Thursday, December 14, 2006

SocNet - Leveraging Social Networking for Your Site (Part 1 of 3)

SocNet? Yes, you heard me right…

Lately, just like in the movie 1984, I've been trying to reduce my vocabulary by combining existing words. This one is long overdue, and stands for, of course, Social Networking.

Much has been discussed about the buzz around the success of sites like YouTube, Myspace and Facebook, and how they put the power of the internet back into the hands of the user. And as much as the “wow” factor is perpetually newsworthy, much less has been discussed about how you can leverage these types of applications, or simply learn from them to improve the relationship between you and your audience. What has been discovered is that internet users like to have control, and whether site owners like it or not, they have it. They like to be heard, they like to be popular, they like to be unique and to be listened to, and this is what SocNet has empowered them with.

Now how can you empower your audience? Well, understanding first that, depending on the type of site that you have, there can be many levels to your audience’s onsite relationship, and as Rick Tobin mentions in his latest sponsoredb2b blog post, You see, it’s not about getting more traffic; it’s about doing more with your traffic.

Attracting new visitors:

Myspace: Having a MySpace page is a good way to start at the grassroots level, incurring friends participating in group discussions, establishing your site and the people (or personality) of your organization as unique and personable. What this means is that there is potential for referrals as long as you manage your brand reputation effectively.

The other way to dramatically increase activity on your site is… and this is a longshot… if you have a tool or application that can make the life of MySpace users that much easier, then promote it heavily, and it will get eaten up. An example of this comes from the most recent Hitwise report on Consumer Generated Media, where Photobucket, an image hosting website has had a 43% increase in visits from March to September 2006, with 8 times the number of visits as the competitors such as Flickr. And, as of September, 57 % of all of that traffic was driven by MySpace… Something to chew on anyways.

Youtube: Not only is YouTube the Wunderkind of online video because they allow your friends and family to keep up with your zany college antics by visiting the YouTube site and dialing up your videos. It is also one more way to increase the engagement level of users on your own website too. Sites like YouTube and Google Video are not terribly selfish, and are willing to spread the wealth by offering site owners the code that enables you to place whatever video you want on your own website, saving you the bandwidth of serving the video yourself.

Also, if your site is one that benefits by having longer viewing sessions, for instance, an advertising model, then incorporating video is a natural fit. According to the same Hitwise report mentioned above, the average visitor session at YouTube runs approximately 18 and a half minutes, meaning plenty of exposure to your video content, but advertising as well.

Blog: Well, this one you’re more likely to be pretty familiar with, considering a blog is where you found this article. Anyways, blogs are strong tools for a slow build, with subscribers spreading the word, attracting an a
udience of “like types”. Normally a vocal group, your Blog audience will let you know if they are stirred into discussion by offering their opinion.

Reputation Management is extremely important at all times, especially with blogs. With so much content being generated by users, some of it is bound to be negative. But if you're proactive and have the capacity to diffuse heated situations and are up for some healthy, sometimes passionate discussion, then you can weather that storm, and gain respect from those reading about you as the "faceless organization."

Here are a few of my favorites just to give you a head start, comment to your heart’s content:

Web Analytics World
Sponsored B2B
SEO Space
Out Of My Gord
Demystifying Usability

Professional Communities: There are also a number of highly recommended professional communities to establish yourself and your site in. Ryze, or LinkedIn, are 2 such communities that allow professionals to connect in much the same way that MySpace has done for the average user, except the popularity on these types of sites is much more focused to the industry that the user is involved in. By establishing yourself as an authority in your industry and collecting a list of other connections that recommend you as well, there is plenty of opportunity to leverage that into networking or career opportunities, consulting offers, new ventures or business deals, as indicated by the contact options in your own profile.

This is something that cannot be faked, and as long as you have a good product, or offer some knowledge in your area of expertise that others can find informative or innovative, then put yourself out there.

Orkut (a Google property) is similar in fashion to both LinkedIn and Ryze, but is somewhat less focused on business or industry, and is open to general profiles as well. Orkut was, until recently, unavailable to the public, but for those waiting to get an invite from the exclusive club don’t have to wait anymore, now you’re allowed through the front door.

This is one article in a series of 3 articles about ways to leverage SocNet throughout the entire relationship of your audience to the website. This article is looking specifically into how to attract new visitors using consumer generated media, and will be followed by 2 more articles:

Improving the Experience Once Your Audience is on the Site

Post Purchase or Continuing the Relationship.


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