Jeneane Sessum's musings on Social Application Optimization are well worth a read. She writes:
Simply put, Social Application Optimization is making the most of a company's presence across social applications in concert with tools, technology and social participants themselves. It is giving businesses maximum visibility and brand exposure through positive interactions with social participants.
It's a far reaching idea, with echoes of the Cluetrain Manifesto in it. SAO is not about the mechanical stuff we think of in Search Engine Optimization. SAO is about people interacting with people. So in some ways, it's what we already do. Companies that blog, for instance, are already interacting with their customers that way. It's just not done within the walled garden of a social networking application.
It's also a return to the days of the corporate people on networks like the Usenet, and FIDO. Executed well, valuable relationships could be built in those forums. Executed poorly, a company's reputation could be left in tatters.