How to Socialize User Experience Design: Thinking Outside Your Website

Image of whiteboard with two separate lists of characteristics of groups and networks

by Shannon Paul on July 27, 2010


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.

Tomorrow I will speak on a panel about the future of social media at the Internet User Experience conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan with Chris Barger, Joe LaMuraglia Shauna Nicholson and Dave Murray.

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.

What Else?

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

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

July 27, 2010 steve olenski

Hi Shannon,

Re: your comment re: Share Buttons & RSS… “Let’s move on, but be nicer about it than I am here.”

I think you were TOO nice!!!

I think one thing to add is Re: the use of Video. I always relate my monitor to a tv screen and what do people do when looking at a tv screen? They watch. They don’t want to read…

The key of course is to have videos that people will want to watch and not reruns of The Beverly Hillbillies (not that there’s anything wrong with that)


July 27, 2010 Shannon Paul

Steve – Great point about video. Although I wouldn’t rule out text. Video still needs a good headline and description to entice someone to watch it… Having videos people actually want to watch is also a great strategy — getting there isn’t always easy.

Thanks for chiming in! Sorry if I was too nice :)


July 29, 2010 Lisa Stockwell

I think it’s important to remember audience as well as context. The 50+ market is huge and essential to some marketers. Many are adapting quickly to new media, but others still prefer to read information and navigate sites that are not cluttered with too many bells and whistles. (A recent informal poll of business people in a LI group I belong to noted that they preferred to get their reports as pdfs rather than videos or slideshare docs, so that also indicates that not everyone wants to watch.) So I think it’s naive to say that all people watch now rather than read. (Some people prefer to listen.) The goal is to provide a full range of content to appeal to the broadest audience.


July 27, 2010 Giles (Webconomist)

Great post Shannon and agree with you.
I might add: Contact Page
For corporate websites this seems to often fall to an address with a phone number and a Google Map. A company doesn’t want sales reps calling so it establishes gates…but this also stops potential customers from connecting.

Add to that all the various forms a customer/prospect can contact a business; Skype, Twitter, Facebook, email, phone…of course that also means that someone needs to be on the other end. In addition, perhaps there are different reasons someone wants to connect; service, research, sales, partnering. Those can be addressed on a static site page as well I think.


July 27, 2010 Shannon Paul

Giles – Absolutely! I can’t believe I forgot that. It’s always good to make it easy for others to find you and connect with your business.


July 27, 2010 Brandon Chesnutt

Landing pages = win.

If coded correctly, they can quickly become one of the most effective weapons in a company’s search arsenal. You just need to make sure that you’re using all the tools in the toolbox, like unique URLs, video sitemaps, etc. Additionally, if the pages under perform, tweaks to content or CTA can be implemented pretty quickly.

At my agency, we use landing pages as a passive lead generator. Pages are set up to funnel potential inquiries via search engines. I’m not saying that is the best strategy for every organization, but it works pretty well for us.

Good luck at the conference. I’ll try and eavesdrop via Twitter. Hopefully, there will be some great takeaways.



July 27, 2010 Shannon Paul

Brandon – Great points about landing pages. Thanks for sharing what works for you. I hope people attending the conference (and eavesdropping on Twitter) find some good takeaways. Thanks again!


July 27, 2010 Brian Ambrozy

We have many of those strategies ironed out at Icrontic, but we still have to encourage people to share our content on their own social networks. There’s almost a culture gap for communities that have been around a long time: People sort of “forget” they’re on a website that has content that can be shared, even if they have their own social networks and they’re sharing content from other, newer sites.

For more established sites with “stale” communities, it can help shake things up to reward people for sharing content somehow, or even just ask them nicely.

A lot of times, I feel that social blogs are speaking to people who are new to the game and still trying to learn their way around the new marketplace. There are unique challenges, however, for those who have been doing this for a while and need to re-learn it all.

A lot of great points here, Shannon :)


July 27, 2010 Shannon Paul

Brian – so true about asking for people to help out with sharing. Asking actually works! I should have you write a guest post some day about your experience with Icrontic. I think it’s a great story that shows how important it is to keep up with new trends even when you have already have a strong community. Great stuff!


July 27, 2010 John Akerson

Hi Shannon –
Your one sentence is amazing:
“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.”

I was analyzing some web traffic for a customer – >80% of their traffic came from social media, but digging deeper showed they were losing that traffic. Average page views from that traffic from social media was about 1.2. Average page views from search engines were >5. A redesign of their landing pages from their customer’s perspective – to deliver value TO their customers would make all the difference. They have their baseline…


July 28, 2010 Shannon Paul

John – what an interesting insight and good for you for digging in to see what can be done to improve the situation. So many others would simply throw up their hands. Although the nature of some forms of traffic will be to stick around for less time.

Twitter and StumbleUpon are great at stimulating traffic to a page, but not so good at getting people to stick around. I think the important thing to think about there is getting a good variety of ways to share content. Email has a horrible click-through rate in general when shared via a share button, but the few who do click through tend to stick around the longest. Same is true for a site like Delicious (unless you happen to get on the “popular” page. In addition to landing pages this is why it’s so important to get traffic from a variety of sources, especially when you’re looking for those visitors to engage in a specific action… of course there are always exceptions, but landing pages do offer you the opportunity to do a lot of testing with different types of content and CTAs. Let me know how it goes :)


July 28, 2010 Robert Burns, II

Great takeaway points, Shannon. Excellent post, and extremely relevant. I love how you talk about how it’s 2010, and certain things are just a given.

SO many people either forget or ignore this (I think it’s the latter), but then again, these are the same people asking “how can I improve my website’s community” and “make it more social.”

They’d do well to take heed to your article.

Again, good stuff.


July 28, 2010 Brent Pohlman

Wow! – One of the best posts I have read on websites and social media integration. I feel like I went to class today. Thanks for sharing. I am printing your post off and using it as a checklist.
Brent Pohlman
Midwest Laboratories


July 28, 2010 Ramsey Mohsen

Good post. I want to add to your list. Don’t forget about the context of visit …specifically email. More than half of people who sit down at their computer- the first thing they do is check their email. Having an effective e-mail strategies and tactics in place is essential. E-mail is easy to measure. There is no questionable ROI when you talk about email. You can measure it. Your customers either opened the email or they didn’t. They clicked-through or they didn’t. The purchased something or they didn’t. The tools to measure and track this are not hard to put in place. Many advanced techniques and testing strategies exist like A/B testing, multivariate, and segmentation.

In regards to UX, it’s essential to think about the context of the visit -from- the email to your website. You want to keep furthering them along into getting them the information they need …and then ultimately drive some call-to-action or purchase.

Hope that helps add to your list Shannon! Best of luck with the panel, I’m sure you’ll #killit #rockout


July 28, 2010 Heather Rast

Shannon, while you cover several components of a socialized user experience for online touchpoints (which I thoroughly enjoyed), I’d like to explore pushing the discussion to include offline touchpoints as well.

I work for an eCommerce company, and by nature a good chunk of our customer’s experience with our brand is through online channels–our website, YouTube channel, Facebook page (although interestingly, notsomuch Twitter, little Yelp, etc.). But we need to think beyond the screen and ensure the remaining elements are consistently branded and extend key messages. I’m talking about mundane stuff like packing slips, invoices, box design, fulfillment literature, and print catalogs. As you suggest, these elements do all accrue to solidify a brand position in a customer’s head. The real opportunity is to bridge off- to on- to strategically, holistically achieve business goals.

Thanks for the inspiration! @heatherrast


July 30, 2010 Sean - Seo Australia

I don’t remember if it was you who spoke about the importance of relevancy in social media? However, as you said, yes, social media marketing needs an optimization of content/text that will attract the audience just as in case we optimize a website for users via search engines.

If it is on facebook, you need to check out how many people are commenting rather clicking on ‘Like’ . If you just get people more selecting like, it may mean you are not up the level of your customers needs.

If it is on website, try avoiding inline text links. They are highly distracting the users attention from the real content on the page/site.


July 31, 2010 Allan

I actually think that Social will make SEO stronger. It will change SEO but the result will be higher rankings because social data and links will weight more heavily in the near future.


August 9, 2010 the Success Ladder

Thank you very much for sharing this. I have subscribed to your RSS feed. Please keep up the good work.


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September 19, 2011 Nat

Please, remove this annoying social bar that appears from nowhere when we reach the end of the content. I believe it fits in the “don’t force the relationship” :-)


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{ 5 trackbacks }

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