together some more formulas regarding social success: context + relevance + experience = appreciation and encouragement, also known as “the human algorithm in action.” The social web is a lot more about expressions than impressions – expressions of contextual relevance and what people are looking for. He urged the development of content that is “liquid and linked” – content so compelling, authentic and culturally relevant that it can flow through any medium. That does sound delicious and compelling, but the art of creating something appealing is difficult. And it does seem like there is a lot of art in this process.
Moving on, Brian made an assertion that is an evolution of the importance of content. A long standing SEO mantra is “Content is King” and Brian challenged that notion by stating that context, not content, is king. Context is foundational to relevance and “you are the people you are trying to reach.”
To clarify his point, Brian pointed out that people take action (in terms of trust) from peers– but there are changes underway. The change now is that people are trusting experts more than friends. Here is the opportunity for companies to become the trusted resource. In real life here at Search Discovery, I might not always agree when Evan deems a restaurant “life changing,” but he typically does have good food insights. And I do agree that I tend to share my opinions with wine experts more often than many of the recommendations of some friends. And I don’t mean that as a slight to any of my friends who have poor taste in wine, but you know who you are.
In light of this movement toward a trusting of experts, Brian discussed the evolving “interest graph.” The social graph is composed of people you know, but the interest graph is future of social networking – connecting with those that share an interest. It seems that help forums, meetups and interest groups have already done this, at least in a different setting. But the interest graph would be a connection that exists outside of a forum – like when friends in a forum become friends on Facebook, follow each other on Twitter, etc.
K.I.S.S. – keep it simple and shareable. There he goes again – changing the meaning of our favorite acronyms.
For a case study, Brian talked about a study conducted by IBM. In this analysis, IBM asked executives what consumers wanted from social networks and then asked consumers what they wanted from IBM. The answers were polar opposites. IBM thought customers wanted engagement, yet consumers wanted special offers. Executives also thought consumers wanted product information– not so much. Oddly enough, people who follow brands usually do so because they expect something in return, like coupons, deals and special offers. From a corporate perspective, keep that in mind before making assumptions about why people actually “like” you.
Lots of brands are using social buttons and collecting likes and followers. But the ignore button is always just a click away. People unfollow brands because they don’t find value from the stream. No matter what you do, crappy content is not worth sharing.
Brian closed out by emphasizing that social efforts can and should be monitored and measured. More than half of businesses that run social campaigns do not know how to measure success. There is a return but it involves time, resources and costs. And if we don’t track and define return, we cannot measure what it is. We don’t know to value what is not known or defined.
As further guidance, Brian states “don’t stop success at the view count.” Ask more questions such as, What is the click through? What is the outcome? Brian referred to the Old Spice viral video example. They got millions of video views but did their sales increase? Did it produce actual money? At the end of the day, look for outcomes and not just views.
And when getting started, Brian urged everyone to be creative and unique. “There is no box to think outside of.” To design a creative social media approach by copying others, you end up with a “ready, fire, aim” approach.
Thanks to Brian for a job well done.