How to make your site more social
Posted: June 18, 2010 | 16:05 ET by Tessa Wegert
With every passing month, social networking becomes more entrenched in Canadian culture. As Forrester Research reported last year, 57 per cent of Canadians now use social networking at least once each month – more than our US counterparts (their number comes in at 51 per cent, while the United Kingdom – third on the list – comes in at 38 per cent). In fact, of the 12 countries regularly surveyed by the research company, Canadians are "the most active social networkers" in any market.
Recent Reports indicate that there are now more than 16 million Canadians on Facebook, with 912,000 having signed up in May alone. This makes Canada the largest market on Facebook among countries with at least 10 million citizens.
Clearly, Canadians are "fans" of social sitesWhat's the attraction? These online communities offer easy online access to family and friends and a place to connect with like-minded consumers. They also represent an avenue through which to express one's views and opinions about everything from politics to consumer products, and a way to flex one's creative muscle and publicly distribute the results (think producing a video, writing a blog, or sharing online content).
Whatever the allure might be for each individual, social media users have become very fluent in this genre – along with all of the elements that help to make it functional. They're comfortable using comment boxes, online voting systems and the like, and as a result these features enjoy the relatively exclusive status of having a built-in fan base and nonexistent learning curve.
It makes sense, then, that these social features are becoming more widespread. But they aren't just limited to social sites. Marketers are borrowing them to enhance their brand and product sites, both to create a more interactive environment and to leverage consumers' familiarity with – and affinity for – such tools. Here's how.
Thumbs Up for Online ExpressionThe ability to express one's opinion online with the click of a button may have risen in popularity with the ubiquitous "thumbs up" icon associated with social news site Digg but it has since spawned countless iterations. On social bookmarking site StumbleUpon users click the "I like this" button to rank their opinion on the sites they view, information that StumbleUpon then uses to determine their preferences and deliver more relevant links. Facebook users, meanwhile, can choose to "Like" a status update, photo, or video along with the ads they are served – again, the data from which is used to deliver more germane ad content.
On sites outside of the social space, such a rating system can be used to allow visitors to share their views on everything from site content to products and services sold. Digital marketing trade publications like Marketing Magazine and Media Post place thumbs up icons at the end of their articles and invite readers to click to "score" stories as insightful or interesting enough to recommend to a colleague.
Simply by incorporating this social feature into their sites, these publications are able to take a cue from Facebook and StumblUpon and gauge user interest in their content, as well as fine-tune it to better suit what readers are looking for. Their users may not have the time or inclination to complete an online survey or poll about the stories featured, but they're so accustomed to this format from the time the spend on Facebook that they're motivated (and thus very likely) to click.
This strategy is applicable to any and all sites that feature dynamic content, whether it comes in the form of a new product launch or an online contest. As you produce the information for your brand or product site, consider giving your customers the option of publicly expressing their excitement about it and watch as engagement rates soar.
Share and Share AlikeA mainstay of viral marketing, the "share" button has been making the rounds of sites, microsites, online contests, e-mail newsletters, even some banner ads for about a decade. In the past, it has been synonymous with forwarding online content to a friend in e-mail format. Given the prominence of this feature on social sites, however, it has taken on a new meaning; today's share buttons allow Internet users to post site content to a social networking or social news site to share the information on a broader scale.
Share buttons typically link to such sites as Digg, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Google, and others, along with an e-mail option. For brand marketers, including this feature on your site makes it easy for customers to act as brand advocates or influencers by distributing information about the goods they enjoy – as well as bookmark the site for their own benefit. From a traffic and search engine marketing perspective, share buttons also encourage backlinks to one's site that can result in increased online visibility and additional visits.
Consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands like Timex employ share buttons, among countless others. It's a natural choice for companies like Kraft Foods, which uses them on its recipe site along with General Mills, which makes it easy for its users to share recipes that call on the use of its brands. Regardless of the content that's offered on your site, there's a place for a share button and a reason to use it.
No Comment? Not AnymoreSocial sites like MySpace, Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube – along with an endless number of news and information sites – use comment boxes to introduce an element of interactivity into their sites. Visitors can share their views on a matter without having to leave the site for a message board or forum, and marketers can mine this information to better understand the mindset, wants, and needs of current and potential customers.
Brand sites too are tapping into this social site stalwart, both by inviting its users to post commentary and share product reviews. Cover Girl, site users can choose to praise or pass judgment on its plethora of products, while fans of BioTherm,) can provide an answer to the question, "What's the Buzz?" as it relates to the brand's products. In an industry where consumer reviews play a major role in helping to guide the purchasing decision, offering the ability to get them (and give them) directly on a brand site can mean the difference between a sale and a visit to a competitor's site.
There's no doubt that social media has influenced our society, but as interesting as it is to watch consumers embrace it it's equally intriguing to follow its influence on digital marketers. As you devise your social media strategy, don't overlook the value of making your brand and product sites more social too.
Tessa Wegert is a veteran Internet media strategist and writer covering interactive marketing and technology. For links to her past articles and columns visit tessawegert.com, or connect with her on Twitter (@tessawegert) and LinkedIn.
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Tessa Wegert is a veteran media strategist with a background in media planning and buying, content development, ad copywriting, and campaign management. As a prominent industry writer she has been covering digital marketing and technology for leading newspapers and trade publications for over a decade. Connect with her on Twitter (@tessawegert) and LinkedIn.