Quality of presentation doesn’t stop with your website

You’ve probably heard this by now, but social media is kind of a big deal. Any business worth talking about is expected to have a “Like” button set up for you to click, and a team of social content gurus to go forth and promote their brand. And with so many businesses jumping on the bandwagon, it’s easy to forget that a lot of them aren’t quite sure what they’re doing.

Probably the biggest mistake you can make in a social media strategy is thinking that a Facebook page or a few sharing buttons can do the work for you.

This isn’t their fault. Social media is built on a lot of technology that didn’t exist ten years ago, and even the social networking sites are still figuring out how to use it. But in a world where social media design is a novel idea for half the businesses that are trying their hand at it, you could miss a big opportunity by merely following someone else’s lead.

Probably the biggest mistake you can make in a social media strategy is thinking that a Facebook page or a few sharing buttons can do the work for you. Remember, social media is a new way of communicating, so it won’t do you much good if you don’t have something to say. A good social media design can help to raise a brand’s profile, but having a strong brand in the first place is the surest way to get attention.

And social media hasn’t changed much about what makes a strong brand: A good product and solid presentation. What it has done is made one part of that presentation — web design — more important than ever.

If social media design was the only new idea out there for businesses to master, that would be tricky enough. But it’s easy to forget how new the whole internet still is, and how fast the language of design has changed. Visiting some of the websites designed in the 1990s can be almost painful, and even more has changed behind the scenes. Making a solid website today means building in keywords, tags and content that don’t just attract search engines, but do it without looking clunky and lame.

Even better than having a site with something to say is having one that says something new from time to time. This is why most companies are launching blogs — a good social media design doesn’t do much good if you don’t keep using it to talk up something new, and blogging is both another way to get into that habit and a resource for fresh new content.

And then there’s the appearance of your site. People have seen enough websites by now to recognize which ones had a lot of thought put into them. Garish or cookie-cutter designs tend to say that a business either doesn’t know or doesn’t care much about their image online, which can mean people won’t expect much value from their social media either. On the other hand, a site full of pointless bells and whistles that doesn’t deliver what its visitors are looking for can be even worse — it’s like that clueless guy who doesn’t realize he’s trying too hard; you probably won’t be hanging on his every word.

Basically, good social media design starts with good web design: a site that combines great content with a slick, professional appearance that reflects the kind of company you have and the kind of business you do is the best platform to base your social media around. Once you’ve got that, it’s just a matter of talking it all up.

What makes social media so exciting is the way it can give businesses a real digital storefront. The first web pages were more like digital pamphlets, giving people an some basics about a company and what it does, along with some contact details. And search, the last big internet revolution, made it easier for people to find more sites but didn’t really change how a business could communicate with those visitors.

Now, though, you can actually strike up a conversation with your customers, read the market and get feedback. Technology is finally catching up to the way people communicate when they aren’t using a computer screen, so suddenly the internet is a giant showroom floor, and all your customers are right there.

And just like any other kind of conversation, it matters what you’re talking about. You don’t want to get caught using social media to explain away a brand that people aren’t sure about, but you’ve got a great new way to promote a product that people already like. Even better, being plugged in to social media can encourage your customers to talk up your products, liking your pages or sharing your posts and getting you the best kind of free attention. Online or off, there’s no better advertising than word of mouth, and that’s the strength of social media.

ErikErik Owomoyela is a social media consultant and content contributor for AEI.