Friday, May 27, 2011

10 Things Not To Do In Your Social Sharing | Polyvore Shares Lessons Learned

Earlier this week I went to an event at Hacker Dojo, a coworking space in the heart of Mountain View. It was my first event there, and while I had certainly heard the name before, on more than one occasions, embarrassingly enough I did not know it was a coworking space. So anyway, that was exciting!

The presentation, by Jonathan Trevor of Polyvore, a social commerce company with some 10 million unique visitors per month, goes to the heart of the big, burning question at the heart of every (internet) startup: how do I use social media to get consumer eye balls on your product and, ultimately, traction?

There are many things you can do wrong in this area, which is a science (or perhaps an art) evolving right before our very eyes. In his presentation, Jonathan walked us through some of the common misconceptions about social media as a tool, using examples from Polyvore's own experience. You can find the slide deck for his presentation posted here, but for a more narrated version, keep reading.

Misconception 1: I know what's going on

Never assume that you understand the way social sharing is working or that it is working the way that you think it is. You might think Facebook is the way to attract the most users via social sharing. Or Twitter? Jonathan was surprised to find StumbleUpon to be one of the better organic disseminators. StumbleUpon? I know, I haven't used it either, but apparently it's big, in the right circles.

Measure, instrument and iterate to try and get a better picture of what's going on. You can use Google Analytics, or collect your own data and run SQL queries, whatever suits your fancy. The better that you are at measuring, instrumenting and iterating, the better, more effective, product design you will have.

Don't limit yourself to measuring on your own site. To the extent possible, try to do this on third party sites as well. There are even applications for that, like (love the name!).

Misconception 2: I'll focus on the CTR on my site

While CTR (click-through rate) is obviously important on its own, it's even more important as part of a larger social sharing loop. Getting people to "like" your page is not enough, if it is not bringing return traffic to your site.

Once one of your users clicks the Facebook "like" button, or posts content generated on your site to Tumblr, or tweets one of your pages, who sees that content? How many of those who see it are interested enough to follow the link to your website? How many of those who follow the link to your website become a user? This may seem like an obvious point, but it's easy to get caught up in improving CTR on your site, losing sight of the big picture.

Misconception 3: Users want to share

Sure, users want to share, but not all the time. They are inundated in their web browsing experience with all kinds of social sharing buttons, so much so that they've become little more than noise.

What's important in getting people to shares is to align intent with, well, sharing... To use Polyvore as an example, when their users browse sets by other users, maybe they'll "like" those, but there is not an impetus to share. On the other hand, when users create their own sets, sets that they've spent time on and take pride in (hopefully) they want to scream about it from the rooftops. The breakdown of sharing between their set viewers and set creators is 25% to 75%, which is staggering considering how many viewers there are and how many fewer users are creating sets. And it's a good example of how powerful it is to align users' intent with your own.

Misconception 4: One size fits all

There are different kinds of users that you need to think about as you are designing your website.

Bloggers don't share as often (and certainly when it comes to the same service), and they will have a bias against sharing something that already exists (old news). If they can create something original with your product, they are more likely to share it. There is a way to optimize your website for bloggers.

Social sharers, on the other hand, share often and freely. If it's easy to do (e.g., no login required, one-click), they'll do it. There is a way to optimize your website for social sharers, and that's going to look different than a website optimized for bloggers.

One size does not fit all.

Misconception 5: All shares are equal

Not all social shares are equally valuable. Shares on Facebook and Twitter, in theory at least, reach a lot of people, those the viewership may actually be quite small. The environment is noisy. And the content there is short-lived. Perhaps most-importantly, though, it is a low match to reader interest.

When bloggers write about your site, it adds SEO value. There are fewer bloggers than social sharers, but the content is richer and last longer. Finally, there is a much better correllation to reader interest.

Misconception 6: Users can read

Well, maybe users can read, but they don't and they won't.

Polyvore ran tests where they manipulated the amount of text on the same dialog, leaving the pictures and graphics intact. They found that changing or even removing the text altogether had no impact on the users' choices in the dialog.

Misconception 7: Wizards are better than complex forms

We might think wizards are better than complex forms because we know that complex forms are bad. But really, they are both bad. If you can, simplify a complex form into a simple one, instead of breaking it up into a wizard.

Keep in mind that every time there is a new dialog box with a cancel option, you are going to lose users. It's just too easy!

Misconception 8: More networks is better

There is a lot of overlap between networks. And placing 50 buttons on your site just creates noise and clutter. A user doesn't want to sift through all those buttons to find the networks she wants to share on. So how many networks do you really need to get 90% coverage? Maybe up to three? More than that is probably too many.

Misconception 9: Make complex simple ... by hiding

For whatever reason, I think this is my favorite point of the presentation. Simplifying by hiding really works, said Jonathan. If you hide options behind tabs or "advanced" links, users won't find them. So rather than be clever and hide additional features, consider whether you need them in the first place. If you do, find a way to integrate in a simple and graceful way.

Misconception 10: That there are 10 misconceptions

And so we come full circle to where we started: this is an evolving field, where new discoveries are made every day and negated the next and where no truism stays true for long. It is up to today's entrepreneurs to redefine all the conventions of web design and user experience. And I can't wait to see what you come up with!

Inna Efimchik

Emergence Law Group  Emergence Law Group, specializing in assisting emerging technology companies in Silicon Valley and beyond, provides incorporation, financing, and licensing services as well as general corporate counseling.

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