Low-risk IT experiment No. 2: Social networks
Most business managers are already racking their brains trying to think of ways to unlock the power of social networks. More likely than not, your organization is no exception. Often the plans these business folks come up with are tricky and involve extensive programming -- but they don't need to. Some of the simplest solutions can be crafted with just a few extra HTML tags.
Twitter, for instance, makes it easy to link your content to Twitter posts with a simple URL:
http://www.twitter.com/home?status=MESSAGE. Any message can be added to this URL, making it simple to add a button that allows visitors to share your Website's content or announce, say, their recent purchase of your goods to their followers.
Facebook offers a similar option for URLs that look like
http://www.facebooks.com/sharer.php?u=URL= MESSAGE. Replacing the
MESSAGE will link up your site with Facebook.
These tricks help you avoid some of the more complex options offered by the social networks. When a user clicks on these links, they'll be taken to the respective social networking site to see if they're logged in. If they aren't, the site asks them to log in before letting them edit their message. In other words, the site handles the authentication, freeing you from the responsibility.
More sophisticated options, such as verifying the user's identity with a protocol called Oauth, offer more detailed integration and may be right for complete buildouts. At the beginning, though, they're not necessary. If the first round of experimentation proves useful, then the extras make sense. Again, start small, prove the sample case, and invite business development to contribute ideas once the results look promising.
After you've added these simple sharing buttons to existing Web pages, it may be worthwhile to analyze the propagation of these messages through your users' social networks. Such analysis can prove useful in planning for loads, designing marketing campaigns, and more. By understanding how users cluster around particular content, goods, or services rendered on your Website, your company will be better positioned to leverage these clusters to increase the exposure of your content, goods, or services to a broader audience, or to deepen the affinity existing users have for your company's offerings.
Unfortunately, using the simple links shown above won't leave you with any data for how the URLs move throughout the social networks. You can get around this limitation for the Facebook example by adding unique parameters to each URL before passing to Facebook. Then your log files will track the unique URL.