Social Media Optimization vs. Social Media Marketing

SMS Text

[Social Media Marketing]( (SMM) and Social Media Optimization (SMO) are two new phrases that popped up last year to define marketing through social media and social networking sites. There seems to be a lot of confusion about what each of them mean and what exactly they define, which is bound to happen with any new phrase.
Even when potential clients contact us there seems to be a lot of confusion between the two. I see them as two different emerging marketing techniques. When the phrase Social Media Optimization was first invented by Rohit Bhargava, some people didn’t agree with the phrase and instead suggested that we rename it to SMM.
I’m not trying to point fingers at anyone though, even I am guilty of making the same mistakes; when I jumped on the original SMO meme-wagon and added some rules of my own I added one about creating viral content. I would no longer classify that rule as SMO and instead would now classify it as SMM. In my opinion creating something new is more about marketing than it is optimization. In light of this confusion, I am going to make an attempt at clarifying the two phrases.
SMO refers to the process of refining a website (optimizing it) so that it’s awareness and content are easily spread through social mediums and online communities by users and visitors of the website. This can include anything done “on-page” such as improving the design and usability of the website so that it becomes more compelling to users, in an effort to help them spread it through social media sites. The simplest example of SMO is represented by all the “digg this” and “add to delicious” icons and links that are all over the web today.
SMM on the other hand plays more of an active role in relation to social media by referring to the creation and distribution of content and other messages through the social web by some form of viral marketing. This can be anything from creating compelling content that gets bookmarked and even hits digg’s homepage to spreading a viral video by putting it on YouTube and other social media websites. It’s about the things that are done off-site, for example, participating in online communities where your customers hang out would be an active role that falls under SMM.
In some ways the two remind me of the differences between push vs. pull marketing. But only a little bit, and I have to be careful what I say here. In a way with SMM you are actually pushing your message out there, but that’s usually where the pushing stops. Once you push that message out there it should not require any more pushing. A true viral marketing campaign is so good that it spreads on it’s own and people actually want to spread it, so the push usually ends with the creation and initial “planting” of the campaign. SMO is all about pulling people in with an “optimized” site and encouraging visitors to spread your content without any effort on your part. I think the clear difference between the two is that SMO refers to on-page modifications (on your website) while SMM refers to activities that take place outside of your website (on other websites). As I see it, SMO can be one of the ways to encourage SMM activities by users and visitors of your website.
I would love to hear what other people think about these ideas about social media optimization and social media marketing, does my explanation make sense to you, or do we need to go back to the drawing board?

Cameron Olthuis

Cameron Olthuis

Cameron Olthuis

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  • Daniel R

    I’m on the same page with you. I’ve also extended that definition to say that SMM is the bigger picture of leveraging Social Media.
    SMO is more about ensuring that the content is “social media” friendly or retrofitted – WaPo putting in trackbacks, add to
    Basically, SM Optimization is just that – optimizing something that exist – where as SM Marketing implies a larger picture.
    Its a great topic and a good post.

  • Strange Progress

    Yeah that sounds spot on to me Cameron.
    I think SMO is common sense in todays web environment (and especially so in tomorrows..), and is pretty easy to implement, at least for an individual or small flexible company.
    The entities that might find it more difficult to move with the times as far as SMO go are the larger companies, where the people making decisions at the top are so detached from new trends and fresh concepts, that they often won’t react quickly enough down through the chain of command to get basic SMO implemented.
    The SMM would be perhaps be even slower to get started with in such an environment, although now that its reached main stream media (newspaper and TV news coverage of the viral videos on Youtube for example), this should be changing soon if it hasn’t already.

  • Cameron Olthuis

    Daniel, well said and I’m glad you agree! The marketing aspect does imply a bigger picture so SMO is just one of many things that can fit inside it.
    Matt, I agree, seems like complete sense. People don’t realize it’s all about creating (or refining) something to be compelling.
    That’s part of the reason blogs are great. It gives us another chance at reaching the top of the food chain and educating them.

  • jamescoops

    Great post – SMO vs SMM is a useful distinction but there may be some overlap. Clearly SMO is reaching the point where the “marketing” aspect (who you’re targeting, what you’re offering) becomes much more relevant to how you optimise a site e.g. Digg buttons are completely irrelevant for some sites, whereas myspace codes might be perfect.

  • david mihm

    Great distinction — wonder how long it will be before these terms start to become mainstream as SEO and SEM have?

  • Rohit

    Cameron – great post and topic … there is definitely a rapidly emerging distinction and it’s great to be able to read your thoughts on it. I’ll try to add a post about this on my blog today as well to share some more thoughts and continue the conversation …

  • Cameron Olthuis

    David – It took SEO/SEM a lot longer than it should have. Based on the interest I’ve seen from marketers and other decision makers, I expect this will happen a lot quicker. I think 2007 will be a great year for those involved in social media marketing.

  • Chris Caputo

    I don’t know if this emerging field can afford two names. SEO covers both onsite optimizations and external linking. Maybe we should just pick one and stick with it for now. Otherwise, the danger is confusion of the market when acceptance and adoption are most needed. I do agree there is separation of function from onsite to offsite, but fundamentally they should strive to complement one another.

  • Cameron Olthuis

    Chris, Well there’s SEO & SEM… But you do have a point, two names will add to the confusion and they do compliment each other.

  • SocialDude

    Great post, glad someone is taking steps to further classify this excellent marketing segment. I also see SMO as not only onsite but also in optimizing results that are offset with SMM efforts. The two components are essential in any great SMM campaign. From a small campaign to a huge one, SMM needs to start with the high level conceptualization, SMO then comes in to make it a physical reality on site and work with linkbaiting etc.., SMM then gets the magic happening with media and viral techniques. But in the end both are needed to analyze and perfect the end result of the campain, as well all know a SMM campaign can be a living breathing entity since we are dealing with social groups.