The phrase Social Media Optimization, (SMO), has quickly become an industry buzzword in search marketing circles. The term refers to the practice of crafting, altering or augmenting profiles, images, movies and other files to be easily found and well shared in social media applications such as 43Things.com, MySpace, Tribe.net or Flickr, and by interested parties throughout the blogosphere.
The ultimate goal of any marketing campaign is to put products or services in front of as many interested eyeballs as possible. Where the public leads, marketers, by necessity, must follow and if those eyeballs begin to congregate over there as well as over here, many marketers feel the need to move. Tens of millions registered members populate dozens of social networks. People appear to enjoy the ability to form communities and inform each other. Online marketers looking for another winning venue are therefore turning to social media spaces as social marketing tools.
For the past five years, the number of high-traffic venues for search marketers remained fairly constant, consisting primarily of Google. More recently, the space has been supplemented by Yahoo, Ask and MSN. For the most part, five years of consistency has benefited the search engines, their users, online merchants and the SEO/webmaster communities. Nothing stays static very long on the Internet though. The online marketing metaverse has expanded yet again.
People like applications that make life easier. That s why search is somehow part of practically every application people use online. One of the major appeals of social media networks is that by nature, they are about sharing information, usually from a highly personalized point of view. As the theory goes nobody knows everything but everyone knows something. Collectively, we must know a great deal. Where search tools are about users pulling information and Web2.0 applications are about pushing information to users, social media steps into the middle ground by pushing information to subscribers and inviting others to pull information via shared files.
In a social network, large groups of people who would otherwise likely be strangers associate with each other based on spider-web networks of contacts, friends, images, interests, and occupations, creating ever expanding communities. These communities, built around shared ideas and interests, draw users by giving them the ability to educate, inform and share with others.
Both Google and Yahoo have embraced social networking in their membership based services for years, starting with Yahoo Groups and Google s Orkut. More recent products include Flickr (Yahoo), Picasa (Google), Yahoo Publisher Network, and Blogger (Google). The major search engines have learned from the lesson suffered by the music and movie industries over the past decade.
About eight years ago the true power distributive power of the Internet was demonstrated by peer-to-peer file sharing networks. When Napster appeared on the scene, the music files of millions of people became illicitly traded public property, virtually overnight. A similar thing happened to the movie industry two years ago with broadband and bit-torrent. As soon as a large enough number of Internet users catch on to a technology that delivers access to the information or entertainment they want, that technology becomes a trend. Sometimes, trends have a way of becoming habit.
Social media applications have transited from trend to mainstream usage. Thousands of new users sign up for Flickr, MySpace, Facebook, Linked-In, Tribes and other community-active networks every day. As a result, blogging, image sharing and new-media content creation have move well beyond creative geekery and corporate PR departments to become a trans-global pastime. Now that the various social network tools have acquired mass-market popularity they represent a pirate s treasure to corporate PR departments and the online marketers ready to serve them.
As far as treasure troves go, the world of social media is fairly easy to find; access and start working in. Creating a MySpace membership or a Flickr account is as easy as filling in a simple form. While building a MySpace profile is slightly more difficult than outfitting a Flickr portfolio, both are easy enough for new users to begin immediately. Partially because social media is so easy to use and partially because sharing information, recommendations and the latest outrageousness with friends and strangers alike is so cool, tens of millions of people have populated the social environments with hundreds of millions of files, ranging from music, images, documents and movies.
Social media is a cool, barely controlled environment in which individual users can form instant communities, finding friendships based on shared interest, passion and ideas. So how long do such environments remain cool after the invasion of barbarians cleverly disguised as marketing experts? That all depends on how we (the barbarians), make use of the virtual villages we re migrating into.
The problem with breaking in any new marketing medium is the instant gold-rush mentality of the advertisers who are early adopters. As recently as six or seven years ago, for instance, the majority of SEOs chased placements without a great deal of regard for the integrity of the search results. Claiming every possible Top10 placement under any given keyword phrase for a single site on AltaVista, InfoSeek and Lycos was entirely possible, and it was done with mercenary zeal. Ask any long-term SEO about the earliest days of the industry and most, if not all will show a slow, sly, satisfied smile. Back then, everything was blackhat. Before PPC paved the way to profitability, the search engines naturally considered SEOs as dangerous enemies.
Similarly, social networkers are not terribly happy about hitting the search marketing radar screen. By introducing corporate clients to what is assumed to be an open and non-commercial atmosphere, the online marketing sector is blatantly degrading the experience shared amongst the people making up the social network. As the months move on, more and more marketers are finding their way into places like MySpace. Communicating with custom created personalities shilling brand name sneakers is not what most social network users signed up for.
On the other side of the coin, the people populating social networks are already being subjected to advertising. Banner ads have been a part of MySpace for over a year and in a deal recently signed between MySpace and Google, AdWords ads could begin appearing alongside the personal profiles of MySpace members who ve registered with the AdSense program. Movie studios, bands and other performers have also used social media, primarily MySpace, as an effective marketing venue to reach youthful consumers. Flickr sometimes displays paid ads from Yahoo Search Marketing. Advertising is nothing new to web users though its inclusion in areas or formats that would normally be considered non-commercial content is often frowned upon.
The social media environment is increasingly going to be used as a marketing tool regardless of how the various social networks and their millions members feel about it. For a good search marketer, it is nearly impossible to avoid affecting whatever file one is working on in order to get good placement. In the realm of social media, adding tags, links and trackbacks is easier than altering the title, meta-tags, content text and link patterns. As Internet users gravitate towards the social media and thus, towards each other, online advertising is likely to take a community and interest based focus.
Wikipedia list of social networking websites
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Jim Hedger is the Executive Editor of the new daily webmasters information site, SiteProNews.com. He is also a consultant to Metamend Search Engine Marketing and Enquisite Search Metrics. He spends most of his time in Victoria BC, recovering from traveling to the Internet marketing events and conventions where he spends the rest of his time.
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