2009 Social Media Optimization: Back to Basics?


Social media has crept into nearly every aspect of SEO to where it’s now quite difficult to imagine them disentangled from eachother. Keyword research traditional to SEO is being used to advise every tag, tier, and title in brand social media efforts. Go ahead and find me an SEO who says “I don’t do social media”,  they’re either speaking figuratively, are blissfully unaware, or have an extremely rare vendor relationship.

What do we now know to be true about SMO that we didn’t know 1 year ago or even 3 months ago? What social media principles have stood the test of time? Should we reignite a serious dialogue on ethics in social media optimization?

Search Engine Strategies New York 09 brought some of the best and most outspoken search & social media marketing figures together for the session “An Update on Social Media Optimization“, moderated by Search Engine Watch’s managing editor Kevin Newcomb.

Leading the session was Liana Evans, director of internet marketing at KeyRelevance.

Li asks, how did we get here with social media, how did it become a powerhouse? We used to market with TV & Radio, throwing out messages while consumers sat and took it. The internet has now allowed consumers to express feelings, share experiences and much more. This is what social media is about, connecting those who share similar feelings,  interests and experiences.

Social media does not mean drop your PPC and SEO, it should compliment them. It’s time consuming, not a fast process, and it’s not about putting any article on digg and automatically getting 10,000 visits.  It’s different for everybody.

The biggest thing to remember is that people hate to be marketed to. The minute you start marketing to them, they will cut you off.

It’s also about the end user and the new signals of search. Search engines are looking at reviews, product tags, chatter in social media sites. It’s not so much about links, not to say that links are going away.

It’s also about where your audience are. There’s photo sharing on Flickr, video sharing on Youtube. There are all different types of people in social media: creators, critics, collectors, joiners, spectators and inactives as archetypes among them. Joiners join facebook, creators create blogs, critics review. What are these people doing in  social media, watching videos? Start looking at video sharing communities if you haven’t.

Start out by defining your goals,  some useful social media metrics include comments, ratings, links, twitter followers, retweets, number of reviews, # of people that ask questions.

From Social Media Rockstar to President
Barack Obama is the prime social media success story. He needed to reach college kids, African Americans, women, blue-collars, and independent voters. He created the conversation in his own community and it facilitated amazing  buzz right out of the gate.

He went full force into video sharing networks; he uploaded over 1,000 videos to his Youtube channel and had over 19 million views and 133,000 subscribers. He put photos on Flickr and moved other users to upload their own Obama-inspired photos out as well. He had a Linkedin profile, with Q & A and groups.  He had a profile on Black Planet, one of the largest social networking sites and he had over 480,000 friends. He twittered, and though it was not technically him, it lead to heavy discussion.

When you search for Obama, his profiles are showing up all over, they completely dominated the SERPs. As for the end results: he of course won the female, African American, young, blue collar and independent vote.

To sum Li’s advice: be social, start a conservation, be transparent and remember the end user.

Next was Dave Snyder, co founder of  Search and Social, presenting on the problem of “cookie cutter social media” approaches. Dave warned us in advance that his speaking style is stream of consciousness, but I found his message to be actually very linear and natural to absorb.

The biggest problem Dave sees in social media is that it’s mostly approached from a high level. “Cookie cutter process people” are delving into social media in the wrong way. Don’t keep using the same social media tactics client to client, platform to platform, expecting similar results.

When a Cookie Cutter Goes Wrong
Don’t just use templated social media examples like things you’ve heard at conferences. Don’t apply these social media tactics to ridiculous products that don’t match the format.

His prime example of a social media offender was Overstock.com

  1. Overstock.com put a social community on their site that nobody used, it became a haven for spam; advertising for teeth whitening kits and the like.
  2. They decide to take their “success” on the road by creating a Facebook page, ending up with near zero human engagement.
  3. They tried integrating product purchases into Facebook stream. So the guy who buys an engagement ring on Overstock for his fiancee ends up tipping her off before the big surprise.
  4. Overstock tried twitter, and their early tweets were about birds pooping on their head.

Why have a Facebook business page for a Motoroil company? Think about why  anyone would want to interact with your company in that channel? Pizza Hut has a Facebook application to help you order pizza directly on Facebook, why?

Just because “motor oil” doesn’t play in Facebook, it doesn’t mean that social media isn’t for you. Find niche sites, understand what content works on which platforms. Digg and Reddit are both social news sites, but the content is completely different.

Set measurable goals, this is the biggest flaw in social media ( I thought the cookie cutter templates were?) We’re in this business to make money, don’t inflate your job. We all want to think of ourselves as creative, but who cares if you aren’t making money.

Know how each community can actually benefit you and what they can bring you. If your end goal is links, focus on social news sites like Digg and Reddit. If your goal is conversation, focus elsewhere.

Use an analytical approach, there are lots of ways to measure social media, think outside of the box.

Number 1 rule: you get what you give. You give content back to the community that they really like. If all that you’re giving a network just bothers users and doesn’t add value, you’ll get no value in return.

Speaking next was president of Milestone Internet Marketing, Benu Aggarwal. Benu spoke on the agency and customer side of managing a brand online.

You need to tell your client what is important. Explain to them why it is important to have a Facebook profile. Understand that you really need to do it all, you have to kind of do everything together to impact your universal search.

User Generated Content – Find out what are the top 3 most important UGC sites related to your client. You of course need to enhance your profile, tag the most important keyword phrases, and even add video. If your client’s customers are going there, you need to create a cross-awareness.

Video Content – How do you create relevant video content and video on the fly? It may be as simple as a Flip camera that can shoot raw and compelling video that you can upload to Youtube in 10 minutes. Make videos your customers are looking for and that have value. You can advise the video content and tags by keyword research, as you would with traditional SEO efforts.

Photo Sharing – Yes you can create a Flickr account, but go even further. One thing that works well is to upload pictures to Flickr, then create a community map, and reference your pictures across social communities you’re active in. Link to your Flickr pictures from your blog or Facebook profile. Go ahead and integrate links to your social media profiles in your local listings. Tag up every one of your properties with consistent but community-relevant tags from keyword research.

Personal Social Networks -  Devise how can you make your business profile(s) personal. Add widgets, twitter feeds, blog feeds, and be sure to join groups and associated networks, add special offers, give away white papers; these are just a small few of the potential avenues you can pursue.

Twitter (microblogging) – If you’re writing a blog post, go on twitter and tweet about it. Use tweet deck or tweet beep to alert yourself to people who you should care about and who would care about you.

*At this point Benu’s phone goes off and scares Marty Weintraub

Blog Architecture – Before you create the blog, define what your going to talk about, advise by keyword research, take a holistic approach.

Putting it all Together
Put links to your social media profiles across eachother, integrate them all. Your social media properties with higher page rank will help pull up your profiles that may not rank as well.

Don’t forget the pitch, what are you going to say, show or do that would make your customers actually want to be your friend in a social media network?

Presenting next was Marty Weintraub, president of AIMCLEAR. Marty let the crowd know that he was mainly sharing the social media stuff that “rocked the most” to him.

Twitter is to virility as SEO is to PPC – We now have access to the ultimate focus groups to prove marketing messages. I would have died for that kind of demographic research in the past.

Use PPC to SEO multivariate testing – PPC moves much faster and is precise/controllable. You’re using paid search to prove organic success in funnels, conversion, design etc. You can then turn off PPC… or not.

With linkbait, it’s all about the idea – Use twitter to find out if something is cool or sucks really fast –  it validates marketer’s instincts.  Use Twitter as massive research tool. Look back at the tweets for “Zombie Dating” for example.

Use Tweetdeck for stunning demographic filtering – You can set up searches by # (unique hashtags) or keywords and receive on-the-fly updates.

Publishing properly means more in 2009 – Inputting content to the grid by the intersection of your content management system and social media. Ideally, as soon as you hit “publish” on a blog post, it’s prewired up to automatically be pushed through your Twitter feeds, Facebook feeds etc.  You can touch millions of users quickly.

Take an inside -out content promotion strategy -  Audit your inner circle of marketing team members, identify which insiders are already active in communities. They are pushing content through Twitter and Facebook and quickly expanding this inner circle

Sock puppets are dead, long live avatars! – Pseudonyms make business sense sometimes but you should use only corporate brand ambassadors that are genuinely engaged. No fake Linkedin or Facebook “people”.  Whether you choose to use your actual name or not, always be authentic and holistic.


Our closing speaker was the affable Chris Winfield, president of 10e20.

Chris says to get back to the basics, forget most of what you hear about the “newest thing”, there are so many new things that suck, like Plurk (AIMCLEAR does not necessarily share or refute this opinion). Tune out the noise and focus on figuring out what works for you. This stuff is simple, and people try to make it more complicated than it is.

Experiment, test and try new things. Don’t get caught up in the hype of Twitter, Facebook,  Digg, whatever it is; they’re not the end all be all. Be suspect when someone says “this community is all we do to market our company.”

Balance what works for you.  Should you do a Facebook Page or a Facebook Group? Or don’t do a brand group at all; make a group about a subject that your customer would talk about.

Don’t forget about forums just because they’re not sexy; they were social media before social media (Amen man).  Bigdashboards.com is a site that ranks forums across different criteria, check it out to find a forum where your customers are.

You have to get involved, not just to give back and be a good person, but to understand what people like, what content is successful and what offers people will react to and get business for you. Never forget the end goal. Don’t use twitter just to tweet.

Large Social Sites vs Targeted Niches
Everyone hears about Digg, the bigger blogs are going on social news sites looking for content. The sad part for most people is that Digg won’t work for them. At this point the bigger blogs are really looking for “big magazine” stuff you read everyday.

One of the most powerful things to do is to find targeted niche social news sites and Chris is going to give us every single one that works! Out of over 18,000 that exist, Chris whittles the list down to about 40 useful sites. Though they may drive just 500 visitors rather than 50,000,  it’s 500 very focused visitors. Often because of the niche site’s smaller community, it’s easier to make things go hot if your content lines up.

How a Niche Social News Site Works:
Stories that go hot on these sites have likely potential to get picked up by the larger social  networks, then on to 2nd tier blogs and so on.

Chris gives away his good list of 40 sites, too many to list during the course of a presentation. Some sites he mentioned offhand include Tip’d, The Motley Fool, Dealigg, ThisNext, BallHype, and N4G. Check out Chris’ blog for the complete list of niche social news sites that work.

Chris Winfield’s Final Tips
Test to find what works, scrap what doesn’t, be active and helpful in communities by giving back,  leverage all of the different social site, and go niche.

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