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As much as we (rightly) praise Google for having transformed our lives for the better, sometimes we all want answers that go beyond the right search query.  Sometimes we want to reach out to someONE rather than someTHING.

But engaging in a conversation requires trust.  And just as no newsletter sign-up form or invitation should be without trust-building assurances and privacy statements, no social media invitation or landing page should be without its own persuasive and trust-building cues.

While looking at Adam Cohen’s recent rundown of social media landing pages (think landing pages that convey social media options for customers), I was struck by some observations.  Consider these four cues to incorporate into your social media landing page and campaign designs:

#1:  Provide Visual Indications of Connection and Instantaneity

steal of the dayTake a look at this eBags “Steal of the Day” offer, as taken by Rishi Rawat.

Notice that eBags not only points out how many bags are left, but how many shoppers are also being offered this deal right NOW as you are looking at the purse yourself. Is this really social media?

No, but it does show how instantaneity brings the human element into an otherwise “sterile” e-commerce experience.

Similarly below, on the Windows social media landing page, the ability to see the current forum comments and questions is powerfully persuasive.  The combination of transparency and perceived instantaneity create the desire to dive into the “conversational stream” that we see passing before us.

windows 7

Microsoft gets it right!  The instantaneous Twitter feed makes us feel connected and lends credibility to the site and comments.  Putting the Twitter pics and names next to comments provides more credibility cues and a humanizing touch.

Those are both examples of employing this first principle to good effect. Now here’s an example where these cues are not adequately leveraged…

best buy

Best Buy’s page lacks the feeling of connection that Microsoft’s page has.  There are no social media cues to reassure the visitor.

Notice that the Twelpforce box is below the fold on the social media landing page and there are no cues of:

  • Instantaneity or connection. We don’t see the stream of tweeted questions, nor do we see a McDonald’s-like counter of number of customers served/helped.
  • “People” behind the tweeted answers.
  • A high signal-to-noise ratio—no displayed answers to show that the responses are better than trusting to Google, FAQ pages, or scrolling through the forums.

#2:  Show Signs of the Real Person Behind the Technology

If you look back to the Microsoft social media landing page, you’ll see that pictures are attached to all of the displayed tweets.  That cues us to emotionally attach the “real people” warmth to the streaming tweets and comments.  Remember, social media is about connecting with people.  So include as many “real people” cues as possible.  Common ways to do this include:

  • Attaching pictures to blog comments.  Almost nothing says “real person” more than an actual headshot.  Seeing a face humanizes the person behind the comment.
  • Pictures attached to testimonials.  In the same way that handwriting personalizes a note, a picture of the customer can personalize the testimonial.
  • Voice attached to testimonials.  There’s so much information attached to inflection, emphasis, tonal quality, and so on.  We just feel we can spot sincerity when we hear it—and that works to your advantage when you’ve got sincere customers willing to record a testimonial.
  • Video testimonials. This is the best of both worlds: you get voice and pictures!
  • Providing live chat with someone specific. Try changing the picture within the live chat icon according to which operator is “at bat.”  Everyone likes to know whom they’re talking with.  When you provide an actual picture, you give visitors more confidence to initiate a conversation.
  • Providing a group shot of your customer service or social media team.  Sometimes providing a picture of the individual service tech isn’t feasible, but providing a group shot is.  Best Buy could certainly do this and it would sync nicely with their current “Ask a Blue Shirt” TV commercials.
  • Making sure your corporate social media initiatives have a personality behind them.  Bureaucracies don’t have authentic personalities. If projecting your authentic self is crucial to social media success, then a corporate-looking social media landing page is probably doomed from the start.

#3:  Show You Deliver Value

While social media holds out the promise of human contact and intelligent response, it also presents the risk of the knucklehead factor.  No-one wants to open themselves up to spam, troll-like responses, and a customer service rep whose only knowledge of the problem stems from the flow chart in front of him.

To engage more visitors with your social media efforts, you will need to include cues that indicate you provide value—many more intelligent insights, answers, and offers than selfish promotions and corporate PR-speak.

If Best Buy displayed the responses to tweeted questions, this would allow them to demonstrate the quality of their answers and a high signal-to-noise ratio.  Similarly, allowing transparency on Twitter streams, Facebook updates, and so on can allow the wary to see for themselves what kind of signal you’re sending.  This obviously overlaps a bit with the connectivity and instantaneity cues discussed earlier.

Showing your social media team’s pictures indicates that you hold them in high regard, which equates to a higher likelihood of intelligent answers, tweets, blog posts, and so forth.

#4: Use a Strong Call to Action

Social media doesn’t eliminate the need for traditional usability and conversion best practices.  Visually prominent and clear calls to action will continue to outperform subtle text-based links.  Compare the “See this Steal” and “Join the Conversation” buttons in the first two examples with Best Buy’s “Visit ____” text-based links.  Which is more inviting to you?

As with almost everything on the Internet, it always pays to test—both through user testing and A/B or multivariate testing.  As my good friend and mentor Bryan Eisenberg would say, “Always Be Testing.”

What do you think about social media cues? Are they valuable? Please add your comment below.

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