"Fewer people are experiencing your brand on your Website," says Jeremy Dedic, the user experience practice leader at digital agency Rightpoint.
"Many companies think of their Website as being the center of their online brand's universe. But more and more consumers use social media sites as a starting point for accessing information about products and promotions, gathering customer feedback, voicing opinions and seeking customer service," he says.
Indeed, some brands have done away with traditional Websites all together, and instead are using some combination of Facebook, Google+, YouTube, Twitter and Pinterest to get their message out.
[Related: The How-To Guide for Social Business]
Should you ditch your Website? Not necessarily. But if you want your Web or ecommerce site to truly engage and convert visitors, you should take some lessons from--if not fully embrace--the popular social media sites.
Following are six simple ways to incorporate social media into your Web design and strategy.
1. Let Customers Know What Social Media Sites You're On
"Make sure visitors [to your Website] are able to see the social networks you are on and can socially share your products and content," says Erica Tevis, the owner of LittleThingsFavors.com, an online wedding ecommerce site, and LittleThingsBaby.com.
As for where to place social media icons (for Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, YouTube, etc.), "a good rule of thumb is that the more visible your social buttons are, the more users will interact with them," says Jessie Jenkins, social media and content specialist at Thrive Internet Marketing.
"'Follow' icons should be included within the header/footer of your Website, preferably every page, as your social media profiles are an important source of information to users and an easy way to stay connected." Similarly, Jenkins says, include "'share' and 'like' icons on every blog post, as well as any Web pages that possess valuable, share-worthy information."
Also, include a call to action. "Ask your Web visitors to 'like' your Facebook page, 'follow' your brand on Twitter, or 'Join the discussion' on LinkedIn," says Alessandra Ceresa, director of Marketing and Social Network Management at GreenRope, a developer of business marketing software. Why? "Everyone has social icons on their Websites these days," she says. But people are more inclined to click on them if you tell them to. In addition, it's important to "design your social media icons to match the style and feel of your Website. These details catch the eye of the viewer, making it more likely that they will click on your social links."
2. Allow Social Logins to Make It Easier to Connect With You
With social logins, "now sites don't have to set up their own individual login unless they want to, but they can have their visitors login with a Facebook or Twitter account," says John Roa, the CEO of ÄKTA, a product design studio specializing in user experience. "This allows sites to create an internal community--and can be a great opportunity for organizations to share specialized content and connect with their users."
Moreover, giving people "the option to register/login via Facebook, Twitter, etc. instead of filling out forms shortens the registration process, which tends to lead to an increase in the conversation rate for user registrations," says Adam Kirkwood, designer/developer, Viralheat, a social media management, publishing and engagement service.
3. Make Your Web Design Social Media Friendly
"Companies and organizations should design Websites, from code to content to commerce, in ways that complement the social media user experience, and vice versa," says Dino Baskovic, a digital marketing consultant.
For example, on many homepages, "static content has largely been replaced with variable content that feeds from various sources, such as social media feeds, blog feeds, category driven areas of the site, news feeds, etc.," notes Brian Compton, creative director, Lewis PR. "As a result, homepage layouts [such as this one for
Adds David Carrillo, manager, Earned Media, The Search Agency: "Implementing Facebook Open Graph and Twitter cards on a Website is the best way to control the presentation of your Website on social networks. And it's a lot easier to implement from the beginning than to have to go back once the site is already built out."
[Related: Facebook's New Graph Search]
4. Make Content Shareable
"What good is it if a consumer or prospect finds something they like but it's too difficult to 'like' it or 'tweet' it [or 'pin' it] right from that page?" asks Daniel K. Lobring, senior director of Public Relations at rEvolution, a sports marketing and media agency. "Embedding the ability to share on all pages of content is now essential."
"Your product and content pages should have social sharing buttons right by the item picture, making it easier for your customers to instantly share your items," says Tevis.
5. Incorporate Facebook Reviews Into Your Website.
To increase conversion rates on its Websites, Panama Luxury Vacations integrated Facebook customer reviews.
"We created a 'Testimonials' tab on Facebook and asked customers after completing our survey if they'd be willing to share their feedback on Facebook," says Casey Halloran, the cofounder and chief marketing officer. "It worked way better than we'd planned. We received 100 testimonials within four months."
The only problem: "We got a few negative comments." But even that, Halloran says, was not a bad thing as it helped the company improve its customer service, "which created more positive feedback, which improved our Website conversion and boosted sales."
6. Embed YouTube Videos When Appropriate
"Many pages with quality YouTube videos rank better in search engines, especially if there are more video views," says Brian Coughlin, an SEO specialist at OpticsPlanet.com. "Videos also increase a visitor's time on page and improve conversion rates."
The bottom line regarding Web design and social media: "It no longer makes sense to create a Website if it's not going to be integrated [with your] social networks," says Marko Z. Muellner, vice president of Marketing, ShopIgniter. "Not only do you increase the challenge of driving awareness and traffic [when you ignore social media], you eliminate the potential for sharing and earned amplification.
"Website designers have become great strategic anthropologists, understanding how and why people use their sites while keeping focused on business needs," he says. "Now they must understand how their target audiences use social media so that they can incorporate liking, sharing, commenting, pinning, etc. in new ways that meet expectations and surprise and delight."
Jennifer Lonoff Schiff is a regular contributor to CIO.com and also runs a marketing communications firm.
Read more about online marketing in CIO's Online Marketing Drilldown.