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Preparing your site for social media

Elemental Communications (Social Media Portal) - 05 December 2006

Preparing your site for social media

Tim Gibbon, founder and director of Elemental Communications, offers some advice on preparing your web site for social media

Social media has engulfed us and the way we communicate. User-generated content (UGC) lies at the heart of the temptation to lure brands to possibly stretch the way they communicate their Web presence – almost more than audiences can bare.  The potential to use this media and its related marketing technology is great providing if it can be tamed in reaching audiences more on their level and certainly, more on their terms.  Photograph, Tim Gibbon, director of Elemental

There is a risk for brands when it comes to delivering a range of creative and interactive aspects that may act as a short term solution to build audience loyalty, but what are the larger implications?  How can the prevention before cure school of thought be implemented to ensure that a brand is not diluted by the ways and means it attempts to connect with its audience, without thinking through the short and long-term consequences?

To measure the activity and performance across a Website is essential, and employing Web analytics is a critical step in making this happen.   Combining this with user-centred design (UCD) [more widely known as accessibility and usability], and learning more about the psychology of the audience and how and why they interact with the site, quantifying interest and levels of participation and engagement are crucial steps to make for any business moving forward in this content fuelled environment.
Coupling UCD and Web analytics are must dos (in addition to bringing valuable research to gauge the interest upon the brand), whether it is through questionnaires via the site itself and / or focus groups where a dialogue and rapport may be built on a face-to-face level with the very people whose opinions are paramount to the success of moving sites into a the new realm of communications.   Intelligent measurement across varying media assists us in understanding how more traditional channels of media drive audiences to and from the Web, and is another step closer to true integration.  It also makes it possible to exercise solid key performance indicators (KPIs) across a brand and its platforms.

This will indeed be a necessity as audiences become more accustomed to how content is be delivered for them to consume and more often than not participate in and steer.  Using this knowledge is to ascertain more than just what the audience are doing on a Website, and can be used to base the architecture, concepts, technology and method of communicating with the audience (using social media if it is deemed appropriate).  Measuring a Website can be overwhelming if not managed correctly, and could result in a more time and labour intensive process, having said that it is an investment that could and should be used to guide such an important aspect that affects many areas of a brand.

The most appealing social media technology is obviously video, but its use must be tempered with the audience interest and requirement; identifying the objectives of its use and deciding whether it is relevant.   Steps to integrating social media can be quite simple (from really simple syndication (RSS) to social book marking there is the opportunity to get involved with relatively easily), but actually maintaining that interest could be more challenging.  Hosting or syndicating video is relatively straightforward, but measuring whether the site has the resources to maintain the constant use and demand of it is id quite another thing altogether.  Deciding whether the brand is in the position to host social media, and more importantly is able to keep it up-to-date, fresh, vibrant and engaging for its audience poses serious questions.

Careful researching and understanding using the aforementioned will assist a brand in seeing a little more into the future and aid it in gearing its site to build a yield long term connection with its audience.  Within the current fast-paced environment we are experiencing, this is what can propel or kill brand longevity online.   Social media needs to be matched to its audience and allowed to be a part of the direction and shape into the form/s this media will develop into and allowed to transpire in an organic fashion if possible. At Elemental we endeavour to educate, enlighten and share which in turn allows us to grow. If these founding principles can be created online for social media environments, it’s a step in the right direction.

The top ten questions to be asking of a brand in terms of gearing up the site, or not for social media include:

1. Is the brand ready for all of the implications of social media and the potential surge in interest?

2. Is the brands audience ready for social media?

3. Can time be allocated to create, build and maintain it effectively?

4. Have global legal requirements been covered?

5. Does the social media aspects of the site interest and serve the audiences well?

6. Are there benefits and longevity?  Does it add value?

7. How the is the implementation and communication going to be promoted and performance measured?

8. How is interest and interaction going to be nurtured?

9. Is the technology expandable, flexible and can it be converged with other future media and initiatives?

10. Does what is being proposed integrate and flow with the rest of the brand and its communications?

If it a case of brands gearing up and implementing social media technology because it is a requirement led by demand, or a marketing and PR ‘must have’ may remain to be seen.

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