Should you be on Facebook?

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This is a question I get a lot from scientists — there is a pretty widespread perception that Facebook isn’t serious, or that it’s a lot of work for little payoff.  The best way I know to answer is to point people at an amazing resource: The Pew Internet Study.

The Pew project releases 10-15 research reports each year. One of main reports is a yearly examination of how American adults and teens use social media.

Pew graph of social media use

As you can see from this graph, Facebook dominates the online world, and continues to grow. The overall trend is upward for all social networking platforms, so more people are adopting these platforms overall.

Other interesting bits of information you can glean from the Pew studies are demographics of different platforms. Here’s an example:

“While Facebook is popular across a diverse mix of demographic groups, other sites have developed their own unique demographic user profiles. For example, Pinterest holds particular appeal to female users (women are four times as likely as men to be Pinterest users), and LinkedIn is especially popular among college graduates and internet users in higher income households. Twitter and Instagram have particular appeal to younger adults, urban dwellers, and non-whites.”

Pew also collects information about where people get news, and how linked that is to social media platforms.  Again, depending on what group you want to target, this can be extremely useful in deciding which online media to adopt.

One of the main themes in my social media consulting is to make sure that the online effort you expend is aligned to your organizational goals and key audiences. “The entire Internet” is not a useful or achievable target audience for engagement!  You have a limited amount of time and energy to put into social media, so make sure that the channels you choose have a high ROI (return on investment).

social media pathways to news

Facebook has a large user base, and those users do tend to get news via that particular social channel. There are additional factors you might consider in deciding where you choose to engage online.

Google Plus doesn’t have a large reach at the moment, but having a Google Plus page can help your page ranking and authorship status with Google Search.  You can also use a Google Plus page as part of a campaign to verify your local business or nature center as a destination on Google Maps.

There’s an additional complication: Facebook has made a lot of changes to its display algorithms since its IPO.  Right now non-profit and small business pages are clearly at a major disadvantage… unless they pay for advertising or promotion. (By the way, a work-around for this is to attach an image to anything you post on Facebook. But they will probably figure out how to correct for that soon.)

If you’re evaluating where to invest time and energy online, or re-evaluating the effort you are expending now, I strongly recommend looking at the Pew Internet studies about where Americans get their news.

Be warned, though: it’s fascinating stuff, and you may discover that several hours have drifted by while you look at all the data!

This is why I don’t use Flash

NOTE: this was written in 2014; Flash is now no longer supported by Adobe.

This is a screenshot of a non-profit foundation’s website; this site uses Flash extensively.

flash fail

What is the name of this non-profit? You can’t tell. Because it’s in an animation that you can’t see. This is why I don’t use Adobe Flash on any websites I build.

flash icon

If you aren’t familiar with it, Flash® (sometimes called Macromedia Flash) is what a lot of websites use to have cool animated or complex intro pages.  It is not supported on a lot of mobile and tablet platforms, so developers have to build two websites — one without flash for mobile, one with flash for desktops.

I’m a “work smarter, not harder” kind of gal, so I don’t see why you wouldn’t want to just build one site that is cross-platform compatible. Your websites need to be accessible for those with disabilities — and screen readers have issues with Flash.

Your website content should be accessible to Google and other search engines. Flash content isn’t. There is also plenty of data that suggests moving elements on a web page are distracting and confuse users. Flash sites have poor usability.

Whiz-bang intro screens are appropriate for some situations, but they are rare.

I believe people should visit your site, find what they are looking for quickly, and leave happy.

Knocking visitors’ socks off with a cool animation is more likely to get in the way than help your users.

If you really want complex actions on a website, you can do that with HTML5. And then it will be compatible with nearly all screens/devices, won’t be a security risk, and will be fully accessible.

(This is a discussion I had at a recent Girl Develop It Detroit meeting, which I thought I’d put in writing.)

Why I give away the secret sauce

“Why are you telling everyone how to do your job!? Won’t that mean they won’t hire you?

That’s possible. But the folks that I know and work with are, for the most part, scientists, nature centers, and people working to broaden inclusion in STEM. So, I want them to succeed. I want them to succeed even if they don’t give me money.

The purpose of my Unsolicited Advice Column is to help you assess if you need someone external to help with your website re-design, or if you can do it yourself. And it also makes the process of what I do more transparent, so you know what to expect if you hire me.

What’s a Content Analysis?

Shape 12Getting ready to launch a new website is a great time to sit down and think about how your content is organized.  I can do this for you, or you can do it yourself! Here’s how.

Start with a content inventory—what’s there, and where is it?  Using a site map, or site map generating tools, will give you a detailed spreadsheet showing all your web pages, file names, and links.

Once you have your content inventoried, it’s time to step back and think about content analysis.  In other words, how is your content organized? It’s not just the words, it’s how your ideas and themes are organized, that makes a website compelling and useful.

Here’s some items you’ll want to think about as you look at your existing website:

  1. Currency—What information is out of date and needs to be removed, or marked as archival?
  2. Co-location and Consistency–Are items with similar content or items about the same topic grouped together? Whenever possible, content structures in similar content areas should be consistent.
  3. Differentiation–Are dissimilar items or items about different subject areas in different content areas?
  4. Completeness–All content mentioned or linked to should exist. (No broken links or “under construction” labels.)
  5. Information scent–Are labels appropriately descriptive of content? Will visitors to your site know they are on the proper path to finding the information they are looking for? Each page needs a meaningful title that can stand-alone and tell the reader about the page.
  6. Multiple access paths–Because users think about content in different ways, they should be able to take multiple paths to get to specific content. Users should be able to access the content they want through the browsing hierarchy, by using search, and sometimes via links in the content.
  7. Audience-relevance–Do you need to organize some content to allow different audience segments to easily find what’s relevant to them?

That’s a lot of prep work, but there’s a reason for it. Once you know what exists, you can use that analysis to develop a content strategy. This will define:

  • Key themes and messages (big ideas and themes)
  • Content purpose (why is your content on the web?)
  • Content gap analysis (what content is missing?)
  • Metadata and Keywords for search engine optimization

By making sure that all your content reflects your key theme, and determining what keywords should go on each of your pages, you can make your pages cleaner, more useful to users, and drive more traffic to the site.

This info modified in part from:

Why outsource to a third-party?

The kinds of solutions I’m likely to suggest for you are ones that you can implement with minimal training, and that are “out of the box”.  Using a third-party solution lets you focus on the important questions:

What is your story?

What do you want people to know about you?

Focus on telling your story–let someone else worry about how to make your code compatible with the latest tech gizmo.

A website or social media platform is a living entity. You have to monitor it and care for it.  Otherwise, soon it will be a forest of errors and obscure database language will begin to show around the edges.

People now access your website from many different types of devices beyond a desktop computer: iPhones. Droids. iPads. Kindles. Each day brings a whole new platform and operating system that you have to make sure your site is compatible with. Why not let a third-party host take care of that?

When you use a third party hardware/software provider, you don’t have to worry about breaking your corner of the internet. Updates–especially security updates–will be automatic. Your data lives in more than one physical location so power outages aren’t a problem. Unless you have a burning desire to learn SQL and PHP, you probably don’t want to deal with servers.


Third-Party Software and Hosting providers I often recommend are:

If you’re interested in hiring me, you already have a ton of stuff to do, and no time to do it.  Been there, done that! I want to help you find a solution that is easy and does what you need it to do, not generate long term employment for me.