Once your website was an only child. You lavished it with love and affection. Barely a day went by when you didn’t update some content or plan the next redesign.
That was before social media came along. First there was your Youtube channel, then the Facebook page, LinkedIn and Twitter. Suddenly your poor old website felt neglected and unloved.
Your site is a spoilt child
Like a spoilt older sibling, a website doesn’t like to play nicely with social media.
— Paul Boag (@boagworld) December 15, 2011
Like a spoilt older sibling, a website doesn’t like to play nicely with social media. It has tolerated the odd ‘like this’ or ‘tweet that’ button, but it doesn’t like to share users attention with other online channels.
This has created a number of problems:
- Users have a disjointed experience as they move between channels.
- Social media isn’t getting the exposure it deserves.
- Users are remaining consumers of content (via the website) rather than participants in a community surrounding your product or brand.
- Customer retention is lower than it could be.
- Users are using their own social media channels to complain about your service, rather than engaging with you.
- Customer support is higher because users are not supporting each other through social media channels.
At the heart of the problem is a belief that social media exists to drive traffic to your website. That is not the case.
Social media is more than a tool to drive traffic
Don’t misunderstand, a crucial role of social media is to drive traffic to your web presence. This is a role most company social media channels do well.
I would argue that to some degree this role has been taken too far. Many of the corporate Twitter and Facebook accounts I see tend to be largely made up of links back to the website.
This is missing the point of social media. Social media is about engagement not broadcasting. Social media tools should be used to talk with people, not at them.
My point here is that social media is working hard to drive traffic to your website, but your website is not returning the favour.
How your website can play its part
For your online presence to be effective the elements need to work as one ecosystem. Users should be moving back and forth seamlessly.
Achieving this is about more than making your Twitter and Facebook pages look like your website. It is about ensuring your website encourages interaction with social networks. Slapping a ‘tweet this’ button or ‘latest Facebook updates’ on your site is not enough.
There are so many ways we can create an integrated approach between social media and our websites. There has already been much written on what social media can do, but what of the website.
Let me share with you 5 areas that hold a lot of potential, starting with user login.
Allowing users to login to your website using a social network opens up a world of possibilities. It means users don’t need to remember yet another username and password. It also makes it easier for them to share your content and follow you.
It is not uncommon among web apps to see social network login. However, it is still relatively rare among content driven websites. Also I am wondering whether we go far enough in our use of social network login.
Most login forms offer social network options as secondary. The primary option is still to create a username and password. Defaults like this matter. Users tend to go with the first option presented to them. With that in mind why not make social network login the primary option with an alternative for those who do not have a Twitter or Facebook account?
One reason many content websites haven’t used social network login is because they don’t require it. The exception is commenting.
Commenting is an interesting subject within this new ecosystem of social media and traditional websites. Where commenting on a website was an obvious way to engage with users, it is now more complex. Should conversations be kept to Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn? Does it undermine the user experience asking them to contribute content in multiple places?
There is no right answer. Not all users engage with social media and so commenting is a useful way to start a conversation. That said, bringing some kind of unity to the conversation despite it occurring across multiple channels would be helpful.
One option is Facebook comments. They work well at unifying the conversation because when you post a comment you can also share those thoughts on your Facebook profile. This obviously has the potential of drawing other Facebook users into the conversation.
A potential downside is that users must be signed in either to Facebook or one of the supported services (AOL, Hotmail or Yahoo!) Depending on your outlook this could either be good or bad. Anonymous posting does encourage more comments, but the quality tends to be lower.
If you don’t wish to force users to register or if networks like Twitter or Google are more important to you, then try using Disqus.
Similar to Facebook comments, Disqus can be easily implemented on any website. However, it offers more options for social network integration and anonymous posting.
It allows you to login with either Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo, Google or Open ID. It also allows comments to be posted to Twitter.
Disqus also allows you to pull comments from social networks into the comments on your website. This means that your website becomes a hub for conversation occurring both on the site and elsewhere.
Disqus is free for most users. However, if you want more advanced features like analytics, realtime updating and ranking of users it’s pricing starts at a rather intimidating $299 per month.
Whatever system you use, socially integrated commenting is about sharing comments posted on your website further afield. This sharing from your website outwards is crucial to a socially integrated site.
Sharing the love
I cringe every time I see a row of sharing icons on a web page. Half the time they are on pages with nothing worth sharing. The other half they fight for attention with important calls to action like ‘buy now’ or ‘contact us’.
Worse still is when that row of sharing icons expands to near biblical proportions. Rather than taking this scattergun approach to social marketing, learn which networks your audience use and stick to them. Long lists of social icons gives them more attention than they deserve.
There is nothing wrong with users sharing content from your website, but we need to be more sophisticated about how we implement it.
Instead of having a generic share button that distracts from your calls to action, try integrating sharing into the reading experience.
Take for example the sentence above (highlighted in bold). That is a well crafted thought that people might like to share (if I do say so myself). Why not make it an embedded tweet that people can easily retweet.
There is nothing wrong with users sharing content from your website but we really need to be more sophisticated about how we implement it.
— Paul Boag (@boagworld) December 15, 2011
This provides three advantages. First, it all happens on site and so doesn’t take the user away from their current task. Second, it is easy for the user to do. It falls the principle of not making the user think. Finally, you get to ensure the quality of what is being shared to some degree.
Providing users with short interesting content that is easy to share should be applied across our sites. Take for example the Twitter box at the bottom of this page. Notice that I have pre-populated the tweet and that it can be sent with a single click (presuming the user is logged in.)
When it comes to Facebook there are two ways to share. Users can either like or share. There is a difference between them and you need to consider which option to select.
Like provides a simple thumbs up for a link, while share allows users to write more details.
Like is a lot less effort for the user. However, share provides a lot more detail that may catch the attention of that users friends.
There is one more thing to note about Like. Like also effectively subscribes the user to your Facebook news feed. With any luck this will encourage users to return to your site at a later date.
Website sharing techniques are ultimately about people spreading the word and driving traffic to your site.What about the other way around? How can your website drive traffic to social media channels?
Driving traffic to social networks
For many websites, sending traffic to its associated social networks consists of a link to Twitter or Facebook. However, there are a lot more possibilities.
We have already touched on two. First, there is the embedded tweet that allows users to follow the tweeter. Second, there is the Facebook like button which subscribes you to the associated news feed.
Another option offered by Twitter is the Hovercard. This allows you to turn any link into a popup bio of a Twitter account with associated follow button. Although similar to the Facebook Like button it can be included much more naturally in a post. For example not only can I include links to my own Twitter account, I can also do the same for people like Rob Borley or Leigh Howells who I tend to mention a lot in my posts.
Of course, these are purely the technical ways to drive traffic to your social networks. There are also more imaginative approaches to encourage users, all of which are more engaging than a link.
I have seen sites do everything from flickr competitions to submitting YouTube videos. It’s simply a matter of letting your creativity run wild.
One final way of driving more traffic to your social networks, is to integrate their content into your website.
It’s not just rows of social media icons I hate. I also hate sites that display their latest tweets and Facebook updates.
If you are using social media in the right way (e.g. to actually engage with people) a list of your latest updates should make no sense, much like hearing half of a telephone conversation.
Take for example my Twitter stream as I am writing this. It is full of replies that make no sense out of context.
I am not saying you shouldn’t include tweets or Facebook updates on your website. Just pick and choose which ones to display. Either filter out replies or use a hash tag to identify the ones to display.
There is value to having social media content on your site. It comes from giving users context. Before they are going to follow you they need to know you offer something of value.
They could look at your Facebook or Twitter page, but if they do they will subscribe there. If you want them to subscribe directly from your site (with minimal effort) you have to show them what they are getting. Showing selected content from Twitter or Facebook is one way to do that.
It maybe worth going a step further and creating a page where you explain what you post to each network. Strange though it sounds we have to effectively sell our social content to people. With so many Facebook pages to like and Twitter feeds to follow, we have to offer something unique.
We need to use our sites to show more than our own content. Our websites are also an excellent way of highlighting our communities contributions.
How you do this is only limited by your imagination. It could be as simple as embedding some tweets of your followers or as elaborate as having entire sections of your website user generated.
Time for our websites to step up
My underlying message is simple. Social networks do not exist solely as a way to drive traffic to your website. They have value in their own right and do somethings better than traditional websites. As a result our sites need to support them and play its role in the ecosystem, rather than behave like spoilt only child.