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How Social Context Transforms Engagement on Your Site

By Michael Olson | Posted on July 06, 2011

Remember when you needed Internet Relay Chat and forums to interact with friends online? The explosion of social networks like Myspace, Facebook and Twitter radically changed the paradigm for peer interaction on the web by providing one platform to communicate with all of your friends. Now, brands are channeling the power of these networks to bring social experiences directly onto their sites.

social login

Within his framework for the evolution of the social integrated website, Jeremiah Owyang of Altimeter Group discusses how brands can establish social context and why it is important. We know that friends have always been a trusted recommendation engine for new products, ideas and content. By incorporating social context into the user experience, brands can dramatically improve engagement metrics such as time on site, page views and brand advocacy, while also increasing the likelihood of purchase and conversion.

Here are just a few examples of how social has diffused across the web to brand sites from networks like Facebook and Twitter.

Social Search

In February, Google announced an overhaul to its search tool that blends activities from friends on Twitter, Flickr and other networks into its search results. Imagine that you are planning your next vacation getaway to Maui. A search for hotels on the island reveals numerous options, but a close friend who just returned from her own jaunt to Maui has recommended one result via a share on Twitter.

google social search maui hotels

This is the power of social search. It contextualizes what can often be an overwhelming amount of information in search results, based on recommendations from friends.

But Google is not alone with this initiative – Microsoft also has grasped the importance of integrating social experiences into its offerings. Bing’s new “Let your friends help you decide” television ad campaign is all about enabling smarter decisions based on the interests and activities of your friends.

Social Shopping

We’ve recently discussed a number of ways to apply social media to facilitate commerce on your retail site. The mandate for social media integration is clear, because regardless of how much glossy marketing copy you write to describe your products, consumers will always be more influenced by their friends and networks.

So, how can retailers integrate friends and social graphs into the shopping experience to influence purchase behavior? In the example below, Etsy queries a member’s Facebook social graph to recommend gift ideas based on his friend’s interests:

esty 2

Similarly, Sears’ social shopping features allow customers to bring their list of friends from Facebook to the site. Sears then recommends gift ideas based on the birthdate and interests of those friends:

sears social shopping recommendations

This is a powerful application of social commerce – one that helps innovative retailers like Sears and Etsy differentiate their shopping experience from competitors and leverage peer relationships to grow sales.

Social Content

Twitter’s value to consumers is due to the relevance of the tweet stream – we rely on our friends and contacts to curate interesting and relevant content to us, in real-time. Media and entertainment sites can replicate this experience by incorporating social content. For example, The Huffington Post curates relevant site content based upon the articles that a user’s friends read or comment on, and Yelp streams business reviews, profile updates and other user-generated content to members from their friends on Facebook:

yelp social context

Matchmove Games, a popular gaming site in Southeast Asia, has also integrated social context directly into its core product. Members can invite their friends from Facebook or Yahoo to join the site with the click of a button, and gaming activities from these friends are then streamed to members on the Matchmove home page.

Inviting friends from Facebook to join the site:

matchmovegames invite friends

Streaming on-site activities from friends on Facebook:

matchmove games social context

facebook permission screen friends

These use cases are compelling, but how do you make social context a reality for your site? The building block is social login. When users rely on their existing account from social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Google or LinkedIn to sign-in to your site and approve sharing their social profile data to speed up the registration process, you have the tools needed to personalize and socialize their experience with your brand.

While privacy may be a concern for some consumers, research revealed a couple years ago from Plaxo shows that over 90% of users will allow sites access to their profile data during the social login process. Permission marketing is the high road for brands as they strive for deeper relationships with consumers, and social login reduces the friction to establishing consent.

The Facebook news feed and Twitter stream have revolutionized the way we interact with peers and brands on the web. Now, with the help of tools that leverage a user’s friends and social graphs, brands can also bring these types of social experiences to their own websites.

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About the author

Michael Olson

Senior Product Marketing Manager

Michael Olson joined Janrain more than five and a half years ago and has experienced the explosive growth of the digital marketing technology landscape. Previously, he managed demand generation programs at Janrain. Currently, as the Senior Product Marketing Manager, Michael drives go-to-market strategy for product launches as well as positioning and messaging to communicate the value of customer profile management solutions to companies. Michael's writing has been featured in publications such as GigaOM, Adotas and iMedia Connection.

View all posts by Michael Olson