When building or redesigning a website, there comes a point when the conversation turns to social media integration. Many business owners assume placing social media icons that link to their social accounts is a given — just stick them up there in the header. After all, that's what everybody else does. But is that the best way to do it?
A conversation on this topic may go a little something like this.
Business Owner: So, we should put those logos at the top to link to social media.
Me: You indicated that you did not have or actively use social media accounts.
Business Owner: Yes, but isn't that how I grow my business nowadays — through Facebook? I heard that I HAVE to be on Facebook if I'm going to be relevant and reach people.
Me: Yes, Facebook can be an excellent resource. Do you have the support to manage a Facebook account? A plan or strategy for utilizing it?
Business Owner: Eh, not quite. OH, and also, what about this Twitter thing. I've heard I should have one of those. Put that up there, too.
Me: Okay, so let's talk about this...
(By the way, "social media" is not synonymous with "Facebook". Or even "Facebook and Twitter". There are literally hundreds of social media networks that exist — any one of which may be effective for you.)
So, the best way to integrate social media on your blog or website? Here's the answer: it's different for everybody. Yes, I know — a variation of the dreaded "it depends". Crazy how that's the answer to so many questions, isn't it?
There is no black and white, one-size-fits-all answer. But here's what you should remember: if it's not a part of your active marketing strategy, then it should not be an active part of your website. If you do invest time and energy in your social media presence, then you should leverage that on your website.
Are you saying I shouldn't use social media on my site?
No! I'm not disparaging social media, or those who use it. I'm saying its integration on your website should be a thoughtful decision that you make after considering the pros and cons. Ask yourself these questions:
- "Do I use social media frequently and effectively?" If you rarely post updates or interact with followers, there is no reason to draw attention to a dormant account that may give off a perception of laziness, indifference, or make you seem out-of-touch. If however, you are diligent and current with your posts and engagement, you may want to add social media follow buttons or feeds to your website to further promote your objectives, with the added benefit of social proof that others think you are worthy of following. By the way, that part is kind of a big deal — do not discredit the power of social proof. This is, after all, social media. People like to do "what the cool kids are doing". By nature, people are inclined to follow the crowd. If you have 10,000 followers, other people will notice that, assume there must be something worthy here, and click to follow you — even if they don't know anything about you. By contrast, if you have ten followers, you may not want to advertise that. People will instantly conclude that you are not worth following since nobody else is. You could be inadvertently shooting yourself in the foot.
- "Do I want to send people away from my website when I worked so hard to get them here?" Getting people to your site is half the battle. Your website is the hub of your marketing efforts where conversions happen that actually generate a profit. So, why would you want to redirect them unless it were of benefit to you? Unless you have a plan that integrates your marketing effectively with social media, you should be careful about enticing people to leave your website, especially to a place where it's so easy to get distracted by pictures of cute kids, BuzzFeed quizzes, and ecards memes... and consequently forget all about you. Instead, focus on perfecting the calls to action and nurturing the leads on your website.
- Am I aware of how social buttons may slow down my own website? Standard integration code provided by social media services or popular plugins can be bloated, meaning it may add unnecessary weight to your page, causing it to load slower—often noticeably. (And this could potentially hurt your Google results.) Adding social media buttons or feeds doesn’t have to be an automatic choice. It should be a meaningful decision with benefits that offset any shortcomings that a slower load time may introduce.
Social media for sharing
The purpose of the social media integration discussed to this point has been regarding promoting your own accounts, i.e. getting people to follow you. This is different from social media sharing icons.
While many website owners jump on the "Follow us" bandwagon of social media, they should be careful not to neglect its powerful "sharing" component. When you have shareworthy content, such as individual blog posts, articles, or downloadable files, add sharing icons to help expand your audience through your followers' current connections. The benefits of including social media share buttons on your website far outweigh any cons, so as a rule of thumb, make it easy for people to share your content. I ALWAYS advise to add sharing icons to your site, visually associated directly with the content itself, such as immediately above or below your article, making it a no brainer for you audience to click and share that amazing blog post of yours. Popular service AddThis allows you to easily add social sharing buttons to your site with robust analytics so you can track performance.
Social media for user actions
Beyond sharing and following, social media also allows you to enhance the user experience for actions people take to interact with your site, such as logging in and making comments.
Logging in with an existing Facebook/Twitter/Google+ account offers an additional way for people to create accounts on your website. Social Login functionality is popular because it eliminates the need for a user to create yet another username and password combination to remember. All they have to do is click to log in with their Facebook credentials, and voila! They're in. No hassle of creating a "strong" password to fit an arbitrary set of requirements. No waiting for or searching through spam folders for a confirmation email before they are granted access. This is all about user experience, and you want to make it as easy as possible for your user. A word of caution — do not make this the ONLY way for people to create accounts on your site. Not everybody has a Facebook/Twitter/Google+ account, and even then, not everybody is comfortable with logging in this way, due to privacy or security concerns. There is also the consideration that your login system is completely dependent upon Facebook continuing to offer this functionality. However, it is something to consider offering. It won't hurt to have it as an option; and in fact, many of your users will likely appreciate it.
In a similar vein, Facebook Comments allows users to leave comments on a blog if they are already logged into their Facebook account. By commenting via their Facebook account, it means their comment will not only show up on your website, but also on their own Facebook feed — which means it is visible to all of their connections. This means your website could attract new visitors that were not even aware of you before! An added benefit is an increase in accountability, so you tend to have less junk in your comments feed. Spam submissions will decrease. The quality of conversations is (generally) higher because of the perception of interacting with real people as opposed to "Anonymous" or creatively concocted fake usernames. As a business owner, these can be very smart ways of integrating social media into your website.
All hail social media!...maybe?
Social media channels are a great way to build an audience, interact with customers, provide engaging content, and "humanize" your business. It is the lower-cost counterpart to traditional advertising and expensive SEO techniques. In short, social media is great! However, it still takes time, money, and energy to make it effective. If you're not working social media, don't expect it to work for you. Therefore, consider carefully how you want to integrate "follow" icons on your website. The best way to incorporate social media on your website is to 1) add sharing buttons to make it easy for people to promote your content, 2) utilize Facebook Comments to open your website to a new audience, and 3) offer Social Login as a convenient alternative to the traditional registration/login form. Past that, just do what works for you. Don't feel pressured to do what everyone else does, even when it comes to social media.