There is no denying it. The age of social media is no longer on the horizon or just around the corner. It is indisputably here. Social features exist on your phone, in your email and on search results for all major search engines. Social signals are well known to be factors in the decision-making process and are being actively used by Google and Bing in their algorithms.
One of the simplest ways for any website to join the conversation and tap into the power of social media networks is by adding social media buttons to its pages. The question is often not "should buttons be added to the site" but "which buttons should be used and where should they be placed?" This article breaks down which buttons you need, where you should put them and how they work.
Two Types of Buttons
Social media buttons usually come in two forms - the type that leads to the brand's location on social sites and the type that enables content sharing to social sites and provide an on-page endorsement of the content. They're both good to have. Asking visitors to "Follow us on" Facebook or Twitter is a way of extending your brand into the places that they're already interacting.
If you have an established presence on Facebook, connecting your website and your Fan page allows visitors to interact with your brand and show their support. While they might not have thought to go looking for you, when presented with the opportunity, especially if it comes with perks, they're likely to consider making the connection. If you have a presence on a social media site, it's important that you tell your website visitors about it. Otherwise, they may never know.
"Share our content" buttons take your content from your site and put it directly in the path of the friends and family of your visitors. Sharing content is more targeted than simply liking your Facebook page. It gives users the chance to share an article they found insightful, a product they want for their birthday, something that made them smile. People are naturally more interested in things that they can engage with and social sharing buttons are a good way of taking advantage of the human need to promote the things we like.
It's clear that having social media buttons is helpful. But it's important to resist the temptation to answer the question of which buttons you should be using with "all of them." It used to be popular to take a shotgun approach to social media and provide a way to share on every single social network that ever existed but that's not the case anymore. While you should definitely claim your brand, giving your users too many ways to share your content is likely to invoke the paradox of choice.
Instead, you should focus on the most popular social networks for your site's demographics. In most cases, choosing Twitter, Facebook and StumbleUpon is a good place to begin. Music sites may find that they have many users from MySpace. B2B and consultant sites may wish to promote LinkedIn. Email is still a popular way of sharing for news sites. Test to see which are the most effective for you (not all at once, please) and stick with those.
Installation of social sharing buttons is relatively straightforward. Facebook lists social plugins on their site; selecting any of those presents you with a form to fill out that will generate the proper code for you. Twitter's official Tweet button has a similar set-up process. Additionally, sites running on Wordpress have an array of plug-in options for adding social sharing to their pages.
Should You Use Google +1?
Google +1 (pronounced "plus one") is the search engine's most recent challenge in the social media space. As we explained in last month's SEO Newsletter Hot Topic:
...for those logged in to Google, the +1 button will be featured next to websites on the search engine results pages (SERPs) and even next to paid ads in the right-hand column.
Once another +1 user recommends the site or ad, not only is the total number of +1s shown for that site or ad, but images of people in the user's Google community will be featured next to it. The goal, states Google, is to "help friends, contacts, and others on the Web find the best stuff when they search."
At this month's Google I/O event, Google presented a mock up of a +1 button for websites, similar to the Facebook Like or TweetMeme buttons already available. Google plans to release the button in a few weeks and when they do it's a good bet that SEOs all over will be rushing to add this to their pages.
The obvious argument for its use is that Google has confirmed that they look at "social signals" in their algorithm. Additionally, Google promises to report visitors in aggregate by age and gender as well as by location, which is valuable for webmasters.
In the interests of keeping your layout simple and uncluttered you may choose to pass, particularly since the general public is not yet familiar with Google +1. However, it does seem to be worth at least testing periodically when the feature finally rolls out.
Whatever your decision, it's time to get started with adding social features to your website. Mashable has a good guide at How To: Add Social Sharing Buttons. They also cover the important question of where you should be placing your buttons.
People are talking; be part of the conversation.