Sunday, June 7, 2009

Social Media Communities: Rules of Engagement

Balance of design, function and engagement
As an active social media advocate, I've found some sites are so much more intuitive to navigate and engaging than others. I'm a firm believer that the quality of engagement is sometimes a lot more important than quantity. I would encourage social media and community networks to "listen" to your audience and apply some basic user-experience fundamentals:

Why ask for everything upfront? You risk losing a potential customer and avid follower.
  • Implement an Open ID platform instead...just the basics...e-mail address as the user name and a password that has already been established with other community/social sites. You've made it so simple to register and that much faster to now engage a new follower.

  • Facebook and LinkedIn allows you to complete your full profile at your leisure. Sites that require a birth date upfront really is annoying. Sites that make it optional, even partially filled, is much more empowering to the user. Even better is choosing what information I want made public. MySpace offered that option but it was very difficult to find.

User Interface
This is a critical factor. Even more so when you have a complex architecture with lots of features. Simplicity is the key word here. There are some community sites whose pages are sooo busy and confusing, I rarely go back to visit. Here are other issues that come immediately to mind:
  • Branding - Do you really need a massive logo or header that explains the site on every single page? Once a value proposition was explained in the pre-registration process, the meat of your site should be all about engaging your users with your brand. The design, functions and features should also resonate your brand hallmarks. If your brand claim is innovation, then show some feature, content or functionality that's innovate. Remember...the "user experience" also equates to the "brand experience" as well.

  • Ad Space - Is it starting to get in the way of important content? Some ad placements are so huge that it pushes down the content or feeds on the page thus having to scroll down. Some sites need to revisit and restructure their ad placement.

  • Navigation - A good user interface implements a standard global navigation and visual cues so the users know where they are at all times. Regardless of a new section within your site, keep the navigation consistently placed. Imposing a new set of navigational elements on a new section without a consistent global navigation will confuse your users.

  • Load times - When experiencing long load times, I immediately exit the site. Especially if it holds up everything and makes my computer inoperable. Are your graphics, Flash components and ads optimized? Where are your videos streaming from? Check all your add-ons. Are too many widgets part of the problem? Long load times are indicators that elements on the page are not fully optimized or there are just too many add-ons or widgets. Be selective.

It's hard to believe in this day and age that e-commerce sites are not implementing good practices:
  • Purchasing an item should be intuitive and trackable. I just went online to order parts for a grill. After going through the online purchasing process, there was no confirmation page or e-mail confirmation of my purchase. Again, this should be a standard practice so users are assured their order went through and a means by which to track it.

  • If you need to include a :60 video on how to purchase an item on your site, then maybe you should revisit the design flow and function of the purchasing process.

  • Include a "back to search results" or "continue shopping" function after a user stores an item in their shopping cart or wish list. And take the user back to the search result list or category they were previously in. A lot of stock photo sites implement this feature quite well.

  • On the top of my wish list is for social commerce sites to create an incentive program for repeat buyers. And don't tease me with free shipping only good for a period of time. I may not be in the market at that moment, so inevitably the e-mail gets deleted. Incentivising your users will surely win you repeat customers.

Again, these should be standard best practices:
  • Just listing who posted a commented doesn't prompt me to visit the site. Include the comment within the e-mail with a link to view or respond.

  • Via CAN-SPAM laws, if someone unsubscribes from your site, you should honor their request at least 10 days after they've opted out.

  • On your unsubscribe confirmation page, allow the user to describe why they're leaving. Advise them you'll use this valuable information to assist and drive new practices and tactics when revamping the site.

Companies that require you to provide a W-9 form in order to receive a prize you've won is another big turn off. Why would I want to give away personally identifiable information, especially a Tax ID...come on! After validating who you are, a full name and mailing address should be all that's required. (It's true...a company actually asked for a W-9 form!)

I've visited some sites where the community group's message never changes. I urge you to enlighten me with something new and interesting. You've given the message prime real estate on your site, so here's an opportunity to motivate and compel your audience with a reason to come back.

Another missed opportunity is commenting back on some of the community posts...not just moderating them. It reinforces that you're really "listening" and value their input. Perceived perception is extremely important.

Here are other articles that will impart some knowledge of the "do's and dont's" when establishing an online presence:

In closing, there's a huge opportunity to enhance your brand relationship with your customers. Through simplicity in design, function and information architecture, you create positive experiences. Through innovative and compelling tactics, you build traction. If you decide to implement any changes, be transparent about it and continually encourage feedback. And don't forget to really "listen." You'll gain loyal followers who, by word-of-mouth (WOM), will inevitably market the site for you.

Are there any further insights you would recommend?


  1. Totally agree with your statement about the importance of "simplicity" and "listening" in social networks! Spot on!!

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