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SEO and SMO are conversation starters.

Last year Jason Calacanis wrote a blog post how he thought that SEO and SMO were bullshit. Now I know in some parts Calacanis is approaching demi-god status and in other parts he’s villified to no end. Hell, he has 35,000 followers on Twitter, which is a fairly significant number of people who put a lot of stock in what he says. I’m one of those followers too. But that doesn’t mean that I agree with everything he says.

I had been thinking about the role of SEO and SMO in internet marketing lately and decided to do a cursory search and that’s when I found Jason’s article. It’s not the driving force behind this post but it does give it some legs since Jason and others have deemed some of what is done on the level within SEO and SMO circles as unacceptable.

Over the last year and half and even before that, I have engaged in some pretty healthy SEO as well as SMO for clients. And it has worked. I utilized what was available and knew what I was doing. According to Calacanis that would make me a snake oil salesman. Talking SMO then, Calacanis said the following:

Anyone who hires an SMO firm is an idiot. The whole point of social media is TO BE REAL NOT FAKE!!! Just be yourself and participate… that’s all it takes (and note, participation is not just putting in your own links, it’s voting/commenting on/submitting other people’s content too!).

To which I have to say that “SMO is the process of realizing that being authentic and strategic within a social media marketing context or environment can be beneficial.

Here’s a generic example. I have a demographic of women smokers in their mid 30’s for instance. They  happen to use Facebook. So I create a widget that provides them a way to maybe quit smoking and track the results and share them, which in turn drives them to a blogsite, a branded microsite and a branded community. To get this ball rolling, I’ve also seeded/posted articles related to all of these sites and the product and the campaign on Digg, Stumbleupon, Delicious, Technorati, Propeller and say Reddit. All of these linked together creates a tremendous opportunity and buzz for these users to not only meet, but also to share, and perhaps learn more about a product dedicated to them. Does this mean that what I have done is black-hat or disingenuous? No. Does it mean that I have taken certain elements, linked them together and have enjoyed the linky-goodness via SMO and SEO? Yes. Am I bad? Am I evil? Am I hiding? Am I not being “transparent enough”?  Why can’t I let these social bookmarking sites know about a product launch?

Want a good example?  Buddy Media created the Check your Dudeness app for Facebook-Couldn’t this be construed as some element of SMO? They’re taking a product, a branded one and using social media to promote it. Is that gaming the system? No.

We need to get away from the fact that what the system allows us to do, does not neccessarily mean that we are up to no good, or that we’re not being transparent enough. Ok I get it. I don’t need to be told over and over and over again to be transparent and authentic. Yes there is a difference between black hat seo and white hat seo as well as black hat smo, no doubt about it. Just check akismet for aspects of that. But.. most of your brand marketers are only using the tools that are available. I can show you at least 130 examples where companies used certain aspects of social media to promote or further their brand exposure using some of the above mentioned sites and tactics. This doesn’t mean that they are operating behind a cloak of deceit.

Listen, there is a big big difference between gaming the system and utilizing what is provided to promote your product, your brand, and your company. It truly boils down to how you use it. I’m all for engaging in conversations but someone has to start the conversation. The better you are at starting a conversation, the better your chances are of someone listening and responding back. Maybe we should be looking at not how to be transparent and authentic, but more on the proper way to enagage and start the conversation.

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Marc Meyer is a Digital and Social Media Strategist at DRMG. This is my personal blog where I share observations, thoughts and opinions that are all my own.

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October 2008
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