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The art of being useful: social media optimisation

There's a highly significant meme that has grown over the past couple of weeks (precisely when I've had my attention elsewhere): Social Media Optimization (sic - US spelling) - which is very close indeed to a lot of the work I've been doing at Spannerworks in the space between social media, marketing, PR and  search engine optimisation (SEO). I'm focused on the power of online networks, so we've been calling it Social Network Optimisation.

It was kicked off by Rohit Bhargava,Vice President of Interactive Marketing for Ogilvy Public Relations in the US with a post called  the 5 Rules of Social Media Optimization (SMO) and has been usefully built on and discussed further by people like Daniel Riveong, Lee Odden and Jeremiah Owyang.

Anyway here's some thoughts I wanted to add to the mix...

Brands and organisations now exist in online networks, in social media.

What does being successful in network look like?

  • Prominence and centrality: if you were to look at a map of your network or networks, you would stand out, be visible.
  • Attention: others in your network listen to what you say and come to you to access information, content and engage in communication.
  • Authority and trust: when you speak you are listened to and believed, trusted by the rest of the network.

The basic strategy for a brand, organisation or individual to be successful in social media, then, is very simple, it is to become a responsible and useful member of the network. Remember the guiding principle of being successful in a network:

If you are useful to the network, the network will be useful to you.

Is that a rule to be added to the list?

You can be useful to your networks then you must do the following:

  • Know your  networks: where are your customers, partners, influencers, employees, franchisees, regulators represented on blogs, and other online media and communities? Visualise, map your networks - know where they are, how they work, who is part of them and how they relate to you.
  • Listen to your  networks: find the ways to know not just when you are being talked about but what the areas of interest and discussion are in the social media / networks that are important to you.
  • Respond to your networks: whether via blogs, responding to others blogs and forum discussions and by your actions you need to be able to respond to what you are hearing from others in your networks.
  • Make your useful content easily available: there's often so much that an organisation or brand has and produces that is hidden from the networks, or hard to get at. Making sure there no hoops to jump through when someone in the network wants to reference or use your content is an important first step.
  • Find appropriate ways of engaging: there isn't a single approach that is right for every brand or organisation to engage with their networks online, but not engaging is not an option (at least it won't be for very long). Not just having a corporate blog or monitoring news groups and message boards for problems, but understanding all the ways that your organisation can and should engage with different networks.
  • Look at where you can provide useful services to the network: most organisations have considerable resources at their disposal. Proportionately small amounts of funding or time given to "being useful" to the network would be good examples of "network citizenship" that will earn respect, attention and awareness. 
  • Explain your strategy for social media and networks to the whole organisation: social media and networks will touch every part of an organisation. Some of those networks will run through different parts of an organisation. Point is awareness of and engagement with social media will become an increasingly important part of what organisations and their brands do. They need a strategy, not just a bolt-on social media programme.

Lastly, from an SEO perspective, search provides strong here and now reasons to invest in SMO (remember search as a channel is something with demonstrable ROI and clients are investing heavily in it):

  1. Prominence in social media/ networks earns you attention and links, which help your search engine rankings and build long-term search equity.
  2. Social media / networks will increasingly take on some of the role of search engines for people: filtering, qualifying websites that will be interesting and useful to them specifically.

: : Todd Deffren also sees the SEO / search engine marketing (SEM [sorry about all the confusingly similar acronyms]) angle for why companies may well invest in this approach to social media.

: : : Personal note: Magical and brilliant - that's what working in and with social media and communications is like these days. The speed of innovation, the thrill of like-minds you've never even met attacking the same problem as you and pushing things forward so much faster than things would have happened in the old days. Thrilling.


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» Trying to apply a social and economic model to social networks (after Mayfield) from Simonsays
Antony Mayfield has an excellent as ever post on Social Network Optimisation over at his Open blog. I've long been thinking about networks and the way they're used in terms of PR but couldn't quite put my finger on how [Read More]

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Antony Mayfield has written a must-read overview on a new emerging meme known as Social Media Optimisation. Read it if: You are in brand management, marketing, PR or communications You work in or are passionate about the juxtaposition of the [Read More]


One of the things I've been talking to Danny Bradbury (www.itjournalist.com) about is whether Social Media is the right term.

I'm coming to the conclusion that perhaps it needs tweaking to be 'socialised' media - the ability to interrupt the monologue through the ability to participate in the creation of the story/meme.

This participation allows for the engagment of multiple parties in the creation of the story regardless of the power:truth ratio. Along with another colleague, the socialised media is impacting on the traditional organisation, making it essential that the brand becomes the socialised brand - the co-creation of the meaning of the brand by its customers.

The statement about usefulness above then becomes 'if your brand is relevant to the network, then the network is relevant to your brand' and explains why it's essential that organisations participate in an appropriate manner through this socialised media...

Is social media already too widely used for us to hope to usefully tweak the phrase now?

Great thoughts - this linguistic battle is especially apparent when you consider the dual meanings of "social marketing" and how this can't be the term that applies to marketing relating to "social media." I personally would love to find a term that works better. I have seen personal media, new media, and consumer generated content/media emerging as the most frequently used apart from social media. Personal media is the one I use most often, though it's not ideal.

Connected media or networked media works for me, personally, but I will always try to use the description that most people will have heard of and undeerstand. Social media seems to be that phrase at the moment.

Important and useful - thanks Antony.

I think "socialised media" would create the impression that it is some sort of left wing enclave, given that socialism has been a political movement for a long time.

Great post. And I'll say that all the points you've made that address initiatives I've already undertaken have worked well. I've found my fellow PR bloggers to be incredibly generous. It's hard not to try to return that generosity as best I can.


I think you make some really good points here and raise some potentially exciting and troubling questions for any company trying to find its place in the changing Internet.

Fundamentally the greatest challenge has to be how you weave a corporation into a social network. The obvious answer will be through the voices of employees who understand and may already be part of that network.

Hence it might be that you need more junior level employees who understand why MySpace matters and respect its culture to help a company establish a place and a voice in the network.

Or you'll need creatives who are already producing for YouTube to be able to command a corporate presence there.

The key to social media/networks is authenticity as you know and write about eloquently. Damage that trust and all the social media software in the world won't boost your reputation with today's consumers.

I'm really interested in your final point about how people will be using social networks as a parralel form of search.

As we gear up for our next conference and we start formulating the must cover themes, it seems obvious to me that the power of social networking and the bundling of blogging, sharing and ordering within greater communities is going to be a major theme.

Sorry it took me so long to drop my thoughts in on this!

Thanks, Matthew - your considered comments are very welcome indeed! Look forward to hearing about he outline for the B4B conference, the last one was truly excellent.

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