Why Social Media Will Never Replace My Website

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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.

Taylor Pratt
Taylor Pratt is the Product Marketing Manager at Raven Internet Marketing Tools. With Raven you can conduct research and analysis, manage link building campaigns, track... Read Full Bio
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  • Brad Marcus

    Large companies use their websites as brochures, while their Facebook pages and Twitter feeds are meant to intimately connect with their current and potential customers in a more direct way. If I’m looking for a car in general, I’ll hit the websites, but if the car advertised or the promotion in the ad is one that appeals to me, it’s much better for Toyota to have me go to their social media outlet to drive the sale more directly. It’s not a matter of replacing the website, I don’t think that’s good marketing. I think they are augmenting it.

  • Alex

    The idea behind social media sites like Facebook and Twitter is that they are user generated, honest and personal. If I go to Toyota’s website all I will get as a consumer is what Toyota wants me to see, slick copy and good press. If I go to Toyota’s Facebook page or Twitter I can see what real people are saying about their products and can hopefully trust it more than what Toyota has tailored for me to see.

    Of course, Toyota still has control over their Facebook page and they can still alter what I will see but it does give me, as a consumer, a more honest way of viewing what other consumers say about Toyota.

    But no, I don’t think social media sites will replace websites anytime soon.

  • smith greal

    I recently re-read for the first time the wonderful little book, “Who moved my Cheese” by Dr. Spencer Johnson. I was absolutely sure that I knew exactly where “my cheese” was.

  • Michael Shmilov

    Taylor, it is a great article and an important point.

    Marketers are going blindly behind the social media trend. They invest their budgets and attention in Facebook users – just to make sure that they will click the Like button on their page.

    I wonder if these users are their actual customers? or maybe they are just some bored Facebook users that looking for the next best trend on the social-web.

  • JESSICA BIEL dresses

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  • Dillon Smith

    I very much agree – company websites aren’t going anywhere. There is so much hype centered around social media that people start to believe that social is the most important, if not the only channel that matters for companies these days. This is simply not true. Social media makes for a great marketing and interaction platform, but company websites are vital for actually achieving the company goal of generating revenue.

  • isaacson

    I disagree. No one is buying a car online. Amazon is not sending people to their facebook page. Social media is useful for brands who want to develop stronger brand allegiance. You do that by letter your audience interact with you on their terms and without pulling them out of their normal web browsing experience.

    the next question you should ask yourself is what happens when i actually can buy something through a company’s facebook page? Is that game over for websites?

  • Ryan

    Your entire argument is undermined by your mistaken belief that ‘goals’ revolve around purchase decisions. Maybe the reason you don’t ‘get’ what companies like Toyota are doing is because you are taking a very narrow minded view of what their goals should be.
    Is not brand recognition and the organic sharing of brand related content a goal within itself? Sure, you likely fear this valuation because it cannot be easily tracked in analytics software, but consider this: When the world is exposed to a reliable sentiment analysis tool, your opinions will not only change, they’ll be obsolete. I don’t mean to be terse, but please consider that your 1998 model of what a ‘goal’ is could use some updating. Respectfully, Ryan.

  • Anonymous

    Its very useful for easily find out who is coming from.. What a fantastic article..
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  • Keyword Name Removed

    You should always put most emphasis on driving traffic to your own website before you drive any traffic to social media sites…… full stop.