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Find and understand new readers with Facebook's Like button social plug-in and Insights analytics

29 April 2010


One way writers can get an audience is by publishing online, but the challenge for many writers is that people rarely go searching for the kinds of things they write. How often have you sat down and typed keywords into Google and trawled through pages of results to try to find a new novelist to read? Never.

People discover a lot of the content they view online virally through sites like Facebook and Twitter now. Facebook has launched new features which enable any website to put a 'Like' button there. That means that when people do discover your website, they can click the Like button and it will be added to their Facebook profile, where their friends can see it. Facebook says that the story is also shared with their friends, but I haven't been able to confirm that works. If it does, it is a powerful way to ignite word of mouth.

You can get started by just pasting a short snippet of code into your blog template. There is documentation for all the Facebook site plug-ins here. There is a Facebook Like button generator here that you can use to create customised code for your site.

The default version leaves a large gap underneath the text (presumably for photos of people who liked it), so here's a simple customised version I've created which doesn't:
<iframe src="http://www.facebook.com/widgets/like.php?href=http://www.EXAMPLE.COM" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" allowTransparency="false" style="border:1px solid black; padding:4px;width:500px; height:24px;background:#ffffff; overflow:hidden;"></iframe>

You can copy and paste this into your own website. You need to change the website address from EXAMPLE.COM to your own website. To get rid of the border replace '1px solid black' with 'none' (without quotes). You can try changing the other parameters, but if you want to do that, I suggest you just use Facebook's Like button generator unless you understand HTML.

This is what it looks like:


Feel free to try that out and tell your friends how much you like my website ;-).

The data can be a powerful tool for writers. You can incorporate an activity feed for your site into it, so you can direct readers to the stories that the Facebook community is buzzing about now. You can also provide Facebook recommendations, which will direct readers towards those pages their friends liked most and then direct them towards the content most popular with all Facebook members. Both of these features are as easy to incorporate as the Like button.

You can use Facebook Insights to get 'detailed analytics about the demographics of your users and how users are sharing from your application'. It includes a graph showing how often the site has been shared, and a breakdown of who is sharing it by gender, age group and country. That kind of information is hard to obtain using conventional analytics, so there is potential to learn a lot more about your online audience by integrating your website with Facebook. The registration is simple and the stats are easy to understand. (I've written an in-depth primer on web analytics if you're interested in learning more about that).

To familiarise myself with the tools, I've added them to Wild Mood Swings for now and will look at how they might work well on this site once I've seen how people use (or don't use) the plug-in on Wild Mood Swings.

If you're interested in learning more about Facebook from the member's point of view, see my book 'Social Networking for the Older and Wiser', which dedicates a chapter to the site.

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©Sean McManus. www.sean.co.uk.