If your idea of giving your website a social life consists solely of a "follow us on Facebook" button on your homepage or a "follow us on Twitter" link on your contact page, you might want to look at your analytics to see what those techniques have done for your Web results.
Though the Web is becoming more social and interactive, especially with the popularity of interactive content-consumption devices (think iPad), corporate websites, especially those of B2B companies, remain mostly static and uninteresting brochure-ware.
Among the variety of reasons for B2B companies' static online presence, the two I most frequently encounter are a lack of understanding about "social" techniques and limited technical knowledge about making simple social changes to websites.
Let's look at both reasons.
Why You Need to be More Sociable
There are plenty of reasons to make your website more social than it is today.
Perhaps the best reason is to boost website results—traffic, engagement, and leads. Other important reasons include the following:
- Engaging visitors more fully by eliminating one-way communication
- Boosting the credibility of your brand by giving a forum to your advocates
- Increasing stickiness on your site by improving engagement metrics, such as time on site, pageviews, and repeat visits
- Influencing your market by joining the conversation
- Better targeting your messages by collecting and acting on user and community feedback
- Boosting your search engine results by giving search spiders a lot of relevant content to chew on.
Elements of the Social Web
If you've decided to make your online presence more social, think twice before you redirect incoming traffic to a public social network. You can engage that traffic on your own site and get better return on investment (ROI). Some of the following methods may require technical changes to your site, but the results can be worthwhile.
A brand without a blog is a brand with nothing to say. If you're just starting out on your social Web journey, you might well want to start with a blog.
Depending on your target audience, a blog may be the most important thing you can do on your site. As research by Forrester and others has shown, "digital natives" increasingly expect the brands they value to have a blog—it's an open, informal way to share your thoughts and show that you're open to comments and feedback.
Ratings and Reviews
A few years ago, letting people rate and review content and products looked like utter madness. But ratings and reviews can give you the kind of instant insight into your brand that many companies pay millions to find out. And the wisdom of crowds can mean that you might even get some great ideas for improving your products.
All of that information is free on your site—if you bother to ask.
Forums and Expert Panels
Running a forum on your site is a big step toward offering an all-singing, all-dancing social Web experience. But it's best not to think about a forum as a way to create community. Instead, it should be a way to serve a community that's already there and eager to link up and share their thoughts.
Forums are a great way to encourage your best brand advocates to step forward and act as guides to newer customers and prospects. They're especially valuable for sites that involve technical topics, hobbies and pastimes, fan bases, and niche interests.
Social Bookmarking and Favorites
Millions of people use social bookmarking services like Delicious, Digg, and StumbleUpon to keep track of their favorite Web content. If you make it easy for them to bookmark your pages, you're also making it easy for them to promote your site and boost its search-engine rankings. Fortunately, adding social bookmarking is very easy to do.
YouTube, Flickr, and Facebook have fueled a new social force: sharing content with friends and the general public online. As a brand, you can ride the wave by letting your visitors upload their photos, videos, or stories to the Web. Be prepared to implement some moderation to ensure content is appropriate and legal.
Contests, Polls, and Voting
Contests, polls, and voting are an easy way to get visitors involved without necessarily asking them to identify themselves (though you can do that, if you'd like). They're also a fun way to engage your community with a simple, fast feedback mechanism. Results can be displayed in real time, or on a given reveal date.
Full Community With Profiles
You know you've arrived when you can host your own full-fledged community on your site. A community asks people to sign up, create a personal profile full of relevant facts, and then join in group activities—including things like forums, news groups, blogs, and user-generated content services.
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.
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. It's much better to respond constructively to negate feedback within the same forum. Resort to censoring or banning only in extreme cases.
Lower Your Guard
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 and just respond to people openly and honestly—you'd be amazed how much they're willing to forgive you 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 sucked right in. Identify those 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 try to 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 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 content management system can easily connect content and community.
Respecting privacy is absolutely essential. The kinds of people who participate in Web communities are the kind to get really upset when their trust is abused. Use data in exactly the same way you say you will. No exceptions.
Social sites make much greater demands on your servers than simple content sites—especially if user-generated photos and videos are involved.
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 (measurement is a lot more robust on a property you operate vs. social sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube).
Make sure your social features include rich reporting and analysis. User stats drive insight.