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.