Despite some reservations expressed by open web advocates about the true “openness” of Facebook’s Open Graph API, Facebook’s new social plugins offer amazing sharing functionality (and therefore potential exposure) that small businesses can get excited about.
While Facebook social plugins are fairly simple to implement, understanding the practical uses for the different social plugin options can be a little confusing, especially in cases where the functionalities overlap.
To help you decide which options best fit your site (and to get you up to speed with the 100,000 other sites already signed up) we’ve put together this quick guide. If you’ve started using the plugins, we’d love to hear your thoughts about them in the comments.
1. Activity Feed
Overview: The Activity Feed box shows recent Facebook-related activity around your site as a stream, which includes how many people have liked or shared your content. The plugin prioritizes displaying activity from the reader’s Facebook contacts, turning it into a friend-only-related stream if there’s enough content (as per the screenshot above on the left), but fills any blanks with general recent activity (as per the screenshot above on the right) if there’s not enough content from your friends.
Who Is It Good For? For any site with an active Facebook following and regularly refreshed content, such as blogs, activity feed is a powerful tool that lets readers know what’s hot on the site.
This plugin has some crossover with “Recommendations” (see below), so it’s worth checking that option out before making your decision about which to implement.
Overview: The Comments feature allows publishers to add a comment box on select pages in which Facebook users can enter comments. . Users are also given the option to have their comment, with a link, published back to their Facebook walls and friends’ streams. This feature could potentially transform the web into one big Facebook wall for users to enter their two cents’ worth.
Who Is It Good For? If a site does not already offer comment functionality, this is an easy fix to add into the mix. Those with a low-end comment system could consider replacing the system with this plugin because of the exposure value in users potentially sharing comments on Facebook that link back to your site.
On the downside, some moderation abilities will be lost as this commenting feature is a Facebook-run system. There are still moderation options available, with use of the “report” link and the option for a site owner to delete a post. If you choose to add a “report” link, you or others, can highlight offensive comments. If you do not add a “report” link, users can click through to a commenter’s Facebook profile and report them from there. It will be interesting to see if the use of authentic and therefore traceable identity leads to better self-moderation — Facebook certainly hopes so.
3. Login with Faces
Who Is It Good For? If your site is looking for more users to sign up and engage with content, using a user’s social circle to encourage engagement is a great option. The plugin is resizable, so you can tailor it to best fit your site design, and it dynamically resizes according to the amount of faces it needs to display.
Overview: Facepile is similar to Login with Faces but without the login part. It shows visitors the profile pictures of their friends who have already signed up for your site. If none of a visitor’s friends have signed up to your site via Facebook, it does not display.
Who Is It Good For? There’s no need to implement this if you opt for the Login with Faces plugin. However, for sites that offer a service that requires a separate login process, this is a nice alternative to show users which of their friends have already signed up. The plugin dynamically resizes its height, so it won’t look awkward if only a few friends are displayed.
5. Like Button
Overview: The Like button is a simple one-click icon that allows anyone who is signed into Facebook to “Like” the content of a web page, such as a product, item of media or article. As people hit the button, the “Like” count on the page goes up and a one line clickable news story is published to the person’s Facebook feed.
Who Is It Good For? The Like button makes sense for a site that offers a variety of items or elements of content that can be liked individually, such as e-commerce sites, blogs, apps/software or media sites. If you’re looking for your general brand to be liked, then skip the Like button and go for the Like Box, as explained below.
6. Like Box
Overview: Like the older Fan Box, but with updated terminology, the Like Box offers the Like button, a gallery of those who have already clicked (which will be personalized to a signed-in Facebooker) and the option to show the wall “stream” for the relevant Facebook Page. Clicking on the Like button will create a connection between user and Fan Page and users will receive updates directly to their newsfeeds.
Who Is It Good For? Use the Like box plugin if you want a static window for people to like your brand (as opposed to the Like button, which is more tailored to individual pages or items).Because this plugin is a simple promotion tool, it could work for anyone and everyone with a Facebook presence.
7. Live Stream
Overview: The Live Stream box allows Facebook users to comment on your site in real time.
Who Is It Good For? The Live Stream box is great for anyone streaming a live event. It is a great tool for real-time chat whilst something is happening. This tool is not suitable (and in fact could run the risk of looking a little lame) on your average static site. If you want people to comment on a static page then go for the “Comments” option, outlined above.
Overview: The Recommendations plugin is a list of the most liked content on a site. This is a potential area of confusion for new plugin users, because the Recommendations widget is similar to the Activity Feed (as illustrated by the Digital Inspiration screenshot above).
The “Activity Feed” is a more dynamic, active, social experience that acts as a stream of the most recent activities in a user’s network — great if the user has lots of Facebook friends interacting with your site. Recommendations, although also social and with personalized content, offers more of a generic “this is what’s being liked on this site right now” experience.
Who Is It Good For? Sites that have not added the Activity Feed should consider Recommendations. Because the two plugins are similar, they could potentially duplicate content. However, there is a difference between the two, so you might want to think carefully about whether you want “Activity” or “Recommendations.”
Either way, don’t underestimate how powerful it can be for someone to land on your site — perhaps for the first time — and see that tens, hundreds, or thousands think your site/content/product is worth sharing. It’s up to you to choose which option suits your site better, but both are great ways to show how Facebook users are interacting with your content.
Image courtesy of iStockphoto, Flyparade