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Using social media with your website

Social media are considered increasingly important in the strategy for driving traffic to websites, but they also come in a bewildering variety.

What they have in common is the possibility of engaging with your target audience, encouraging people to write comments and suggestions and to share your content easily with their friends (thus enlarging your network), and hopefully attracting people to your website.

Social media usually provide dedicated mobile phone apps, making them extra easy to use on the move.

What are the options?

Here's a list of platforms, but it can never be exhaustive. The internet is a fast-moving environment, new social media appear all the time and there is no way to predict which will dominate in future.

Facebook is for the very social. You can create a public page for your business (linked to your private personal one) and use it for news and comments related to your business or organisation. It's great for sharing photos and links. Facebook has over a billion users who can performs searches in which your page may appear. On the down side, people need to have an account in order to link with you. And Facebook divides: some people seem to live out their lives there while others reject it completely.

Twitter's tiny user space (no longer than140 characters) does not prevent this platform from being great for networking. Use it to point your readers to websites of interest, while engaging with those sites and hopefully bringing people back to you. It is very fast for gathering and sharing news.

Google +: is useful for photos and visual content, as is Pinterest.

A blog works for longer articles that can be enhanced with pictures and videos. The comments capability can be turned off if desired. Popular blogging platforms are WordPress and Blogspot. The blog is right for people who enjoy writing, but it is not for the fainthearted. To build up a following you really need to write a new, interesting and innovative post once a week.

If video is your preferred medium of communication, YouTube is made for you. Create your own channel and start uploading, and don't forget to link back to your website. Your video may be about your company or a demonstration of you products, and visitors can leave feedback.

LinkedIn is a networking site for your professional contacts, Add anyone who might be useful to you in the future, and share news. TripAdvisor is a review site rather than a social media platform, but anyone involved in the hospitality industry ignores it at their peril. There are others (Reddit, Stumble Upon, Digg) and yet more still to be invented.

Instagram is a mobile site for sharing photos on the move. The format is square, and filters can be added as enhancements together with some text. The tone is light and fun but the pictorial quality needs to be high. Instagram is useful for situations where there is plenty of good visual content, such as designed album covers, lovely landscapes, beautiful products. Keep it relevant to your business and use good captions.

A newsletter might work best for you, thought it is cannot strictly be called social media but it is a proactive way to get your message in front of your target readership.

How to choose?

Knowing which is right for you is a job in itself. You need to consider where your target audience is and what type of business or organisation you are running.

Many websites cheerully display links to a wide range of social media, and good luck to them. How effectively do their owners really keep all the different feeds updated?

We would recommend avoiding the blanket approach of joining every social platform you can think of, unless you employ dedicated marketing staff to keep them all meaningfully updated. Choose one two platforms that suit you, and concentrate on them.

Personal preference should play a strong role in your choice. After all, you are much more likely to spend time updating feeds on a platform you actually enjoy using.

There is probably no one-size-fits-all solution, especially for small operations, and all require commitment.

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Should I ditch my website in favour of, say, Facebook?

Some businesses seem to rely purely on social media, and seem to do very well. After all they are free, aren't they?

Actually this concept has been given the lie recently by the revelations of Facebook's connections with Cambridge Analytica and other data-management services, and the now questionable links between these and recent elections and referenda. It can't be repeated often enough: if you're not paying, the product is you.

But even before all this happened, people were complaining that the sense of control social media provide is an illusion. They are quixotic and change their rules frequently — as anyone who has tried to stay on top of Facebook's privacy settings will testify.

These problems explain why the UK pub chain JD Wetherspoon has deleted all its social media accounts. Furthermore, rather than 900 pub manager spending their time updating 900 Facebook accounts, Wetherspoon's would rather they interacted with their customers. The company is now concentrating its efforts on its website.

New social platforms appear all the time and there is no way to ensure you won't lose out by choosing one that later goes out of business. Along with others, we argue that there is no substitute for having your own website where basic information is provided and which also acts as a hub, onto which a social media can be integrated.

Rules of social media engagement

The main advice to people promoting a buisiness on a platform that is designed for social interaction is to avoid the obvious hard sell — people click away remarkably fast from such behaviour. This area of the internet requires a softly-softly approach to marketing: you can use it to offer information, tips and even products for free or at a discount, or news of the next market when your products will be on offer, post your how-to videos on YouTube with links back to your website.

Internet users like and respect free content so use it to build up trust, and they will be more likely to buy from you in future. Not only that, your useful articles and tips will lead you to the holy grail of "quality content" that Google rewards with higher rankings, especially if other people start linking back to you because of it.

All social media are open to misuse, either from spammers or, as has been well publicised in the press, from real abusers among the general public. You should be prepared to monitor your content, and obviously the more different platforms you share on, the more work will be involved. On some (such as Wordpress) you can turn off the comments altogether if they are not part of your plan.

On the plus side, social media are all about networking and communication so make sure you answer people's comments and take up suggestions where appropriate.

Business is business: if you have a social media account associated with your business or organisation, be careful not to use it for your private messages. If you enjoy sharing private events on social media, make sure you create a separate account for yourself.

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Social media and your website

There are three ways in which social media can interact with your website:

  • Social media buttons can link directly to your social media page or pages
  • A feed can be integrated into the website so that visitors can see it without clicking anywhere — this is a design decision that has to be made early on in a project: see Applegreen's own home page
  • A share button can be added: this relies on your visitor having a social media account rather than you. They click the button to share your website directly in their own page — many new sites do this

A blog can be added to a hand-coded website, as in the case of Camden Community Nurseries who use theirs as a news page. If the site is already designed in Wordpress, it's simple to keep a page as a blog as in the case of Headcorn and The Suttons Churches. Blogs are usually set up so that their posts are easily found by search engines.

Videos and feeds can be embedded within the pages of website.


If you only use one social network, which you choose depends on your own preference as well as where you think your target audience will be found. But whatever you do will require work to keep it updated. Just as a new website does not market itself, even if it is well optimised, all social media platforms require commitment to build contacts, followers and networks.

Case Studies

Note: not all of the following are Applegreen projects

Nathan Wilson, Youth worker, Tenterden (Kent)
Nathan Wilson has been employed as a Christian youth worker in a secondary school by the Tenterden Schools Christian Worker Trust for the past two years. When he took up the job, in addition to a webite run the Trust he began a Facebook page and a Twitter acount. Recently he wrote: "The Facebook page no longer exists. I left Facebook for a long time and though I am now back on I find twitter much more appropriate for our organisation's aims.
   "There are a couple of reasons I prefer Twitter for us. Chiefly, I am not using social media to start conversations, but to communicate and promote info — I think Twitter is better for this. Also, Tenterden is a very ‘Twitter’ place. Finally, using social media to interact with young people is dodgy ground, because they tend to be all on Facebook."

Anna Dickerson, Fine Artist
Anna Dickerson is a fine-artist living and working in Kent. She has a website and a Facebook page. She writes: "I have my own website and have done so for many years. I post some of my new paintings and drawings on Facebook, as well as forthcoming exhibitions. Facebook can prompt some people to visit my website after an artwork I have posted on Facebook sparks their interest.
   "I continue to use e-mail and snail mail for formal invitations to my shows, but I do find Facebook a format which people can dip into without feeling obliged to interact. They contact me when they are interested in my work. Personally the ‘events’ section on Facebook does not work for me, but the posting on the wall does. It is a format in flux and it is only recently I have also opened sections of my website to ‘public’, rather than just ‘friends’.
   "Facebook provides an opportunity to remain on people's radar and create an informal dialogue. I do not post prices on Facebook, and only when I have exhibitions do I post: ‘Work is for sale, please visit for further information.’"

Leonora Corden, Family Days Out
Leonora runs Fab Family Days, providing information on affordable days out for families. She combines weekly tweets with a monthly newsletter to publicise events in the London area, attracting funding through advertising on her website, and also runs a Facebook page.
   She writes: "On Facebook I have observed slow growth: new ‘likes’ come from the newsletter and website, but it is very difficult to proactively get likes without paying for advertising through Facebook which I'm not prepared to do. I also have limited engagement to posts. I aim to post weekly with tips and ideas for the weekend - but get little interaction from people who have ‘liked’ the page. Facebook metrics show that each posting is actively viewed by 30 - 50% of my audience which is actually quite good - they just don't comment or interact!
   "On Twitter it is much easier to find new followers in my target group. If I had more time I would proactively follow an extra 20 - 50 people a day, then after a week, if they don't follow me back I make the judgement that they are not interested in Fab Family Days, so I unfollow them. This is a great way of proactively getting the website in front of my target group. For every tweet I get about 10 - 20% engagement. I tweet weekly in term time, and try to tweet daily during the holidays. I always now try to include the twitter name of the organisation for the event I'm promoting, this makes them aware that I'm commenting on one of their events, and seems to be the best way to get a re-tweet."

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Some personal views about Twitter

In March 2015, the business association of which Appelgreen is a member, Biddenden Business Association (BBA), ran a workshop on Twitter. To prepare for this we asked the views of members of the nearby Tenterden Chamber of Commerce for their views and tips.

Samantha Gilmartin, Tenterden Garden Centre
Samantha coodinates the social media output of the garden centre. She has answered my questions with her "subjective" responses, which nevertheless arise from over ten years working in marketing online.

  • What happens when you "favourite" a tweet? You send a notification to the person who created the tweet to let them know you liked their post, at the same time others can see posts you favourite in 'activity'. Useful, subtle way to show and create interaction with other people. DON'T OVER THINK IT! If you like something, think it's funny, it resonates with you in some way then favourite - don't just favourite items you think will help your business, be truthful. I can promise you people will see through business/marketing tactics very quickly. Social Media is about transparency, creating a voice for your brand or business. Remember Twitter is the snapshot of life.
  • What happens when you re-tweet a tweet? You send a notification to that person on your retweet as well as widening the audience reach for the post. When you 're-tweet' this then becomes your tweet with their @ tag (showing original author) and can then be seen by your followers. As with favourite above don't over think this, remember you can reply which is a great way to start a GENUINE conversation. If you wouldn't normally discuss this subject/have an opinion on it then DON'T re-tweet or reply. Be transparent, edit or amend where you have something to add, reply when you feel conversation is valid, re-tweet when message is important to share (good for local community posts). Remember you can amend the original tweet when re-tweeting by quoting if you wanted to add a comment to it. Be aware that functionality can be different on mobile app - on iphone choose 'Quote Tweet' not 'Re-Tweet' to be able to add/edit original. For example:SG_1820 posts - The sun has got his hat on hip hip hip hooray SP56 re-tweets "@SG_1820 The sun has got his hat on" We were singing this on the way to nursery :-) Hatty replies @SG_1820 @SP56 thanks now it's stuck in my head!
  • How do you use hashtags for information gathering? The # is a big area to discuss and can not be done succinctly here. Essentially # words/phrases that are trending to widen your search-ability i.e. #ChristmasDay during the festive season, or #RND2015 (Red Nose Day) at specific times. When starting out use recognisable, established # - local area, county, business, recognised phrases or terms to get seen. Those that create their own # don't see any benefits from audience or interaction until they have a following. Occasionally the odd funny or random # can be great for humour and building your personality #cantstoptyping. Use # that are relevant to your business, #art if you're an artist. Again be transparent, truthful and don't overthink it. ALWAYS BE AWARE OF WHAT YOU ARE # - a simple #rednose might in your mind be linked to the charity but could be linked to anything. RESEARCH your # before you use them! e.g. Pen Shop in Jersey might Tweet These #pens were made for writing and that's just what they'll do, one of these days these pens will write away for you #bornlyricist #jersey - funny (personality) location (search-ability) relevant (business recognition).
  • Differences in "voice" between personal and business tweeting, managing an online "personality", general dos and don'ts. Personal accounts it doesn't matter as much if you are controversial, political outspoken, religiously devout or discuss potentially explosive on-trend subject/news. As a business particularly where you are building your ethos and online presence, what you say/associate with can be damaging if you are not careful. In my opinion I would recommend keeping clear of potentially upsetting or controversial areas. Sue will tell you that a tweet about the Big Issue seller using the bench at Waitrose caused a huge public backlash for her as a Councillor - avoidable if worded differently perhaps? Avoidable if just never approached? Be mindful of your audience but don't stick to just fluffy kittens and flowers. It's OK to show a voice just be mindful AND prepared. If using images ensure YOU have the right to distribute them. When posting images of others you MUST have permission (unless in the public eye - although still be VERY careful) to post, particularly when under 16.
  • Scheduling tweets written in advance to be released on certain dates: good or bad practice? This is bad practice in my opinion when starting out. You need transparency and authenticity when posting and by scheduling generic/bland tweets you won't do this. Scheduling is a benefit when hosting more than one account, more than one brand and you are away for periods of time. Your audience doesn't want to see the same message every week about your opening times or comfy sofa, you'd be far better off writing a different tweet and injecting a little life and voice into it. If you are to schedule when your brand is huge, accounts are multiple then HootSuite are great (as advised by social media businesses).
  • Automating the transfer of your tweets to Facebook: good or bad practice? - This is BAD practice, full stop. This is why. Quite often the followers on twitter will cross to facebook, instagram, pinterest. If you post the same message each time to each media they are bombarded and are less likely to pay attention and won't want to read the same thing over and over - OVERKILL. (Hootsuite have some great blogs on this subject). In my opinion the forums are also different. Twitter - instant snapshot (character limit, worldwide, trending), Facebook - social, making 'friends', promotion through the community, a chance to have a conversation not just comment, instagram - photographic insight into your world and world as a business, pinterest - creativity, artistic, community. You would be better off adapting your style of the message for each - so opening times is cool and obviously facebook has integrated the # (although not as commonly used on this app) so you can still highlight the same metadata (keywords) just expand it for facebook maybe add an anecdote/funny photo, use a different photo on instagram with better #, create a board on pinterest and pin other related images.
  • Getting business via Twitter. The way to get or attract business through Social Media is hardwork and the ROI can seem minimal BUT the opportunities are endless. You can instantly update thousands of people on your business in just a few moments. Be transparent, authentic and relevant (whether to the business or current trends or yourself). Don't go for the hard sell, no-one likes that, you will get a better response from photos and subtle updates than a BUY NOW message. However, the odd 'great sale' is OK too just don't go all Barry Scott on your followers. Remember it is not the quantity of your followers/friends that matters but the quality - interaction is key to driving business forward.
  • Sue Ferguson, Tenterden Town
    Sue Ferguson works as a chiropodist and podiatrist, and also runs the Tenterden website and the social media for Tenterden, in particular its Twitter account @tenterdentown. This account was started in October 2010, follows 7910 other accounts and has itself 8533 followers.

    Last updated: April 2018