I disagree with the contention that social media is “…just a plural term for any online vehicle that allows for, and encourages, interaction” (see one of my previous postings on Social media for details).  Additionally, I predict that business websites will soon be far less crucial to a brand’s marketing strategy and market engagement than one might think (but more on that in a later post).

For the rest, I found Brazilian social media marketing strategist Gina Gotthilf’s recent article very helpful on several points that might prove of particular value to B2C businesses (B2Bers can still glean some useful tidbits, but the article is primarily speaking to e-commerce and e-consumer engagement). Ms. Gotthilf kindly agreed to have what I consider the most salient points excerpted here below, and I believe you’ll find some good tips on improving digital marketing tactics and optimizing your connection to your online audience/prospects:

When incorporating social media into a marketing strategy, most companies focus on Facebook and Twitter. Those who hire social media strategists also venture into niche platforms and new technologies, racing to stay ahead of the competition.

Yet what is often forgotten is that social media does not necessarily entail a dedicated platform – it is just a plural term for any online vehicle that allows for, and encourages, interaction. Hence, one of the most important steps in making your brand social is incorporating social elements into your company website.

Here are the top 6 questions to ask in determining if your website welcomes interaction.

1) Is your content shareable?

This may seem obvious but is more than often overlooked. Sure, readers can always copy a URL they find interesting and manually paste it into an e-mail to share with friends, or into Facebook to share with their network… but they more often than not WON’T. The rule of thumb is, and will always be: your community is lazy, no matter how much they love you. Use ShareThis to facilitate and encourage sharing by making (at least the most basic) buttons available by any post, photo or item on there. But don’t make EVERY button on the face of the internet available – your readers are too lazy to look through them and easily confused. But remember – just because you put a button there doesn’t mean people will click. Shareable content needs to be unusual, interesting, humorous or controversial. Keep this in mind when planning content and layout.

2) Can readers affect the content of your website?

Of course your professional website isn’t a wiki – open for endless edits by well-humored kids located in some non-English speaking country. Yet readers like feeling as though you’re listening enough to incorporate some of their thoughts and opinions. If you publish written content, perhaps offer the possibility of suggesting topics. If you publish visual content, give your readers the ability to submit their own for photos and video for display in a designated UGC (user generated content) area of your site. If you sell products, consider letting users vote on what models and colors they’d like to see made available for purchase or suggest changes to existing items.

3) Can your audience submit public comments or reviews?

Sure, your own description of your product may be accurate and what you sell or write may actually be life-changing. But readers want to hear that from other readers. Comments and reviews make your site look honest, transparent, and not afraid of public opinion. Of course, as with any other social media platform, monitoring is necessary to ensure that comments and reviews are appropriate, non-offensive and properly responded to if necessary.

4) Is your content dynamic?

Static websites are the equivalent of stores that never change their collections (I don’t know of any in real life, other than antique stores). Keeping your content new and fresh will encourage your readers to visit on a regular basis – to read new articles, check out new products or admire new images. Readers will most often share content from websites they are familiar with as a credible source of information – they don’t want to look foolish. Moreover, new content means new things to share… and more visitors entails more members for your new thriving community!

5) Does your homepage offer a relevant social experience?

When a reader is perusing your content… is he/she hanging out alone or with others? In other words, are there indications that other people are there too at that particular time or that their friends have been there before? Facebook Connect offers an easy solution to bringing people’s networks into your site without altering content and letting your readers find out what articles or products their friends have personally endorsed. Making buzz public (such as number of current visitors or total pageviews) and adding chat plug-ins are also easy, effective upgrades.

6) Is your site optimized for mobile platforms?

It’s no news – people are constantly browsing the web and looking for relevant information on -the-go. Browsing the web on your computer is so last year! Whether they own a Blackberry, iPhone or iPad, your audience will want to check up on sales when they’re close to stores, see if you sell something they need, or want to reference your content when it’s most relevant to them geographically. Make sure to create a mobile version of your website or ensure that your existing website functions properly on multiple mobile devices. Additionally, consider creating a relevant branded application and maintaining up-to-date on Facebook’s Open Graph mobile features.

Gina Gotthilf is a Social Media Strategist with several years of experience in developing, managing and analyzing social media marketing campaigns for luxury fashion brands. She loves observing and predicting behavioral and market trends online.