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The 5 NEW Rules Of Social Media Optimization (SMO)

About a week ago I started seeing a curious number of tweets, links and Google Alerts to a popular blog post I wrote 4 years ago. The reason was that today happens to be the four year anniversary of that post which first introduced the idea of Social Media Optimization or SMO as it is now popularly known into the world of digital marketing and on Wikipedia. For many of the readers who consistently read my posts today, this SMO post may have been the reason they first stumbled onto my blog. It became an unintentionally big idea that captured the attention of a growing niche of digital marketers who saw themselves at the intersection of working in search engine optimization (SEO) and wanting to branch out into new world of social media. 

In the four years since that post I have tried to focus this blog on my real passion of sharing insights that could inspire people to create better marketing to sell their ideas to the world. SMO was a point on that journey and given the interest that this one idea has sparked among digital marketers around the world, it is one that is worth revisiting today. As I thought about this post today, I realized that the ideal way to revisit SMO would be to try and answer the one question I have been asked most frequently by marketers around the world about SMO: Would you change these "5 rules" today given that the original post was written before Twitter or Foursquare or many other big trends or sites that are now becoming a big part of the social web?

The short answer is yes. The core change I would make is to add and focus on a word that I think truly describes the social web today in a way that few people really grasped four years ago: sharing. So, based on this, here are my thoughts on the 5 NEW Rules Of Social Media Optimization:

  1. Increase your linkability Create shareable content – Four years ago I focused on linkability because the main currency that could drive up your traffic was how many people were linking to your content. Today content can be liked or tweeted and it is about more than links – it is about creating content that is shareable. The better your content is, the more people will want to share it with their entire social networks whether they link it, like it, dig it or share it.
  2. Make tagging and bookmarking easy Make sharing easy – Following from the previous point, tagging and bookmarking only scratch the surface of the many ways that people can share content with others. They can post a short link to their profile, embed a video, send out a tweet or create a hashtag for a conversation. Limiting the ways of sharing to just tagging or bookmarking doesn't make sense anymore. The core of this rule, however, was the point about making it easy and that is still at the heart of this new rule. Once you have shareable content, it has to be one-button-easy so people will do it with minimal effort or thinking.
  3. Reward inbound links Reward engagement – In 2006, the main thing most marketers were concerned about were inbound links. It was a time when Technorati was the standard by which we all measured the performance of our content and many bloggers focused more on their number of inbound links than their readership or traffic numbers. Today the real currency is around conversation or engagement. While there are a million definitions for "engagement" ranging from comments and discussion to posting or sharing content – this is the behaviour that matters most in the social web and the one that we should all focus on rewarding when it happens.
  4. Help your content travel Proactively share content - This was the weakest of the original 5 rules, as the original rule simply talked about publishing your content in other formats such as PDFs or videos and submitting them to other sites. Instead, the essence of the new version of this rule is all about proactively sharing content in a different way. This encompasses everything from creating slides to post on Slideshare or documents to share on Scribd – as well as tweeting about your content or offering embeddable versions of it, or using RSS feeds to syndicate it. Proactively sharing even includes posting your content to social networking profiles or creating profiles on video sharing sites.
  5. Encourage the mashup Encourage the mashup – The last original rule of SMO is the one that I would leave intact. The concept of the "mashup" where people take and remix your content by adding their own input and voice has only grown over the past four years. The mashup will be around to stay, whether the term continues to be used or not. Allowing people to take an ownership over the social content you publish will continue to be a key way that you can optimize your content for the social web.

On the original 5 rules, several other smart folks jumped in to add 12 more rules to the list … it only makes sense for me to try and invite the same input this time around. What do you think of these updated rules? Are there others you would add to the list?

  • Saxby

    I’ve got two old ones! (I’m no authority, just giving my two cents!).

    6. Use key words to drive traffic:

    Make sure your content uses key words to drive search optimisation. Think about what words your targets will be using in their searches and make sure you include them in your website or social network.

    7. Participate in several different social networks:

    Having an account with networks like Twitter, Facebook and Wikipedia will ensure you’re at the top of google searches (or at least in the top ten). Just make sure you don’t spread your resources too thinly and lose your ability to monitor and engage with the networks you participate in.

  • Gavin Heaton

    What a great way to review the five rules! I am a big fan of doing the simple things right – so rather than add other suggestions, my recommendation is to excel in at least three of these five. Doing so will help you generate consistent levels of success with your social programs.

  • 40deuce

    The first version of this list was great at it’s time, but this new updated version is perfect for how we operate in the social space these days.
    Great job!


    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

  • Karen McAllister

    I don’t know that I saw the original post 4 years ago, but these are all great suggestions for today. It’s all about sharing & engagement!

  • Anandan Pillai

    Hello Mr. Rohit,

    I am Anandan Pillai, a doctoral student from India. I am planning to attempt my thesis in the area of social media marketing.

    I have closely followed your SMO blog post (the older one) and also read all the other 12 rules updated by others over the period of time. In fact I have used them in recent time, to support one of the case study I worked on.

    Its really exciting to see you update the rules of SMO, and would like to contribute a few to the list:

    6) Creating consistent and relevant content: Every brand has its own desired set of admirers, who wish to associate themselves with the brand. The challenge that brand has on a social media is to sustain the member interests and satisfy their expectations. Just, because I clicked on the “like” button is no where going to get me closer to the brand. However its the consistent effort that brand puts in to engage me would re-affirm the meaning of my presence.

    7) Identifying evangelists and rewarding them: As of now, everyone has realized that just a fabulous content cannot travel on its own. It needs the support of few people who could carry it further and the enthusiasm these people show towards the content and the brand is the foundation. Every brand should make special efforts to identify these evangelists (also called the network centrality) and encourage and further on reward them for their efforts.

    These are the two, which I could make out quickly after seeing your post…But, I am sure I can add a few more in near future…

    It was nice reading your updated post!

  • Yu Yu Din

    Here’s another rule:
    Don’t be a dummy. Respond. Even to negative comments about your product or service. People will respect you for it, and those who are negative will turn around. Integrate customer service into your SMO strategy.

  • Jill Kocher

    Yu Yu has a good one there: Sharing is a 2-way street. The conversation is important, even when it’s a conversation that you don’t want to have. When others can see a brand publicly shying away from responding to a topic, it’s more damaging than the topic itself. It magnifies the damage. Responding appropriately is critical now more than any time in the past based on the visibility of responses or their lack.

  • Tracy

    You have provided a list of 5 great tips for anyone interested in increasing their web traffic. It will be interesting to see how the 5 rules evolve in another four years.

  • Gary Bloomer


    Great stuff and thanks for updating this post. To this I’d add two more: “Make content significant” (for the recipient), and “Make the content sticky” (meaning, make it worth hanging on to mentally).

  • Maureen Hamilton

    Great information – great for newbies and for the more experienced. Didn’t read the original but this is more in tune with today.

  • Karn Evans

    I agree with all of your 5 rules outlined. How ever there is one rule I like to abide by with Social Media and that is approach it like a party not a sales conference. Content should begin as helpful and useful to the target market. Earning their trust and gaining your own credibility before providing a solution of cost.

  • Jason Sokol

    Great post. I love the five SMO rules you have proposed. There is one additional “rule” that I would offer up – take a sincere interest in others and help them succeed.

  • Alicia

    Precisely the guidelines we need, but can you answer this inevitable question: where on earth do we find the hours in the day?

  • Tyson

    I agree with the comment “where do we find the time”. I have been working to hard this past few months to devote more time to social marketing but it isn’t easy.

  • Thomas Retterbush

    Instead of crossing out the old rules, you should just have added the new ones to them to, as I think the old rules still apply to a large extent. You would have ended up with, The 10 Rules Of Social Media Optimization(SMO).

    When I first read the title, it reminded me of The New Rules of PR and The New Rules of Viral Marketing, both by David Meerman Scott. Maybe you could write a more in-depth version of your New Rules Of Social Media Optimization as a book!

    I wrote a couple of posts on the subject myself, you can find them at

  • Nan Ross

    The 5 new rules are effective, but I will still heed the older rules as well. Creating shareable content are crucial, but you still would have to properly tag and link to increase visibility. Why create something great if you’re not sure how to spread the content?

  • Michelle

    Very helpful! I’m trying to learn more about finding specific creative ways to reward engagement. Any ideas you or the audience has would be appreciated.

  • Charles Brown

    I love the fact that you invite others to do exactly what your fifth rule advocates: Allowing us to do mashups with your idea.

    My contribution jumps off of Jason Sokol’s comment of taking sincere interests in others. Here’s how I word it: “If you want evangelists, BE an evangelist yourself.”

    Other people you follow are trying to get their own content out there. If it is good content, proactively share their ideas as well. BE the sharer for others, do so unselfishly. In so doing, you create relationships that will often become foundational when you create content you want to share.

  • James Francis Web Design For Internet Marketers

    I believe that having an interaction with other users or clients can really draw a positive attention in social media marketing/optimization.

  • Kevin McIntosh

    I think also, going back to tip no 1, “The better your content is” – I think key to better content is knowing what the conversation hot buttons are – that can come from listening via a social media monitoring tool or listening (reviewing) your analytics to see what current content seems to be real popular.

  • Michael Ellis

    Fascinating post its given me a lot to think about. I am an Internet marketing consultant for small businesses in my area and most of those businesses are brick and mortar that want to start seeing some results from “this internet thing” that they spent money on. Most businesses that are not directly internet realted or National/Global in scale are woefully ignorant of even the most basic Internet marketing techniques. This kind of information is like gold for small/local market internet consultants. Thank you so much for the informative post.

  • social media marketing agency

    nice tips, i am working hard in these things, and i an engage now a days with my website On-Page work, and linking to different social websites.. social media can drive effective traffic if use them in effective way..

  • smo services

    Great post!The ideas and insights are very worth reading. You really gave valuable information..:)Thanks for sharing!

  • Benin

    Hello Rohit, this is terrific. By the way, like many of the visitors that you alluded to I found your site by way of your 06′ SMO post. You’re spot on in your breakdown of share-ability.

    I think that when you combine the share-ability factor with content that is infused with the passion of someone who is deeply sincere about the topic that you begin to do what Seth Godin describes in Tribes-build a loyal community around your content.

    Again, this is a brilliant post as was your initial one. Thanks!

  • Peter Dunin

    nice article,thanks for highlighting these points,I will use them for future reference.

  • Andrew

    Social marketing is a powerful traffic driving tool, the more social groups that you can reach, the better. Youtube and Twitter for me are still the biggest drivers of traffic and with the use of automation software the whole proccess can be done pretty quickly these days. Getting people to share your info is a great bonus. Thanks for the post!


  • sm españa

    Perhaps not a rule, more an addendum: Drop the “I will post every X days no matter what” habit. If your content is not valuable, keep it to yourself.

  • sm españa

    Perhaps not a rule, more an addendum: Drop the “I will post every X days no matter what” habit. If your content is not valuable, keep it to yourself.

  • Aurelius Corporate Solutions

    Hi Rohit

    This is very informative blog & five rule of SMO is very informative for growing your social networks.

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