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16 Rules For Social Media Optimization Revisited

Posted on Aug 4th, 2009
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    Guidelines for marketing with social media aren’t all that new. In 2006 five members of the digital marketing community collaborated on 16 rules for “social media optimization”. Fast forward to nearly 2010 and social media has begun to take a more significant role in the marketing mix.

    The original “rules” were posted by:

    Let’s revisit these 16 rules for social media optimization (SMO) and see which are still relevant.

    1. Increase Your Linkability


    This is the first and most important priority for websites. Many sites are “static” – meaning they are rarely updated and used simply for a storefront. To optimize a site for social media, we need to increase the linkability of the content. Adding a blog is a great step, however there are many other ways such as creating white papers and thought pieces, or even simply aggregating content that exists elsewhere into a useful format.

    Is this still relevant?

    Increasing your linkability is definitely still relevant, and adding a blog is still a great tactic. With the popular areas of the web acting more and more as aggregators rather than destinations the value of unique and useful content just keeps going up.

    Will white papers and thought pieces necessarily increase linkability? All depends on the content, but consider the time it takes to create them plus the fact that they aren’t social. Many produce white papers and thought pieces, so this is a highly competitive landscape to expect decent returns without an audience to share it. It’s a perfectly fine tactic, but a publishing platform feels like step one. To merely create white papers without already having an audience to share them with means they may have a hard time getting links in the first place.

    Check out what Darren Rowse recently created as a great example – he built a workbook that was made up of content already published on his blog, and yet his community still supported him in sharing it even though it’s material that is already public. He repurposed blog posts into a more formal/packaged format and is now selling the final product. This makes a lot of sense – publish the content bit by bit to attract links, traffic and subscribers as you go, then at the completion turn it into something polished.

    As far as aggregators are concerned, so much of the web these days is made up of aggregation sometimes I wonder if enough is enough. Do we really need more? At this point my sense is that compelling content is in greater demand than new aggregators. Unless you can serve your niche is an incredibly useful or interesting way you may spend a lot of resources on this tactic with lukewarm returns.

    2.Make Tagging and Bookmarking Easy


    Adding content features like quick buttons to “add to” are one way to make the process of tagging pages easier, but we go beyond this, making sure pages include a list of relevant tags, suggested notes for a link (which come up automatically when you go to tag a site), and making sure to tag our pages first on popular social bookmarking sites (including more than just the homepage).

    Is this still relevant?

    Yes, and the ReTweet button is the button du jour as Twitter has fast become a hotspot for the sneezers of the web to share quick links. We have heard of some bloggers receiving a 100% increase in Tweets from adding this which gives a nod to the button approach being a direct reminder to visitors to share content.

    With that said if your content is really that good people will always find a way to share it. Sharing buttons might help a little and act as social proofing if you get a lot of Diggs or Tweets, but realize people naturally share great content with or without prompts. Also prompts are not going to help uninteresting content get shared.

    [Lee: With Online Marketing Blog, we’ve had a good amount of traffic from Twitter for over a year but the addition of the “Tweet this” button enabled many more impressions of our content through Retweets and links. As Adam says, the bottom line with “linkability” is the quality of the content more than the visual prompt to save, share or bookmark it.]

    3. Reward Inbound Links


    Often used as a barometer for success of a blog (as well as a website), inbound links are paramount to rising in search results and overall rankings. To encourage more of them, we need to make it easy and provide clear rewards. From using Permalinks to recreating Similarly, listing recent linking blogs on your site provides the reward of visibility for those who link to you

    Is this still relevant?

    I’m not convinced you need to provide “rewards” per se to people linking to you – if you earned a link through great content then you earned it. Reciprocate if their content is worth a link, but just because someone sends you an inbound link isn’t by itself a reason to take action or reward. This may be a strategy but I would be hesitant to classify it as rule, there are wildly successful web brands that don’t reward inbound links. As a blogger, I would be hesitant to say that things like automatic trackbacks are a reward.

    [Lee: There are many ways to implement a quality link recognition process. Here are two examples that we use at TopRank:

    1) The BIGLIST of Search Marketing Blogs suggests to other blogs that the only way to get on the list is to be noticed by TopRank. One effective way to get noticed is if other blogs link to BIGLIST. There are about 74k links to BIGLIST so far.

    2) Each month and recently, each week, we post a roundup of media and blog coverage that TopRank gets on a newsroom blog post. Each time a mainstream publication or prominent website/blog mentions our brand or key staff, we include a link back to that source in our roundup.

    Neither of these tactics involves any kind of outbound effort on our part. Other web sites decide to link to us on their own. We decide to link back when it makes sense for our purposes. If that “recognition” helps others who were already thinking about writing about our company or our blog to link to us, then so be it. However, using a WordPress widget to display recent inbound links or as Adam says above, using automatic trackbacks only invites manipulation by others.]

    4.Help Your Content Travel


    Unlike much of SEO, SMO is not just about making changes to a site. When you have content that can be portable (such as PDFs, video files and audio files), submitting them to relevant sites will help your content travel further, and ultimately drive links back to your site.

    Is this still relevant?

    If you are a social media power user or have a strong relationships/reputation, you can probably give it a nudge to help make it successful. With that said it’s not up to you if your content travels, it’s up to your web community.

    [Lee: Building channels of distribution for content can be a very effective way to gain exposure and attract links. Email newsletters, RSS subscribers, status updates, Twitter updates, content syndication and promotions can all improve reach. Exactly how far that content travels depends on how congruent it is to the needs and interests of the network empowered to pass it along.]

    5.Encourage the Mashup


    In a world of co-creation, it pays to be more open about letting others use your content (within reason). YouTube’s idea of providing code to cut and paste so you can embed videos from their site has fueled their growth. Syndicating your content through RSS also makes it easy for others to create mashups that can drive traffic or augment your content.

    Is this still relevant?

    Yes, and in fact it’s interesting to note how traditional media entities such as the AP outright ignore the power of this by attempting to DRM to the news. Encourage reuse, remix and sharing for ideas to spread – at the end of the day the benefits still flow back to the originator of said content. People are going to reuse your content anyway, it’s the nature of the social web. Better to embrace it than fight it. Trent Reznor is a great case study of an artist who understands this philosophy.

    6. Be a User Resource, Even if it Doesn’t Help You


    Add value to users, including outbound links to areas that could help them with their goals and purposes. Deployed corrected, even if you link to competitors you stand to gain as the communities first source of information finding. How will this help SMO? Folks will link to your social site and tag is as helpful or the ‘ultimate’ guide in that space. As this adds up, it will become more and more relevant in search engine results.

    Is this still relevant?

    Yes, highly – I don’t have anything else to add as Jeremiah says this rather well.

    [Lee: I like succinct and so I’ll put it simply: Social media success depends on a “give value to get value” perspective.]

    7. Reward Helpful and Valuable Users


    Often helpful or popular users will be influencers and champions within your social site, devise ways to elevate them by promoting their works on the homepage, or develop a rating system. Sometimes a quick email or note in private telling them you appreciate them can go a long way. Some folks have done that to me, and for communities I run, I do that as well. Only do if sincere. Perhaps this is not truly SMO, but it will help to keep the most valuable members of a community closer to your site.

    Is this still relevant?

    This is not only relevant, you can go beyond a quick note and actually forge a relationship with those people by connecting with them in a deeper way than a mere “thank you.” Engage them in a dialogue and show your true passion for the subject at hand. If you’re really interested in what you’re creating this is such a natural. In other words: go beyond telling people you appreciate them, form a relationship with them.

    8. Participate


    Join the conversation. Social Media is a two way street, lets not forget that. By conversing with the community you are creating awareness and prolonging your buzz. You are keeping it going and this often results in a snowball effect. Participating helps your message spread further and faster.

    Is this still relevant?

    I don’t see any other way to be successful long-term here, this is a huge rule that is core to social media.

    [Lee: Since the original list was published, many marketers have made the mistake of dumping content, links and other advertising content with social networks to find their efforts fruitles for marketing and very productive when it came to being called a social media spammer. Participation is central to effective social media marketing and is probably the most important.]

    9. Know How to Target Your Audience


    If you don’t even know your target audience you are in trouble. I would love to have everyone using my product too, but you need to be realistic. There is always going to be a certain audience you can appeal to and others that you can’t. So know your appeal and who it is appealing to.

    Is this still relevant?

    There is no other way to create content or marketing ideas compelling to a niche, you have to understand both the subject matter and the community living and breathing it. The most effective way to do this is to become a member of the community yourself. Anything else will always be second-best to those living/breathing the material.

    Create ideas which resonate with your audience, and you can forge great relationships and build vital brand allies, such as EA sports connecting Tiger Woods directly with gamers (the reaction by the Digg community, one made up heavily of gamers, says it all – EA really connected with them). Misunderstanding your audience is dangerous and can put you down a negative path, such as when Motrin missed the mark of their target audience of moms.

    10. Create Content


    There are certain kinds of content that just naturally spread socially. It does not matter what industry you are in and what boring products you sell, there is always some kind of content that can be created that will work. Whether it is creating widgets, making people laugh, or writing a white paper, it can be done. Know what type of content can work for you and create it.

    Is this still relevant?

    This is synonymous with law 8 – being a participant of the social web requires you create content. With so few who actually create content and stick with it, this is a tremendous opportunity if you have the persistence and passion to go the distance.

    We have more data here since the original rule was written which really backs this rule up. Consider that Technorati has indexed 133 million blogs since 2002, yet only around 76,000 blogs have a Technorati Authority of 50 or higher. In other words, less than .06% of the blogosphere garners all the attention, links and authority when stacked up against the rest. If you want attention, interest and links, you absolutely must be in that .06%. And to get there you have to consistently create useful and unique content, there is no escaping this.

    11. Be Real


    The community does not reward fakers.

    Is this still relevant?

    Yes – the social web only continues to get sharper at shining the light on those who are inauthentic.

    [Lee: Do you really want your brand to become the next “Dell Hell”, “Walmarting Across America” or other fake social persona that gets outed by the community? Of course not and that makes this “rule” timeless in its relevance.]

    12. Don’t Forget Your Roots, Be Humble


    Sometimes it can be easy to get carried away being a BlogStar or industry talking head. Remember those who helped you along the way, and that respect will help all involved.

    Is this still relevant?

    This is true in life and business as a whole, not just in social media.

    13. Don’t Be Afraid to Try New Things, Stay Fresh


    Social Media is changing and morphing by the minute, keep up on new tools, products and challenges in your social sphere.

    Is this still relevant?

    This is still and will continuously be relevant – the early adopter crowd is always interested in what’s fresh and interesting. Plus you never want to miss the competitive advantage of becoming proficient with something new ahead of others. Several of the 40 best brands on Twitter not only enjoy a following in the 6-figures for being unafraid to take the plunge, but brands like Comcast and Starbucks have been getting national PR because of it.

    14. Develop a SMO Strategy


    Define your objectives and set goals. Be fully aware of what your desired outcome is as a result of performing these tactics. Reputation, sales, influence, credibility, charity, traffic/page views, etc.

    Is this still relevant?

    Still relevant, there should exist clear strategy behind any and all marketing initiatives. Social media is no different. Starting with a social media roadmap will set yourself up for success.

    [Lee: As this “rule” hits close to home, I would be remiss not to chime in. One of the most common blunders companies make with social media is to approach purely at a tactical level with no clear goals or strategy. Even an experiment has a hypothesis and if companies cannot commit to an overall strategic social media effort, they should at least make an effort to test in a structured way with goals, strategy, tactics and measurement in place.]

    15. Choose Your SMO Tactics Wisely


    Choose your SMO tactics wisely. Be cognizant of what actions will influence the desired outcome with the most impact.

    Is this still relevant?

    Definitely, what’s right for one brand or industry may not be for another. Everyone’s quick to choose the same tactics that are being used merely because they are “hot.” A reality check is always necessary – consider how will this tactic support your overall strategy. Social media marketing is about about ideas first and technology second.

    16. Make SMO part of your process and best practices


    Make SMO part of your process and best practices. As with good SEO, SMO tactics should become part of your organization’s best practices. Find ways to incorporate SMO tactics at the “template” level of document creation and as part of information distribution. Minor things like encouraging social bookmarks and rewarding incoming links as a standard practice across the organization can go a long way.

    Is this still relevant?

    Yes, as long as people are interacting in a way reflecting their individual personality and not merely acting in a robotic fashion because they were told to do so by management. There are no problems with encouragement and templates as long as the people who are participating actually want to participate. It is not the best reflection on a person or brand if all they did was hype their company all day and nothing else.

    [Lee: Growing and maintaining social networks in an efficient way isn’t going to happen accidentally. Educated and inspired participants of the social web can be far more effective with tools and processes that speed up, automate and make more efficient redundant and time consuming processes. An example would be using TweetDeck or CoTweet rather than the web version of Twitter. Another would be using Knowem to setup social profiles rather than doing so manually.]

    Wrapping up

    After thinking through these 16 rules, my sense is as a whole they hold up well. While the packaging of social media may be in a constant state of flux the core rules of digital communication do not change as tools/trends change. The reality is text is still king of the web and we’ve been socializing this way since the days of message boards and forums in the 90’s.

    Good marketing itself is not about the platform, it’s about the idea. The platform is merely an enabler, but to utilize it effectively comprehension is vital. With social media gaining popularity daily it is necessary for marketing professionals and businesses alike to comprehend this dynamic communication enviornment. And the only true way to accomplish this is to become involved yourself.

    What rules for social media marketing and optimization would you add?

    For hands on Social Media Optimization training, sign up for the DMA Workshop “Social Media Marketing and SEO – Working Together for Dramatic Results” during the Search Engine Strategies conference in San Jose August 10th.