Not so very long ago, conversation around user experience with respect to web design centered around the notion of a website as a single destination. A sticky site built around the assumption that visitors always use the front door aka the home page was the basic approach. While many of these elements in a conversation are still relevant, when it comes to the public facing pages of any website, or the presentation layer, it’s important to think about how those pages can create relevant experiences for visitors who arrive from social sites, and visitors who wish to share your content on social sites.
Anyone who has ever clicked through from a Twitter profile to a company home page without any real context for what the company is about understands how strange that can feel. Landing on your static home page from a social network can feel like a total disconnect. Add to that fact most company about pages do little to explain what the company does, and you may not lose a customer for life, but your business will definitely lose opportunities to create a relevant experiences these individuals.
The future of social media is about deeper integration into the overall experience someone has with a brand online – this definitely includes everything from the brand’s domain to customer service calls and online communication, to sharing in social networks and offline events. For professionals in the industry, this will mean learning to dig deeper than simply “joining the conversation” to developing the necessary skills to guide web processes and strategies that accrue to achieving real business goals. This means creating processes and workflows and creating cross-functional teams to create truly integrated projects and programs.
Social media doesn’t have an ROI problem, it has an integration problem: Putting social media into a clearly defined silo ensures its failure to make an impact where it counts.
Since social networks have proven their ability to drive traffic, it’s becoming more and more important to position your site with many relevant entry points, clear calls to action and easy sharing functionality.
The nice thing is that many of the principles involved with thinking of multiple entry and exit points into a site based on relevance are the same principles good SEO strategists have been employing for years. The social component is simply adding on another layer — not just thinking about how your content can be found, but making it attractive and conducive to sharing in social networks beyond your website.
I am not a user experience design expert, but I’ve worked with a few and these are my thoughts on how social media can be considered in the user experience design process.
If I Can’t Find it How Can I Have an Experience?
For the record, SEO is still extremely important — just because social networks can drive traffic doesn’t mean you get to skip the importance of search. The last stat I read indicated that roughly 80% of all online activity begins with search. Social’s influence is on the rise, but search cannot be ignored.
Rethinking the Landing Page
Landing pages give companies unlimited opportunities to create relevant experiences for users from a variety of sources. These can be tracked and tested and easily changed to support campaigns and short term goals as well.
Content NOT Content
I find it extremely helpful when having conversations about content to create clear distinctions between what is considered static “content” versus what we call interactive “content.” To those with advertising, coding or design backgrounds, everything on a site is content. Often a social site will require different strategies for content based on whether it’s considered static or interactive. Interactive content often requires an editorial strategy while static content requires a more sales-oriented strategy. Make sense?
Share Buttons and RSS
In 2010, these should be a no-brainer. If someone wants to see a business case for adding share buttons and RSS, tell them it’s a requirement for entering the marketplace. It’s a baseline entry requirement. You need share buttons and RSS for the same reason 7-11 requires you to wear pants. The sign says no shoes, no shirt, no service because in this day and age pants are a given. So are share buttons and RSS. This battle has already been fought and won. Let’s move on, but be nicer about it than I am here.
Optimize for Sharing
Not all content automatically shares well just because you install a button. Test how well your content looks when you share items to places like Facebook. Does the thumbnail image come up, or does the site pull up the image of a banner ad when you attempt to share the article? Does every piece of interactive content on your site have its own URL? Do images, documents and videos offer embed codes? Each social network has published tips on how to optimize your images and other content for their particular site. I’m not linking to the information because it often changes and moves. If you have trouble locating good resources for this, let me know and I’ll see if I can help.
Don’t Force the Relationship
Nothing says “I lack confidence” in my own attractiveness than a registration requirement or one of those defector detectors that pop up when you hit your browser’s back button. Get better at asking for people to opt into your content. If the numbers are indicating a lack of interest, then change your content strategy. Nothing helps take the emotion and unqualified opinions out of conversations like good, strong data :)
Microsites and vanity URLs or Social Sites and Shortened URLs?
The microsite used to be a given, but many are rethinking this approach in favor of using social networks for similar campaign-style marketing. There are pros and cons to each, but social tools offer more flexibility and eat up a smaller piece of the budget than simply building from scratch each time.
This is the quick list I was able to jot down in my notes prior to tomorrow’s panel discussion at IUE10. If you have other ideas on making user experience more social, and vice versa, please let me know. I know many of you are skilled in user experience design and are very clued into how best to use social media. Please help us bridge the communication gap for me and others here and give us your tips in the comments.
Photo Credit: annotated