Yesterday, a good site offered compelling, relevant, and fresh content, an intuitive navigation perhaps supported by an internal search, and fast downloads. It was optimized for relevant searches and delivered an excellent user experience that occurred within the confines of the site. Early social programs were often developed with the goal of driving audience from social communities to the brand or e-commerce site or sometimes to a microsite.
Today, the paradigm has flipped. No longer is the marketer’s site the only destination and often it is not even the primary one. Site content and traffic are used to multiply traffic and expand potential customer base through a host of powerful social tools to encourage sharing and other “social” behaviors that build audience, sales, brand equity, and loyalty. While there are clearly powerful strategies, tools, and programs to engage with your customers socially, “socializing” your site is a critical component of an overall social marketing strategy.
Structuring your site to amplify this social effect respects your users’ preferences, and enhances opportunities for them to share while providing valuable content, features, and functionality to drive marketing and/or sales objectives. Knowing your customers and having clear objectives will guide you to a viable social site-side strategy and implementation.
Another clear benefit of site-side socialization is that it creates an optimal search environment with critical, high quality inbound links that can attract new users via search, who can then turn around and leverage the content sharing and distribution capabilities built into the social tools. Small (or large) investments in SEO and other search strategies often get their biggest payoff through the extension of traffic and increased exposure found in social media.
E-commerce sites are on the leading edge of this sea change, not only because they have a direct incentive in sales to find and keep customers but also because some of the more popular tools are built to influence or guide shoppers. Social commerce leverages social media to help shoppers solicit opinions, read reviews, or share information leading up to a purchase. Shopping sites are also accustomed to constant site changes. Branded sites or business to business sites generally have a longer shelf life. They tend to have more static content and change designs on a less frequent rotation driven more by brand, message, or even seasonal changes. This is a mistake.
Every site benefits when it supports the needs of its users to share and even in some cases, collaborate. You could conceivably build that functionality into your site with custom programming, but there already are incredibly robust platforms that have accumulated large user communities. These platforms exist to meet needs as varied as blogging, microblogging, forwarding, video sharing, podcasting, photo sharing, commenting, mapping, linking, reviewing, annotating, listing, tracking, and probably a dozen or more other functions. Your audience trusts these providers and is comfortable within them. So are their friends.
Opening your site to additions like review options, links to product builders, or outfit engaged with your brand adds valuable content and lends credibility to the site. Invite them to socialize, not only with enhanced socialization features, tools, and functionality but with something that we call a “social gateway.” Simply, this is a transition page that invites your site-side visitors to “keep in touch” via various other social channels you have developed like Facebook and Twitter. They provide options to your site visitors to continue the conversation, extend the conversation, or learn from an outside resource from your social gateway. The social gateway could be a page used as a central resource with numerous outbound social links and possibilities as the example below or social links could be integrated with your site content in various appropriate places.
The site is no longer a destination but a conduit for the discussion and distribution of your content. Pulling the related content from the Twitter account or Facebook page back into your site via APIs completes the circle and further motivates your visitors to participate. Time on site then becomes a less important metric while you may begin to track the flow of traffic from the site to social platforms where real community belongs and referrals are likely to take place.
If we recast the marketer as a facilitator who provides information and other content (including tools, entertainment, etc.) as well as the means for their audience to share, critique, and discuss that content, then marketers can stop thinking about, managing, and counting their customer relationships as if the individual user interaction was the objective. A marketer talking at a site visitor is old school and no longer effective. Let’s call that Marketing Release 1 (R1). A marketer talking with that visitor or even talking to or with a visitor in multiple channels over a period of time would be Marketing R2. Our third release in marketing requires us to be place agnostic and to fully empower our audience to respond to our content and our brand. That takes courage and a belief in your brand. Our true objective in Marketing R3 is to enhance interactions between the people you touch with your site or in social media and the people they in turn touch.
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