According to search engine expert Danny Sullivan, the term "social media optimization" was first used and described by Rohit Bhargava.*

Social Media Optimization (SMO) or Social SEO stands for social media activity that intends to attract unique visitors to website content. Social Media Optimization is related to search engine marketing, but differs in several ways, primarily the focus is on driving traffic from sources other than search engines, though improved search ranking is also a benefit of successful SMO. It is in many ways connected as a technique to viral marketing where word of mouth is created not through friends or family but through the use of networking in social bookmarking as well as video and photo sharing websites. In a similar way, engagement with blogs achieves the same sharing of content through the use of RSS in the blogosphere and special blog search engines.

There are two categories of SMO/Social SEO methods:

Social media features added to the content itself, including: RSS feeds, social news and sharing buttons, user rating and polling tools, and incorporating third-party community functionalities like images and videos.

Promotional activities in social media aside from the content being promoted, including: blogging, commenting on other blogs, participating in discussion groups, and posting status updates on social networking profiles.

Social Media Optimization is considered an integral part of an online reputation management (ORM) or Search Engine Reputation Management (SERM) strategy for organizations or individuals who care about their online presence, but is not limited to marketing and brand building. Increasingly, smart businesses are integrating social media participation as part of their knowledge management strategy (i.e. product/service development, recruiting, employee engagement and turnover, brand building, customer satisfaction and relations, business development and more). Additionally, Social Media Optimization is many times implemented to foster a community of the associated site, allowing for an on-going healthy business to consumer relationship.

SMO is about creating a positive feedback loop, where users are rewarded for both consuming and distributing content. So turn your focus to it if you don’t want to be left out. Attracting search engines has past its prime as the future belongs to social networks.

*Bhargava's original five rules for conducting social media optimization are:

  • Increase your linkability
  • Make tagging and bookmarking easy
  • Reward inbound links
  • Help your content travel
  • Encourage the mashup
  • Get communities connected

Four years after the initial post, Rohit Bhargava posted an updated set of five new rules.

  • Create shareable content
  • Make sharing easy
  • Reward engagement
  • Proactively share content
  • Encourage the mashup

Source: Wikipedia