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What social sharing widget is right for you?

Harvey Sarjant on the the next generation of social sharing widgets

It’s very rare to visit any website today and not be met with an array of social widgets. These can be anything from a simple button or box linking to a Facebook or Twitter page or something which enables site visitors to comment, tweet, like, share and bookmark across a wide variety of social media platforms. Irrespective of the degree of complication, social widgets typically allow users to share directly from publishers. However, while this increases the publisher’s distribution of content and helps to generate web traffic, generally the benefits of these widgets can be one-sided.

When a user shares via a Facebook or Twitter widget, the publisher doesn’t gain any helpful insight from the data it records. Equally when web tools such as AddThis or ShareThis are installed, publishers are missing out on new revenue streams. These are benefits publishers may have not realised were available to them. Publishers seriously need to consider what they want to get from social sharing tools and ask themselves, what widget is right for me?

Do you know what your users are sharing?

The web has evolved from a search destination into a social environment. Nowadays understanding social connections is a necessity when working out how and when to get closer to your users. Publishers could gain highly valuable insight by looking at what people share, who with, how often and in what context, enabling them to adapt and better target their content, consequently boosting their ad revenues. However, the problem many publishers face is in deciding which widget to use. Of websites featuring social widgets, Facebook widgets are present on 59.6 per cent, Google+ on 40.7 per cent and Twitter on 24 per cent. These figures indicate publishers understand the important relationship between connections, content and web traffic, yet these widgets offer none of the user data to the publisher.

By offering analytical data several social widgets have made a step towards compromise with publishers, two examples of which are AddThis and ShareThis, but they are only present on 19.4 per cent and 6 per cent of websites featuring widgets respectively. Over the last couple of months we have seen the appearance of the 'next generation' of social widgets, which offer even more information than their predecessors.

These 'next generation widgets' offer true insight into your users, by taking insight from 'outside' of a website. For example, has one of your readers just downloaded a car brochure? Have they been looking at short haul flights, were they just on to a soft drinks page or looking at getting a credit card? These insights open up the ability for publishers to attract new advertisers and media budgets that were once unattainable.

Does your widget assist in natural SEO?

As search algorithms calculate social virality as a key indication of relevance, it’s possible to use a widget to impact a brand's SEO. By furthering the social circulation of your content you will also drive SEO. As Facebook and Google+ continue to fight for dominance, publishers need to be increasingly aware of the importance of social sharing within natural search.

Does your widget increase site revenue?

Currently most publishers struggle to monetise their content, with most social sharing widgets falling short in their failure to provide a direct revenue stream. However these 'next generation' widgets provide incremental revenue. Once a user has shared via a social widget their data is recorded and an advert may be displayed. Advertisers can now cleverly understand the share to provide highly targeted advertising, resulting in high interactions, which is a win-win for both parties.

Can your widget segment your audience and make you revenue?

Using the right social sharing widget can increase the value of advertising inventory by providing new audience targeting data. We have seen data management platforms charge or sell this rich data. However, now publishers can become their own data management suppliers, again boosting the publisher’s revenue stream. Essentially the business model for widgets is changing – moving from prioritising the provider to a neutral and meritocratic ground.

A problem both publishers and advertisers face is that despite networks such as Facebook and Twitter having incredibly broad reach, they are essentially closed environments; people are free to share into those networks, but once inside, content is rarely shared amongst a network of people across the open web again. This prevents publishers and advertisers from fully understanding and therefore scaling their audiences, impeding their ability to tailor content and advertising. By choosing a social widget that gives insight into what their audience does, publishers and advertisers are able to sidestep the closed networks to some degree, deriving tangible benefits and keeping the open web alive.

Online publishers are nearly there. The majority appreciate that the internet has transformed from a search destination into a social environment, and are already providing site visitors with the opportunity to share their content across a variety of different outlets. However what they’re yet to appreciate is that with this fundamental change comes an opportunity for them to gain more value from social sharing. Advertisers are already starting to understand its power and are adapting their approaches to harness the sharing phenomenon. By embracing a similar strategy, publishers can get a share in the benefits and earn more from the content they’re producing.

So the question is: are you using the right social sharing widget?

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