A new process of harnessing the power of social networks and online communities is delivering strong results to some, yet the true potential of Social Media Optimization is yet to be realized.
SMO is the current buzz word that advertisers are trying to work into their marketing mix. It is the art of utilizing the connectivity of social networks and online communities and leveraging user generated content to spread your message in a viral way.
There are two vital criteria for successful SMO: your target market must be engaged with social media in some way (remembering, however that over half of the Australian population now has a presence on a social network[i]); and secondly, your target market must use the online environment in the information search phase of their decision making process.
SMO is still largely ignored by big brands who continue to invest heavily in conventional media and find it difficult to keep up with the rapidly changing digital landscape. The fact is, methodologies and approach to SMO need to change every week as we discover new ways to engage segmented demographics, snowball information virally, discover what people will find ‘interesting’ and produce relevant content that people will pass around. Oh, and realizing new technologies which assist this.
SMO and viral go hand in hand and both rely on content being of interest. However, the big question is: what is interesting? How do you differentiate your content from the millions of other people all trying to muscle in? How do you remain relevant in a space with a whole new set of politics, decision makers and opinion leaders?
A great example of interesting content going viral was a recent blog called ’90 day Jane’. The blog detailed the activities of a girl who claimed she would kill herself in 90 days documenting the process via her blog. Amazingly, the blog received 157,530 hits within a week. It was quickly taken down shortly after.. But is this the only blog out there talking about killing yourself? No, so why did this one go viral so quickly?
I think what made 90 Day Jane go viral (beyond the gimmicky name) was the way the content was positioned which ‘pulled’ people in. It aroused feelings of contempt, intrigue, excitement, shame and ambivalence.
It challenged people’s very notion of self preservation. Such acts of transgression challenge the status quo and engage people to react and debate with others. It also raises a number of questions around censorship, responsibility, governance and morality which go beyond the scope of this article.
The example of 90 Day Jane shows just how fast the transmission of information can become global. Businesses need to be able to tap into this if they are going to remain competitive. With this transmission of information comes the requirement for businesses to be able to respond to change if they are to remain relevant to consumers.
I believe we’re seeing an evolution in advertising through both the democratization and de-politicization of information and its transmission through communities. Users increasingly control the ebb and flow of what is distributed across the net. We are seeing a de-politicized method of communicating that is not censored by large publishers with vested interests. Everyone still has their bias, but it is more democratic because content is ranked based on popularity and relevance (albeit Google’s notion of this).
However it is still important to understand the mechanics of power and influence online. In fact Business week recently named owner of Techcrunch , Michael Arrington as one of the 25 most influential people on the web.
Advertisers can no longer push their message onto people in the online space. They need to work out how to build their brand into user’s communications and leverage opinion leaders. This is a major objective for SMO.
Building a brand into online communications can present problems for companies if they are the victim to negative comments. An example of this was last year’s Whirlpool forum attack on 2Clix who’s software was criticized in a large thread. 2Clix estimated they lost $150,000 per month over 7 months equating to over one million dollars in lost revenue. There were 195,000 users on whirlpool at the time and this does not include the multitude of anonymous visitors viewing the posts (http://whirlpool.net.au/article.cfm/1753).
In the modern world, people and technology are inextricably linked. As our ways of communicating online shift, new technology is developed to facilitate that interaction. Conversely, new technologies create demand and alter current ways of communication and notions of community.
From an SMO perspective, advertisers need to understand there is a bilateral relationship between social change and technological evolution and as an advertiser; how do the two of these work cohesively to produce new modes of communication, meaning, connections, categories and ontology?
Does a new technology create demand for itself, or does our need for something demand the development of a technology?
For example, Google’s Open Social is a combination of both a technical development and a social need to make technology simpler.
There are currently thousands of niche social networks out there in the web. These networks are closed systems and require users to signup to each one individually, re-create their friend network and comments etc.
Google’s Open Social is an emerging technology which provides a standard for a way these social networks can interact with each other. Each separate social network can now connect to a super social network. This will undoubtedly add another dimension to SMO which digital agencies will need to quickly embrace.
Nielson has just released a research report which looked at box office performance of 400 recent films, and found that the films that grossed at least $100 million in sales were more likely to have been blogged about (not exactly profound!). ([http://www.mediaweek.com/mw/news/recent_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1003723083]).
Did the popularity of the films encourage bloggers to write about the films, or did the bloggers help make the films popular?
Can you quantify to what degree the former influences the latter? And how can you implement an SMO methodology which is fluid enough to understand such a complex process, yet scientific enough to prove results to clients?
For advertisers, effective SMO is not about trying to infiltrate forums and blogs to promote your brand. What we want to do is create interesting content with a strong ‘hook’ and bait other people to comment on it – to build our brand into communications by providing information that is remarkable, high value and relevant to specific groups of people.
The question is, what are you doing to understand and harness the power of SMO?