Creating Communities and Better User Experiences: The Facebook Recommendations and Activity Feed Plug-ins

Written by James GunterJanuary 10, 2011

In previous articles, we’ve talked about cool Facebook social plug-ins that were introduced last year by Mark Zuckerberg at the F8 conference. The Login plug-in is great for creating a better user experience on your website, and the Comments plug-in is great for helping build a community of brand followers. But what about plug-ins that create a better user experience on your website AND help you create a community? Voila! The Recommendations and Activity Feed plug-ins (Facebook is so cool. They think of everything).

What’s Hot and What’s New

The Recommendations and Activity Feed plug-ins are basically two ways of approaching the same outcome. They are both ways of letting site visitors know about popular items on your site and (more importantly) letting site visitors know about site content their friends thought was interesting or informative. Both are a way to let site visitors know what’s hot and what’s new on your website.

The Recommendations plug-in appears as a box that shows the most popular content on your website according to the number of times it has been shared on Facebook. And if your site visitor is logged in to Facebook, it will show them content their friends have Liked or shared on Facebook as well.

The Activity Feed is slightly different. Instead of showing site visitors what it most popular, it will show them a list of your website content that has most recently been shared on Facebook. And if they are logged in to Facebook, they’ll see which friends of their have most recently shared your website content on Facebook.

A Better User Experience

Although the choice of which plug-in to use is up to you, the result is the same—a better user experience for anyone visiting your website. Posting these plug-ins on your site simply gives first-time site visitors a quick rundown on what is the most popular and most recent content on your website. And if they are logged in to Facebook when they visit your site, they’ll see the content that they’re friends thought was interesting or important enough to share on Facebook as well. Both of these outcomes create a better user experience for site visitors whether they are coming to your site for the first time, or if they are regular visitors.

Creating a Community

Besides giving site visitors a quick overview of what’s hot and what’s new on your website, these plug-ins also help you create a user community around your brand. If a customer likes your product or service—maybe they’ve even clicked the Like button you have on your site—they are isolated in their approval of your brand until they know that other people out there like the same thing. And when they know that they are part of a community, they are more likely to participate in the community and be a brand evangelizer.

For example, let’s say that that a cool new movie has come out, and you’ve been thinking of going to see it, but haven’t gone yet. Then you’re at a party, and you offhandedly mention your desire to go see this movie. Your friend says they’ve been interested as well. Suddenly, where you once had only a desire to go see the movie, you now have a social motivation to take action and go see the movie—you and your friend decide to go together. After the movie, you and your friend now have a shared social experience that you’ve both enjoyed (assuming the movie was everything you’d hoped it would be), so you are more likely to invite other people to have the same social experience, creating a community of people who share a social experience around seeing a cool new movie.

The same thing goes for your brand. When someone comes to your site and learns—through the Recommendations plug-in—that they already have two friends that have shared your content, they have now had a social experience on your website and with your content and brand. They have now joined a community of people who think your content—whether it be products, services, or blogs—is important enough to share, and are more likely to share it with others in the future.

Connecting Small Communities

Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody, points out that when you share information, your passion, pictures, or anything through social media—blogs, YouTube, Facebook, etc.—you are not sharing those things with the world, as most social media evangelizers would have us believe. In most cases, you are only sharing those things with the small group of people around you who also care about you and your interests. These small interactions make up small communities that are not based on geographic location, but rather on shared interests and social experiences.

If you can create small emotional bonds between your brand followers and their friends and family, you’ll be creating stronger emotional bonds between those small groups and your brand. The Recommendations and Activity Feed plug-ins aim to do this very thing by showing users that they are already part of communities and that your brand made that happen.

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