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How to design a socially engaging website

How to design a socially engaging website

EngageSciences chief executive officer Richard Jones explains how you can make your website more appealing

The world of digital marketing has fundamentally changed for businesses. Today they are forced to live a decentralised, some would say fragmented, existence in a range of web, social and mobile channels.

To succeed, they need to have credible presence and active involvement across all of them. And they need to expertly manage each channel to cater for the consumer at different stages of awareness, consideration, purchase, loyalty and advocacy.

Smart businesses are responding to the proliferation of digital channels by creating a new type of brand website – one that sits at the heart of the fragmented digital landscape, engaging social and mobile consumers with a fresh dialogue.

Let us cast our minds back to 2004, when Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook. It was not long before brands noticed its potential for engaging consumers and capturing richly profiled audience data.

The lure of social media and the promise of ‘free’ marketing was too much for many brands to resist. They soon became addicted, pumping their budget and resources into chasing likes (which, in the absence of other return on investment measures, was seen as a yardstick for success).

The neglected website

When they were first developed, brand websites were purely informational. With the dawn of e-commerce, they became transactional. Then social media arrived and brands diverted all their resources towards reaping the promised rewards. Virtually ignored by their owners, once cherished brand websites were left devoid of engaging narratives and lacking in any emotional connection with consumers. Some commentators even predicted that websites would soon be consigned to history.

But as social networks and mobile messaging apps proliferated, brand marketers realised that it was nearly impossible to have a credible presence across all of them. Equally, if you wanted to be on Facebook you were hostage to their algorithm and pay-to-play model.

The answer to this problem was right under their noses. They already had a channel that could bring together the best conversations happening across social networks and use them to create emotional connections, drive engagement and boost socially influenced commerce: the old, unappreciated brand website. Here are four steps businesses can take to make their websites fit for the social and mobile age:

Make your customer the best marketer

As part of the rise of social networks, we have seen an explosion of user- generated content with consumers engaging with and sharing brand experiences like never before. This has accelerated with the mass adoption of camera-laden smartphones and cheap mobile broadband. Every day, consumers create more than two billion pieces of content associated with brands.

Earned consumer content like this is incredibly important for businesses. Today’s mobile and socially connected consumers are suspicious of much of the slick, professionally produced marketing content they see.

Research suggests that featuring authentic and credible user-generated content across owned digital channels increases brand preference more than branded content. In addition, by featuring UGC at the point of purchase, there is said to be a 7 per cent higher chance of sales conversion. That is a massive increase for any online business.

The reason is simple: consumers trust their peers more than brands. They are inspired by other people’s experiences, suggestions, ratings and reviews. A brand is now defined by how its community perceives and uses it, rather than by expensively commissioned marketing collateral.

Most major brands and businesses continue to ignore UGC, missing out on the huge potential it offers. It is time that changed.

Launch interactive social hubs

The best way to take advantage of the wealth of UGC online is to use it to launch high impact social hubs and interactive campaigns on your websites and digital channels.

In the old days, marketers used to drive people to the website, then monetise them in a controlled and owned environment. Today’s smart website has a more dynamic role,continually feeding and refreshing social channels. Yes it is still the heart of the brand, setting the tone and standard for the company’s ethos and attitude. But now a great website also smartly syndicates, recirculates and curates social content.

And, if we are truly entering the era of the owned/paid/earned media mix model, a company’s website must filter persuasive consumer content from a range of social channels. Mixing it with owned content to captivate and convert audiences.

Mine your social data

Launching social hubs also creates swathes of customer data and innovative companies will mine this for clues regarding the content’s success as well as for creating targeted digital campaigns.

Wherever possible, your content should be tagged and categorised across social media, with likes, comments and shares recorded. Businesses can also build a unified view of their customer overtime by connecting email, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles to a single audience record and matching them with customer relationship management profiles. You can then profile your audience with a consistent data framework and assess the performance of the UGC that you discover on social networks and publish across your digital portfolio.

However, most businesses simply are not set up to manage both branded UGC and the customer data it generates. The technical infrastructure that powers their sites is often inflexible and controlled by territorial technology managers who have little interest in innovation. So, what is the answer?

The platform is key

Businesses should source an appropriate platform that smartly syndicates, re-circulates and curates social content, while also collecting all of this valuable data. The big marketing clouds offered by the likes of Adobe and Salesforce.com do not have the answer. Although they feature comprehensive web analytics, data management platforms, email automation and so on their infrastructure provides very limited support for dynamic, real- time social activations across web, social and mobile channels.

Marketing clouds just cannot deliver the modern web experiences today’s consumers expect. Their solutions are more focused on auditing, content management, managing branded assets and analytics etc. They are not engineered to manage dynamic brand experiences infused with UGC.

That is why many companies often resort to expensive standalone microsites built by their agencies. But, with the resurgence of brand websites that link directly to social activations and credible and authentic UGC, this just does not make sense. So make sure you research the best platforms on the market and find one that offers the modern technical infrastructure for powering a truly socialised website.

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