[apologies in advance for the long-winded post... if you want to cut to the chase, just read this brilliant post on writing social media headlines by Muhammed Saleem of Pronet Advertising]
This week i was up in Seattle attending the SMX Search Marketing Expo, hosted by Danny Sullivan. The conference was excellent, and other folks cover it in greater detail than i can provide here. It will be no surprise to me if SMX eclipses SES in a year... Danny really is the man when it comes to the search biz.
But strangely enough, it was at a conference focused on SEARCH where i think i've finally started understanding the impact that SOCIAL MEDIA (social networks, blogs, videos, DIGG, etc) is having on marketing... in the same way that 4-5 years ago, i think i started understanding the impact that SEARCH was having on marketing.
Now i know that sounds kind of stupid, since with all the MySpace, YouTube, and Facebook hoopla over the past year or two, everyone and their grandmother should realize social media is important. hell, i've been geeking out pretty hard on social networking since around 2001 when Ryze got started by Adrian Scott... so why am i only bringing this up now? Well if you know me at all you probably know i'm kind of a Web 2.0 idiot-savant (or at least the first half of that anyway). I usually have my head up my ass on all sorts of geeky subjects YEARS before i really understand what the hell i'm talking about -- it took me ~7 years to "get" e-commerce, ~6 years to really grok email marketing, ~5 years to learn the difference between SEO & SEM, and maybe after 4 years i'm starting get a handle on RSS. i try real hard to pretend i know blogs & widgets, but i still don't fully understand the world of affiliate marketing, and perhaps in a few more years i might figure out prediction markets. Eventually even a blind squirrel finds a nut, n'est-ce pas?
Well anyway, there was a comment by Danny combined with one of the SMX panels that really made me think about how the web is in the midst of significant transition. hang in there with me a sec and i'll explain.
In one of the panel discussions it was mentioned how when people design websites, they tend to ignore search engines as one of the use cases / significant audiences. i think Danny said something about "ignoring the 3rd browser"; meaning that people design specifically for IE and for Firefox, but then forget to design for search engine crawler robots, which are essentially a "third audience" of users.
Of course it seems rather obvious that getting your website / webpages crawled & indexed by search engines can lead to a significant amount of web traffic, right? Nothing new there, but still i remember a few years ago when i was at Simply Hired and we were working with an SEO expert on improving some of our techniques, and i suddenly had this "aha" moment... it was important to design webpages and HTML specifically for the major search engine crawlers, in order to get properly indexed. In fact, you could even go so far as to provide a specific flow control statement to identify the search engine user agent, and construct engine-specific HTML to be read so as to properly identify links & paths to all the key pages in your site.
Now this is probably old hat to geeks & designers familiar with search engines, but to me it was like a light went on in my tiny little brain... there was *ANOTHER* audience that i hadn't been thinking about. You design for (1) IE users, you design for (2) Firefox users, AND YOU DESIGN FOR (3) THE SEARCH ENGINE USER AGENTS! (*note: no disrespect to Opera or Camino or other folks... when the market share is there, same story). Immediately i started thinking about webpages & design differently, and perhaps i finally started grokking a small piece of what SEO was about.
Ok, same thing happened in my head again... only this time, for social media.
There was another SMX panel on social media marketing & optimization (great topic & panelists, discussion summary here). For folks in the search industry this was obviously some new territory, and most of the conversation was focused on how to use social media to do link distribution & link baiting, ostensibly to drive traffic from social media in the same way that SEO drives traffic from search engines.
However, what struck me was a parallel moment to the one i'd had around SEO a few years earlier... the impact of social media & social networks has become so significant, you should actually be designing a separate use case for your website & content around the social media audience... or to paraphrase Danny, you should be designing for the 4th browser. while the meaning of "design" might be up for interpretation here, the "4th browser" is very real... it's Facebook, it's MySpace, it's YouTube, it's Flickr, it's Digg, and it's Twitter. These audiences don't have a user agent crawling for interesting stuff -- rather, the audience *itself* is the communication medium for new memes & new information. The People have become the Machine.
Thus, with the rise of this new 4th browser, there is a requisite change in thinking about the way we design, engineer, and market for the new web. Ok, Rafer & Sawicki: now i agree with you. There really is such a thing as SMO (Social Media Optimization). Neil & Cameron & the guys over at ProNet Advertising have a headstart on the rest of us... we better catch up fast.