SMO: Social Media Optimisation

April 5, 2008 by  
Filed under Media, News, Online, SEO, SMO, Social Networking

Social Media sitesSocial Media Optimisation, or SMO, is gaining momentum as the new content distribution buzzword. Content is increasingly shared, and news content particularly is delivered through social networking sites. Will SMO replace SEO, search engine optimisation, as the way news organisations get their content seen by a wider audience?

A New York Times article last week tried to explain the future of news distribution by describing how ‘the young’ share news online via social networks.

SMO, or Social Media Optimisation, is one of the most important stories of the new media campaign – for several reasons.

  1. MSM (main stream media) are beginning to understand that social content distribution is a serious threat to their current distribution methods
  2. MSM in the main were disrespectfully late in adopting SEO, and
  3. It’s only now, well into the Facebook boom, that people are starting to take notice of the value of SMO.

While SEO, Search Engine Optimisation, will remain very important to news gathering and searching methods, it could soon be superceded by a much more important player in news distribution channels and strategies – Social Media Optimisation, or SMO.

How do people share information online? How do they find it? How does social media facilitate this?

What the New York Times article shows is the acceptance, if only partial, of the concept of SMO – that news is no longer force-fed, it is now shared, social, viral, and word of mouth.

Young people expect to see video with campaign stories
New York Times

“And they’ll find it elsewhere if you don’t give it to them, and then that’s the link that’s going to be passed around over e-mail and instant message,“ says Huffington Post’s Danny Shea. Brian Stelter writes: “Younger voters tend to be not just consumers of news and current events but conduits as well — sending out e-mailed links and videos to friends and their social networks. And in turn, they rely on friends and online connections for news to come to them. In essence, they are replacing the professional filter — reading the Washington Post, clicking on CNN.com — with a social one.“
via Romenesko

Like it or not, for traditional news media the news is a commodity that must sell. For it to sell and make money, it must be traded, clicked, monetised, and advertised. When content went online, MSM (mainstream media) very slowly caught up to the idea of SEO – making content user and search engine friendly.

Arguments from MSM – and let me be brutally honest here – dinosaurs, have been that using SEO techniques in news media is simply bowing to a digital master. Many in MSM have for too long bucked at what they call ‘writing headlines for a machine’.

That argument represents a fundamental lack of knowledge about how the future of information distribution will be shaped, and does not bode well for the necessary rapid uptake of SMO – integration with Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, Pownce, Tumblr, Stumbleupon, and numerous other variety of social networking startups.

People use the internet to search for information. When doing so, people looking for a story about the conclusion of the divorce trial between Heather Mills and Paul McCartney would most likely use the search terms, heather mills divorce, or paul mccartney divorce, or heather mills paul mccartney divorce, or even add the word settlement to any of those searches. They will not search using a print headline like “Damnation of Her Ladyship“ or “Lady Liar“, from the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror respectively, both on March 19.

People use a search engine to find what they are looking for, so writing page or article titles that assists them to do that is by no means writing headlines for a machine – it is writing headlines that will help real people find information using a machine.

But as MSM has only recently grasped the importance of doing this, and just as they catch up and start optimising content for search, the rules of the game gradually begin to change again.

MSM need to not be left behind this time. News in the new world of digital media is shared. Social media is word of mouth advertising. Social media is recommending a product to a friend, and whether that be viral video or a news story, it is a link to content of mutual interest, shared among a community of friends, a seperate community of family, another community of professional contacts, and innumerable other communities that gather around hobbies.

That MySpace, or Facebook, may be the flavour of the social networking month and gone tomorrow as another new social networking site enters the friend-swapping fray, is no good reason to neglect to stay in the game. If you’re only just starting to embrace MySpace as the skyrocketing Facebook begins to face new competition from bebo, you’re two full lengths behind the leaders.

The only saving grace for MSM in the past is that they have generally formed a pack that lag behind the innovators. Be warned though, as soon as your competition gets a clue and embraces the reality of online content sharing and community building in their news distribution strategy – you’ll find out just how lazy you’ve been when you lose community respect and relevance.

When the editors and owners hit the panic button and ask, “What the hell have you been doing? We’ve been left behind!“ – What will you say?

Integration is not just newsrooms. Integration is leading innovation, or at the very least keeping up with it.

Traditional media no longer control the news distribution channels.
Seed your content. Link out. Allow your video to be embedded, linked to, displayed elsewhere.