Social Search Optimization

A search engine's ultimate mission is to serve the most relevant information it can. But from a search perspective, the emergence of social media has essentially expanded what's relevant.

While many refer to this subject matter as social media optimization (SMO), I prefer social search optimization due to the specificity. The end game is simple, and nothing new under the sun: maximizing the visibility of relevant content for those looking for it.

But First, a Real War Story

My good friend, Valerie, was recently looking for a job. In anticipation of the process, she updated her LinkedIn profile and did some house cleaning on her Facebook page.

Considering what any recruiter might do, she then did a Google search of her own name, and pow! The third search result was displaying a comment she made about a video within the Facebook page of the hit TV show, "Lost."

Commenting about Sawyer ("the hot guy") in the video, she wrote, "mmmmm, finger lickin' good!" To her shock, those were the words displayed front and center in the search result, with a link to the video right under her good name.

This is specific to an individual, but we can probably all recall a popular pizza maker who experienced ugly search results tied to their name in a different way -- yet still driven from social media.

Understanding Social Search: Two Sides

Social search varies in scope and definition, but most recognize it as the addition or inclusion of social content in the context of online search.

One side of social search is dedicated to understanding peoples' search habits (online and offline) for the purpose of improving the user experience. Think about how juicy this subject matter might be to a company like Google, which is constantly testing and changing the waters (algorithm) to serve the most relevant search results.

With search now implementing social content within the results, social interaction design (SxD) enthusiasts continue analyzing what works and what doesn't for people seeking information under various circumstances.

Brynn Evans, a respected thought leader in the field, has identified three categories of social search that fit this focus:

  1. Collective Social Search: For example, Twitter Trends as a crowdsourcing approach to search via real-time "harvester" tools.

  2. Friend-filtered Social Search: For example, Google Social Search, which yields results that may include tweets, blog posts, images, status updates and other results from your friends and contacts.

  3. Collaborative: For example, Google's acquisition of Aardvark, which enables two or more people working through an IM platform to get answers to questions).

Each of the three search types maintain a value unique from traditional, keyword-based search engines -- ultimately relying on people (beyond Google PageRank) to deliver the most meaningful results.

The second side of social search, typically more applicable to marketing, is one of "social objects." Social objects may consist of Facebook entries, YouTube videos, blog posts, comments, Flickr images, Yelp reviews, Scribd documents and much more.

Social objects are the elements that help drive conversations, and may consist of content directly indexed or associated through meta data (keywords that describe the content).

What Does it All Mean?

To reference Brian Solis's viewpoint: The future of marketing starts with publishing, therefore every company is a media company. As you may have surmised, social objects are the new low hanging fruit of search optimization.

That means applying some of the same search engine optimization (SEO) strategies you've used on traditional web pages to applicable social objects. From smart keyword-targeted tags and titles (of your videos, pics, posts, etc.), to the effective use of keywords in comments and Facebook profile descriptions -- your opportunity to optimize social assets for increased search visibility now abounds.

About the author

Jason Cormier is co-founder of Room 214, an award-winning social media agency focused on providing business intelligence, social program management, and application development for large and emerging brands.

Jason serves as chief strategist to the "214 Apps" team, providing guidance on custom Facebook applications development, mobile, and marketing dashboard products.

His career on the web began in 1996 when he launched the web development firm, Flash Internet, out of a computer lab at Santa Barbara City College. Gaining recognition as an expert in web usability and information architecture, he sold his firm to public company, NetLojix, in 2000.

In 2003, Jason partnered with former high-school friend and hi-tech public relations owner, James Clark to develop marketing systems strategically combining SEO, SEM, blog and content syndication.

Room 214 was born the following year, with Jason eventually helping to pioneer social media efforts for companies including Travel Channel, SmartyPig, Qwest and Sanrio/Hello Kitty.