Anti-social website? WP social media plugins can help

I’m not saying all WordPress developers have poor social skills, but some do. The same concept applies to anti-social websites. They sit in a remote corner of the Interweb, all dressed up but nowhere to go. There’s something missing that limits their appeal and effectiveness, and that something is social media integration. Your website should be a social butterfly, not an awkward wallflower, and WordPress social media plugins are the perfect tools for the job.

Before you begin…

You can’t do social media integration without having some social media to integrate. If you’re a business owner, take a quick inventory of your social media “channels” and how you use them. Do you have a dedicated Facebook business page, or do you do your marketing on your personal newsfeed? Do you post links, pix and vids on Twitter, Instagram or YouTube, and if so, are those business accounts too? Is adding Pinterest, LinkedIn and Google+ on your to-do list, but you’re already short on time and content?

Relax, and welcome to the real world. Each social media channel requires fresh content and daily TLC, but nobody said social media management was easy. (Except maybe Hootsuite or TweetDeck.) The good news is that once you have a good content strategy, mixing and remixing social media on your WordPress site is ridiculously easy. Virtually all premium WordPress themes have social media icons in their header and/or footer, and many free WP themes do too.

Not all themes handle social media the same way, however, and sometimes you’ll want better icons or display options than come standard. Here are 10 WordPress social media plugins that can make your website more popular.

Facebook Like Box (Jetpack)

Whether or not you enjoy a daily dose of kitten memes on your personal Facebook feed, Facebook is the big elephant in the room when it comes to business-oriented social media. Lucky for you, Jetpack and other plugins make it easy for your website to be oh-so-likeable.

Jetpack is a super-plugin offered by the fine folks at Automattic, who also happen to run the commercial version of WordPress at WordPress.com. You may not use all of the Jetpack features on your self-hosted WordPress site, but there’s no harm in trying them out. Jetpack’s Facebook Like Box Widget is easy to configure right from your Widgets admin.

Facebook-Like-Box-by-Jetpack

From top to bottom you get:

  • A link out to your Facebook business page (or profile page).
  • An inline button to capture “Likes” without forcing visitors to leave your site.
  • A text-based counter of your likes.
  • An optional display of your page’s friends’ profile pics. This is good for squarish widget placements.
  • An optional display of your page’s newsfeed. This stretches the widget vertically and can help make your website look current, even hip.

To use Jetpack, you’ll need to link your WordPress site to your WordPress.com account. If you don’t have one, you can sign up for free in seconds. Among other things, this linkage sends some data about your self-hosted sites to WordPress.com, but that data is used mainly for your benefit when using their free or paid services. It doesn’t hurt or break your site, honest, and the upsells aren’t annoying.

Of course, Jetpack is not the only Facebook Like Box plugin out here. Facebook is important enough that several other developers have offered their own versions. Since the Like Box may take up residence near or at the top of your sidebar, it’s worth kicking the tires on more than one plugin to see which one suits your needs best. As with all plugins, check to see whether they’re supported and/or updated frequently.

Other options:

Ultimate Social Media and Share Icons

If a picture tells a thousand words, this nifty social media plugin reads like a hardback novel. The screenshots say it all: Here’s a well-organized, visually appealing plugin that demands attention from your site visitors.

ultimate-social-screenshot

You can choose from several palettes of icons, including some monochrome and minimalist options that could work well in a header or footer widget. Most of the target links are chosen by you, but email subscriptions are routed through SpecificFeeds. If that’s not your cup of tea, you can omit the email sharing icon. Additional options are provided to place sharing buttons at the bottom of pages and posts. All in all, this free plugin is feature-packed and well-supported.

Video Sidebar Widgets

If you have a YouTube channel, Video Sidebar Widgets provides an easy way to highlight and rotate your best vids. Stack them up in your sidebar or run them across your footer for a dynamic look that invites people to sample your latest video offerings.

If you don’t have a YouTube channel … why not? People are visual creatures, and a whole bunch of them live on YouTube for hours at a time. Create of series of short “how-to” videos featuring your niche business or hobby, then set the widget to display up to five of them randomly on your site.

Not a YouTube fan? That’s cool. Video Sidebar Widgets also work with Vimeo, Google, etc. If you have a wide assortment of video content that might be sidebar-worthy or deserving of full gallery treatment, check out YouTube Channel Gallery.

Note: This article doesn’t discuss video displays in pages, posts and animated “sliders,” which are typically configured to keep your visitors on-site. Sidebar and footer widgets are better suited to drive click-throughs to your off-site videos.

Sharing (Jetpack)

We discussed Jetpack briefly above. To activate its Sharing feature, you’ll need to a) install the Jetpack plugin, b) link it to your new or existing WP.com account, and c) enable the plugin’s Sharing feature. After you do, the Jetpack sharing widget for your sidebar and end-of-post buttons are both available; you can configure them from the WP Dashboard at Settings/Sharing.

Jetpack-sharing-buttons

I suppose you could style the buttons better with CSS, but simplicity is appealing in its own way. If you want set-it-and-forget-it sharing buttons without a lot of hassle, Jetpack works great out of the box in most WordPress themes. It’s also pretty good about prompting you to check out other features including Publicize, which makes it easy to blast your site’s posts on several social media networks automatically when you publish. (Maybe too easy; use caution with this one.)

If you’re not ready for that much power, all of Jetpack’s features are easy to deactivate without affecting the remaining modules.

OSD Social Media Sharing

Of course, for every plugin there’s a plugin alternative. OSD Social Media Sharing is one such example, as the developers explain: “This plugin is very similar to Jet Pack sharing without all of the bloat and external requests.”

Unlike other social media plugins that create specialized widgets, OSD Social Media Sharing uses a simple shortcode that can be used in text widgets, posts and pages. The shortcode was used to generate the buttons below, for example.

[osd_social_media_sharing]

Where it got a little freaky was when I saw the same buttons appearing at the bottom of this post. That’s the default behavior I set up in the configuration (Settings / OSD Sharing from the WP Dashboard), but there’s an override feature that can be found in the sidebar of your post/page edit screen. Check the “Remove Social Media Sharing buttons from this page / post?” box and the mid-post icons appear (via shortcode) while the end-of-post icons do not (post-specific default override). That’s pretty slick.

Social Media Feather

While this plugin touts its lightweight features, Social Media Feather is a heavyweight on the WordPress plugin repository. After installation, configure an initially daunting but powerful set of options at Settings/Social Media. Add end-of-post and mid-post buttons automatically or with shortcodes, or stick with a basic sidebar widget.

Social Media Feather plugin for WordPress

For people who really, truly need a guide to installation, this helpful 15-minute video will get you started. You’ll learn about the different “sharing” and “following” options that are common to all social media plugins, as well as good placement options on your website. Reddit and Tumblr users will appreciate the support for those services. Add HTML markup with prefix/postfix fields. If you’re a control freak, you just found your happy place.

Simple Follow Me Social Buttons Widget

There’s a definite treasure-hunt feel that comes with searching for WordPress plugins. The Simple Follow Me Social Buttons Widget may not pop up on your first search, but it shows that drilling down can be worthwhile. A huge assortment of social media platforms are supported, while other plugins are limited to the usual suspects. Adding a color-picker to shade your Retina-ready icons is a definite plus for the design-conscious.

Simple Follow Me social media widget

Shareaholic

This nifty plugin was originally marketed as Sexy Bookmarks, if I recall, but it has since morphed into the equally nifty (and no less sexy) Shareaholic. Better branding? Tough to say, but this is clearly one of the better and more popular social-media solutions out there at 2 million downloads and counting.

Shareaholic

Shareaholic claims its own space on your WordPress Dashboard, unlike other plugins that get tweaked under “Settings.” No dedicated widget is provided but you can disable the post/page buttons. Sign up for a free Shareaholic.com account for access to more features, including floating share buttons. Get a full rundown on the feature set here or check out getting started.

Twitter

There are oodles of simple Twitter plugins on WordPress, but the “official” Twitter plugin for WordPress is probably the best place to start. You’ll actually create and style your widget on Twitter instead of your WordPress admin, then copy-and-paste the Twitter-generated HTML into a text widget for your sidebar or footer.

Twitter-widget

If that sounds like too much work, most other Twitter plugins for WordPress only require your username to configure. Check for “Follow” buttons or text input areas that allow users to post Tweets right from your website. Here’s a small sampler:

Social Media Widget

This oldie but goodie hasn’t been updated for nearly two years, which is normally a sign to start looking elsewhere. Even so, Social Media Widget still deserves mention for its simplicity, attractive icons and versatility. Beginners and PHP-phobes may want to steer clear, however, because no updates also means no support.

Time to get started!

This post just scratches the surface of available media options. Of course, I committed several major sins of omission by failing to mention Instagram Feed, Pinterest “Pin It” Button, Pinterest Widgets, Floating Social Media Icon, Share Buttons by Add to Any (one of my personal faves) and a host of other fine plugins. If your social media interests go outside the mainstream, you can search for your service on the WordPress plugin repository or click “Add New” from the plugin admin panel on your site. (Another late entry: AccessPress Social Icons. Nice!)

The point is, we have the technology to connect your website with your social media channels, and it’s so easy that you may be encouraged to add more channels to the mix. Help your website visitors navigate to your Facebook and Twitter pages, and post plenty of site links on those same pages to send traffic right back to your website. You may not go viral overnight, but that synergy will pay big dividends over time in new site visits, likes and follows.