APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) are among the most powerful features of social media networks. They allow us to add both content and functionality to a website while taking advantage of their vast data capabilities.
And developers have found all sorts of creative uses. For example, enabling users to log into a website via their existing Facebook account. It’s an added layer of convenience and means one less password for people to remember.
Then there’s the ability to tie in with eCommerce, share live streaming events, and display your latest posts. Each of these items can be a valuable addition to a website. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what’s possible.
Even so, the choice of tapping into a social media API shouldn’t be taken lightly. There are some risks involved and scenarios where it’s overkill.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some things to consider before you make social media a part of your site.
Determine the Value and Purpose
The value of social media content and functionality is subjective. What some would consider a “must-have” feature may be the opposite for others.
Thus, it’s worth taking some time to think about what social features you want to implement. How do they fit in with the overall goals for your website?
Ideally, they’ll serve a specific purpose, such as:
- Gaining followers and creating community;
- Increasing sales;
- Powering your multimedia content;
- Improving the user experience (UX);
The answer will be different for everyone. And it will likely depend somewhat on the ease and cost of implementation. For example, will a given feature require a WordPress plugin or custom code? Sometimes the benefits don’t justify the costs.
If you find that social media adds real value to your website, great! Otherwise, you may want to look elsewhere for a boost.
To Push or Pull Content?
If you’ve decided to implement a social media API, the next question is where that content should originate from. In other words, is it something that could be efficiently self-hosted on your website or should it come from your social feed instead?
Some content, such as videos, could theoretically be hosted directly. However, storage and bandwidth costs may be high. Therefore, embedding that same content from a service such as YouTube might be the better option.
In other cases, pulling content from a social media API could be overkill. If your website utilizes a content management system (CMS), you may be better off creating content there and then pushing it to your desired networks.
Aside from bandwidth-intensive items, mission-critical content should originate from your website. This provides full control over the content. Plus, it protects you against any downtime from third-party providers.
Understand the Risks
If you pay attention to world happenings, you may have noticed that some social media companies don’t have the greatest of reputations. While policies vary from provider to provider, there are some fairly universal concerns to be aware of.
Utilizing an API means you’re accepting some level of risk. Among them:
While most social media APIs are technically free of charge, there is a cost when it comes to privacy. These services will generally gather data on both your website and its visitors.
The data can be used for serving relevant ads, discovering user preferences, and generating demographic profiles. And it may be accessed by more than just that particular company. It could potentially be sold to anyone else willing to pay for it.
This is both an ethical and a legal issue. Depending on where you are in the world (and where your visitors reside), there may be compliance requirements to think about.
It’s important to know where social media companies stand on privacy. At the same time, it’s challenging to gain a clear understanding of individual policies and keep up with changes. Still, it’s worth researching.
Keeping your website performing at its best is a constant battle. And the more third-party APIs you integrate, the more potential for something to slow down your site.
Even seemingly simple features like a Facebook or Twitter timeline can hamper performance. It might be that their servers experience slowness or output code that generates errors in the browser console.
Either way, your site suffers the consequences.
Downtime and Breaking API Changes
What happens when an API experiences downtime? For one, it could mean that whatever features you’re counting on are temporarily unavailable. This could be disastrous for sites that rely on these systems.
In addition, the big social media companies have been known to make major changes to their APIs. That often means having to adjust your code (or hope that the plugin you’re using is updated). Otherwise, you risk losing functionality.
Even if rare, these situations seem inevitable. As such, you’ll want to pay close attention to the latest developments for the APIs you implement.
Having a plan in place for how your site handles an API issue is also worthwhile. For instance, caching might keep things running until problems are resolved.
Use Social Media APIs Thoughtfully
There are plenty of great use cases for connecting your website to a social media API. They can bring a wealth of valuable content and functionality.
However, it’s not always the best solution. You may find alternatives that better respect user privacy and avoid the performance overhead that comes with the territory.
So, before you implement an API, consider the factors above and make sure it’s the right fit for your needs.
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