Your Website Needs a Social Life
You’re proud of your website and you should be: it’s easy to use, looks great and is packed with fresh content. But while you’ve been working hard to keep your website current and compelling, the wider web has been changing around you. And the way people approach websites like yours is changing too.
- A website used to be a place to read things… Now it’s a place to do things.
- A website used to be only about creating great content… Now it’s also about creating great web experiences.
- A website used to be a one-way medium… Now it’s a many-to-many conversation.
This ‘Social Web’ transformation, driven by the wildly popular social media experiences like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter is changing the way the web works and the way your visitors think. The social web is about fully engaging users and treating them as more than just consumers of content or adherents to your agenda. In the social web, visitors are full participants, sharing their views, their content and their contacts. The result is an exponential increase in user involvement that is changing the fundamental principles and dynamics of marketing. Brands that succeed in tapping into this enormous power will reap the rewards in traffic, loyalty, revenues and market share. Brands that fail to learn the new rules of the social web will be left with the scraps.
What Is a Social Website?
A social website is any site that invites people to participate by publicly sharing their thoughts, feedback, opinions, links and any content they’ve created as well as images and videos. It also encourages them to share their experiences with friends or colleagues, whether on the site or beyond and makes it easy to do so.
Why You Need to Be More Sociable
There are plenty of reasons to make your website more social than it is today. Here are some of the most important ones:
Engage people more fully - Your customers, prospects and target audiences are human beings first. And human beings appreciate being asked what they think about things. Nobody likes to be talked at. It’s not polite.
Boost credibility - People are more likely to trust another user than they are to trust you. Harness that force to your advantage by giving a forum to your brand advocates – yes you give airtime to detractors too, but this in itself shows confidence and boosts credibility.
Increase stickiness - ‘Unique visitors’ is no longer the killer metric of the web. Engagement metrics like time on site, page views and repeat visits are. Anyone with a budget can generate raw traffic. It takes sociability to turn that traffic into something more valuable.
Listen to your users - Instant feedback from your customers and site visitors is an incredibly valuable – but under-exploited – asset. A social website gives your brand ears.
Influence your market - You can’t join the conversation until there’s a conversation to join. Once you’ve started one, it’s a great opportunity to get involved, address negative comments, de-fuse time-bombs, acknowledge positive input, reward your brand advocates and generally get your views across.
Better target your messages - The more you know about someone, the better you can tailor your messages to them. Active involvement in your community gives you priceless insight into attitudes, behaviors and propensity to buy. It also sharpens your segmentation and feeds your personalization efforts.
Harvest great content - User-generated content – from blog comments to photos and video – enriches your site and makes it more interesting, entertaining and valuable to other users. And it’s free if you ask nicely.
Boost your search engine results - Google spiders love lots of new, relevant content. The more you can attract, the better you’ll do on search results pages and the more traffic you’ll generate.
Generate buzz - Static websites that don’t engage visitors look and feel like ghost towns. Websites that are bubbling with activity, community and participation show that your brand is young, vital, successful and popular.
Top 10 Tips on How to Go Social
Adding social features to your website isn’t difficult but if you get it wrong, your failure will be rather… public. So here are a few tips:
- Moderate gently - Fairness is a core principle of the social web. If you kill every negative comment, you lose respect as a moderator and alienate your community. Much better to respond constructively to negative feedback in the same forum it was given. Only resort to censoring or banning in extreme cases.
- Open your kimono - There’s no point going social if you’re going to be overly defensive or ‘corporate’. The social web is a great opportunity to lower your guard, give the spin doctors a Valium and just respond to people openly and honestly – you’d be amazed how much they’re willing to forgive if you just say sorry.
- Look after your super-users - Every community has champions – the people who really identify with your brand (or the activity you’re involved with) and get stuck right in. Identify these super-users and make sure they feel welcome and valued. Give them special privileges. Reward their loyalty. They’ll return the favor.
- Walk before you run - Don’t launch an über-community if you don’t have any traffic, a blog or simpler forums. Build your community from the ground up, listening to your users as you grow.
- Don’t forget great content - Social media never lives in a vacuum. You still need to populate your community areas with great content from your CMS to keep people interested, involved and coming back for more. You can’t expect users to do all the heavy lifting. Just make sure your CMS can easily connect.
- Respect privacy - This is absolutely essential. The kind of people who participate in web communities are the kind to get really rabid when their trust is abused. Only use data in exactly the way you say you will. No exceptions.
- Go beyond your site - A social relationship with your community doesn’t stop at the borders of your own site. Go out and meet people where they congregate. Join Facebook groups, comment on blogs, set up a YouTube channel and a Twitter account. All are great forums for listening – and for recruiting people to your social website.
- Get the back end right - Some social features (like social bookmarking) are fairly lowtouch. Others require a significant amount of back-end programming and integration. Make sure your developers know what they’re doing – and start with a Content Management System that you know can handle the job (if the social functionality is already pre-coded and templated, so much the better).
- Performance matters - Social sites make much greater demands on your servers than simple content sites – especially if user-generated photos and videos are involved. You may need a platform that can handle millions of users and billions of page views per month. If your CMS can’t scale to the demands of the social web, you risk frustrating (or losing) your users.
- Analytics are critical - You need to actively monitor and measure all activities on your social pages just as you would on the rest of your site. Make sure your social features include rich reporting and analysis. User stats drive insight.
The Role of Your CMS
The Content Management System you choose will make a big difference in the success of your social web initiatives. The right CMS will not only make it much easier to introduce social features, it will also make for richer, simpler, easier-to-use social web experiences.
Ideally, you need a CMS that is:
Social-centric – Not every CMS is built to handle the more challenging social features discussed here. If social media is not in the DNA of your CMS, shop around. Ask to see the community templates.
Editor-friendly – You need a CMS that makes it easy for non-technical editors to add content, create pages and moderate comments.
Developer-friendly – Developers shouldn’t have to learn a whole new language just to create social features for your site.
Modular – Your CMS should always be growing by letting you snap on new modules as they’re developed.
Widely used – A popular CMS has an active developer community to contribute modules, ideas, advice and experience.
Actively supported – You’ll want a CMS that has someone standing behind it – for support, development, training and advice.
Go forth and socialize!
Note: A special thanks to Alex Martel, Channel Sales Manager at EPiServer North America for supplying some great material from their eBook.
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