Social Media Caps The Search Summit

One of the last sessions of MediaPost's Search Insider Summit last week in Palm Springs, Calif. wound up a personal favorite, with Pressfeed's Sally Falkow, Pheedo's Bill Flitter and Social Media Club's Chris Heuer leading a discussion on how social media impacts search. A number of these issues involving social media are just now coming to the forefront and should affect search marketing for years to come. I'll review some of them below.

1) Conduct blog search audits to review buzz about your brand. Blog search engines such as Technorati, Blogpulse, and IceRocket are great places to start. You can also try searching blog sites such as Blogger. As for the general search engines, Google Blog Search does a far better job at indexing current blog entries than its main site. Searching any of these sites can give you great dirt on your company, competitors and industry. They can also trigger some marketing ideas. For instance, if the blog search results don't capture the best image of your company, it might be time to engage in blogger relations, or perhaps even start a blog yourself.

2) Social media spawns search engines. MySpace, YouTube, Flickr, Second Life, and Wikipedia are some of the newest engines. You can even consider the Xbox, which connects users online for multiplayer gaming, as a new potential search device, especially if it becomes an onramp to gamers' online experience. Could XLO (Xbox Live Optimization) emerge as a new strategy?

3) Respond fast or die. If you're hit with a scandal, you can't wait for it to blow over. Silence implies guilt, and the implication of guilt will lead to even more negative feedback from bloggers and social media producers. There are three ways to mitigate such a crisis. One is to engage in continuous search engine optimization so that as many pages of your sites are positioned to tell your story, even if critical links pop up in the future. When negative buzz hits, buy relevant keywords to get your message out. Lastly, step up blogger relations and make sure any blogger with any readership at all hears your side of the story.

4) Social media is forever. This is one of the scariest concepts in general for how search will change our lives, and it's especially prevalent for social media. It's impossible to predict what the Internet will look like in fifty years, but I'll make two bets: like TV, many of the basic tenets of the medium will still hold true decades from now (including, for the Internet, the ease of self-publishing, pervasive hyperlinks, and convenient access to porn), and secondly, it will have a very long memory. It's quite possible that in 2056, analysts of General Electric will be able to see what people were saying about it in our era, and my grandkids will find cached pages of contents of my MySpace profile (only to discover their PopPop was a far bigger dork than they ever imagined). More and more, search engine optimization will require social media optimization, a term coined by Rohit Bhargava.

5) Create a community, or tap into an existing one. No matter your target audience, you can bet that they're organizing online. Delve into social network blogs like Mashable, scan discussions on Meetup, or just spend a while with your favorite search engine trying queries like "chocoholic blogs," "chocoholic forums," "chocoholic social network," and "chocoholic community" (both Hershey's and Weight Watchers could benefit from those specific searches). If you can't find any community that works for you, start it. You could do a lightly branded resource (see Nike's Sneakerplay - the first social network for footwear), start a branded community (e.g., Carnival Connections from the cruise line), or launch a private invite-only forum through partners such as Communispace.

6) Everyone has something to say, but only 10% will say it. Some of the discussion at the Search Insider Summit addressed how the human need to be heard will fuel the continuing growth of social media. While I won't refute the trend of increased self expression and communal participation online, we should still temper our expectations that everyone will be a producer or contributor. Most people remain passive, or "lurkers," as Jakob Nielsen writes. He said in a report last month, "In most online communities, 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action... With blogs, the rule is more like 95-5-0.1."

Nielsen provides some guidelines on how to appeal to that 1% or 0.1% without alienating the rest--a challenge that every marketer will need to address going forward. The search engines will face similar challenges, as a tiny percentage of sites create most of the links and thus influence the rankings of other sites (an issue addressed in my "Aristocracy of Relevance" column in May).

As for social media today, search affects every layer of it. Consumers search on social media sites, they find social media sites through search engines, and search engines are populated with the social content produced on these sites. Over the long haul, expect the most successful search marketers to be social marketers.