If you’ve done a “logged-in” search on Google (with Google+) or Bing (with Facebook), you may have noticed a few suggestions from friends… And wouldn’t you rather click a link advocated by a friend?

Evidently, I would. I recently searched for wine pairing suggestions on Bing. Among the top results, Bing presented a wine blog my friend Tori had Liked on Facebook. Because I know Tori has a knack for choosing the right wine to accompany a meal, I clicked the link that she recommended. As I perused the blog, I found some insightful tips on wine selections and – lo and behold – a lot of the wines described are available at the store that sponsors the blog – a quick ride away on the MBTA.

Friends’ recommendations heavily influence our purchase decisions and in an increasingly social search landscape, they can influence our click decisions (which are the first step toward purchases). Plus, social data is key to search visibility among users who are logged into their social profiles. Both of the leading search engines give preferential ranking to content promoted by searchers’ friends.

Facebook recommendation on Bing SERP.

So how can you turn your site visitors into content advocates who will help you spread the word and boost your brand’s online visibility?

1. Appropriately target your content.

Compelling content is core to every level of social engagement: You have to give users something worth sharing! An investment in quality content will pay off in terms of generating advocates. When your content builds the perception that your brand is a reliable resource, customers feel connected to your business. Studies show that “connected consumers” are 50 percent more likely to recommend their favorite retailers to friends and family, which (as my recent wine search proves) can generate new leads.

Businesses looking to gain an edge should work with quality content writers to produce reliable and social-friendly branded content. Of course, investing in reader-friendly content doesn’t mean you should forgo SEO best practices. Au contraire, make it easy for audiences to find your content via search the way the wine seller did. The subject of SEO-friendly, quality content marketing is one that merits more attention (and Brafton has written on this topic before – check out our related posts to learn more!).

2. Give people opportunities to share.

Once you’ve got the “social bait” live on your site, make it easy for site visitors to spread the word. Social plugins are an underutilized tool in today’s market. They seem to be cropping up everywhere across the web, but a recent Bright Edge study shows that in reality, only half of the top 10,000 websites incorporate sharing buttons on their content pages.Social plugin adoption

Social sharing buttons (the Google +1 button in particular) are quickly gaining adoption, but there’s still an opportunity for marketers to gain early adopter advantages. Plus, Brafton has learned that consumers will often use the buttons when they have the opportunity to share. In the case of one client, Google Analytics show that socially engaged users outnumber those who don’t Tweet, Like, +1, etc, content.

With Facebook you can implement the Like box to get people to Like your brand on the social site or implement a separate Like button that links to a specific URL (such as a blog post or landing page) for people to share. The latter makes your content visible on their profiles and their friends’ news feeds. If you want both, Brafton recommends you add the Like box to your home page and news or blog landing page, but add the Like button linked to URLs to individual content pages and blog posts. It’s making your content visible on news feeds that will maximize your social reach!Social engagement

Twitter and LinkedIn also have two distinct engagement buttons, while Google’s +1 button encourages sharing of specific content pages. (Again, Brafton encourages you to invite users to share the URLs to individual content pages whenever possible.)

The Analytics screen grab to the left shows that visitors to one client’s site frequently opt for social engagement.

3. Share your content directly with social audiences.

Content marketing is an integrated practice. You can encourage and promote social sharing, but also take up the mantle of spreading your content to audiences anywhere they are online. Distribute new blog post headlines or timely news content headlines across your social media marketing campaigns.

55 percent of Twitter users follow accounts they discovered through retweets and @mentions

By taking the initiative to go directly to social users, you’re maximizing your chances that these audiences will find and share your content. Retweets or comments to your Facebook posts will add the same “friend- of-friend” (and social SERP) exposure that social buttons on your site add. Indeed, 55 percent of Twitter users say they have found accounts they follow through retweets and @mentions from people they are already connected to on the microblogging site.

Plus, adding a URL to your Tweets and social posts will bring more traffic back to your site – and that’s a crucial part of why you want social engagement in the first place.

What results might you see?

Creating content advocates can boost the social traffic that you bring to your site – whether it’s traffic from links clicked directly in social sites or search traffic that is inherently social because logged in users are following their friends’ advice.

Social audiences can become some of your most engaged traffic – and engagement often translates into leads. One Brafton client, for example, offers sales management services. It is sharing branded news headlines across Twitter, as well as encouraging social sharing of its content via social plugins.

Here are some fun facts about the client’s social traffic:

Social visitors spent an average of two minutes longer on the site.
Social visitors averaged three more pages per visit than other visitors.
Social visitors returned to the website 64 percent more often.

What are you doing to encourage social sharing of your content? Are you finding socially engaged traffic is more convertible? Let us know in the comments!