Many web publishers are scrambling to uncover a social strategy for their website. In the old days, traffic came from Google so publishers were entirely focused on writing high quality unique content in the hopes that search engines would send them traffic. However with many large publishers reporting that social is beginning to refer more traffic than search – publishers are on alert.
There are so many different social networks which have considerable traffic. As you’ll see below, it is important not to try and tackle each social network instead pick one that is a good fit for you. The advantage of their being so many networks is that you can do research to find the network which will give you the best chance to make an impact.
If you have a career site, you should probably look to LinkedIn, if you have an image site, you should focus on Pinterest, if you are a blogger, Twitter is a good place to start. If your website reviews restaurants, you should probably consider Foursquare, if your website is about friends and connections, then Facebook is where you should head first. As you can see – the different social networks have different audiences and goals, and if your site is a good fit with one of them – then it probably is going to be the social network that you want to think the most about.
In terms of social implantations, the first step is usually the share buttons. Almost every website owner today has share buttons making it easy for users to share a piece of content or webpage with their friends. While this can be an effective strategy, it isn’t really a social strategy. After all –since everyone is already doing this – there isn’t anything special about it. So, if you think that your share buttons is going to translate into a social win – you should think again. You need to get creative, think outside the box, and try and come up with something that has a unique angle which will give your website a chance to make a real social impact.
Once you have determined that you are ready to move forward with an actual social plan – here below are some key principles to keep in mind when baking a social strategy into your website:
Websites that try and bake in a social strategy for multiple social networks end up spreading themselves thin. If you focus on just one social network, you can more easily come up with a strategy and you can also more easily educate your users on how to interact with your site socially.
There are different social networks for different types of users. Different social networks allow different implementations, and there are unique APIs for each social network. It is important to go deep with one social network, figure out the best way to improve your website while baking in the offerings, audience, and/or technology of a given social network. It can be complicated to set this up, for instance, APIs of social networks take time, testing, and research. The point is that this is a necessary evil. You can’t just slap on a share button and consider your website social. So, instead of doing a little bit with 3 or 4 social networks, pick one, and make a real difference and impact with it.
Not all of your users are going to care about your social strategy. Some users won’t be on the social network you decide to bake in – and others will be on your website for your content and your content only. For these reasons, you need to make sure that your site still works and is useful for all of your traffic. This can be a slippery slope –because you want to promote the social component without steering away the non-social users; however it can be done through a smart layout, thoughtful messaging, and successful promotion.
At the end of the day – it is your website which is most important. If you move your entire audience to a social network, and that social network shuts down – what do you have left? If you move your audience to a social network, and that social network changes its terms – you will be at the mercy of the social network. So, while it is important to have a social strategy and leverage a social network to improve and grow your offering – you want to be sure that your website is what is most important.
Constantly ask yourself, can my website continue if the social network I am baked in with closes shop. A good way to be sure this is the case is by ensuring that your site experience works well for those users whom are not members of the social network you are working with. If your site experience is good, but just enhanced with the social network, that is OK – because if the social network ever shuts you off or changes its terms – you’ll still have a good website.
In summary, go deep, but don’t lock yourself in by putting all of your eggs in one basket.
Some social strategies promote their Facebook Fan Page or Twitter Feed very aggressively. This can work, but at the end of the day – you are promoting another network. This means you will essentially always be tied to this network making it more difficult for you to stand out on your own. When baking in your social strategy, find ways for the traffic to funnel back to your site so that your site is core to your socialization.
Sometimes this can be tricky as social networks want to promote themselves just like you want to promote yourself. However with social networks becoming more open and transparent, things are headed this way. For instance, when Facebook launched the Open Graph, it basically meant that any webpage could serve as a Facebook fan page. So, instead of getting users to Like a URL at Facebook, website owners can get users to Like a URL on a site that they own. And through the Open Graph, you can communicate to these users just like you would if the user had Liked a Facebook fan page. This is one example of how you can bake in a social strategy and have your site be what gets promoted through Facebook.
Do testing, go through your website and participate with your website as you’d like your users too. Ask yourself, is my website being promoted as much if not more than the social network? If it isn’t – your social strategy could potentially do more harm than good. You want a social site – but you also want to grow your traffic – otherwise, what is the real value of your social play? Be sure that the social experience boosts your website traffic.
Now that I have outlined social strategies, here below are 3 successful implementations of the principles highlighted above:
Pinterest is the hot new social network and retailers should be taking notice. Pinterest is basically Twitter for pictures, so instead of Tweeting a 140 character update, Pinterest allows you to Pin a picture.
One retailer that has succeeded with Pinterest is Nordstroms. Nordstroms has over 22,000 Pinterest followers (http://pinterest.com/nordstrom/) . Each of their 42 boards on Pinterest highlight the latest fashion and product trends. You’ll notice that each board displays very specific and relevant images, allowing users to only follow the boards which are most interesting to them. Each pin links back to the relevant product page at nordstroms.com to make it easy on the user to purchase the given product that they saw.
On the Nordstroms website – when you search Pinterest in the search box – you are taken directly to Nordstroms Pinterest page. This is a slick move – and I am sure it is one reason why Nordstroms has amassed so many Pinterest followers. Instead of a confusing results page with Pinterest results on Nordstroms – Nordstroms is helping the user to follow their updates by sending them directly to Pinterest.
Nordstroms has also baked in Pinterest to its Facebook fan page. As a retailer, Nordstroms realizes that Pinterest may end up being more important than Facebook in terms of driving sales via social media. It is interesting to note that on Nordstroms Pinterest page – there NO mention of its Facebook page – but the reverse isn’t true. So, Nordstrom’s understands the Power of Pinterest, and they are actively trying to migrate their most loyal customers to their Pinterest page.
Most importantly, on each product page at Nordstrom’s website – is a Pin It button. This button allows users to Pin a product to a board which links directly back to the respective Nordstroms product page. Instead of promoting the Nordstroms Pinterest page on a given product page – Nordstroms instead is promoting the actual product so that it is smooth for the users.
Nordstroms is clearly focused on its website. But it still has been able to make a big impact on the hottest social network on the web.
Twellow allows users to search Twitter profiles. It then ranks people in its search results based on Twitter followers. For instance, a Twellow search for basketball will display Dick Vitale and The NBA on ESPN. To use Twellow, you don’t have to be a Twitter user. So, if you are interested to find Twitter feeds of people whom may be talking about something you are interested in, you can find that on Twellow. So, while Twellow is clearly based around Twitter, its search engine is useful for people that are not Twitter users. And while Twellow lets you follow Twitter profiles directly from its search results – this is not the core functionality of the results.
Twellow also gets users to Register for its site through Facebook. Once again, building their own audience and user base even though their site is focused around Twitter.
Twellow has been able to take advantage of social media to create its own brand and user experience at a time when all of its content and data comes from social networks. Twellow also uses Facebook connect to help ensure a better registration process, but at the same time – it is growing their own user base. This is a search engine that doesn’t get a lot of attention, but its top 7,000 US Alexa rank shows that it is doing something right.
If someday Twitter were to go belly up – Twellow could simply change its results to search profiles of Facebook pages or some other hot new social network. The point here is that by branding itself as a search engine which searches social profiles, it will be able to prevent itself from being locked in or reliant upon one social network. When you are locked in – its not a good situation, because social networks can shut off or charge for API access – after all – it is their data – so they can do what they want with it. In fact, many Twitter developers were upset when Twitter began playing tough with some of its developers. However, when you take someone else’s data for free – you must expect this. So again, always ensure that your user experience is good for those not on the social network, while also not locking yourself in by having your site only be a reality if it works with one given social network.
FamousBirthdays displays a Like button on the profile page of each famous person on its website. The more likes a famous person gets, the higher they rank throughout the site. Users not on Facebook can see the rankings just as easily as users on Facebook can. So while the Likes are coming from Facebook users – the overall site experience displays the most popular people in each category for everyone to see.
The website is only focused on Facebook as there is no promotion of any other social network. There isn’t even a social sharing button on the site for any of the other social networks. And when the user likes a famous person, they are liking that persons page on FamousBirthdays.com as opposed to a Facebook fan page. So, the Famous Birthdays website is ultimately what gets promoted through Facebook.
At the end of the day – more popular people are getting Liked then more obscure people. So as time goes on, Famous Birthdays has been able to determine – whom the most popular people are. People are categorized by their birthday, birthplace, birth year, profession, and zodiac sign. FamousBirthdays.com is able to display which are the most popular people in each of these categories.
So, this is a clear example of how a social strategy can improve not only the user experience of a website, but the data that the website has. Instead of doing research to uncover the most popular Comedians in the world – Famous Birthdays has a social strategy which lets its users decide this.
In closing, for all of you webmasters and web publishers out there, hopefully this article can help you to identify a social strategy that will make a positive impact for you. While many website owners are in a rush to implement a social strategy so that they can feel social, it is better to take your time and wait until you have determined the right solution. When you implement social, if you get it wrong, it can be very difficult to recover from and you also are going to confuse your users. So, not only should you take your time in implementing a strategy, you should do it slowly once you have decided on what to do. If possible, implement it on a few pages at the get go, and refine it before baking it in sitewide.
Lastly, I had one more important tip. If you do go the API route, there are usually great discussion forums on the web that you can participate in. You should be able to find a discussion group which specially discusses the API of the social network which you are working with. For instance, if you are working with the Foursquare API, you should be a frequent visitor to the Stack Overflow Foursquare discussion group. The more help you give to other developers, the more help that will probably come back to you. And not only can you get answers at this discussion group – you can also meet other developers whom you could potentially partner with. So the API discussion groups are a must – as they can help you to uncover issues, solve problems, and most importantly, you’ll be able to network with individuals that have expertise within the unique API that you are trying to work with.