Last year I purchased a new effects unit for my guitar on the recommendation of people whom I consider to be on the cutting edge of the guitar world. I figured that if other guitarists were using these new, instantly accessible digital effects with exciting names such as echo platter delay, barberpole phaser, ring modulator and octisynth, I should be using those effects too.
True to its word, my new effects unit came jam-packed with enough effects to make your head spin. Like any good guitarist, I quickly turned on half a dozen of my new effects, plugged in my guitar and strummed my first chord expecting to hear guitar magic.
What I got instead was a muddy, unrecognizable sonic mess.
The effects unit wasn’t to blame for my sonic mess; in fact, the tools are quite powerful—that is, when they are used correctly, with sufficient knowledge and with sufficient restraint.
The same logic applies to the ever-changing world of social media and its impact on your website.
It seems that every other day we are presented with a new social media site with easily integrated plug-ins for your website that promise endless exposure for your product or service and millions of visitors for your website. Too many times I come across a website that has “Like it” “Send it” “Tweet it” “Pin it” “+1” and more buttons plastered all over the screen without any apparent strategy or organization.
A thorough explanation of best practices for using social media is beyond the scope of this article and has been written about ad nauseam should you need a primer on how to get started. Instead let’s spend a few minutes looking at the integration options for the key social media sites as they relate to the three basic functions that suppliers and distributors are adding to their websites:
- Follow me (or my company) – getting visitors to follow your website/company/business
- Share this with your friends – getting visitors to share specific products/services/articles with their friends and the internet ecosphere
- Check out what I’ve been sharing/posting – adding dynamic content to your website to keep visitors informed of your recent activity
Unless you’ve been hiding out on Mars you probably have a personal account on Facebook, set up a page for your business and you’ve quite possibly added a “Like it” or “Send it” button to your website. If you’ve done either of the latter two, congratulations—you earn a gold star.
Follow me: The simplest of all Facebook integration techniques is to download the Facebook icon, add it to a prominent spot on your website and link it to your Facebook page. If your website is generally used to sell products and your Facebook page is where you conduct an ongoing dialogue about your products, services or industry trends, adding a link to your Facebook page is a logical addition to your website.
Share this: A step up from providing a basic link to your Facebook page, the “Like” and “Send” buttons can be integrated into your website in such a way that people can share specific products from your website on Facebook. In other words, when someone is viewing the “Custom Super Widget” on your website, “liking” that product posts a link (and image) on Facebook that links back to the Custom Super Widget on your website. Integrating this functionality on your website takes a bit more work than simply dropping a line of code into your website header; it requires that the code to generate those buttons is dynamic (i.e., changes) for each product page on your website. There are web hosting providers in the industry that have already integrated this functionality into their platforms, so if you are unsure about whether your provider offers this feature, or if you need help with integration, contact your service provider.
Check out my recent activity: Facebook’s “activity feed” plug-in is an easy way to provide some dynamic content to your website. If you are like many out there who do not have the time or resources to continually update your website pages as often as you should, adding the Facebook activity feed is an easy way to provide a stream of your recent posts including links to pertinent articles, product specials and more. The activity stream does not require any technically advanced integration; simply grab the code provided by Facebook and drop it into an appropriate spot on your site.
Get Facebook plug-ins at http://developers.facebook.com/docs/plugins
While your Twitter feed can simply be a truncated mirror of your Facebook posts, many successful suppliers and distributors employ different strategies when it comes to the two social networks. While Facebook allows you to post photos and supporting copy, Twitter posts are limited to 140 characters; therefore, the way in which you use the two may differ dramatically.
Follow me: As with Facebook, encouraging your customers, friends, vendors and others to “follow” you on Twitter is a great first step. In doing so, users who follow your Twitter profile will see anything that you “tweet” including articles, product specials or other important news.
Share this: Similar to Facebook’s “Like” or “Send” buttons, Twitter’s “tweet this” button allows a user to post a link to a specific product or page on your website. Unlike Facebook, the “tweet” button doesn’t post a picture or a lengthy description, but it does provide a link back to that specific page or product on your site providing yet another method of viral content sharing on your website. Integrating a page or product-specific “tweet this” button does require a bit of technical integration, so check with your website provider for more details.
Check out my recent activity: Like Facebook’s activity feed, Twitter’s “Profile Widget” provides an easily integrated tool to allow your Twitter posts to be displayed directly on your website.
Get Twitter plug-ins at https://twitter.com/about/resources
While not as readily visible on websites in the promotional products industry as its other social media brethren, LinkedIn is still an important social media platform and, used effectively, provides another important means of referral traffic for your website. If you haven’t set up a company profile on LinkedIn yet, now is the time to do it.
Follow me: Relatively new to LinkedIn offerings for webmasters is the one-click “Follow Company” plug-in. Adding the Follow Company button to your website can quickly grow your community page following and allow you to quickly and easily engage with your followers, customers, prospects and leads. You can encourage users to like, share and comment on your posts, carry on industry-specific discussions and build relationships.
Share this: Similar to Facebook’s “Like” buttons and Twitter’s “Tweet this” button, LinkedIn’s “inShare” button allows visitors to your website one-click access to share pertinent articles (e.g., from your blog), products (from your catalog), or pages on their LinkedIn profiles. As users share content from your website on LinkedIn, other LinkedIn users with similar interests see this content along with the links back to your website. The inShare button is one more powerful way to generate discussion and encourage referral traffic to your website. Visit the link below or talk to your hosting provider to learn how to integrate it into your website.
Check out my recent activity: While LinkedIn doesn’t have a specific “activity feed” along the lines of Facebook and Twitter, it does have numerous other plug-ins that allow you to embed your LinkedIn company profile and other information on your website. Visit LinkedIn for more information to find out which plug-ins might fit into your social media strategy
Get LinkedIn plug-ins at https://developer.linkedin.com/plugins
The Google +1 button is Google’s answer to Facebook’s “like” button with one distinct difference: its integration with Google search results. When a user marks a page on your site with “plus one” they are giving it their digital stamp of approval, and that information is used to rank results when other Google users within your circle of friends or business associates perform their own searches.
Follow me: Businesses can set up a Google+ page and then add a badge or +1 button to their sites that allow visitors to start following your updates. From your Google+ page you can post articles, links and photos, and control which “circles” of users see your posts. This can be a useful tool if you want to post specific updates for existing customers, business associates and new prospects.
Share this: When the +1 button is integrated on product-specific pages of your website, visitors are essentially recommending that product to their circle of friends and followers. Once posted to your Google+ page, other users will see the post and have the ability to comment, share or +1 your post. Embedding a +1 button on product specific pages is very similar to adding a “like” or “tweet this” button in that it requires the code be configured to pass the specific link to that product. Check with your hosting provider to find out if you have the ability to enable the +1 button on your catalog pages.
Check out my recent activity: The hub of your activity on Google is your Google +1 page for your business. There are a number of Google+ widgets that allow you to post your activity stream directly on your website.
Get the Google +1 button at http://www.google.com/webmasters/+1/button/
Pinterest is the veritable new kid on the block that has recently generated more e-mails and questions than any of the others. If you aren’t familiar with Pinterest or how it might benefit you as a distributor or supplier, it is worth spending some time on the site and reading some of the many recent articles that have been published regarding Pinterest’s impact on businesses.
At its core, Pinterest is a photo-sharing site that allows users to “pin” photos (with links) on various “boards” they create. We are already seeing a number of suppliers and distributors who have created Pinterest accounts and launched a set of boards to share (i.e., “pin”) their products as well as pin other related products, links and collateral materials. A handful of forward-thinking companies have been hard at work creating theme-related boards such as those related to wedding ideas, sporting event ideas, corporate promotion and other common industry-related themes. We’re starting to see more industry companies setting up Pinterest accounts as a means of generating leads and referral traffic.
In fact, Pinterest drove more referral traffic to websites in January than YouTube, Google +1, and LinkedIn combined, according to Shareaholic’s Referral Traffic Report. If referral traffic is what you’re after, Pinterest certainly is not to be ignored.
Follow me: You guessed it—there is a button that will allow your visitors to follow you on Pinterest. As with the other social networks, you will have a presence on Pinterest once you sign up for an account. People who follow you will see images of things that you (and others) pin to your boards.
Share this: Pinterest’s answer to the “like” and “tweet this” buttons is the “Pin it” button. We are starting to see suppliers and distributors integrate this button into their individual product pages, which is allowing visitors to pin specific products on Pinterest.
Check out my recent activity: At the time of this writing there is not a specific method of embedding your “boards” onto your website (other than a fully customized integration), but it seems it is only a matter of time before Pinterest launches this functionality and you will be able to have a page on your website that displays your updated Pinterest boards in real-time.
Get Pinterest plug-ins at http://pinterest.com/about/goodies/
There are dozens of other social media sites with hundreds of plug-ins and integration possibilities, but the ones discussed here are those that we have seen used by suppliers and distributors in our industry on an increasingly regular basis. Just remember, when you’re ready to start “plugging in” to social media sites, take one step at a time and learn one platform at a time. Draft a social media plan, clearly define what it is that you hope to accomplish, set goals, lay out the steps that you plan to take in order to achieve those goals and define how you intend to measure your progress and results. To get started pick one tool that is closely aligned with your goals, read everything you can about how to use it, how to integrate it and how to monitor it.
Now I know that if I had started with the echo platter delay by itself instead of turning on six new effects at one time, the initial results with my guitar might have been much more pleasing to the ear than the muddy, unrecognizable sonic mess that I got. Once you’ve mastered your first social media implementation you’ll be ready to move on to the other plug-ins and take command of your social media world without risking a blown fuse.
David Shultz is the vice president of operations for industry e-commerce provider DistributorCentral (UPIC: DC), headquartered in Gardner, Kansas. Shultz works closely with industry suppliers and distributors to develop e-commerce-enabled websites, business solutions and social media implementations.