A few years ago, it was sufficient for a website or business to merely belong to social communities like Facebook or Twitter. Joining these communities was, in and of itself, a major step to the next level of branding. Today, simple participation is not enough. True mastery of the social web now demands that a company or individual aggressively optimize their “social graph.” This is the practice of deliberately maximizing one’s presence in a user’s social media activities, such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace or blogs. The goal is to make one’s blog posts, marketing messages and online communications as attractive and easy to share within these worlds as possible.
Establish a Discoverable Identity
The core of successful social graph optimization is establishing a discoverable identity on the web. Without being spammy or shamelessly self-promotional, strive to seed relevant, useful links throughout the social web portals frequented by your target audience. For many businesses and individuals, this begins with their online blog. Institute a policy of linking out from blog posts to whichever social media profiles you might have. Additionally, recognize that your most avid readers will often wish to spread your content around on their own profiles. This is immensely valuable (and free) promotion from your standpoint, so the goal should be making it easy for people to do.
To that end, make your blog posts and articles “share-friendly.” Conduct testing to ensure that your links have short, pithy descriptions when posted to Facebook (rather than containing empty or meaningless text that compels no one to read it.) While great content naturally inspires people to share it, do not stop there. Take the extra steps of making it convenient and simple for others to share your work, such as by including the now ubiquitous share links to Twitter, Facebook, Delicious and the like at the bottom of each page.
Another component of social graph optimization strategy is to encourage backlinks. Note that this should be a foundational piece of your blog’s very structure rather than an ongoing, manual chore. As freelance web developer Dave Ligthart explains:
“You can ask people personally to place a link back to you, but that’s a grinding effort. Your blog needs to be cultivated and motivate people to link back themselves.”
The simplest way to encourage backlinks (other than listing convenient “share” buttons as discussed above) is to forthrightly ask for them in a standardized way at the end of every blog post. For instance, bookend each post with a distinct bar of text that politely asks interested readers with blogs or Facebook accounts to link back. Include the unique URL of that post alongside the request so that no one needs to go looking for it.
Tools For Social Graph Optimization
Social graph optimization is made infinitely easier by having the correct tools and resources at your disposal. Facebook Connect is an important one. Using this simple service, any website can seamlessly plug its content into the vast sphere of Facebook members and make sharing content among them a two-click process. According to Facebook, “connected users create 15-60% more content” than those who do not use Facebook Connect. It also enables blog and website owners to access the name, profile, photo, location, gender and age of visitors. A helpful developer’s guide to implementing Facebook Connect is offered here.
The Meebo Bar has also become a widely used social graph optimizer. Besides being compatible with Facebook Connect, the Meebo Bar enables content to be shared in “drag and drop” fashion and turns social tools into persistent navigational elements of any website whose social graph needs optimizing. Best of all, the Meebo Bar is compatible with every major blogging platform (including WordPress.)
Measuring Your Social Graph Effectiveness
WP Stats Dashboard, meanwhile, helps measure the effectiveness your social graph optimization strategies. Those running WordPress blogs can use this handy plugin to “display your blog’s stats graph plus your blog traffic, social engagement and social influence directly in your dashboard.” This includes the ability to view your Alexa traffic ranking, Technorati authority and other indicators. Other options include:
- Automatic login
- Overview dashboard displaying key social metrics
- WordPress likes
- Facebook fan counts
- Tweet views by day
- Trending social metrics over time
- Profile finders
All in all, WP Stats Dashboard is a straightforward way to determine whether your social graph optimization efforts are producing demonstrable results.
Social Graph Optimization in Action
A number of high-profile blogs and websites have already committed serious time and effort to social graph optimization. USA Today offers a textbook example, having integrated Facebook Connect into each and every story it publishes on the web. To the right of any story (such as this one) readers find an intuitively located and designed vertical “side bar” containing links for sharing the story on Yahoo! Buzz, Mixx, Facebook, Twitter, and more. At the reader’s option, stories can also be sent to their iGoogle homepage. The same sidebar appears horizontally at the end of the story as an extra reminder.