The 10 commandments of social optimisation (#SOCOP)  What is social optimisation? For me, it’s about how you structure your business in a way that increases engagement and participation.

Social optimisation (‘SOCOP’) is broader than social ‘media’ optimisation (optimising your presence on third party sites) and bigger than social ‘search’ optimisation (boosting your universal search results). I think of it as an umbrella term that combines both of the above strategies, and then some. It covers the wider businesses issues like customer service, usability and organisational structure.

While there remains a lot of hype in the social space we are starting to hear about some excellent results from companies that have embraced their communities, wherever they choose to hang out. We believe that a user-centric, community-focused business is one that will go a long way, assuming that a few other basics are put in place (such as competitive pricing and amazing service).

So to help you to see the light, I have defined 10 commandments that should help you to plan and structure your business for a more sociable future… 

Thou must publish compelling content

I know you’ve heard this before but it bears repeating: the first rule of internet marketing is that content is king. Content IS marketing. 

Content comes in many forms (blogs, forums, reports, comments, features, images, reviews, videos, audio, testimonials, competitions, third party content) and can be self-produced or user-generated. 

Simply put, you need to give people something to talk about. An investment in content is a no-brainer, and a must-have for social optimisation.

Thou must give people the tools they need

Help people to tune in and spread the word beyond the four walls of your lovely website. Sharing tools. Bookmarking tools. Mobile apps. Feeds and alerts. Personalisation tools. 

Social flavoured tools are like payment options in the checkout: the more of them you have, the higher your conversion rate will be. Your social conversion goals should include content sharing, so make it easy for people to share content

Thou must connect

Optimising your website to harness the crowd is one thing, but you also have to actively engage people on the key social sites. This might mean leaping out of your comfort zone, but it’s worth doing. There’s so much you can talk about.

The first thing to do is to claim your social media profiles. There’s no time like the present if you have yet to do this, but you should assign somebody to the ongoing task of signing up to the free social sites (even if you just do the placeholder thing). 

Claiming your profiles allows you to respond to good / bad noise in the customer’s chosen channel of choice (without a profile on Twitter you cannot tweet / answer questions / retweet).

Note to that claiming profiles can be hugely important for brand and SEO reasons. And besides, who knows what the next Twitter or Facebook will be? 

Thou must communicate

It’s about being sociable, after all. People are social creatures. Robots are not. Plugging in feeds to auto-update the social media sites is all well and good, but there must be a strong element of human interaction. Your Facebook fans and Twitter followers must know that somebody is listening, and able to respond. Don’t let your social profiles stagnate.

Thou must measure

I don’t think there’s much point in zooming in and measuring everything in the finest detail just because you can, but measurement remains hugely important. In terms of KPIs you should think macro, not nano (profits rather than clicks). And give it time: let your social strategy breathe. Look at the bigger picture, somewhere down the line (sales, profits, engagement, satisfaction).

Thou must create a usable website

An obvious commandment for sure, but one of the basic tenets of participation is that it needs to be easy to get involved. There should be no barriers to interaction. A usable website is absolutely key. There’s no point in doing brilliant things on Twitter and attracting thousands of visitors if your website sucks.

Additionally, thou must iterate. Measure, listen, analyse, finesse. Repeat! This applies to your web usability, your content, your social strategy. The best companies rarely stand still for too long. Evolution is revolution!

Thou must get better at listening

It is important to tune into the background noise. Learn from what people are saying (be they complaints, compliments, requests or recommendations). Your social strategy shouldn’t be about one-way communication. 

One of the downsides of social media is that consumers are finding it easier to complain in public than to talk to you directly. That’s because customer service is almost always broken (how about trying to fix it, as part of your new and improvement engagement strategy?). So be prepared to tune into individual murmurings, and to respond in a timely manner. Be vigilant, and don’t go burying your head in the sand.

Thou must let your brand go free into the wilderness

You don’t control your brand anymore. Your customers do. So do your prospects. And so do your ex-customers. Learn to live with that knowledge, and move on.

Thou must invest and plan 

Resources, resources, resources. Social optimisation requires a strategy, a team, some realistic planning, and some goals. You need people to help manage and monitor. Creating the world’s greatest social optimisation toolset is no good unless you have people assigned coordinate interaction. Sort out your organisational structure and divert budget towards strategies that boost customer engagement.

Thou must Just Do It

I’m sure that many brands will survive and grow without embracing social optimisation, just as some avoided e-commerce in the past decade. But the smartest companies evolved their businesses quickly and reaped the rewards (e.g. increased sales and search engine land grab). People wanted to buy online, and e-commerce helped them do exactly that.

Nowadays people also want to talk about your brand online, on your website and on other sites (they’ll do this anyway, whether you get involved or not: it’s easier than ever to comment in public). Furthermore, people want to engage with brands and to personalise their brand experiences. A solid social optimisation strategy will help you make the most of this desire (if your brand / products / services / content is strong enough).

Hopefully you’ll be able to make a strong case for an investment into social optimisation and will secure the support of C-level execs / the board.

For the best results SOCOP should surely be an initiative instigated from the top down, and right across the business.

[Image by hmk via Flickr, various rights reserved]