Customer Spotlight: David Neal

September 10, 2014

David Neal

In today's Customer Spotlight we are excited to introduce you to David Neal of Simple Share Buttons fame (built with X). Read on to learn more about David's story plus some great tips on creating viral content for social media.

Q: Hi David! Can you tell us about yourself and what you do?

A: Computing has been a real interest of mine for as long as I can remember. Each day I arrived at nursery I used to run straight to the computer and try to spend as much of the day there as possible! This didn't change as the years went on, if anything I became more keen.

In the year of 1999 I went on holiday with a friend and his Dad to Germany. We spent the entire week in the hotel room with a how-to book on HTML and a laptop. That was itmy interest in all things web was born.

A large part of my early career was spent working at a Special Needs School for children and young adults with Autism. I taught P.E. for a few years before becoming a Class Teacher.

As much as I loved helping the students at the school, when my wife fell pregnant I changed my career entirely and turned my coding hobby into a full time job.

Nowadays I work full-time at a digital agency as a PHP Developer and am also a Director for a Web Solutions company. Whenever time constraints permit I like to immerse myself in all the new and exciting things going on in the world of coding. My most exciting project at the moment is Simple Share Buttons which I have been developing for the past couple of years.

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges to developing plugins?

A: The biggest challenge I have come across is ensuring compatibility across different setups. There are so many thousands of themes and plugins out there in circulation for WordPress that clashes are inevitable; I quickly learned the importance of prefixing functions and variables to help prevent this! As if that can't be troublesome enough, you also have to cater for different versions of PHP, ensuring that you don't begin relying on new functions before they are rolled out by hosting companies. Of course not everyone has the latest WordPress version either!

One thing you can guarantee is that if two plugins are incompatible in some way and yours is installed second, you shall get the blame! You have to be patient and informative when talking to end-users, as they place a fair amount of trust in your coding capabilities when installing your plugins.

As with any industry, you can get some awkward customers, but it has to be said that the WordPress community is full of some really kind people and there's a real sense of being in it all together.

Q: What made you want to pick the topic of social sharing?

A: I had just created a new personal website using WordPress and I decided to add share buttons to it. I tried a whole bunch of different share button plugins and wasn't happy with any of themthe dashboards seemed pretty convoluted and I wasn't able to personalize how the buttons looked to the extent I wanted to. It was at this point I set out to make my own, and once they were ready I figured, It's only fair to shareso I released Simple Share Buttons Adder for everyone else to enjoy.

As it was never really my intention to create a WordPress Directory plugin I had no preconception of how things may pan out. The first users were really complementary and had some great ideas for new features that it could offer.

As the plugin's popularity grew, so did my excitement for the project. I remember checking the stats all the time, and feeling the buzz when seeing a extra couple of people had downloaded it for their websites. I nearly threw a party when it passed the 100 downloads mark!

Things kind of snowballed from there, I created a website especially for the plugin and have recently launched a ‘Plus' version. With the total downloads of Simple Share Buttons Adder fast approaching the 0.5 million mark, maybe I'll have a real party when it gets there!

Q: Simple Share looks really cool! Can you tell us more about it?

A: Simple Share Buttons aims to do exactly what it says on the tinlet you add share buttons to your WordPress website, simply. Despite the name though, there's a fair bit going on under the hood: You can drag, drop and reorder the share buttons you want to use, upload your own images, display the buttons with shortcode, enable share counts, add custom CSS, and so much more!

With the Plus version every click of a share button is registered and displayed in a dashboard so you can keep track of it all. You can also see the countries that people sharing your content are from. It also comes with the ability to add custom-meta tags, minified CSS, retina-ready CSS sprites, popup windows, bitly support, and more!

Q: How did you learn about X?

A: I spent a good couple of months shopping around for themes, I tried out a few free ones and bought two high-end ones too, but I wasn't happy with the results of any of them. It was by chance that I spotted a Google Ad when searching again, stating It's official, X is the top-selling theme of 2014! I couldn't very well not take a lookit only took a minute of flicking through the Integrity demo make my decision!

If you're reading this and you are still in two minds, your search can end here, go buy X!

Q: How has X has helped you in your business?

A: My conversion rate (people visiting vs buying Simple Share Buttons Plus) literally doubled overnight! Not only that, the percentage of returning vistors to the site has increased too.

I'd like to say I'm a pretty competent PHP Developer, but when it comes to being creative I have to hold my hands up and admit my skills in the area leave a lot to be desired. X takes away the need to be creative by looking awesome out-of-the-box with its different Stacks and demos. Some themes can leave you pretty constrained with the look and feel unless you make changes/create child themes. This is the first theme I've ever used that I've not had to edit any of its core files, a refreshing change!

The way that X utilizes Visual Composer is very impressive, It makes it so easy to create amazing web pages and maintenance time moving forward will be drastically reduced. I couldn't be happier with how my site is looking today and it's all down to X.

Q: Have any good insights for the kind of content that gets a high social interaction?

A: The most important part of ensuring high social interaction of your content, is trying to get viewers/readers interested within a simple glance. People tend to flick through their social updates fairly quickly, so keep your share descriptions short and to the point and ensure you always have images set to accompany them.

In my experience (asides from global news), it's funny or heartwarming topics that gain the most traction with social sharing, so if your company is out doing some good in the community or your new kitten is hitching a ride on the back of your dog you can be sure people will spread the word!

Given David's background in creating a popular social sharing plugin, he was kind enough to share some inside tips on creating Social Snowballsviral content that is social gold!

Social Snowballs

Gather the Snow

Whatever kind of site you are runninghave a social strategy plan! The thought of it may be off-putting and downright dull, but seriously, if you want to have any luck with getting your content shared consistently it is essential.

When it comes to planning: I'm not talking spreadsheets and the like, but unless you're a cat or a celebrity going off the rails, winging it will just not cut it. Granted there may be some people out there that can repeatedly serve up content on the fly that goes viral but (like me) I can almost guarantee that you are not one of them!

All the big players in digital will regularly have plans for content months in advance, trust me, I've been involved in the development of multiple Christmas campaigns since February!

Keep Your Snow Together

Whether you're running a company website, blogging as an individual or allowing contributors to write for you: it is important that the overarching voice of the website is kept the same across all your content. By this I meanrefrain from contradictory posts and write about similar or related content.

The key outcome of this is to keep those interested in your site engaged, thus enabling you to build your fan-base instead of allowing it to fluctuate.

Make Sure it's Packed Together

If your content is all flakey, it's all going to fall apart. People tend to flick through their social updates fairly quickly, so ensure that what they'll see when they're about to pass yours draws them in.

Keep your headings short and always try to include a decent imagebetter still, use an image that conveys your message alone, or with embedded text. Make sure that your share button plugin allows you to customize the share meta information as well so that the correct image, title and description is the one that social sites utilize.

Always, always encourage people to get involved in some sense of the word. Be it leaving an air of mystery, asking questions or actually suggesting to people to actively do somethinga few initial responses are capable of getting your Social Snowball to grow by itself.

Pick Your Target

By target, yes I do mean your target audience, but what about the social site? You also need to take in to consideration which social sites they will be using most actively, if at all. A collection of your latest holiday snaps may not get that much attention from your average LinkedIn user, for example.

It's important to get your timing right too, this does all come back to your planning, but releasing a post on Wintertime Life-Hacks just as Summer is setting in will likely be overlooked entirely.

Timing doesn't come down to just the time of year/month/day either, try to keep an eye on trends, and if there's something trending you feel fits your site well, get it out quickly (whilst ensuring the quality isn't compromised!). This does obviously slightly break the aforementioned Planning aspect (I am aware of this!), but jumping on the bandwagon at the right time could potentially be the break you have been looking for.

Throw It!

So your latest post has been carefully constructed and you're ready to get it out there! I hope it goes without saying that you already have share buttons on your website (get your sn*w together!). If not, seriously start checking out your options. Key things to look out for with share buttons plugins are:

  • Customization: Can you change the styling easily to make them fit in with your website?
  • Tracking: Are you able to track if/when/how/where they are being used?
  • Responsive: Do they work well on both desktop and mobile?

I would certainly suggest you liaise with bloggers out there: high traffic blogs shall charge to write an article on your site/product, and may well be of benefit to you, but there are plenty of enthusiastic people out there just keen to have something to write about and will be happy to help for nothing.

Review Your Shot

If you don't review your past/present content success, you've no way of determining what you're doing right and wrong. Keep an eye on what posts/pages of yours have gained the most and least traction and compare their differences.

Pay close attention to any visitor analytics you may have tooas an example: a recent review of a client's eCommerce site's stats revealed that their largest number of visitors were in Europe, when they only offered shipping within the USAoffering shipping to Europe saw their sales soar in a matter of days.

Most analytics providers will also provide you with information regarding your visitors' devices. If you're using X (which you really should be!) you already have an awesomely-responsive website. If however you have a fixed-width website, the chances of mobile visitors feeling your site is worth sharing is slim to none. If (perish the thought) you have a website that forces you to mobile/desktop versions, somewhere along the line people are going to make sure their first visit is their last.

Thank-you David for contributing to our Customer Spotlight Series! We encourage you to check out David's Simple Share Buttons for more information on his wonderful plugin. You can also find more about him and get in touch through his personal site. If you are a customer of ours who is interested in being featured in a future Spotlight, we'd love to hear from you.