SMO is the new SEO, according to the US-based Online News Association which held a conference session on that theme. But while "Social Media Optimisation may be as important as Search Engine Optimisation for content distribution ... far different rules apply," the ONA said.
Beyond the jargon and acronyms SMO is about understanding the best time and frequency to post to platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
This guide includes 10 lessons from three experts in social media optimisation, who have all carried out research, analysing tweets and Facebook page updates.
1. Work out the best time to tweet using free tools
Leo Widrich, co-founder of Buffer, a platform that allows you to queue up tweets and post them at optimal times during the day, wrote an article for Mashable on five free tools to use to work out when to tweet.
Widrich told Journalism.co.uk how the five tools – WhenToTweet, Tweriod, TweetWhen, TweetReports and TweetStats – work.
"They look at your followers and they look at your past tweets and they look at when your followers tweet the most and that's kind of an indication as to when they will be online. So when your followers tweet the most, that will be a good time for us to also put out the content.
"When the most traffic happens and when actually the most tweets go out is also the best time for you to tweet, which is sometimes counter-intuitive as people will think tweets will get buried and no one will see them. It's really during work hours when most tweets will happen that you will also get the most exposure."When the most traffic happens and when actually the most tweets go out is also the best time for you to tweet, which is sometimes counter-intuitiveLeo Widrich, Buffer
Widrich advises WhenToTweet and Tweriod, which both look at when your followers are online. "It takes a little longer to do the analysis but it will be much more thorough." TweetWhen only looks at your past performance, Widrich explained.
2. Tweet often
Journalism.co.uk found that the five journalists with the greatest online influence tweet around 10-25 times a day. This post on the Nieman Journalism Lab reports that Twitter A-listers tweet an average of 22 times a day.
That research is based on individual journalists rather than news outlets, which generally auto-tweet as stories go live. But in order to encourage a growing audience, it is necessary to tweet often.
The BBC last month switched off its Twitter auto-feed during the day, manually tweeting with hashtags and different headlines. "There's no point tweeting the same line or a very slight variation on the line that everyone else has got," head of social media at the BBC Chris Hamilton told Journalism.co.uk (see Lessons from Auntie as @BBCNews goes human).
As Twitter has a scattergun approach to getting the attention of whoever happens to be paying attention in the one or two minutes after the tweet goes out, it can be beneficial to tweet a story more than once, Widrich explained.
"The idea, especially with Twitter, is that the frequency is nearly as important as the timing," he said.
He recommends tweeting news stories three to five times: one when the news story goes live, once a couple of hours later and then a third time the next day, for example.
"That's very much a use case of why we built Buffer but this is what we do for our news stories and blog posts. We drop all the stories we have into our buffer and they get well spaced out over the day and get posted so that we always have a different audience that will be able to see the tweet."
3. Post to Facebook at lunchtime
"Facebook in its nature is completely different to Twitter," Widrich said. "The posting frequency is much lower. The optimal time is completely different: between 12.30pm and 1pm is when Facebook posts actually get the most exposure."
Consider the times of the work day and the weekend when your readers are checking Facebook. If you have a majority of UK readers, you may well find the peaks are around 9am, when people arrive at work, at lunchtime and again between 4.30pm and 5.30pm.
4. Post up to eight news stories on your Facebook page each day
Jiri Voves, co-founder of Socialbakers, a Czech start-up that provides social media statistics, advises news outlets to post more frequently than brands.
"For brands we recommend posting maximum once or twice per day on a Facebook page because otherwise people think it is spamming. But what we found out in our studies is that for the news media it works kind of differently.
"If you look at the top news media in the world they are posting five or even eight times a day and users still accept it, they like it because it's basically providing them with news coverage."
5. Get to grips with EdgeRank, Facebook's algorithm
Jeff Widman, co-founder of PageLever, which provides Facebook advice for YouTube and MTV and manages the analytics for four of the top 10 Facebook pages, advises anyone who posts to Facebook on behalf of a news organisation to get a basic understanding of the algorithm.
"When you post to Facebook not all your fans see your status update. There's something called Facebook newsfeed algorithm, they call it EdgeRank, and it filters to figure out which status updates you the fan is going to be most interested in.
"You probably have a bunch of friends and a bunch of fan pages and a couple of those you care a lot about, and a couple of those you were friends with maybe a couple of years ago but not so much now."
This is where the algorithm tries to work out which status updates you are going to be most interested in, showing you those status updates and hiding all the rest, "so that every time you walk into Facebook you say 'oh, wow, Facebook shows me stuff I want to see, I want to make sure I keep coming back here'".
"As a marketeer, or as a journalist, or as a news organisation you have to keep that in the back of your head and think 'how do I post status updates that are going to be interesting to my audience?'
"The way that algorithm works is that it looks at the status updates and it says 'what are the types of things that you have commented on recently, what have you hit "like" on, who sent those'. So the more you hit 'like' on a particular friend's status updates, the more often those status updates are going to appear."
There is a more detailed description of EdgeRank here.
6. Ask questions and tease new stories to encourage people to comment and like
When posting a link to a news story write a tease in a way that tries to get people to comment or like.
"The reason you're doing that is you're trying to get people to take actions that explicitly show the algorithm that they are interested in your content," Widman said. "So if I posted something that said 'fill in the blank, I think blank will be the next prime minister of the UK, and then you have a link to your article speculating about that, you are going to get a lot more comments and here you are going to see maybe 10 times the number of comments rather than if you just simply posted your status update in there."
Without a tease or a question there is no invitation for engagement.Facebook is watching all the explicit actions that a user takes. They are watching if a user comes and visits your fan page, they are watching if a user clicks on your content, they are watching if a user clicks like or if a user shares your contentJeff Widman, PageLever
"People will see your headline, they might click it they might not but they're not going to leave a comment," Widman said.
And it is linking and commenting that you should be seeking.
"A comment is worth more than a like, is worth more than a click. And so if people are clicking your status updates that's good but you're going to get a lot more glue, Facebook calls it an affinity, between the user and the publisher, if they leave a comment."
Remember, the big Facebook brother is watching you.
"Facebook is watching all the explicit actions that a user takes. They are watching if a user comes and visits your fan page, they are watching if a user clicks on your content, they are watching if a user clicks like or if a user shares your content."
7. Don't use a third-party application to auto-post news stories to Facebook
Many news organisations set up an auto-feed to post news stories to Facebook. But that "doesn't work", according to representatives from Facebook during a session at the World Editors Forum, held in Vienna last month.
Widman did not go as far to say feeds do not work, but he does discourage them for two reasons.
"Another big thing that I see a lot of news organisations mess up is posting via third party application. It's a little bit controversial but there are some third-party applications that are whitelisted by Facebook and some that are not.
"Often what I will see is a news organisation hooks up an RSS feed to just pump status updates right into their Facebook page, or pump their Twitter updates in there. When you pump that in you are just pumping headlines in so you're not going to craft that content to get more engagement. And second, those third-party applications often don't rank as high in the algorithm as someone manually going in to Facebook and posting there.
"When you look at the numbers, when you spend two minutes crafting a status update versus if you just pump it in via rss it's just like night and day."
8. Always have a story in your fans' Facebook news feed
It will take some time to calculate how you achieve always having a story in your fans' news feed point but it is worth it, Widman said.
"The idea is that when you are posting out a status update you may have 100,000 fans and maybe 10,000 of those will see that status update. The EdgeRank algorithm, as your status update gets older, will show your status update to fewer and fewer of your fans. But you can actually figure out ways to measure when your status update drops out of the news feed. If you are a journalist I would say try and always have one status update live in most of your user's news feeds at once and when it starts to get old and you can see it dropping out of the news feed with analytics, that's when I would put up the next one.
"It really depends on how international your audience is, if you've got people all around the world then as they wake up they see your status update, they comment or like on it."
Another point to be aware of is that you can annoy your fans if they get too much news from you at any one time. This is a point made by Widman in an article on Mashable.
"When your fans see two status updates from you in their news feeds, they’ll likely get annoyed, and will consequently unsubscribe or un-fan. There are few exceptions to this rule.
"If you post too infrequently, you’re missing out on opportunities to reach your fans. Over the course of a year, a page with 10,000 fans that posts only half as often as they could misses more than one million chances to get their content in front of a hyper-targeted Facebook audience. The larger your fan page, the more often you should be posting — without annoying your fans."
9. Consider really short posts and photo posts
Widman said that research has revealed a post of 60 characters or less are often the most effective.
"The Phoenix Suns are a national basketball team that plays here in the US and there's one thing they discovered when they started using PageLever that I thought was fascinating. They pulled up the posts to see which ones were most engaging and least engaging and they discovered that their three most engaging posts were all under 60 characters." He advises: "Don't try cram as many characters in there as possible, just have something short and sweet."
Widman also advises uploading three photos when adding the link to a news story.
"The second tip is MTV was using PageLever and they started measuring their status updates that had photos and they found that status with photos that had one photo were half as engaging as posts that had three photos."
He explained the reason. "When you post photos to Facebook, it will show up to three right next to each other in a single status update in the news feed. Sometimes when you are posting an article, don't just post a link to the article as a text status update, actually upload the key photo from the article and then put the link to the rest of the article as a description of the photo and so then you are posting it out as a photo. Those actually tend to do better than text status updates in the EdgeRank algorithm."
10. Dig deep into the analytics and measure your fans' engagement
If your news organisation has fewer than 10,000 fans, Widman advises focusing on getting more fans. One way you can do this is to add a like button on your website.
He also advises analysing the engagement and using a third party tool, such as PageLever.
"I'd pull up all my posts over the past 30 to 60 days and I'd start filtering them to see which posts were most engaging, which posts got the most comments and likes. And then also I'd look at not just which posts got the most comments and likes but also which posts got the most comments and likes per view.
"It takes a little bit of work but that is by far they highest value add thing you could do for figuring out how to measure your fan page and get better results."
The interviews from this feature are taken from a Journalism.co.uk podcast on the best time and frequency to post to Facebook and Twitter.
- There will be a session on Social Media Optimisation at Journalism.co.uk's next news:rewired conference, news:rewired - media in motion, which is on 3 February 2011. There are more details on news:rewired here.
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