social business, social media, social world

Search for your company name on any social network and you’re bound to find a lot of “chatter” about it. Some customers will complain about your product, while others rave. Some will have pointed questions about why things don’t work the way they should. If you’re lucky, others will jump in to provide an explanation or an alternative. You can be rest assured, though, that the chatter is happening.

Hopefully, you’re using software tools to identify the chatter and have a strategy in place to engage and respond to it. Those of you leading the charge in this arena are driving significant Return on Investment (ROI), in the form of lower customer service costs, higher customer satisfaction and increased revenue.

But what about your Web Content Management System (CMS) and website? Are you providing your visitors an equivalent platform to engage with you there? Adding a Twitter logo and a Twitter widget on your home page is not enough. To avoid being left behind, you need a Web CMS and website that provides the same interactivity and engagement that your visitors enjoy on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and elsewhere.

Let’s consider the benefits of enabling social interactions on your website.

Benefits of a Social Website

As website owners, we’re used to being in control. We control the user experience, from the information architecture to the imagery to the page content. To enable social interactions on your site, a different mindset is required and that’s one of enablement. As the enabler, your role is to provide the platform to facilitate:

  • Vendor-to-customer interactions
  • Customer-to-customer interactions

I refer to “customer” (above) in a broad sense that can include prospects and partners.

Vendor-to-customer covers the direct interactions between your customers and members of your organization. The interactions can include questions, survey responses, customer support, debate/discussion, product feedback and complaints. These valuable interactions help you get closer to your customers in an effective and cost-efficient manner: there’s no travel involved and members of your team can respond and reply in a manner that’s not time-bound.

In customer-to-customer interactions, you move to the sidelines as customers converse and collaborate with one another. Customers love this because they’re afforded the opportunity to collaborate and network with like-minded peers, who are faced with common business challenges.

If you can insert yourself in a useful manner, these flows can cross over. For instance, a customer thread about feature wish list items can be well served with an official statement (from your organization) about whether (and when) you plan to ship those features.

The combination of these social interactions allow the following to take place on your website:

  • Customer support (provided by you).
  • Customer support (provided by your community).
  • Product development / feature development.
  • Product advocacy (champions).
  • Identification of product improvement areas.
  • Product-related content (from the community) that drives revenue.

Tips and Tactics for Website Social Interactions

What came first, the community or the engagement? That’s my version of the “chicken and egg” question. A community without engagement is like a chicken without eggs. Here are some tips and tactics to generate and sustain vibrant social interactions on your website.

Remember Your Role (Hint: Enabler)

Think of web-based social interactions like the conversations at a cocktail party. As the host or hostess, you provide the venue, greet new guests, introduce them to other guests and serve them tasty appetizers and cocktails. Then, you politely step out of the way and move on to the guests who just arrived. Remember that you enable social conversations to occur, but don’t actively participate in all of them. Guide conversations, but don’t control them. When you attempt to exert control, you lose the trust of your guests.

Integrate Social Engagement with Site Content

Some conversations never get off the ground because they have no basis in which to begin. So what’s a good basis? All of the compelling content that you already have on your website. Strategically select certain page types and place social engagement adjacent to the page content. On your product pages, consider the placement of a Q&A feature that invites visitors to ask questions about your products. On your product release page, consider an Ideation module that invites visitors to submit ideas for new features. By placing these features throughout your site, you enable social conversations in a perfect setting: as visitors are actively navigating and researching.

Utilize Game Mechanics to Drive Desired Behaviors

If you haven’t heard about “gamification,” it’s not about adding games to your website. Instead, gamification is about applying game mechanics to “non-game” settings. Gamification tactics include badges, points, leaderboards, status levels and entitlements. To get started, consider enabling the default game mechanic settings (i.e. point values) provided by your vendor. In phase two, map out the desired behaviors of your website visitors and tune your gamification parameters to incentivize those behaviors. Think of gamification not as a discrete feature, but as a layer that sits across your entire community.

Conclusion

Social conversations about your product are happening right now, as you read this. Enabling social interactions on your website helps complement the dialog happening elsewhere. In addition, it provides visitors an additional platform to engage with you and your customers. The train is about the leave the station. Are you on board?

Image courtesy of Cienpies Design (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Check out Loni Kao Stark's 5 Tried and True Ways to Grow a Customer Community.