10 Ways to Optimize On-Site Social Interaction

The Web is a social place now, and that's just something that we're all going to have to get used to.

Today, the vast majority of end users are demanding, if not already expecting, the brands that they engage with to have some sort of social presence. In fact, it's becoming such a big deal that these brands now have to start optimizing their websites for these prospective social interactions.

Plenty of website elements can have an impact or affect on your social status, but by optimizing your site for these social interactions, you'll find your visitors more engaged and interested in your brand all across the Web.

Incorporate the Big Three
When it comes to adding a social flare to your website, the (obvious) first place to start is by incorporating the Big Three social networks (Facebook, Twitter and Google+). This includes adding links to your profiles on these sites on your homepage (you do have profiles, right?), adding social sharing buttons (e.g. +1 or "Like" buttons) to your content and perhaps even including your statuses in a rolling feed on your website.

Don't Forget Secondary Social Networks
Although the Big Three are undoubtedly the most important social networks to include on your site, don't forget about the multitude of smaller niche social networks that can help you reach out to and interact with your target audience. Say, for instance, you run a dog grooming blog; in that case, you may want to link to your Dogster account from your website, in addition to your Facebook and Twitter profiles.

Blog, Blog, Blog
It doesn't matter what you do or what industry you operate in, chances are there is plenty of content that you can take and turn into a blog. There are many benefits to blogging that include increased traffic, higher levels of engagement and more opportunities to display advertisements. And don't forget, by including social share buttons on your blog posts, visitors can share your content on their favorite social networks to help you expand your audience and maybe even go viral.

Let the People Speak
One way to increase engagement and add an element of social interaction to your website - especially if you have a blog - is to enable user comments. This functionality can easily be implemented into most websites and blogs through the use of plugins or software like Disqus or IntenseDebate.

Add Forums
If fostering social interaction through a community on your website is a major goal, you can also try adding forums, which increase participation by asking users to register an account and then have discussions about a variety of topics in the forum section of your website. Some excellent free, open source forum software solutions include Vanilla, OSQA and bbPress.

Encourage Reviews
In case you haven't picked up on the hint yet, website users love to participate and throw in their two cents. One great way to encourage social interactions and let them voice their opinions, especially for merchants, is to add reviews to their product pages that let customers talk about their experiences with the products and share them with other consumers that visit that page, while also instilling trust in new visitors. One of the best solutions for integrating customer reviews onto a site is BazaarVoice.

Social Login
Rather than requiring your users to go through the tedious practice of signing up for an account with your website in order to interact, why not just introduce social login functionality, which allows them to simply sign into one of their social network profiles (usually Facebook or Twitter) and then use that identity to engage with your website. This simplifies the whole process and will help increase the number of visitors that interact with your site while they're just stopping by. Consider testing social login out with the free basic package of the Engage platform by Janrain.

Vary Your Content
Different users like different things, and the best way to ensure that more of your visitors begin to interact with your website is to try to create and publish a variety of content types. This means writing content that is sometimes easier to digest, such as a list-based blog post that distills a lot of information in a more reader-friendly display. It also means going beyond just text content and publishing more easily sharable material like images or videos. However, it's also important to pay attention to what the numbers say, and if a specific type of content is clearly more popular than others, it makes sense to publish more of that.

Reward Their Hard Work
There are a number of plugins and solutions, such as Achievement for BuddyPress, that allow websites to promote and reward social interactions through the use of challenges, badges or points. This adds an extra incentive for users to join in on the fun and start engaging with your site.

At the end of the day, the simplest way to encourage your visitors to interact with your website is to engage them first. This means showing up in the comments section, forum or reviews and asking or answering questions that your users may have. You can start by asking questions and encouraging comments at the end of a blog post, or asking users to share your content on social media sites. Users are going to be more willing to interact with you and other visitors on your website if you put yourself out there and let them know you're listening.