The Role of the Company Website in Today’s Social Web

Here are the headlines of four recently published articles:

3 Ways Facebook is Killing Your Website – Jason Baer

Do We Still Need Websites? – Pete Blackshaw

It’s the End of the Web as We Know It – Steve Rubel

The Web is Dead. Long Live the Web. – Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff

Take time to read these, for they are worth the effort. But, let me warn you, for the small business owner, they do not contain good news.

Just when you get beyond brochureware to a fully-functioning, extensible, really good website built on solid web content management technology, you find out they are no longer in vogue. Something else has taken their place. Who are these culprits?

Jason Baer, author of the first article on this list, suggests that it is Facebook. Steve Rubel and Chris Anderson say mobile technology and the many apps available on devices like iPhones and iPads are responsible. Michael Wolff goes so far as to point fingers directly at Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Russian investor Yuri Milner.

No matter who or what is to blame, the truth is the web has changed and we better get used to it.

Does the Company Website No Longer Matter?

If other things matter more, then does the corporate website matter any more? Ah, there’s the rub.

I believe the website does matter and I’m about to outline specifically how. But, it has to serve a different purpose than in times past. (Times past equalling about 10 years ago.)

Imagine a bicycle wheel that has a hub and spokes. Your website is a digital hub, but it has to be connected to any number of spokes – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, etc. (“etc” is not a new social network btw; didn’t mean to throw you a curve there)

Hub(Source: Socialmediavision.com)

Another way to envision the arrangement is as a basecamp and outposts, with your website serving as the basecamp, or HQ. (Personally, I like blogs for this, so be sure you have one associated with your site.)

Today, you have to have a presence in both places. (See, I told you this wasn’t going to be good news.)  You have to be where people are gathering and, yet, you need an operational center from which content can be created and fed to the various outposts. Ultimately, you would like to get visitors from those places to your site, for that’s traditionally been where business has been done. (That, too, is changing.)

Yet another way to think of it is as “getting a seat at someone else’s table” and “setting a table of your own.” Of course, within Facebook you can create a pretty awesome fan page, which is tantamount to setting a table of your own inside the largest restaurant in the world!

What Role Does Each Play?

In order to create a cohesive digital marketing strategy, I believe each channel has to serve a somewhat distinct purpose, though, perhaps, not one that is exclusive from the others. (The lines don’t need to be that stringently drawn.)

Company website – As previously mentioned, this is your base of operations. It is where you create, house and archive the bulk of your content. It is also where you transact business in the form of database management, lead generation, ecommerce sales, customer service and other types of interaction. It is also connected to the social networks that serve as your outposts.

This is space you own. The others you rent and, where Facebook is concerned, the landlord can be notorious for making changes with little notice. (Case in point, the recent changes to fan pages.) It would be ludicrous to build your entire web presence on rented land. That’s purely common sense.

Facebook fan page – If you are a business, then a fan page (also called “Official Page”) is the way Facebook wants you to establish a presence on the network, and they are going to great lengths to accommodate businesses in that manner.

Think of your fan page as your online community. It’s where you build a personal relationship between the brand and customers and prospects. It can also serve adjunct roles of lead generation and ecommerce, though those are still emerging functions.

Twitter – This is your real-time, just-in-time, all-the-time broadcast channel. It’s a supplement to Facebook in that content posted there can automatically be syndicated to Twitter.

However, to limit Twitter to that function is to do it a disservice, for Twitter can serve just about whatever role you require. Need to use it for customer service, it’s there. Want to pitch special offers, discounts and coupons? Can do. Like to share valuable resource information? It works for that as well. Perhaps the best way to think of Twitter is as your digital Swiss Army knife.

YouTube, Flickr – These are additional channels where content can be syndicated in a place where they are more likely to be found.

And the list could go on and on…

Do I Need a Presence Everywhere or a Few Somewheres?

Think in terms of  tiers with your website as the hub, and the above-mentioned networks comprising the first tier. If you have time and the inclination, you can experiment with third-tier services. Here are a few that come to mind.

Posterous – My friend and Miami Realtor Ines Hegedus-Garcia uses formerly used Posterous as her photo blog (she now uses WordPress) and incorporated it into her website, Miamism.com.

Cinchcast – If you’re prone to podcasting, Cinchcast is a new service designed to make it easy. It was created by the same folks that brought you Blog Talk Radio.

Ning - Want to create your own social network? Then Ning is a good fit. It provides much the same type of functionality you have come to expect with Facebook, but is proprietary. Of course, there is a cost involved, but it’s minimal.

There are probably thousands of such apps, but who has the time to investigate them all. (Other than Brian Solis, that is, with his very cool Conversation Prism.)

Content Must Be “Findable” and “Sharable”

Everyone knows Google is the new Yellow Pages. If your business can’t be found on the first couple of pages, then it doesn’t exist in the mind of the searcher.

But, “findability” is no longer the be-all/end-all that is used to be. Once upon a time if you had a website optimized for search engines which returned well for relevant keywords, that’s all you needed. Not any more. Now, information has to be easy to share. That’s where social media comes in.

In that respect, there are two apps you should consider deploying on your website:

ShareThis – This app is an all-in-one sharing tool that contains links to over 50 social network and social bookmarking sites – Delicious, Digg, Google Bookmarks – as well as Twitter and Facebook. It’s easy to add and does a commendable job.

Facebook “Like” Button – If you don’t add the Facebook “Like” button to your website, you’re crazy! There are numerous advantages, not the least of which is it opens your content to 500 million people. (Well, that might be an exaggeration, but it opens your content potentially to hundred if not thousands.)

Not only that, when the visitor “likes” your content by clicking the button, they remain on the site, but their action gets reported to their newsfeed inside Facebook. You send your content to Facebook without sending the site visitor along with it in the process. (The Like button is part of a suite of social plugins now offered by Facebook.)

Conclusion

I wish I could soft-sell this more easily, but the hard down truth is the web ain’t what it used to be. It doesn’t act like it used to, nor does it look like it used to. As Chris Anderson said, you could literally spend all day on the Internet  without every once encountering the “web.”

Bottom-line: It’s not an either/or proposition, but a both/and. You need a website AND you need a presence in at least some of these other outlets. That is my firm conviction.

(One thing you will notice by its absence is any reference to mobile technology or apps. I’m still wrapping my arms around that, but it won’t be long before I’ll be talking about it. If you need help wrapping your arms around this, please contact me. I’m happy to help.)