Make Your New Site Social

It's never too early to integrate social networking into your website. In fact, the sooner, the better.

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Your website may be just hours old, but that doesn't mean it's too early to start integrating social networking. Wine retail startup Bin Ends' website, binendswine.com, features a blog, click-to-chat with the sommelier and homepage links to its social networking pages on Facebook and LinkedIn. And customers can follow video updates about new wines through the company's personal channel on 12seconds.tv.

Social features like these are becoming must-have accessories for web startups of all stripes. Bin Ends co-founders John Hafferty, 45, and Craig Drollett, 34, even have a social ace in the hole: live Twitter wine tastings. "We've built the foundation of our networks on Twitter because we're able to reach out to more people than with any other platform," says Drollett. "With a quick 140-character post, we reach thousands of people literally all over the world." Bin Ends' Twitter Taste Live site is built on the Ning social networking platform and has quickly evolved into an active community of wine enthusiasts and experts that also generates visitors for Bin Ends' retail site.

This Braintree, Massachusetts, company has found a way to move real-world wine activities, such as tastings and sommelier recommendations, onto the web. You can take a similar approach when evaluating social features; choose wisely and let your customers be your guide to what works and what doesn't.

Finding and implementing the right social tools is only part of the battle. "The issue a lot of people have with Web 2.0 is not with basic use and integration, but with fully understanding how to use it to disseminate a specific message," says Drollett. "Don't sell, sell, sell. Just get your message out, and over time you will be found." That very philosophy translated to sales of more than $1.5 million for Bin Ends in 2008, its first year in business.

—By Amanda C. Kooser, a freelance writer in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who specializes in technology.

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