Social media outsourcing can be embedded (Reflections on Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox)

By Matt Cornock

The archaic need to keep users on your site and your site only, really isn’t relevant for modern web usage. The latest contribution from Jakob Nielsen ‘Social Media Outsourcing Can Be Risky‘, should certainly not put you off using social media and networks within your business. My argument here goes against his snapshot that social media causes lower usability and less user loyalty. If anything, it increases usability and develops new user loyalties.

YouTube, as the key example of his article, can be embedded within your own site. Having the content on both your site (friendly to your users within a familiar environment) and through YouTube’s channels will open your content and hence your site up to new audiences. For smaller businesses in particular, the free alternatives available to hosting your own media content outweigh the risks associated.

New loyalties and the power of multimedia search

YouTube, owned by Google, features heavily in Google search results pages. Anyone who reads the Google blogs will know that the search engine is pushing towards a more multimedia approach in providing results, rather than just text webpages. Having even just one video hosted on YouTube opens you up to new clients, particularly if you can create a viral effect with your video (by this I mean, make it good enough that people actually forward links to it on). Increasing your presence on social networking and social media sites, means your tapping into a very distinct and pre-existing market. Most of these sites link similar content automatically, hence if your content is good enough then you can easily be brought to the fore without further expense. Using these existing communities you can find new customers and develop new loyalties.

Exisiting loyalties

The vast majority of social networking and social media sites (YouTube, Twitter, Delicious, etc) can all be embedded within existing websites. Take a look at York Dancesport’s site, in particular the use of videos in the events pages. Here the videos are embedded within pages familiar to regular users of the website. When embedding videos, the site designer can structure the page accordingly and create links as needed to particular aspects of the social media network (relevant videos, explanations, other content providers). The APIs of many social network sites even allow you to integrate commenting and further interactivity.

But loyalties don’t matter anyway

In the old days of the web, everyone was very territorial. You enticed visitors to your webpages and tried as best you can to keep them there. Some sites would add things like animated cursors and flashy changing backgrounds in an effort to make their site stand out from the rest. The principle of opening new browser windows when a link goes to an external site is still very common (I use it here!), purely to keep the originating site in the background.

Modern web usage is all about sharing. As web users become more savvy and more demanding of websites, expecting cleaner interfaces, no bugs, etc., their tolerance levels drop. One false move and your site is ditched for someone else’s. However, by integrating yourself into their virtual environment they don’t have to visit your site to get your content. This is the underlying principle behind RSS feeds for example. Using video channels, presence on social networks and the like all helps integrate your business into your customers daily environment.

Usability: to embed or not

As most social media sites templates are designed to be as generic as possible, fitting a whole host of situations, they are inevitably flawed in terms of usability design. I cannot deny the points Nielsen makes on this. However, when embedding the usability problem can be handled more effectively. Structure your media content on the page in a way which doesn’t alienate users who don’t want it and allows quick and easy use for those that do. Consider separate pages for media, use clear headings, and leave plenty of space around the media content to separate it from text which can be skim read.

Not embedding content doesn’t have to be a complete usability loss though. Filling in as much metadata as possible on social media and networking sites will help in SEO and usability. This is particularly important where users have limited time to browse through media content, or worse on limited bandwidth.

Eggs in one basket

One of the major risks Nielsen highlights is putting content on third party sites (outsourcing) results in risk where that site could pull their service unexpectedly. Keep the originals, maintain copyright notices (or license under CC), and if the site goes down make sure you have a backup plan. Good practice with media dictates that a text alternative be available where possible. Simply ensure your content can be delivered in an alternative means. This both covers your obligations for accessibility and provides you with a backup plan if the worst does happen and media sites go down.

However, as alluded to above, for smaller businesses and non-profits where marketing and web budgets are tight, the benefits of using third party media hosting outweighs the risk of loss.

Conclusion

Social media is not risky. Not using social media is.

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