Tips for Choosing the Best Social Media Applications for Your Web Site
Many Web site publishers are turning to publisher services companies that let them incorporate live communication and other social media functions into their sites. Many offer applications that are free and easy to add to a Web site by copying and pasting a line of code. Some come with an option to run unobtrusive ads alongside, providing another revenue stream.
Here's a sampling of what's available:
- Live chat and instant messaging, letting site visitors interact with each other and build community.
- Audio, video and photo sharing tools.
- Rich content and photography.
- Real-time widgets that provide live feeds to the site, keeping the content fresh.
- A "recommended reading" widget that directs visitors to other content on the site, keeping them there longer and encouraging them to view more pages.
- Blogging software, making it easy to maintain a blog on your site. Again, this helps keep content fresh, encourages repeat visits, and fosters discussion and interaction within the community.
- Widgets for content syndication, to enable others to take your content beyond the confines of your own site.
- Tools that allow visitors to add their own comments, ratings or reviews -- getting people to actively participate.
- Polls to gather and share opinions within the community.
- Tools that enable text and video search, so Web sites can let visitors more intuitively find relevant content and keep them interested and engaged.
With so many options, it's easy to either become overwhelmed or get carried away. Here are a few things to consider when deciding which applications are best for your site:
Know your audience. The features you add should be enhancements, not distractions. Solicit feedback from visitors about what they want from your site, what they wish they could do there, and what features or functions they believe are missing. For some specific audience
demographics, visit www.quantcast.com and type in your site's URL. You'll find a breakdown by gender, age, household income, ethnicity and education, along with lists of Web sites and other brands that attract similar audiences. This information can be helpful as you're getting to know your own visitors.
Answer this question: Is your site an online community, or is it primarily a source of content? Not every site needs to be a community, so get strategic about which social media and community-building applications you want to add. Creating a thriving community where people want to spend time obviously will increase traffic and time on site. But that's only valuable if that's what you're committed to -- and if that's what your audience wants. Not every site needs to offer live chat, for example -- and, in fact, it can be distracting for the Web publisher to monitor and maintain. But for some -- like media sites running podcasts or video news feeds -- live chat is a perfect fit.
The bottom line: Do your research, know what's available and evaluate all options based on your goals for the Web site. There are so many creative ways to bring more people to your site and keep them engaged within your community. And if it's your goal to make money, you can accomplish this along the way, too.
Michael Jones is CEO of Santa Monica, Calif.-based Userplane, a wholly owned subsidiary of AOL and a provider of social networking applications for online communities. Michael is also
senior vice president of AOL. Reach him at email@example.com.