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4 steps for creating usable social media

4 steps for creating usable social media Jessica Want

Over the past few decades, the study of usability has yielded best practices to ensure that websites and other forms of digital communication achieve the desired business results. Social communications should be sure to adhere to these tried-and-true principles in order to achieve maximum effectiveness.

So, how can you be sure people can use your social media? Here's where you can start.

Become a behavioral scientist 
The first step to great usability is observing human behavior. Study your users' social media behaviors. What do they do? How do they act, speak, and interact? Observation will help you learn to connect with them. Do your clients share photos, read blogs, or use Twitter? 

Go where they are. Become a member of the same social media outlets and listen in. Are they vocal users who comment, or are they passively using social media for research? 

At the same time, become your client. How is language used? What kind of comments are they making? What are their other interests? Participate in their world and learn their behaviors. Knowledge of your audience demographic is not enough. You need to know how they behave, where they go, what they do, and what they say -- and how that can benefit your brand.

Create the space
Users are not interested in talking about products. They are interested in talking about their lives, and products are part of those lives. Build meaningful relationships with your consumers by supporting their needs and understanding your brand's role in their lives. 

The Gold Medal Flour baking blog does this well. Who is interested in talking about flour? It's just flour, right? But consumers are interested in baking. 

Gold Medal created the blog with Rose Levy Beranbaum, a real person who shares her recipes. Beranbaum builds relationships with users around their interests, not the product or brand. She uses Gold Medal, and thanks to her recipes, the audience probably will too.
Create a space where consumers can meet around shared interests. When they talk about your products, listen. And even if they don't talk about your product, continue to listen. Glean what you can from their conversations, respond, and create an environment that supports them.

Support simplicity
Social media is just plain fun. Regardless if you are engaged in a political blog or looking for classmates, the interaction and banter is irresistible. Recognize that you are creating a space where your clients will talk about you. It's your job to support their conversation, and make it happen smoothly.
First, make getting involved easy. Fast registration like Facebook Connect (authentication in three clicks) is now the expectation. Basic tasks of engagement, like posting a comment, should happen without jumping through many hoops.

Second, choose clarity over jargon. Whether you have a niche network or a Twitter account, talk like your users do. Avoid being overly technical, unless of course your users are. 

Finally, test how your audience interacts with your site, blog, or social media element. Social media can establish a relationship, but if it's too difficult to engage, nobody will bother. 

The best way to figure this out is to conduct simple usability tests with four to six people. Watch where they trip up and find out if they feel frustrated. Do they feel free to engage effortlessly? When they do, the conversation can begin.

Join the conversation
Social media will humanize your brand. As this happens, your communication will have to become more direct and candid. In "Groundswell," authors Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff suggest you listen to what your consumers say about you and then respond.

Actively listening and responding to user needs are classic principles of usability. Social media makes this easy, but comes with consequences. When they voice concerns, each consumer is now also voicing them to the other thousands following your brand. How you respond can make or break you, but you can provide support to other people having similar issues instantly. Keep in mind that users expect their problems will be responded to quickly, and by real people. 

Whole Foods, Dell, and JetBlue use Twitter for tech support communication with consumers. Instead of calling a service center, consumers can use social media to get responses to their problems and concerns. 

With social media, brands have the opportunity to correct missteps in real-time. Admit a mistake when you make one, and earn forgiveness. After all, to err is human. Brands that are transparent, acknowledge errors, and communicate their apologies are more likeable and regarded as trustworthy.

There has to be a reason for users to engage with you; a reason to interact is central to usability. Observe, listen, and create an easy way for your users to interact. Then be real and respond.

Jessica Want is information architect for Flightpath.

On Twitter? Follow Flightpath at @FlightpathNY. Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.

Jessica Want is a user experience designer and valuable part of Flightpath’s Bringing It to Digital™ team. She draws from a degree in psychology and a career background in the analysis of human-computer interaction. Her main focus at Flightpath is...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Jessica Want

2009, October 29

So true Maggie!

The age of marketing is changing. Where once brands played everything close to the vest (and dare I say, sometimes used much more subversive tactics), brands now have to adopt this new marketing ethos: transparency.

Thanks for your comment!

Commenter: Maggie Heatherman

2009, October 29

Great post! I think its hard for conservative brands to take that leap and actually interact with their brand in such a public sphere as social media, but those that do are seeing real results: like Dell, Whole Foods, etc. Very useful recommendations.