I had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion yesterday at the Search Engine Strategies show in NY all about Social Media Optimization. It was interesting to see how the idea has progressed and search pros are implementing tactics and techniques for social media marketing. Though I didn’t agree with all of the views shared by my fellow panelists about the best practices (or who you are likely to influence by using SMO), the thing that I found interesting was how SEO centric most of the views were. I think Social Media Marketing is about much more than SEO or search engine results. Done right, it can foster brand evangelists, engage customers in dialogue and support other marketing efforts. A wider trend that I have noted from several other interactive shows such as CommunityNext and even some sessions at SxSW, however, was the evolving role of social search tools broader than Google or search engines and the rise of communities as tools to help people find information. Social search is redefining the way people find, rate, share and consume information online. Have a quick look at the recent headlines from one of any blogs that focus on new sites and technologies such as TechCrunch or Mashable (among others), and you will get a clear picture of how true this is.
Thinking about this and walking through the Expo, the one thing that struck me most about the exhibitors was the lack of what I would consider Web2.0 companies or ideas. For the most part, the Expo seemed identical to what it was in 2006. Same venue, same three floor format, and mostly the same exhibitors. In a nutshell, it was companies selling search campaign management software, new search engines with vertical focuses, or search marketing agencies. In a world where new startups are springing up every day and the world of search has innovations from visual search to mobile and video search tools – the Expo seemed very Web 1.0 to me. Perhaps I missed the real innovative tools, but aside from a few standouts like Hakia (which also has a great campaign inspired by Cisco’s Human Network) or ZoomInfo, I left disappointed by the chance to see real innovation in search at the Expo.
In terms of social search and social media optimization, the one thing that came out of our panel which I was a bit bothered by was that attendees could easily have left with the impression that many of the SMO tactics employed by the panelists were only suitable for small businesses or capable of reaching teenagers with time on their hands. I read a good summary of our panel by Kate Zimmerman over at SearchViews which shared a similar conclusion. Search and the rise of social search has big implications for large brands and requires a shift in thinking. It’s a viewpoint I bring to my clients every day as I talk to them about their search efforts and how consumers are hearing about (and talking about) their brands. Adding a social search track to the third day of SES this year was a great step. Looking forward to the future, I think we’ll see a larger part of the event (and the exhibitors) dedicated to this area. Based on where other interactive shows are, I thought I might have found more of it this year at SES NY.