A social media smorgasbordSocial media websites try to combine two things: people and content. When these two things work in harmony a website becomes a buzzing, viral experience, where users do the hard work and feel a bond to the brand / platform. 

In the past few days I have started planning and wireframing a new community-focused website, to try to develop and launch a useful platform. 

Creating such a platform should be reasonably straightforward in this day and age, since there are so many fabulous sites out there that are already doing this well. 

Indeed, I found it relatively straightforward to add the kind of tools and functionality I thought a social media site should offer to users. Many of these elements are second nature to us, since we use them everyday (on sites like Twitter, Last.fm, Facebook, Flickr, et al...).

So what are the common elements used by social media websites? 

After a weekend of wireframing I thought I’d share some of the things that I have built into the new website. 

My site will blend a curated approach with bags of user-generated content, but it needs to be more than that. Participation needs to happen not only at a content level, but also at a network level. 

I want to empower users, and to make them really care about the website. The end result should be highly interactive and will update content frequently, which I hope will make for an addictive experience requiring a regular fix.

Here I outline the various elements that add functionality for users, to increase participation (the key to success). You’ll be familiar with all of this, I’m sure, but I still think it is handy to have a cut-out-and-keep checklist. 

Not all of these elements have made it onto my wireframes (some of them will be added as we build out the necessary functionality). In any case, you don’t need them all. Nevertheless, this is a kind of smorgasbord of social media functionality from which to select elements from, to boost activity on your website.

Are you ready to feast?

The social media smorgasbord

A few quick points:

  • I have loosely grouped elements together under relevant headings, though some items can live under multiple headings. 
  • Most of these things are self-explanatory, so for the purposes of brevity I have minimised guidance notes. 
  • This isn’t an exhaustive list, but a top of the head braindump based on many of the sites I use on a daily basis. Please suggest other elements in the comments section. I'm sure I'll have missed a bunch of them.
  • Some of these items can’t be labelled as ‘functionality’ (e.g. ‘user profile’), but are nevertheless important and share common elements across the sites I use.

RATE (all types of content can be rated, as can users)

1. Like this
2. Love this
3. Favourite 
4. Bury


5. Wishlist
6. Bookmark
7. Tag


8. Friends
10. Fans
11. Groups


13. Reviews


14. Add an item (articles, links, stories, videos, images, etc)


15. Recommend to a friend
16. Auto recommendations – content (‘you might like this’)
17. Network recommendations – users (‘neighbours’, ‘similar profiles’, ‘nearby’)
18. Invite (‘invite a friend to Spotify; you have three invitations left’)


19. Send a message (‘poke’, ‘shout’, or ‘DM’)
20. Status update


21. Recent activity (e.g. news feeds on Facebook, ‘recent activity’ on Last.fm, follower activity in your Twitter feed)
22. Content / product feeds (as distinct from users, because in my case some types of users have ‘products’)


23. #Followers / following / fans / friends 
24. #Ratings (#loved / liked)
25. #Comments
26. #Recommendations
27. #Items added


28. About / bio
29. Avatar
30. Links
31. Joined on (timestamp)


32. Widgets (‘add this feed to your blog / Facebook')
33. Settings (customisation of visual display, layout, etc)


34. Events ('attending')
35. Content and user grouping / filtering
36. Hide / delete user / content
37. Devices ('upload via mobile') 
38. Updates (email / mobile / RSS etc)
39. Third party bookmarking ('Add to delicious', 'ShareThis')
40. Popular / top rated / latest (content / user sorting)

So... what did I miss?

[Image via achichi on Flickr, various rights reserved]

Chris Lake

Published 28 April, 2009 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

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Comments (6)

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David Iwanow

David Iwanow, SEO Product Manager at Marktplaats.nl

I think the issue that lets down these sites is the complicated signup process, its better when they follow the linkedin/econsultancy model where you can start with just basics and you can easily see what % of your profiles is complete.

Other times many of these social communities go a little over the top with social media plugins, just pick a few, no point listing every single possible one that you could be bookmarked with. 

Final point is move to an open platform such as OpenID, or Facebook Connect depending on your audience.  This also gives you a larger potential audience as people are typically lazy, if they can use one login and easily access your site they will, otherwise they will go elsewhere.

about 9 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

Agree strongly with that David. Form design isn't sexy but it matters greatly... I'll be figuring all that out this weekend.

Good point about OpenID/Connect too.

about 9 years ago


Samantha Rufo

Not sure how you would classify it.  But, one thing I think missing is the abilty to pull profile info from other social networks.  Since there are so many places people need to create bio's, if you can make it easier on them by allowing them to pull their info from their mySpace, Facebook, or Twitter page and easier on you to create a populated site.

about 9 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

Hey Jenni,

You're absolutely right and that serves as a useful note of caution. For me the biggest factor in determining success will be the initial seeding work, to encourage the right kind of people to start using the site early on. Facebook did this well, using students and making use of the viral / network effect. Alas, not every site can replicate that.

On the Digg point, I agree with you but I also think that a sense of competition can be a good thing, and a great driver for scale. On the site I'm working on there are similar Digg-style issues to consider, namely how to automate the placement of content on the homepage (and category homepages). Anything algorithm-based can be gamed. How we react to that is something we'll need to figure out along the way. Maybe a curated approach will work better for this to begin with (or later on). It's up for discussion...

It's definitely tough to build out a community, though maybe it's a little bit easier than it once was, given that people are increasingly using social sites and the kind of functionality described above.

about 9 years ago

Charlie Osmond

Charlie Osmond, Chief Tease at Triptease

Hi Chris,
That's a good collection of user-modules (as we call them). Your list of 40 certainly covers some of the most obvious ones. However there is a long and extensive list of additional modules that I think are worthy of detailed consideration (NB our FreshNetworks Community Platform has over 100).

The biggest area you've missed out, as most people do if they are setting up their first online community, is the admin and Community Management side of the site. (NB I realise you may have done that on purpose).

Sustainable communities require strong Community Management. And for a community manager to be efficient and effective there are many tools you need to consider ahead of build. For example, how can a community manager move conversations within a community if people start to drift off-topic. This is important because as a community grows it must continue to be kept in good order. 

Our experience is that until you've had to manage a community over multiple years, it's easy to discount the importance of these tools in growing a successful, sustainable community.

FreshNetworks - Europe's Online Community Experts
PS if you want a couple more user-modules, you could add points allocation/collection (useful when incentivising support communities) and polling

about 9 years ago


Angie Jordan

That is a great list to start with and I definitely agree that starting as a free platform is the way to go. Just adding an upgrader user option that is paid will draw more people in, allow them to use it, and then convert them slowly.

almost 6 years ago

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