Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Social Media Profile versus a Web Site

We paid $3,000 in Facebook ads last year to attract some new fans. Now, with this fancy [promote] button, we can pay $3,000 more for those fans to actually see our updates.
This image gleefully stolen from The Page That No One Will Ever See. Now it may be a seen page.

Yesterday an eye-catching headline popped up in my Twitter feed: 6 Reasons Facebook and Twitter Are More Important Than a Website (which is a different message than the author's "infographic" that suggests users find Facebook more useful than a brand's site). I have been down this road more than once, but I thought I would follow the link and see what those six well-thought, sound business reasons must be.

1. Websites Require Constant Maintenance

Given the immediate nature of social media, a traditional marketing web site needs far less maintenance than trying to engage followers. I argue that many users expect content on a web site to be relatively constant, updated as appropriate and, in the case of some web applications, automated to a degree.

A Twitter account that pushes out content every few days, however, might be considered slow. One that pushes content every few minutes can be an assault to a follower's timeline. One that doesn't respond to tweets from users might be considered disrespectful.

Contrast this with a Facebook page that has some traction and has many fans. When those fans post to the brand's wall or comment on posts from the brand, there is an expectation of a quick response from users, which requires constant vigilance to keep users from feeling like they are being ignored.

The author also claims web sites can cost between $50 and $5,000 dollars to build, but makes no effort to identify how much a social media resource costs to maintain profiles and fresh content across multiple social media outlets. This assumes a business isn't so clueless that interns are considered good resources for representing the entire brand on social media.

Sticking with the cost argument, I think the author hasn't been paying attention to recent Facebook changes in the form of promoted content.

2. Social Media Is Scalable

The author seemingly assumes most web sites are hosted on servers under desks. Granted, the real point is that a web site may not be able to handle traffic from a random viral traffic spike.

This may very well be true for some sites, but given how many sites are hosted on, and get resources from, content delivery networks and national hosts, the need to scale can often be handled with a phone call to a hosting provider to kick the site into the next hosting bracket. One cannot call Twitter or Facebook when it has been overloaded and demand it scales up for your traffic.

Interestingly, pages on my own site have suffered far more downtime as a result of embedded content from Twitter and Facebook. When they suffer the inevitable and random "fail whale," their poorly-written scripts can take down my entire page. At least when social media platforms are on the fritz, I can still direct users to the rest of my web site for information.

3. Websites Require Specialized Knowledge

I am actually a little sad this point isn't true. With the preponderance of WYSIWYG editors, export-to-web features, free platforms like Blogger or Wordpress with pre-built themes, it's far too easy for someone without specialized knowledge to get his or her message out there. And this is a good thing.

The author does make a point that to have a truly unique site with modern standards such as HTML5 and CSS will require someone with skill to do it for you. Oddly, the alternative he proposes is to use exactly the same Facebook or Twitter layout as everyone else. And I can personally guarantee it won't be built to modern standards such as HTML5 and CSS.

To be fair to social media, almost no web site claiming to be built to modern standards actually is either.

4. Your Customers Are Already on Social Media

Really? He knows that? He has run a series of surveys, done market analysis, engaged my users directly and determined they are on social media? And he found more than 15% of US adult web users are on Twitter?

For my target audience, he is right. Although that's by accident. I can also rattle off plenty of businesses (including my own clients) who don't know that for sure, haven't done the research, aren't in a position to, and can even guess that it's still not true.

The assumption in the article is that users are already inundated with web addresses. He argues that somehow a link to a Facebook page can percolate above all that, that even a Twitter hashtag will make sense to more users. The logic is that users are already on social media, so they'll just go right to your message.

Nevermind that your target users may be in a demographic that doesn't use social media. Or your business may not be a fit for social media. Or that there are still more web users than Facebook users (even if you include the thousands and thousands of fake accounts). Or that there is already enough noise in my Twitter and Facebook feed I don't see stuff from my real-life friends.

5. You’ll Be Easier to Find

Using SEO as a dirty word (well, it is), the author suggests that it's hard to find things on the web. He says social media platforms have their own search already, so if you just focus there you will be found much more readily.

To make an anecdotal argument here, which is abnormal for me but curiously appropriate in this case, I can tell you that if I want to find a brand or person on Twitter or Facebook, I go to Google first. Google provides a far better search for me than I can get in Facebook's or Twitter's results, partly because both Twitter and Facebook are too busy trying to pitch me or assume I know their lingo. If I'm not logged into either one, it's an overall useless experiment. If I am trying to research a product or service, then Facebook and Twitter are the last places I'll go.

Given how readily Twitter suggests people or brands I should follow that are either promoted, of no interest, or that I have already unfollowed, I would not rely on the discovery method of gaining new followers. Given how Facebook has changed its model to require you to pay to get your message in front of fans and their friends (promoted posts), I wouldn't rely on discovery there, either.

If you dismiss the value of a search engine to help users find you and rely solely on the search and discovery features of social media, then you are painting yourself into a corner. Twitter use won't generate enough content over time for all your targeted phrases (unless you constantly assault followers) and neither will Facebook, because they both push older content down, out of the view of search engines.

6. Facebook and Twitter Facilitate Content Creation

Yes, they do.

When I am particularly angry at a brand, I go right to their Facebook wall and post my issue. I also approach them on Twitter. In some cases, I hijack their hashtags. I create all sorts of content about how much that brand has disappointed me. The brand may respond and make it right, but my words are out there, getting indexed by Google, being associated with the brand.

But that's not what the author means, he means (his words) content can often be generated through the simple click of an upload button. Regardless of the fact that you need someone to take that photo, craft that caption, be available to respond if people engage with it, and even hope that anyone cares, he's telling us that content is free and writes itself.

Which it doesn't. Otherwise I wouldn't have had such a good turnout (and feedback) at my content strategy session at the local WordCamp.

Wrap-up

Only in the closing paragraph does the author suggest that maybe you might still need a web site and maybe you might benefit from Twitter and Facebook. So I have to ask myself, why didn't he lead with this? Why are the hollow arguments told strictly from the perspective of spending you effort on Facebook and Twitter to the detriment of your site? Because he's a social media services peddler.

If the author truly believed that Twitter and Facebook are more important to have than a web site, then I look forward to when he demonstrates that belief by shutting down his site and moving it all to Facebook and Twitter. Until then, it's a poorly-argued sales pitch.

Related

These are posts I've written that go into more detail on some of the points I raise above. Traditional web sites easily have as many issues and more, but that's not what this discussion is about.

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