What is Social Media Optimization?

By Ric Shreves, Michelle Krasniak

Social media optimization — or SMO, as it is often called — is a marketing discipline that emphasizes a holistic approach to social media and website content management. Typically, SMO is used to drive traffic to a website or to raise awareness of a product, a promotion, or an event. Due to its close ties to websites and search engine optimization, SMO is often defined to include efforts to improve a website’s social media effectiveness through the use of techniques such as content optimization and social sharing.

Social media optimization is a fairly recent concept in the world of digital marketing. Although the use of social media in digital marketing is well established, the concept of SMO is relatively new. In terms of distinguishing SMO from traditional social media marketing, SMO is more deliberate than traditional ad hoc social media marketing efforts and more closely integrated with efforts to market your website.

SMO isn’t purely about what you post in your social media profiles. SMO crosses boundaries. It’s concerned with social media management, but it’s also a philosophy of content management and website marketing, and it encompasses planning and executing a strategy designed to cross channels.

In terms of practice, SMO is an interesting mix of art and science. Although quantifiable concepts — such as page views, social shares, likes, and retweets — are key elements of SMO, so are less analytical skills. Important soft skills include social engagement — that is, the ability to interact directly with your audience via social media channels and the ability to craft creative and compelling content.

The objective aspects of SMO are the subject of several great tools, such as Google Analytics and Facebook Insights, but the subjective skills are not only hard to quantify, but also hard to teach. In this regard, SMO values and rewards practitioners who have a mix of both practical analytic skills and soft skills that allows them to read an audience.

Many people find SMO to be rewarding. You get to work with a variety of dynamic channels, and you get to interact directly with the audience. If you’re setting out to be an SMO practitioner, you need to cultivate both sides of your brain.

Your analytical side needs to be able to create and justify a strategy, execute implementation of that strategy, read the analytics, and then feed that information into your plan. Your social side needs to be able to read an audience; anticipate their needs; and interact with them at an authentic, personal level.

Understanding the essential elements of SMO

SMO requires a mix of tools and skills. The good news is that you have a great deal of flexibility; there’s no single definitive tool kit. Each SMO practitioner has his or her own favorite tools and pet techniques. If you ask a variety of people about the “essential elements” of SMO, you’ll always get different opinions. That said, a few things are likely to be common to those opinions. Effective SMO requires the following things, at minimum:

  • Social media profiles on the appropriate channels

  • Access to the publishing controls for the social media channels

  • Administrative access to your website

  • Access to analytics data for your website

  • Access to analytics data for your social media channels, such as Facebook Insights

  • Willingness to make the effort needed to interact with your audience

  • Time!

    Facebook Insights.

    Facebook Insights.

As you can see, the list of essential elements is a mix of data tools and soft skills. The list is intentionally generic, because what is required for any particular campaign varies by the nature of the client, the audience, and the goals of the campaign.

Your social media tool kit is an area on which you can spend as much or as little as you want. An increasing number of commercial services are targeting SMO practitioners, and some of these services are quite attractive. Many practitioners use automated publishing tools or at least scheduling software that lets them prepare posts in advance for publication later; others add content and influencer discovery tools to their tool kits.

For most practitioners, the choice of tools largely depends on the following:

  • Budget

  • Personal preference

  • Prioritization of needs

  • Channel selection

Crafting the right tool kit is a personal decision. Many tools offer free trial periods. The best way to find what works for you is a hands‐on trial. Be willing to experiment.

Connecting social media with your web presence

One of the most common uses for social media is as a means of strengthening your web presence. Social media can be very effective in both raising awareness of your website and driving traffic to the site. A properly cultivated SMO strategy can enhance what you’re doing on your website and deliver tangible results.

The connection between your social media channels and your web presence goes in both directions. Social media can benefit your website, and your website can strengthen your social media efforts. Integration of your social media activity with your web strategy is a key component of SMO. Your website should be not only a focal point for social media activity, but also an outlet for the content you publish on your social media channels.

Your website can also serve to create new followers for your social media profiles by pushing traffic to those profiles. You can even leverage the social networks of your site’s visitors by implementing on your website popular sharing functionality from networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

The connection between your web presence and your social media constitutes a virtuous circle. Your web presence and your social media presence complement and strengthen each other. Through strategic use of your various publishing platforms, you can leverage your efforts across channels, reinforce your message, and provide a richer experience for your audience.

Website with sharing buttons and social media content widget.

Website with sharing buttons and social media content widget.