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10 Tips to Widget-up Your Startup Brand

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Widgets are taking social media by storm and becoming a valuable online marketing platform for interaction with consumers. Last June, comScore estimated that widgets reach 177 million people every month, or 21 percent of the worldwide online audience.

ComScore’s tracking methods are debated (see also Techcrunch: “The Widget Kings” and GigaOM: “ComScore Widget Metrix, more like a Jellybean Contest”), but clearly widgets offer an opportunity to create a positive brand experience. Take a moment to review comScore’s latest rankings of the most-viewed widgets (released in January):

Now, what can you do to make sure your widget has the best chance of success? I have some pointers…

10 Tips for Using Widgets (Well!) to Build your Brand
1) Make your widget engaging.
Successful widgets let the user DO something. Beyond bling, they facilitate some social action on the part of the user – picture sharing, sharing of tastes in music, sharing a contest or poll – anything and everything social.

2) Use flexible formats.
Offer your widget as a square, a rectangle, in various colors, sizes and shapes to appeal to the personalization desires and expectations of social media users.

3) Don’t Hesitate.
Deploy your widgets fast and often. The best way to garner traffic and engage site visitors is to be one of the early developers and deployers of a widget. Being an early adopter lets you leverage the loudest phase of word-of-mouth.

4) Don’t be a one-trick pony.
Have new widgets ready to follow. A single look/feel/function for a widget will wear out its welcome after a time. So plan follow-on widgets or upgraded functionality to expand upon the widget’s initial capabilities without forcing the user to change code. Make your widget part of a larger campaign, not a static event.

5) Maximize Adoption.
Let visitors to your widget’s users pages also adopt the widget without registration barriers. A “best of” widget works well in this capacity (aggregating the most interesting from your widget user base for others to showcase on their pages).

6) Keep it Simple.
Make the code for the widget so easy to copy and integrate that your baby brother could do it. Offer rewards or incentives for people to pass it on.

7) Promote, Promote Promote!
Just because you build it doesn’t mean they’ll come. You have to actively promote widgets in order to increase findability and shareability. This involves a little marketing for the marketing.

8) Make sure it works!
This sounds obvious, but all of us have had the experience of inserting code that doesn’t work. Few things bug Internet users more than taking the time to install something on their site only to have it show up as a blank box, cause problems they didn’t have before, or just plain not work as described. Test your code in various environments and within as many types of social media sites as possible before offering it to users.

9) Push the envelope. Go beyond the normal boundaries of what’s possible within the widget and also how it connects and enhances any given social graph. Connect your brand and value proposition to your customers’ areas of interest and enable something they couldn’t do before. Or improve something your customers are already doing enhance their online or offline experience.

10) Manage and cultivate the existing community.
Killer widgets aren’t introduced and then forgotten about. There’s a sense of community building that needs to take place in order to keep people active — and also increase the buzz factor of word of mouth marketing.

* Widget Definitions (from comScore):The current universe of widgets is defined as embedded Shockwave Flash objects, certain JavaScript objects, and Facebook applications. The comScore Widget Metrix service will evolve in its tracking of widget file types as the market dynamics and content delivery systems change. The report currently focuses on the individual widgets, and not the platforms that deliver them. Desktop widgets are not included in the reporting.

Mike Jones is the CEO and cofounder of Userplane, a premier provider of communication software for online communities such as MySpace, Friendster and eHarmony.