Integrate Social Networking Into Your Site

I don’t need to tell you that social networking is a big deal. Sites like Facebook and Twitter have been “mainstream” for quite some time now, and it is very likely that while reading this blog post, you are probably logged in to Facebook right now. It is also very likely that most of the people you know have Facebook accounts, and check them regularly.

So what does this mean to you, a business owner on the web? Well, I’m here to tell you about a few ways you can take advantage of these huge online “ecosystems” and leverage social networking for your company by integrating them with your web site.

Do You Have All Your Profiles?

First things first. Step one is to make sure you have company profiles set up on the networks you’re targeting. This may vary between businesses, but check out Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the rest, and see what seems appropriate for your company. If you’re just starting out, you might want to just pick one and concentrate all your time and effort there. In most cases, the first one you’ll want to go with is Facebook.

Using these profiles to connect with people on these networks is a huge opportunity for businesses, but it’s a little outside the scope of this article. I will go into it more in-depth in future articles. For the time being, once you’ve got your profiles set up, we’ll move along. If you’re curious in the meantime, do some googling and I’m sure you’ll find some interesting info.

Now It’s Time To Show Off.

Now, you need to make sure that people visiting your site know that you have social network profiles and you’re active on them! It’s a pretty simple tactic, but add some buttons, links, or widgets linking to your profiles. Get creative and try to entice people to check them out!

For some inspiration, check out how some professional web designers have featured their profiles on their sites.

But Wait, There’s More!

Putting your profiles is great. But it’s only the tip of the iceberg. There is another amazingly powerful technique we can use to connect social networking to your site in a more meaningful way.

Everyone with a web site wants to increase “User Engagement”. This term is used to describe things like how much time users spend on your site, what they are doing, how much they read, what do they do to get involved and how often do they do it. A great way to increase User Engagement is to make it as easy as possible for them to get involved. Remove any unnecessary hurdles in the process, anything that could frustrate or make the users hesitate long enough to think, “Maybe I’ll just go do something else.” This is also referred to as “reducing friction”. Anything that gets in the user’s way causes friction, and you want to get rid of it.

So what is causing friction on your site? A common problem is logging in. Many sites require people to “log in” before posting a comment on anything. If you’ve never visited before, or if you’re a regular and you’ve never commented, you’ll have to create an account. You’ll have to fill out a form. Due to the scourge that is spam, you’ll probably have to fill in a CAPTCHA field. Then you’ll likely verify your email address, which means firing up your email, finding the message (which may or may not appear right away) and clicking a link. It’s easy to see how people may lose interest and wander way at any point in this process.

But fear not! There are a number of great ways to avoid the pitfall of annoying sign-ups. Simply use the accounts that users already have, and are probably already logged into, like Facebook!

The two most powerful and popular tools for this job are Disqus Comments and Facebook’s own Comment Box plugin. These plugins both allow users to log in from a variety of different services. Disqus supports logins from Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Yahoo! accounts, among others. Facebook Comment Box supports logins from Facebook (obviously), Yahoo!, AOL and Hotmail accounts.

Facebook Comment Box comments from Facebook accounts also post those comments to the user’s news feed, so their friends can see the comment, like, and respond to it. Any responses from Facebook news feeds are also synced to your site’s comment section. This can really expand your reach!

This is a great way to reduce friction. Users who want to comment on your content no longer have to sign up for a separate account only used for your site; Now they can just use whichever account they already have!

Grow Your Online Community.

Ideally you’ll want to cultivate a group of interested users who love to get involved with your content, creating discussion and sharing your content with others. This won’t happen overnight, it is usually a long journey, but it can certainly be a rewarding one. Including a social commenting system on your site is a great way to encourage your community’s growth. And remember, users will only be interested in great content, so do your best to give it to them!

Feel free to log in with your favourite Social Network below. Give the Disqus commenting system a test drive, and let us know what you think!

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About Karyl Gilbertson

Karyl is New Harvest Media's Creative Director. He is passionate about design, and pretty stoked about things like web standards, usability, and Wordpress too.