Why Facebook won’t kill your website

They may get smaller in scope, but corporate sites can do a lot of things better than a Facebook page.

Not that long ago, a chorus of voices rose in opposition to advertising campaigns that drove consumers directly to a Facebook page at the expense of the company’s website. They raised all kinds of alarms over this approach, from lack of control (what happens if Facebook shuts down?) to SEO issues (why would you want to share the link love with Facebook?).

Now Jay Baer insists Facebook is killing your website. On his thought-provoking Convince & Convert blog, Baer, writes:

Like print newspapers, basketball players under 6 feet tall, and the McRib sandwich, the website as we know it will soon be a thing of the past – a quaint reminder of the original Internet era…RIP websites. It was great while it lasted.

As usual, Baer’s case is well-argued and worth reading. Facebook’s assault on websites, he says, is being waged on three fronts:

  • The switch in expectations from passive reading of Web pages to active engagement with smaller social objects.
  • Facebook’s ever-improving functionality.
  • Your customers are already on Facebook so it’s less of a chore to get them to visit your company there than to pull them to your website.

While all of this—and more—is true, it doesn’t mean you should abandon your company website. In fact, I can’t find a single instance of a company, large or small, that has disabled its website and started pointing audiences exclusively to its Facebook page.

In most of my speaking engagements over the last couple years, I have told audiences (usually to a collective gasp) that the era of the destination website is over. (All credit to Steve Rubel for the phrase.) But that doesn’t mean that companies will no longer create or maintain destination sites. It only means that destination websites, which once dominated the Web, will now represent just another kind of Web object sharing the space many others.

Rather than rely solely on a company website, organizations will be able to shape their sites based on the strengths of a wholly-owned online venue while capturing the value of social participation on sites like Facebook and Twitter. As eConsultancy blogger Patricio Robles wrote in his post questioning the wisdom of putting your eggs in Facebook’s basket:

A stellar user experience and compelling content/functionality are worth their weight in gold. A Facebook Page has inherent limitations, and businesses have far less ability to create unique experiences on Facebook.

That stellar experience can include an ecommerce component, something companies can’t easily add to their Facebook page. Actually taking orders from your customers is just one of many things Facebook isn’t about.

Your corporate website can do a lot of things better than a Facebook page, particularly if you know the goals your site is meant to help the company achieve, you embrace the principles of excellent Web functionality and truly understand your audience. A media center, a section for investors, the ability to showcase your products, the ability to present information to analysts entirely on your terms…the list goes on.

There are also good reasons to avoid relying solely on Facebook—or any other site, for that matter:

  • Despite the jaw-dropping half billion active accounts, some of your customers or other stakeholders may not be on Facebook.
  • When somebody wants to know something about your company, it’s still second nature to go to yourcompanyname.com. Even though companies are doing some impressive things on Facebook, I wonder how many people think first of Facebook when they want to know something about your company.
  • Facebook can do something you don’t want to be associated with, such as an abrupt change to their privacy policies.
  • Facebook can make other changes that create problems for you. Consider the companies that invested in collateral driving people to their Facebook fan page only to have Facebook decide they’re not fan pages after all.
  • You may not like the advertising that appears alongside your company’s page.

On a personal note, I like the diversity of approaches companies bring to their websites. While companies might use Facebook differently, ultimately all Facebook pages look like…well…Facebook.

Your company website, Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, YouTube—they’re all tools. The best approach is to determine which of these tools will be most effective in helping you achieve your goal. In the early days of the Web, destination websites were about the only option. Now we have multiple options available to us, which allows us to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses and make sound strategic decisions. You can also adopt an approach similar to what Uni-ball did with its Facebook-centric campaign: Send an e-mail to everyone who registers an e-mail that directs them to your website.

Destination websites will undoubtedly get smaller as Facebook and other channels provide us with better alternatives, just as many people (myself included) have spent less time on e-mail as Twitter and Facebook have emerged as more efficient for some communication. And some companies—small ones most likely—may opt to go the Facebook-only route, particularly if a dedicated website doesn’t provide them with any advantages.

But will company websites die off altogether? Yeah, sure. Right after RSS feeds, print (including newspapers), traditional marketing, mainstream media and widgets.

Are you aware of any companies that have abandoned their websites in favor of a Facebook-only online presence?

Shel Holtz is principal of Holtz Communication + Technology and blogs at a shel of my former self. Follow him on Twitter @shelholtz.

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