Facebook. Twitter. Linked in. All 3 of these are undeniably huge. If you are creating a web app, how many of your potential customers use all 3? How about 2 or one? With over a billion people on Facebook it’s statistically unlikely that they don’t have an account on at least one of these three.
These potential users have an established trust in these networks, they have invested their details and time into them and in return have taken a little of them into their self-image. We can all aspire to build clever growth mechanisms into our businesses and systems, but even for the fresh web app innovators there is a valuable benefit-by-association reward for integrating with them, even if just to simplify your user registration flow.
These 5 social integration points are, as I consider, the base-line for new mobile and web apps in 2012, at minimum you should consider each a possible tool for leveraging social networks to foster initial and sustaining user growth.
1. Likes & Shares
- Easiest to implement
- Promotes Quality of Content (with exceptions)
- Potentially effects SEO via “Edge Ranking”
- Social Proof through numbers
- Not very creative or particularly valuable
Like, Tweet and share buttons are now a staple part of the average internet user’s digital diet, they are scattered haphazardly all over the internet in many logical places and even more illogical ones. As with any growth technology their perceived value slowly diminishes over time, and despite the likely reality that search engines Google takes these interaction counts into mind when deciding your search engine rankings (your sites “Edge Rank”) – getting bucketfuls of Likes does not seem to make a huge amount of difference.
That’s not to say there there are no business benefits for using these buttons, undoubtedly there are; users effectively promote for you, giving you feedback on your content all the while. Like counts should be increasingly taken with a pinch of salt though, as frequently fantastic articles garner only a handful, while a picture of a pretty girl or cat could see tens of thousands of likes.
- Fairly easy to integrate
- Can take away control
- Pigeonholes users
- One way to get in users’ feeds
Here I refer to integrating Facebook comments (and to a lesser extent services like disqus) into your websites & apps. The main takeaway here is that they should only be used in applications which have a fairly broad perspective on comments. Things like funny picture websites. Integrating Facebook comments into serious websites or high quality content sites is, as far as I am concerned, a very bad idea.
I’ll qualify that: With Facebook comments, people are forced to write comments representing themselves, by default; or rather representing their Facebook self. You might (as Zuckerberg does) believe this forced honesty is a good thing, and on a moral level I would agree. However often people don’t want to associate their thoughts on specific, niche based news so readily with our “Facebook self” and will avoid commenting when they would have previously (using typical WordPress style comments boxes.) Furthermore you also pigeonhole your users, as those likely to comment are going to be the ones with 1. A Facebook account which they don’t mind publicising this comment on and 2. Those confident enough online who post frequently on Facebook. You also set the tone for the comments.
3. Open Graph Meta & Schema.org Tags
- Easy to integrate
- Important for post-share/like growth
- Required for smarter Facebook Open Graph integrations
- Quite essential looking forward
4. Fan Gates & Content Safes
- Fairly easy to integrate
- Low-brow / annoying
- Doesn’t particularly add value
5. Auth Login for Registering New Users
- Most complicated to integrate (but still easy for a developer!)
- Works with or without second level Authentication
- Precursor to lots of growth hacks
- Social proof of “500 monthly active users”
- Easier for end user
- Associates your web app with Auth provider
Two great examples here: Pinterest & Spotify. Both of these services REQUIRE Facebook (or twitter) authentication in order for you to register. Both have been unbelievable successes, and while you probably can’t sign any exclusive deals with Facebook just yet, certainly you can improve your user registration flow by allowing users to authenticate with Facebook, Twitter or Linked in. At StormGate we suggest every new web app allows users to log in via at least one of these three as a minimum, more often than not, all of them, and OpenID also.
As well as improved user registration flow (by getting users to sign into Facebook you can pre-fill in the registration form, or skip it entirely) there are also cool ways to integrate their features into your site/app/service; downstream too, there are advantages of getting the users authenticated on one of these social platforms early on. It makes it easier to push them to share, to keep up to date with them and to access their social graph.
There is a huge amount of value to be added to your web app by using even a few of these social integrations creatively. As each new web app or site gets developed (or enhanced) it’s a great opportunity to think how these social API’s can be leveraged; for improving user experience, for building growth hacks and for finding a place in your customers’ self-image.