Wondering when to use the Facebook "like" button on your site and when to use "share"? You're not alone. Used together and in the right combination, "like" and "share" are powerful tools for driving referral traffic from social networks, opening new communication channels with customers and prospects, and building relationships with your best advocates.
Driving referral traffic is the first significant benefit of social sharing, as shared activity, content, and products are now pushed to the user's network of friends, enabling them to discover what's new and worthwhile with little effort. But sharing technologies have evolved significantly in the last several months, making social sharing a renewed area of focus for most companies. In this article, you'll learn the best practices for "like" and "share," and how to put them to work for your business.
Best practice 1: Create a balanced "like" and "share" button strategy
Rather than choose one or the other, sites who combine "like" and "share" into the user experience see the greatest level of success in terms of driving referral traffic, building relationships, and learning more about their customers and visitors. Why? Not only do "like" and "share" have different strengths and different applications, they actually drive the most value when used in concert. Let's drill into the specifics.
The "like" button has many benefits. When clicked, an item is published to the person's Facebook feed, driving referral traffic to the website. If the user is already logged into Facebook, this is a one-click process. "Liking" adds data to the user's profile on Facebook: It is an easy way for users to make a connection with the things for which they have affinity -- just a single-click user experience. "Liking" also opens a new communication channel for the site that can subsequently publish news items to the feeds of Facebook users who have liked that item on their site.
Facebook recently released data on the value of a "liker," which provides compelling reasons for engaging them: "People who click the Facebook Like button are more engaged, active, and connected than the average Facebook user. The average "Liker" has 2.4x the amount of friends than that of a typical Facebook user. They are also more interested in exploring content they discover on Facebook -- they click on 5.3x more links to external sites than the typical Facebook user."
So where does the next generation of "share" functionality fit into this picture? Enabling share in addition to "like" enhances both the overall user experience as well as the power of the "like" button for the site. Sharing provides a way for people to express themselves and share with friends when "like" (or "recommend," which is another form of the "like" button) is not the appropriate sentiment. People typically "like" things or "social objects," but share activity. For example, if someone makes a comment on an article or reviews a product, they are more likely to want to "share" their point of view with friends rather than "like" it.
When a Facebook user clicks the "like" button, the website hosting the button does not get access to information about that user or about the "like." Adding sharing to the site effectively closes the data loop, as current social technologies -- including Facebook's Graph API -- ask a person to connect with a website the first time he or she chooses to share something. Once a user connects, the site then can access that specific user's "like" data and apply it to its own site to personalize the user experience.
Here is an example of an effective application of both "like" and "share."
Best practice 2: Enable sharing to multiple social networks
To drive the most referral traffic, enable your users to "share" to multiple social channels. Not only do people want choice when it comes to connecting and sharing, but many social channels have feeds and are quite effective at driving referral traffic. Facebook is clearly an important option, but the data below illustrates why providing multiple options matters when it comes to applying second-generation social technologies.
You can also help maximize referral traffic by enabling your site visitors to "share" to multiple social channels simultaneously, as New York Daily News and American Eagle Outfitters do in the examples below.
Best practice 3: Make sharing dynamic
There are two primary ways to make sharing an active, dynamic, and more social experience for your website. The first is to build sharing into key activity flows where appropriate so that it becomes a natural extension of the user experience. For example, when someone takes a poll, completes a quiz, makes a comment, or rates an item, it is natural to add the option to share as the final step in the process. You can also create a frictionless user experience by giving your users the option to "always share this type of activity" or "never share this activity" as YouTube has done effectively with video sharing. The YouTube user dashboard is shown below:
The second way to use sharing to create a dynamic site experience is to publish sharing activity to an on-site activity feed. In this example, The Home Depot brings a sense of activity and community to an otherwise static page by publishing the shares and other key actions of their users from all social platform to a site-specific feed.
Best practice 4: Use sharing to build relationships
Today's sharing technologies are based on the concept of first establishing a relationship between the user and the site, wherein the user connects their social identity to the website via an explicit permission or authentication step. This is an enormous win for both the site and marketers because it establishes the foundation for a relationship. Most people associate authentication with registration or log-in, but the process can be woven into a variety of social activities, from sharing to community features, creating far more opportunities for any site to make that connection. This is an enormous win for marketers, as a connected user typically comes with rich social network profile data, including a pre-validated email address, and that user's "likes" across the web, which can help the business personalize the site experience and communicate with that person more effectively.
The "like" button also provides an opportunity to build relationships. While the site does not have information on any individual user, the entity that was "liked" can publish relevant activity to the "likers" as a group. For example, a children's apparel retailer could promote an end of season sale to "likers" of its winter coats. A publisher could publish pieces by op-ed writers to people who "like" a particular op-ed piece.
Best practice 5: Optimize shared content for the feed and user profile
While some content might be intrinsically more interesting than others, one thing is certain: Presentation counts when it comes to driving referral traffic. Optimizing all the elements of what is published to a user's feed is important for both "likes" and "shares."
Prominence on Facebook means it's more likely that the Facebook algorithm will actually display a "like" to people in the user's network, or to more people in their network, so taking the time to use the XFBML version and enable commenting is highly worthwhile. Optimizing "likes" for the feed also involves adding Open Graph tags with information that Facebook can pull when someone clicks the "like" button. To optimize for the feed, in addition to information that categorizes each item within the Open Graph, sites should also be sure to specify the image and text that will show in the feed item:
Shared items should similarly be optimized for maximum exposure. One of the advantages of the latest generation of sharing technologies is that you have full control over the image and body text for shared content, as well as the hyperlinks that appear at the bottom of the feed item. In this example, the item published includes a photo that supports the content, text that moves a user to take action, and a link at the bottom that specifically drives more people to the original site to take the poll:
Best practice 6: Track referral traffic from sharing activity
Capturing referral traffic data is a key part of optimizing your site for social referral traffic, not unlike how web analytics is applied for search engine optimization. If you are working with a social technology vendor, it should at a minimum provide consolidated cross-network analytics, and ideally more granular and actionable detail. Online businesses should track and act on three key areas:
Area 1: The percent of "shares" and referral traffic coming from each of the social networks. Including a shortened URL with each shared item enables tracking at this level. Key metrics include: monthly and yearly growth in traffic referred by social networks; referral traffic by users sharing content from the website, as differentiated from marketing efforts originating on social sites; and number of referral clicks per shared item and by referring social site.
Area 2: The specific site content and activities that drive the highest volume of sharing activity. Ask vendors if they are able to track sharing and referral traffic by content ID so that you can determine where to focus your efforts on both dynamic sharing activities and content development.
Area 3: Key influencers: When sharing is tied to authentication, you should be able to track which of your customers or visitors are sharing the most, which are driving the most referral traffic, and even which are driving sales. Businesses can then engage these key influencers with special offers, elite status, and by providing even more opportunities to spread the word.
Liza Hausman is the vice president of marketing at Gigya.
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