Ruairí Browne is the Managing Director of Kro IT Solutions Limited; a software development company in Dublin. He has over 12 years’ experience working in web technologies and he counts some very well-known companies as his clients. In this guest blog post for Spiderworking,com he examines the part a traditional website has to play in the age of social media.
I have noticed an increasing number of businesses operating from social media only and eschewing a traditional website. It is not something I am against in principle – actually I think a good social media presence is a lot more useful and cost effective than a bad website. It is also technically very feasible – you can sell products directly from Facebook now with no major setup costs. However for serious business owners here are some reasons why I believe you should keep a website as the central hub of your online activity.
1) Watch the T&Cs
Facebook, Google Plus, and Twitter all have seemingly daft rules about competitions, promotion, and other aspects of being a respectable user of their site. If you break these rules you will often be banned without warning or any right to state your case. By using social media as a channel to send users back to your website where they can then enter competitions or purchase deals you are ensuring that you do not fall foul of these rules. You may also consider that some websites such as those related to breast feeding or alcohol may fall foul of American prudence on those subjects that would not be applicable in Ireland.
2) Fashions Change
A well-known Irish band that I worked with spent a lot of money on a social media campaign to launch themselves on MySpace and Bebo. They also had a website which could be maintained, managed, and edited by the band themselves. However they never really took to the website and decided to run all their promotions and competitions exclusively through social media. At one point they had a major fan base of over 100,000. I asked them once if they had email addresses for all these fans and they laughed at me and told me email was old school (man). That was all very well until all their fans moved to Facebook and they had to start again back at zero. If they had driven even a proportion of their traffic back to their website they could have captured their fans contact details there and when the band moved to Facebook they would at least have been able to inform people. As it happens the change in fashion more or less finished the band because the second time around they had all left their jobs and could not sustain a second long campaign back to popularity. I am not sure that Facebook is about to follow Bebo down the drain, but if it does (and let’s face it Google Plus would like it to) then are you ready to move with it? Also imagine that one day you wake up and all your followers are gone from your Facebook page due to some glitch. It could happen and if it does Facebook will issue a brief statement saying that some customers were affected and there is nothing we can do about it.
3) Information is Powerful
Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and Google Plus are all great places to interact with your customers. However your website is owned by you and therefore a “hit” to your website is of great value to you. For starters you are on message right across the screen – you are not sharing your screen space with messages from the social media website or advertisements or anything else. Secondly you are capturing user data such as where they came from, what country they are in, what keywords they used to find you, etc. You essentially have control of the customer and it is up to you to lose them or make the sale. The same cannot be said with Facebook (or similar) where your customer is really Facebook’s customer and you have to compete for their attention. People picture Facebook as like a big shopping mall that attracts millions of visitors and allows you the privilege of selling to them. However remember that reality is that we are attracting millions of visitors to Facebook and then they are the ones that are trying to sell to those visitors. Think of the Arab guy in the market in Morocco. He comes out into the street with a monkey on his shoulder to attract attention and he tries to make you feel special by telling you he is Irish and his wife is Irish and his dog is Irish. All the time he is pushing you into his store. He knows that the market is a dangerous and fickle place where everyone wants a bit of you. If he can get you into his shop he has your undivided attention to try and make a sale. Facebook is like that market and you need to get people back to your website where you can get their undivided attention.
Users are not stupid. They know a Facebook page takes 3 minutes to create and that you can get 100 fans just by asking your friends. A website shows much more commitment. A website says that if I have a problem this person will still be here in a few months. This may not be accurate but it is going to be a factor in your customers mind. When e-commerce first took off the most successful shops were those with a brick and mortar presence backing them. Nowadays people expect that a social media presence will at least be backed by a website and if that in turn is backed up by a bricks and mortar operation then all the better.
Finally a web based business is worth money and can be sold. For all the reasons above and many more a business based solely on social media is of no value to an investor, bank manager, or buyer. Social media is also perceived [appropriately] to be about people. It is very rare that a small business has an effective social media presence that is not in reality based on one or two key personalities. Having a website behind your social media presence gives it a focus and a focal point that will make it easier for other personalities to take your place and continue to run your business.
You don’t have to look too far to see an example of a business run in the way I recommend. Spiderworking.com is a strong brand tied together by a good website. However Amanda is herself a brand on social media but she tends to filter most of her potential customers back to the Spiderworking.com website (after all where are you reading this blog post?). She is embracing social media fully but she is using it to strengthen and nourish her core business rather than as an end in itself.
I always picture a website as the trunk of a big solid oak tree. Social media is like a part of the root and branch system – it brings nourishment to the website and it allows the website to express itself. If a tree loses a branch or a root it will not die, but without many of them it will not live. There are many other roots and branches such as email, cold calling, marketing, advertising, and networking. They are all important but I suspect that right now social media is for a lot of businesses the one to concentrate on. Just don’t forget the basics – you need a good solid place to call home.
Sue Boedeker says
I couldn’t agree with you more. In my opinion, the goal of social media is to drive traffic to your website. Facebook and Twitter and other social media channels allow us to interact with our customers in an informal way, a bit like a networking event, but the website akin to a meeting to discuss in detail the client’s needs and provide solutions. Nicely put, Ruairi (sorry, there’s no fada on my US keyboard!).
Marie Ennis-O'Connor says
I gave a presentation this week to a non profit organisation who were bemoaning the lack of visitors to their website. I said that you have to give your audience a reason to visit your website – just your address and location and a few pictures is not enough and explained that it is like a shop window where the display never gets changed and visitors have no incentive to step inside and see what you have to offer. For me, this is where incorporating a blog on your website really works well to bring your website more alive and drive more traffic to your website.
I agree Marie, I always tell customers that they should invest as much as they can in their websites. I also liken it to a shop. If you go into a tatty shop with wallpaper peeling you get one impression, if you go into another that is spic and span you get another. This is very relevant for e-commerce as you are asking people to trust you with their credit card details.
The role of the website is definitely changing though, you must have interaction on it to keep people there. This is social media too. If you are able to get the conversation happening on your own site it becomes hugely more powerful.
Oooh, I really like your metaphor in the last paragraph. A really good post and one I agree wholeheartedly with each and every point you made