SMO: What it means and why it matters

The Internet may be omnipresent in our lives but it’s becoming more friendly. Credit SMO for that.

SMO is short for “social media optimization,” a somewhat new and evolving concept employing social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to promote content on websites, blogs or across other social media.

Until recently, the top tool for spreading the word online was SEO, or search engine optimization, in which words themselves are used to increase Web traffic by serving as online road signs of a sort for search engines to stop, read and announce to everyone else.

SMO, however, assumes that people, not search engines, are better at doing that. It relies on the notion that ideas are more important than individual words and that like-minded individuals will increase the publicity those ideas receive by sharing them with their family, friends and colleagues.

SMO’s origins go back to the mid-1990s when audio and video were gaining traction online and the public realized the Internet was destined to become a kind of clearinghouse for people’s whole Web identities, not just individual words. Marketing strategist Rohit Bhargava coined the term and proposed a five-point guide for it to increase one’s virtual visibility.

In time, the guide grew to accommodate the Web’s evolution and its audience’s increasing media savvy, so that now the overall strategy for effective SMO encompasses several key considerations for Web content producers:

Linking — It’s one thing to have a blog; it’s another to have people read it. Adding links that point to other blog or social media content provide attribution and illustrate depth of research. Other sites in turn may link back, thus increasing everyone’s visibility.

Tagging and bookmarking — Tags help describe content and simplify online searches. Embedded buttons for bookmarking services such as del.icio.us also point first-time visitors to specific content that they may want to use frequently.

Making portable content — PDFs and video and audio clips, for example, can be carried by other sites and help drive traffic back to the original source.

Encouraging mashups — A mashup borrows bits of content from several sources to produce new information in a unique way, much as human-interest interviews  can be combined to create a news story. Mashups often incorporate audio, video and mapping elements to tell stories.

Becoming a user resource — Posting interesting information, including information from rival publications, can turn occasional readers into devotees. They’ll see the information is always useful, accurate, and devoid of fluff and promotion.

Rewarding users — Giving credit to other information sources enhances credibility and distinguishes those sources as credible as well. It’s also a way of saying thanks to people trying hard to get their message across.

Participating — Speaking out, engaging in online conversations and sharing one’s knowledge or perspective in forums and other Web-based interaction advance ideas in ways mere words on a page cannot.

Targeting the audience — Location matters in real estate; the same can be said about the Web and its vast, ethereal landscape. Finding a niche is essential in an environment where being vague or general invites indifference.

Creating fresh, original content — Inside that niche, original content has a greater chance of getting noticed. That’s not to say though that old ideas should be ignored; even just a slight twist, either thoughtful or humorous, can put them in new and interesting light.

Being honest, staying true to one’s beliefs — Tricks and gimmicks intended to drive up Web traffic often have the opposite effect and damage audience loyalty. It’s better to be honest with the audience and remain focused and on message.

Thinking about SMO always — SMO should not be applied randomly but be used a tool of constant content creation the way notepads and pens have been for news reporters. It should be at the forefront of planning, at the forefront of organization, and include tactics and strategy.

David Sheets is a sports editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and STLtoday.com, and president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at dsheets@post-dispatch.com, on Twitter at @DKSheets, or on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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