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

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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.