Can Social Media Replace Websites?
Posted on January 15, 2013
Finally, I’ve heard it all.
I attended a social media panel in Birmingham last month, and one of the audience members raised a question about the possibility of social media replcing websites. With all the hype over social media, that’s a completely valid question and a potential concern for those that don’t consider themselves digitally savvy.
First, a little background. I was really excited to be at one of Birmingham’s first social media-focused panels. For the most part, businesses here in Alabama have lagged on the adoption of social media, and you rarely see any socially-integrated campaigns in the area. You know there’s a deeper rooted problem when web design agencies label social media as “a fad.” (Straight from the horse’s mouth. And that was just last year. I wish I was joking, guys.)
Back to the “social media taking over websites in the future” question. I know for sure that I heard “yes, that’s a great idea” repeatedly from at least 3 of the 4 panelists. Admittedly, my face was buried in my #aafbham Twitter feed, and I’m a novice multitasker. Regardless, the panel’s nearly unanimous ruling blew my mind, and in my opinion provided dangerously misleading business advice to attendees.
From my perspective, the question was raised for validation purposes – that websites are still the foundation of the internet. The last thing I want to do here is to turn this into a discussion about which is more important – social vs. website. That would just be stupid, and as Jen Barnett of Freshfully.com stated, “It’s like comparing a store within a mall to a standalone brick and mortar store.” It’s simply not apples to apples. It just doesn’t make sense.
I suppose I would have liked to have seen the panel re-frame the question for the audience to: “Considering the importance of social media and how it has altered paid/earned/owned media relationships, what is the best way to maximize my company’s digital presence by tying everything together?” At least this way, you don’t blatantly tell someone that their website can be put on the back-burner because social media is more important.
For the average business, social channels provide a small portion of overall traffic to their website. While content that has gone viral through social channels can help spike website traffic by several thousand percent, it is extremely rare that any business will experience this phenomenon (let alone be able to sustain or replicate it.)
Social media has come a long way since 2005, but we haven’t seen much emerge in terms of social search or social commerce. People still use search engines to find websites that will help them answer questions. In fact, they use it 363 million times per day. Social search is still trying to find its footing; even Facebook struggles with how its potential can be leveraged.
To be fair, there’s just no other medium that can give you access to your followers’ friends like social can. But all too often we become enamored with Facebook’s theoretical audience of 1 billion monthly users. In the beginning we thought quantity was better than quality. Now we’ve learned the opposite is true. (Preach it, bro.)
Fact: social media has the ability to amplify a brand’s reach. However, it certainly isn’t an excuse to neglect the one space where you control not only the brand and information you provide, but the flow of traffic as well. You can’t do that easily on Facebook, because you play by their rules. And let me tell you, working within the confines of Facebook’s rule restrictions, design limitations, and ever-changing reach potential – it’s only going to get more complicated and restrictive in the future.
A website is a brand’s most profitable piece of real estate, because nearly every aspect of it can be controlled. Websites provide a blank slate for your brand through components like information, flow, user experience, optimization and so much more. And while I wholeheartedly believe in all of the surprise and delight/social care stuff, owned media is the one place where you get to set (almost) all of the rules. When you give up control of your online branding, you lose out on SEO, ecommerce, branding and the ability to create links. (Oh yeah, you’d also be entirely reliant on the servers of one company.)
As correctly stated by the panelists, Facebook, via the Edgerank algorithm, has technically reduced the ability to appear organically in every follower’s News Feed. So why would you rely on an ever-changing algorithm and paid ads to determine who your entire audience will be? Your website is there just the way you want it, waiting to be read by all and branded from top to bottom to your fit your organization.
I’m not knocking social by any means. Hell, it runs my personal life and gave me my first and second jobs. I’m forever indebted to social media and the change it has brought our world. I’m a Facebook/Instagram/LinkedIn/Twitter/Pinterest nut just like the billion others worldwide. I’m a huge believer in the power of social care and customer service being the new marketing. But let’s be realistic about this, people – we’re just not there yet. We can’t just abandon our own real estate for Facebook or Pinterest. We want the consumers’ attention, and yes, Facebook is where we get a lot of it now. But can you really afford to ignore Google and the hundreds of millions of searches conducted each and every single day? We have a lot of trust in Facebook to be that attention hub where we can focus our time and creativity to capture consumers’ attention. They can – and have – snapped it away from us at a moment’s notice. So ultimately, the best strategy is to strike a balance of social + web. A marriage of the two is where the sweet spot is. It’s going to be quite some time (if ever) before brands can fully migrate to a social-only marketing approach.
Do you think there’s too much at stake to let go of websites, or are you confident enough with social media’s growth that websites are on their way out the door? Discuss!Can Social Media Replace Websites? by Zack Sylvan