A couple of weeks ago, Jon Henshaw and I were interviewed on the WebmasterRadio show State of Search. During our interview, we were both asked a question that was posed to the host of the show at a recent conference:
Do you think that in a few years websites will cease to exist?
To give you more context, the gentleman who asked the question believes that social media sites like Facebook will replace the need for businesses to have a traditional website. With the way companies are investing in social media, and with the growth it has seen in 2010 alone, it’s easy to understand where he is coming from.
Take Toyota, for example. At the end of all of their commercials, they encourage users to visit their Facebook page instead of their website. In fact, they don’t even put their website’s URL in the advertisement. I’ve seen this same trend repeated in all forms of marketing С from commercials to display advertisements to catalogs I receive in the mail. Companies want you to find them on Facebook and on Twitter.
What I don’t understand is, why? I completely understand that one of the goals of social media is to create a more personal relationship with your customers and potential customers. That’s a fantastic ambition. But don’t you care more about getting them to buy the product then about how many fans you have?
Before the buzz about social media got so loud, it was easier to hear the SEOs and usability consultants who preached that you should get your user to your goal in as few clicks as possible. That meant that if users landed on your homepage, it was in your best interest to show them right then and there what you want them to do – whether that be sign up for a free trial or fill out a contact form. Doesn’t social media complicate that process?
The first thing you see on the Toyota Facebook fan page — the site they advertise in commercials — is a marketing ploy asking customers to share their Toyota experience. If you’re already a Toyota customer, that’s all well and good. It can help create more brand loyalists for Toyota. What if you’re not, though? They don’t list the stories on that Facebook tab anywhere. Instead, you have to click a link on that page, which then takes you to a series of videos you can watch. Now that you’ve watched a video, what are you supposed to do? There is zero direction. In fact, from this page there isn’t even a link back to the Toyota website.
Now, in order to get the user to do what you want them to do (either learn more about Toyota’s current cars or locate a dealership), you are forcing them to think to type in the URL and then start that process. It’s very ambitious of Toyota to assume they can keep a potential customer’s attention that long.
While social media is great for many things (and I fully endorse the it as a marketing channel), it will and never should replace your website. What happens if Facebook goes away? What about the next big community that starts up — are you going to have to rebuild over there? Don’t make the mistake of overvaluing social media and neglecting your own website. It will haunt you in the long run.