Facebook Shows Us The Way
There’s been a lot of talk on this blog about social networks lately – it’s an exciting area of the web and one of the new leaders in the field is Facebook. Facebook started out as a social networking tool exclusively for college students but has recently opened its doors to the public at large. I signed up for a facebook account recently and am already impressed with its functionality. More importantly I feel I’ve learned about what social networks and the web in general can do most effectively. Here are the lessons I’ve learned and how they can be applied to wineries online:
Design Should Serve Content
One thing I like about Facebook is the way that the pages are structured. Different components like messages, updates, profile info, etc. are laid out in a predictable and manageable way. The focus is on clearly communicating the information that is likely to be most important. Everybody’s page has the same structure and look which makes it easier to see differences in content. This is very different from myspace where individuals customize their pages with so much imagery, music, video etc. that often it’s difficult to know where to look.
I see it this way: myspace is about individual expression, facebook is about individuals communicating. As such facebook is better placed to take advantage of the internet which is essentially a communication technology.
Lesson for wineries: Distinctive branding is great but the message and functionality of your website is even more important to online customers.
Social Networks Are Best At Enhancing Existing Relationships
I’m not sure that networks can be truly created through the internet. Facebook took off because it hooked into societies that already existed: college campuses. These networks were finite, geographically specific and already full of activity in the offline world. With its expanded audience Facebook is still serving existing societies in the form of “networks”, be they regional areas, colleges or workplaces. I’m not making new friends so much as strengthening connections with people I already know.
Anthropologists have surmised that we can only have relationships with 150 people at a time, a holdover from our prehistoric societies of kinship clans. Tightening up this group may be more satisfying that expanding it beyond our innate ability feel connected to so many people. Networks evolve and expand but in a gradual organic fashion.
Lesson for wineries: I’m bearish on wineries creating their own social networks since this requires creating relationships online from scratch. What networks already exist that you can tap into either online or off? Maybe you can find your college fellows online and invite them to participate in a special promotion of one of your wines. A regional network may provide an ideal audience for winery events.
There’s Always Something New
In facebook you are constantly updated when there’s activity going on with any of your friends. This is actually the most prominent part of your facebook home page and it’s extremely satisfying to feel up to date in this way. I can see when my friends add other friends, when they change their profile, when they join a network or add a piece of functionality to their page - and I can see it all in one place.
Lesson for wineries: Keep your audience feeling current with your news. Update the news on your website, change your homepage content to reflect what’s going on now at your winery, share current information with your customers through email newsletters. Nothing strengthens a relationship like finding out something new about somebody. This is where Facebook excels and the web (and of course easy content management like in our REthink Engine) allows you to likewise share new information as often as you’d like.
In an earlier post I talked about treating your site users like customers and visitors. Take a tip from Facebook and treat them like friends.