NEO, or the Study of How to Optimize Content for Social Networks

This past weekend while giving a presentation in Chicago, I was talking to the following slide:

… about the importance of understanding how Facebook’s algorithms work when creating your Facebook marketing strategy when someone from the audience asked, “is this similar to understanding how SEO helps explain how Google ranks websites?”

And it hit me like a ton of bricks… EXACTLY! I’ve been working towards this idea for the past year few years, but had never articulated it that clearly.

So after a bit of refinement, I think it’s time for us (internet marketers) to add a new word to our vocabulary: NEO or Networking Engine Optimization.

In a nutshell, the idea of NEO is that by studying how social networks determine relevance, we can better understand how to optimize our marketing strategies.

Having spoken about using social media for business to many different professional audiences, I feel extremely confident in saying that very few people have any understanding of the algorithms that Facebook users to determine it’s “top news” or “suggested” friends/pages… some people, Dale Chumbley comes to mind, intuitively understand how to use these algorithms, but I’m not sure even he has put a ton of thought into why…

Assuming the feedback on this idea keeps me going, I’m hoping to explore a couple different areas of NEO… but the most interesting will definitely have to do with understanding how the “hard” algorithms interact with the “soft” people (friends, followers, fans, etc.) that really determine success.

In other words, whether talking about Facebook’s “top news” or Twitter’s “trending” topics, there’s no way to get any traction without having others interact with your content. My take is that there’s been a ton of thought into understanding the importance of engaging others in your social network (Jeff Turner’s done a particularly impressive job of this with exploring YEO), but engaging with others is only a piece of a successful internet marketing strategy and just about everyone who’s actively marketing with social media would benefit from a better understanding of the algorithms that determine the relevance of their content/presence.

Anyway, this is obviously an idea that I’m still in the early stages of exploring… and I would love to hear your thoughts. But especially based on the recent news that Facebook passed Google in terms of total traffic, isn’t it time to seriously explore how the social networks are determining the relevance of our content?