Powering Your Website With Social Media

Social Media is “media designed to be disseminated through social interaction, created using highly accessible and scalable publishing techniques” (Wikipedia), and if that doesn’t make sense I don’t blame you.

Basically everyone these days is interacting through online groups on Facebook, real-time feeds on Twitter, real-time searching with One-Riot and getting their website-of-the-day from automatically generated lists such as Newsified. A web article that was hot one day probably isn’t going to be hot the day after because there will be another one in its place. Social Media changes shape every day, in fact it’s changing the web every second! Your website needs to utilize Social Media effectively in order to get a leg-up and be recognized in this constantly-shifting web cosmos. As a follow up to my previous article, I wanted to share a few tips that might help your website or web application grow. Since launching Project Bubble I have seen massive growth which I attribute mostly to the use of social media and I’m sure your website too can benefit from this. A good place to start is to learn to understand Social Media by subscribing to blogs like Mashable and staying on top of the latest trends by following key people on Twitter. Once you get inside the world of Social Media and begin to understand it the following tips will make a lot more sense to you and you will be able to apply them to your website.

Build Community
A lot of websites are static, with a few simple pages and a contact form. The owner of the website only knows if someone has visited based on the tracking statistics (such as Analytics) and they can only communicate with their visitors if the person visiting fills in a contact form. Also anyone else visiting the website won’t be able to interact with other visitors, let alone find out if anyone else is interested in the products or services offered by this website.

Building social community features in to a website will spark life in to your online presence and make it change a lot more often. A site that you might have only updated every six months will suddenly get updated by your community every day, providing you can get the traffic. Your site will look a lot more active, but also by capturing your visitors’ information (such as email, name, country, likes, dislikes etc) you can collect a lot of data on your audience which will be really useful to you (make sure you have permission to capture your visitors’ information with a clear privacy policy).

Community features such as allowing comments on a blog will let your visitors say what they think about your products and services. A forum feature will allow users to network with each other, as well as being able to discuss a recent event in your business. Building a sign up feature to your site will let users be able to return to your website and have their preferences saved, and you will be able to store the contact information and data of those who regularly visit your site. Most of these features are fairly easy to implement and can make a world of difference.

Get Feedback
It’s important to get feedback from your users, especially if your web business is new. Don’t be ashamed of any bugs or small issues that might happen on your new website because if you can prove that you are listening to your users, and that you can fix these issues quickly – that will outweigh any problems or bugs people find.

A feedback system will let you know about issues that you might not have otherwise found through your usual testing methods, for example a recent one that came up in Project Bubble is Japanese and Russian characters. Someone reported the issue (and I would never have known about this) then straight away provided a fix. I learnt a lot about UTF-8 that day! Finally, providing a channel for feedback shows that you care about your customers and you are willing to change things based on what people report. This builds loyalty to your brand and will help with user retention. Tools for getting Feedback could be: UserVoice and GetSatisfaction.

Offer Interaction
Not only do you want to capture the users who visit your site and build a community, you want to offer them the facility to interact with you and vice-versa. Interacting with your website users will build brand loyalty and people will see that you’re not just a big corporate identity but are actually real people behind all the PR gloss. Get your users to talk to you, and when they do make sure you talk back to them straight away.

Tools such as simple web forms are absolutely essential in providing your users with quick, clear and targeted contact methods. Studies have shown that the more work you have to make your user do on your website, the less likely they will do what you want them to do. So, for example in the case of web forms – if you don’t use them and you rely on “mailto:” email links it means that people have to do much more work, whereas with a contact form all they need to do is quickly fill in their name, email, select a subject from a drop down and then type out a simple message there and then. Also web forms allow you to find out data such as where they came from (based on the I.P. address), what page they were looking at when they visited the web form and so on.

Other tools you should look at to enhance user interaction are blog comments as mentioned before but most importantly Twitter. There are other articles on Woork that you can read which describe the power of Twitter so I won’t go in to detail here, but I’ll just say that it is absolutely essential for any web based business. You can not only find out who is following the developments of your business, but you can talk directly to them and involve everyone as you do so.

For example, you have just launched a new home page design and you announce it on Twitter, then somebody replies saying they can’t view it properly on their browser. You can fix the issue, reply back to them and then not only will they be informed of this fixed but so will all of your followers. The person who reported the issue will likely be very pleased that you fixed their problem so quickly they will praise you on Twitter, then you can re-tweet this feedback to all of your followers. So you have an issue reporting tool, but also a testimonial tool – all for free! A Facebook page is a great way of providing real-time interaction with your user base. Set up a Facebook page and publicize it just as you would a Twitter link. People use Facebook every day (in some cases all day!), so the minute you post a status update you will likely get comments back straight away. Also because of the real-time feed system people will see your new update pop up just as they look at their other feeds. You can also allow users to upload photos, join in a discussion through forums and install loads of different modules such as a Poll system with just a few clicks.

Offer the Best Customer Service
As mentioned earlier, customer service is crucial to the success of your business. Your customers will want to see that you are active and in-touch with them. They will want solutions to their problems as soon as possible. The quicker you can turn-around with these solutions, the better people will rate your customer service. This will in turn create buzz about your company throughout the social sphere (Twitter, Facebook etc).

Let Your Users Create the Buzz
Make it easy for your users to create this buzz. As mentioned before you need to make it really easy for your users to do the things that you want them to do. With regards to creating buzz, you can add buttons and ‘widgets’ to your web pages that allow them to do this easily. Such as TweetMeme or Topsy (offer a retweet service so your page will get easily posted on Twitter), Add to Delicious (allows users to add your page to their Delicious favorites), Digg This (allows users to add to their Digg bookmarks), Add This (allows users to add the page to every social website out there). The more times people add your web page to a social media site such as Digg, Mixx and so on the more likely your site will get featured on their home page. So it’s important to have these facilities in place if you are expecting a surge in traffic at any time, for example after doing a television, radio or magazine advert.

Good luck!
I hope these tips help. I personally think that social media is a lot of fun, and because there’s always something new to read every day it makes the web so exciting. Maybe your website will be in my RSS aggregator tomorrow as I read the Delicious most-popular list?

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