Social Optimization (or SMO, short for social media optimization) is the process of engineering a marketing message for social networks and media. Social media based websites are the perfect vectors in functionality and purpose for the spreading of viral marketing creatives, and now they have the traffic numbers to become serious tools.
The old what makes an idea viral issues apply here and like other web usability problems they can be broken down into two camps: friction-reduction and inertia-generation. Just like in real world physics any movement towards an action, funnel or goal needs a certain amount of user intrest energy (inertia) to overcome the hassle (friction) associated with completing the tasks needed to accomplish the goal. A huge information squeeze page, with tons of required fields is a lot of friction and unless the user really wants to get at what on the other side of the wall they probably won’t want fill it all out. By pre-selling the destination to the user and making it as easy as possible for them to get to it, you’ll increase the percentage of viewers who do.
When looking at doing social media optimization for a viral creative (or any other media for that matter, like a blog or article) you must stoke the user’s drive to spread your message while at the same time making it as easy as possible for them to leverage social media and networks to do this.
The first few original rules for Social Optimization speak to friction-reduction. Increasing linkability, both at the URL level with clean, short URLs, and at the information architecture level, by organizing content into logically linkable pages, is the first step. Helping your user’s import your message to the various social networks with “digg this” style buttons is probably the easiest and most effective way to reduce the amount of hassle a potential customer-evangelist has to overcome to propagate your creative. Keeping in mind the media types that most often travel via these networks we can deliver our messages in those formats (audio, video, blog posts, howto’s, lists, etc) again, making it as easy as possible for our readers to become our viral marketing vectors.
The other half of this equation of course is the inertia. Why do users want to spread your message? There are two main ways to answer this problem. High quality content especially useful tutorials and tools can generate interest simply because of its worthyness. Lists, HOWTOs, hacks and online-tools have become all the rage in creating “diggable” content. The other way to excite viewers is to insure that when they spread your message, they get some benefit. Trackbacks are probably the simplest example of this sort of incentive, if another blogger links to you, they automatically get a link back. Clean links to your commenters’ sites is similar. Users can get an ego-boost spreading “cool”, late-breaking, exclusive and “insider” news, so we can play to this, everyone wants to be the first person to tell everyone else about the latest happenings.