User Experience Design Blog

Commentary on strategy and design of interactive products.

20 Ways to Supercharge Any Social Media Website

October 2nd, 2008 by Sergio Paluch

Social media includes community-based video, photo, audio, and news websites as well as blogs. Although each of these types of websites has unique content and dynamics, they are also alike in many ways. This article explores various ways to get the most out of any social media site.

Social media sites rely on user-generated or user-submitted content to draw other users (visitors). In turn, users add content to these sites because they reach a broader audience. Additionally, the social interactions that are made possible by these websites create further draw. It is in these three areas - sharing, consuming, and interacting - that social websites can be optimized.

Empower Dissemination and Interaction

Don’t let the website’s content sit idle. One of the most difficult things in creating and running a successful social media site is amassing content, whether it be video or news story submissions. That is why it is critical to get the most of out the content by allowing and encouraging users to disseminate it throughout the web and fostering various interactions that bring that content to life and build a community around it.

1. Let users submit content to third-party social news and bookmarking services like Del.icio.us, Digg, StumbleUpon, etc.

Few ways to promote a website’s content are more effective than submitting it or links to it on social news and social bookmarking services like Del.icio.us, Digg, and StumbleUpon. These websites and applications can expose the site’s content to a massive audience, and the more users submit and vote for it, the greater exposure the content will get.

Most of these sites have custom links and buttons that can be implemented on the site’s content pages. There are also very useful services like AddThis and ShareThis that do most of the heavy lifting and create widgets that users can use to submit content to most of the popular social news and bookmarking sites.

Bookmarking and Sharing on Social News and Bookmarking Sites on Slideshare

Slideshare.net uses both custom buttons as well as third party plug-ins to allow users to bookmark its content.

2. Let users embed media with easy to find embed code

Any social media site that procures its content via a player or viewer can make that content available on practically and HTML web page. It is as simple as making available the embed code for each piece of content. Users can then copy that code and paste it into the source code of any web page they wish. Even if they do not have access to the HTML code or do not know how to edit it, most other sites and online applications, such as most blogging software, make embedding such viewers and players rather simple.

As users embed the site’s content throughout the web, they help to promote its content as well as its brand and create pathways to the site.

Embed code on Slideshare

Slideshare.net prominently displays the embed code for the corresponding media.

3. Let users email link to media to friends

Numerous studies show that family and friends are extremely effective influencers. People are very likely to try something if someone they trust recommends it to them. That is why allowing users to recommend the site’s content to their friends, family and colleagues is so important. Allowing users to easily share the site’s content through email can generate significant traffic. Not only that, those users that navigate to the site through such email recommendations are likely to be more engaged with the site since their interests and needs are probably quite similar to the person sending the email.

Email Recommendations on Docstoc

Docstoc makes it obvious how to send an email recommendation of its media.

4. Let users invite their email and IM contacts to the service and automatically link their accounts to inviting user account

Each user is a node in a social network, and as such, each user is a gateway to many other potential users. When new members sign up, why stop there? Give them functionality that will allow them to quickly and easily invite all of their email and IM contact to the website. Then, when their friends sign-up, automatically link their accounts.

Import friends on Imeem

imeem asks users that are registering if they want to check if their email contacts are already using it. Other sites like Facebook invoke this in other ways.

5. Let users create content hubs like groups or channels

One of the truly amazing things about social media websites is that they allow people to connect with complete strangers that happen to share their interests. The best way to help people with similar interests find each other is to allow them to create groups around those interests. Additionally, groups and similar content hubs such as channels aggregate like content so users can more easily find what they seek. Groups and other content hubs become destinations that keep users coming back time and again.

Groups on Slideshare

Slideshare.net allows its members to create groups around any interest, such as user experience design.

6. Let user bookmark content and share their bookmarked content with other users

Users often prefer to bookmark and store content from a site only on that site; this is how many people organize and manage their bookmarked content. Make sure to allow them to bookmark content from the site on the site itself. (This is also a great way to get users to register.) Don’t stop with bookmarking. Since your users have collected content that is most interesting and valuable to them, let them share this collection with others. Chances are their friends and other users will also find this collection of content appealing.

YouTube Favorites

YouTube allows users to bookmark content by adding it to their YouTube favorites that others can view on their profile page.

7. Allow users to make lists or collections of media that they can share

Sharing individual pieces on content is great, but sharing multiple pieces of content is better. Give you users the ability to make collections of content that they can share with other through email or other means.

YouTube Playlists

YouTube lets its users create collections of videos in ‘playlists’, which they can share with others.

8. Let users rank content

One of the things that distinguishes social media from traditional media is people’s involvement in valuing and ranking content. There are a number of traditional search engines that can help users find media such as video, but they do not directly factor in users’ input in ranking the results. By contrast, many social media sites allow users to evaluate and grade content, and when users look for particular media, they can see the highest-rated results first, for example.

9. Let users comment on content

The ability to generate dialogue around content is one of the main things that makes social media websites “social.” It creates a greater sense of inclusion and community leading to greater user loyalty and participation. Not only that, requiring users to register or sign-up to comment can be a significant source of new members. Many sites even take commenting one step further by allowing inline comments, video comments, and other variations.

10. Allow users to subscribe to media contributors

It is often true that users continue to contribute like content. If someone likes one piece of content from a particular contributor, they are very likely to enjoy others form the same person. Therefore, give users the ability to be notified whenever a particular contributor adds more content. This can even be automated in the form of a suggestion. For example, let users know whenever a contributor of a media that they have bookmarked adds something else.

11. Let users know when friends carry out other key interactions

Keep users engaged by messaging updates to let them know when their friends have added content or carried out other key interactions such as forming a group. People are curious what their friends on the social media site are doing. This will both encourage them to visit more often and may convince them to perform similar actions such as joining the group that their friend has created.

Make Suggestions to Encourage Exploration and Participation

Rather than leaving things to chance, help users make the best of the site by recommending content, groups, and other users that they can explore.

12. Let users know what is good on the site

Engage visitors exploring the site by showcasing the best content. Display content on the homepage or content page showing the most popular, most viewed, featured, most commented, or any other metric that indicates value and appeal. Not only does this increase the likelihood that something will catch a visitor’s eye, but it also helps to promote the quality of content on the site.

Hulu Featured Content

Hulu does a great job of promoting various high-quality and engaging content.

13. Suggest related media

If someone is viewing or listening to a particular piece of media, there is a very good chance that that user will be interested in other similar content. Make finding related content as easy as possible for the user by doing it for her and displaying it prominently where it will be seen.

YouTube Related

YouTube mastered this practice a long time ago by displaying related videos on the content page.

14. Suggest other media from contributor

As is true with related content, it is likely that the individual viewing or listening to a particular piece of content will find the contributor’s other content appealing. It tends to happen that individuals contribute content in one category or very related categories. For example, there are many contributors on YouTube that upload vast collections of soccer clips and nothing else. That being said, don’t forget to display more content from the contributor on the content page.

YouTube More From

Navigating via the More From [contributor] module is a very common and useful practice on YouTube.

15. Suggest content based on users’ interactions with media

We can learn a lot about users’ interests and needs based on their interactions. Amazon does this extremely well. If I look at a particular item on Amazon.com, they recommend other related items that are likely to appeal to me. Similarly, one can recommend related content based on a number of user interactions such as

  • Viewing particular content
  • Bookmarking content
  • Making a comment on particular media
  • Uploading or contributing content
  • Recommending or sharing media

16. Suggest members based on users’ interactions, associations, and interests

Social media sites are great at bringing together strangers with like interests, so why not help to facilitate these connections? Rather than leaving it to chance, the site can recommend other like-minded users based on a number of factors such as

  • Content that the users view
  • Content that the users save or bookmark
  • Content that the users upload
  • Interests that the users specify in their profile
  • Groups that the users join

17. Suggest groups or other content hubs based on users’ interactions

Help users find other content hubs based on ones that they have explored. For example, if a user becomes a member of a particular group, recommend other related groups that might be of interest. Similarly, if a user adds a particular channel, recommend other related channels. Other data points that can be used to trigger and determine these recommendations include

  • Joining a group or other hub
  • Creating a hub
  • Commenting on or within a hub
  • Adding content to a hub

Additional Ways to Supercharge a Social Media Website

18. Let users create events around content

Events centered around content keep users coming back as well as foster greater interactions among them, creating a stronger and deeper community. Providing functionality that allows users to create and administer such events makes it easy for members to put on seminars, discussions, collective viewings, and presentations. Few websites have thing functionality, so incorporating it can be a strong competitive advantage.

Slideshare Events

Slideshare.net allows users to create various events around its content - a feature community members love.

19. Organize events such as user polls and contests in which everyone can participate

One great way to get people to come to a social website is to put on a contest. Some social media websites like YouTube already put on contests offering prizes and other incentives. Such organized events motivate user participation and build a stronger, more sustainable community.

YouTube Contests YouTube has many contests running. Many of them are sponsored and generate revenue for the website.

20. Create widgets that allow users to share content from the website on third-party sites like Facebook, MySpace, iGoogle, NetVibes, etc.

One great way to get a site or product noticed is to bring it to the crowd rather than simply relying on the crowd to come to it. There are a number of popular websites that have huge numbers of people using them, and they allow and even encourage integration of third-party applications. This means that any social media website can create a widget for these websites. No matter what the media is, it can be displayed or played in a widget that can be accessed on huge sites like Facebook, MySpace, iGoogle, and NetVibes.

Together or alone, the above improvements can help to generate greater traffic, broader membership, and longer and happier user lifetime for practically any social media website.



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