When venturing into social media, the goal for every business is for customers to engage and interact with them. They're investing time and money into their online presence, and expect some Return On Investment. ROI is king, and it's certainly not dead (vive le ROI!)

Like it says on the box, EPiServer Social Reach "lets you manage all your social content in one place." The key word here being "manage", as previous social media add-ons have been lacking in this area. Let's first put the need for Social Reach into context.

 

I used to feel socially awkward..

Several plugins and add-ons released by the developer community in the past have aimed to bring EPiServer and social media closer together, but there has been something missing.

Custom property plugins like ShareIt, allow the editor to add a customized "share this content"-button to pages, but of course the active party here is the end user, pushing content to his own social channels. Editors play a passive role, and this approach offers no built-in way for the editor to track the content sharing. 

More editor-centric add-ons like Social Ping lets the editor publish to a wide array of social networks from EPiServer, but requires a (free) account at external service Ping.fm and again, no built-in tracking of interactions. On the technical side, this module has no friendly installer and an editor would require some developer assistance to set it up. (The project is listed as a beta, though, has no significant code changes since 2010, and seems discontinued by the developer.)

Then there's Social Pack for EPiServer. Looking at the features list it apparently offers the editor widgets for EPiServer Composer to build Facebook-like pages with rich social interaction - activity feeds, Like-counters, comments and more, and even makes use of the Visitor Groups feature in CMS 6 R2 for personalized content. However, there is no documentation, no code changes since late 2011, and there is really not much public info about this project or popularity among developers

 

Social is within reach

Social Reach may still be in beta, but it shows great promise. As expected from an official add-on, downloading and installing the module is a breeze. Plug and play, no techie guidance required (besides some optional access rights tweaks in the .config files.)

The module uses the standard EPiServer visual styles and therefore instantly feels like a natural and properly integrated part of EPiServer. 

Adding social channels and configuring which users/groups may post to them is intuitive and quick. Editors can literally begin posting within minutes.

So, unlike some earlier efforts, installation and visual integration is smooth. But which feature really makes this product valuable?

 

It takes two to tango, my friend

Social channels are all about two-way interactions. Social Reach offers a set of tools to not only push the content, but also to monitor feedback and sharing, analyze statistics and adjust message strategy accordingly.

On the Overview page, editors see how many interactions (retweets, Facebook/LinkedIn likes, comments etc) their outgoing messages generated.

And if you love stats like me, built-in linking a message to a campaign using Google Analytics is a great feature that will help editors and marketers evaluate the impact of their campaigns and improve their communication. 

Even though Social Reach beta only supports Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn out of the box, the release note claims that other channels will be pluggable.

 

Feature wishlist and config tips

Here's a few thoughts about potential improvements:

Message drafts / autosave

  • If you are writing a message and leave the page (for whatever reason) before the message has been sent, the message is gone. A feature autosaving unsent messages would be nice.
  • The ability to save drafts of multiple messages for later would be useful. 

Message scheduling / queuing

  • Being able to queue and schedule messages for sending at a specified datetime would help timing and efficiency.

More message customization options for each channel

  • When posting a message to Facebook, including an image along with the text/link adds a nice visual touch in your feed. But on Twitter, where pics appear as links, it might be unnecessary. It would be useful to be able to select which fields (Image, Link) should be included for each channel before posting.

Message preview

  • Being able to see a preview of how the message will look for each channel before sending could help ensure maximum impact.

Resending failed messages

  • Messages that failed to send are shown in the Overview list with a warning icon. A "try again" button would be handy.
  • The ability to edit failed messages (edit text/links, remove some of the selected channels etc) before trying again would save some annoying repetition.
  • More detailed error messages/logging.

Export statistics

  • Exporting the data to e.g. XML would ensure statistics are not lost and can be presented in various ways externally.

Post social message directly from edit mode

  • It would be fantastic to have the Outreach tab available as a tab when editing a page, so that the social message can be prepared and triggered when the page is published.

 

Quick config tips

  •  By default, web.config grants access to Social Reach for the groups SocialAdmins and SocialEditors. (Note: you have to create these groups manually in Admin mode)
  • Edit the web.config <location> node for /modules/EPiServer.Social to change which groups/users are allowed to access Social Reach.
  • Only allowed groups/users will see Social Reach on the dashboard
  • Be sure that your user is granted access to the new workflow SocialFlow (Admin - Workflows - SocialFlow (edit) - Security tab)
  • If your Facebook account has publish access to other pages (e.g. company page), you can post to these page by first adding the Facebook channel (logging in as yourself and approving the Social Reach app), then going to Settings - Facebook (see details) - Edit - See account details. The dropdown box should list all the Facebook pages you have publish rights for.
  • During testing, I came across some quirks which I'll pass on to EPiServer. There might be a follow-up post about this.

 

So, thumbs up? Like it? 

For site owners wanting to spark engagement and connect with their audience across multiple social channels, there is good reason to be excited about this add-on. And I'm sure the product will continue to evolve and unlock even greater potential.

Just remember that this gives you the tools to monitor the impact of your social messages - but you will still need to be responsive and proactive when your customers contact you back on social channels.

Did I mention the add-on is free? (at least while it's still in beta.)

Oh, and if you reached this blog post by clicking on the link from @epinova on Twitter or our Facebook page, we're already tracking your interactions - using Social Reach  :-)