Like it or loathe it, you can’t ignore the fact that the social Web is here to stay. (Personally, I’m not a big fan, but that’s just me.) A lot of people seem to be using the Internet only via the social media these days – to the extent that some of them even prefer to communicate by Facebook rather than by email.
So if they’re all on the social Web, how do you get them to come and look at your site? By encouraging them to “share” your content with their social network, of course.
How do I get people to “share” from my site?
For a start, you’ll want to make it easy for people to “share” your content. There are various ways you can do this.
Using the networks’ native sharing functions
These usually require you to place a button somewhere on your page, together with a snippet of code in your page header.
This can be time-consuming if you have several sites you want people to “share” from. It can also be fraught with difficulties if you’re using several different buttons, as the code for one may interfere with another’s operation.
Using a third-party button or widget
These gather together several of the social networks’ “share” codes into one button, which you may or may not be able to customise to some degree. Some examples of these buttons are AddThis, ShareThis and Lockerz’s AddToAny button. Some of these buttons even provide analytics for how your site’s being shared.
One advantage is that many of these third-party widgets are available as plugins to popular content management systems such as WordPress and Joomla!, which means it’s even easier to install and configure them.
There are some downsides to these buttons, though. Although they highlight the more popular services, they’re actually much more far-reaching than that, offering links to a lot of obscure services – perhaps on the basis of “Well, you never know which of them might be the next Facebook…”. As a result, they’re full of code bloat, although it’s possible to customise them so that you don’t include so many networks.
Many of them have pop-up windows which appear when the user hovers on the button. If you’ve been careless about where you place the button so that the pop-up obscures some other crucial part of the page, this can be quite annoying.
Privacy may also be a concern. Some of these sharing widgets (though not apparently AddToAny, which I use on this site) collect data using flash cookies, de-personalise it and pass it to advertisers. At one stage, the AddThis widget even used to revive deleted cookies, although they stopped doing this after it attracted criticism. It may be possible to opt out of this kind of data harvesting, but the knowledge that it’s going on at all may put some visitors off using it.
Is that all there is to it?
Well, no – not unless your site already has a stream of loyal followers that love it and want to share it with all their friends. There are two other things you’ll need to do – one essential, the other at least highly desirable.
The first, if you haven’t already guessed, is to create something that people will want to share. Just because it’s new, doesn’t mean it’s entertaining or even mildly interesting. Try to create content that will really grab people’s attention and capture their imagination. (Easier said than done, I know!)
The second is to build up a network of your own, which means engaging with the social media yourself. Create a profile associated with your site, and muck in with all the banter. Do a bit of “liking”, “sharing” and retweeting yourself, and don’t be afraid to let your own personality come through – in fact, do your best to make sure it does, otherwise your presence on the social media will look like a glorified web feed.
Are there any other pitfalls?
Hmm. There’s the whole issue of copyright, which I’ve already discussed in the context of Pinterest. So be careful how you choose your sharing networks.
Social sharing can be a great way of bringing a lot of attention to your site, but it’s not just going to fall into your lap – unless you’re lucky enough to go viral, you’ll need to put your share of hard work into it too.