No one could have predicted just how revolutionary social media would be when MySpace started gaining followers in the early 2000s.
Even in 2006, when Facebook and Twitter became widely available to the global population, there were still lingering doubts about its longevity and potential as a profit-making vehicle.
In retrospect it makes sense: after the meteoric rise and crushing fall of the 90s dot com bubble it was still very much open to interpretation as to whether this new wave of interactive media would be able to survive (let alone thrive) into the future.
We know differently today.
As of early 2019 there were 4.2 billion internet users, of which 3.397 billion were active on social media.
To put this even further into perspective consider that, on average, every one of those users owns 5.54 social media accounts and spends 116 minutes a day scrolling their newsfeeds or chatting with friends.
And those mind-boggling numbers are still growing. 320 million new profiles were created between September 2017 and October 2018, which works out to 10 new social media users every second. This figure alone is almost double the average number of human births per second.
That’s right. Social media growth is outstripping the global human birth rate.
And as everybody with a phone or laptop began to congregate on only several platforms (as of this writing, Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Messenger, WeChat and Instagram round out the top six), there was a sudden huge demand for brands and businesses that knew how to market to this new audience.
In a few short years social media has not only connected the world and reshaped it in its own image; it has created hundreds of thousands of businesses that utilise its reach as its sole revenue source. From viral Facebook pages to YouTube channels, Snapchat superstars to Instagram influencers, countless SMEs rely on social media not just for brand growth but to put food on the table.
In fact, social platforms are such a legitimate place to launch and scale a brand now that people are foregoing the cardinal rule of business: control. And control in a digital sense means owning the land upon which you build.
You do not own social media
We get it. Starting a Facebook page for your small business when you don’t have much working capital seems like a much smarter option than stumping up for a website. Not only is it free, it can also put you in touch with pretty much everybody you’d like to sell to. If you’re a local-oriented biz you can make a point of highlighting your location or some other specific selling point. And feedback is almost instantaneous. Someone liked your page? Boom. Someone message you for a quote? Amazing.
Social makes it very, very easy to achieve these goals. But, as with most things, ‘easy’ comes with a price.
That price is lack of control.
You see, when you build your brand on a social media platform with no website to back it up you are essentially ‘renting’ space from a landlord. And that landlord doesn’t care much about you. If you step out of line or infringe on its guidelines it’ll disappear your page with a Thanos-like snap of its fingers. And then you’ll be nowhere. With no digital property to call your own you are here today, gone tomorrow.
Don’t think this never happens, either. Just the fact that it can happen should be giving every social-media dependent business owner sleepless nights.
Dependent brands lack legitimacy
A brand that depends on social media to carry the entire weight of its message is a watered down version of what it could be. That’s just the cold, hard truth. So what if you can design a logo and pick a background that matches your company colours on your Facebook profile? You’re still just one page out of thousands (maybe millions), trying to compete with the exact same weapons as everyone else.
Look at any of the breakout businesses in the digital arena. What differentiates them? Number one: personality. Number two and three: a message that resonates and a unique customer journey. And to fulfil those three requirements you need to not be at the whim of another entity. You need to be able to do your own thing and to craft an experience that speaks to your core audience, using data and analytics that you have harvested yourself. And for that you need a website to call your own.
Your website is your castle
In the ‘old’ days every powerful group had a castle, right? A fortified safe place where they did what they wanted and believed what they wanted to believe. Well, in modern times the castle is a dedicated website that showcases your vision and makes it easy for people to ‘buy in’ to your message.
Don’t take my word for it. Look at Amazon. Look at JD Sports. Look at Halfords. These guys don’t get sucked into the pros & cons of website vs Facebook. They have powerful, well designed websites that their audiences know and love and use on a regular basis. That doesn’t mean they don’t use social as a channel for lead gen and brand awareness. They do. But when it comes down to it they own and manage their most important relationships personally and this makes their acquisition model bulletproof.
For intelligent businesses such as these social media could disappear tomorrow and it wouldn’t matter. They’d find new channels. New routes to market. Their castles would remain intact. And this is the place you need to get to if you want to be independent of external conditions in the digital sphere.
Plant a flag
Half the battle of acquiring a customer is getting noticed, right? It’s why so many SEO technicians are hunched over computers right now fighting tooth and nail for first-page organic rankings on Google.
Conservative estimates suggest that getting the coveted number one, two or three positions for a keyword on the Google SERPs leads you to get over 60% of all traffic for that specific term. And, believe us, that adds up over time. Not only in brand recognition and unique visitors but in significant (and consistent) revenue gains.
Alas, sorry social media businesses. You can’t win this one.
Whilst social pages are indexed by the Google algorithm they hardly ever win out against dedicated sites. There are a few reasons for this. The first is that the Google search results are predicated on providing clear value to the end user. This is easy to do when a website has been optimized for certain keywords, has related reviews and a transparent XML sitemap that Google spiders can quickly crawl. The purpose and value of the property are obvious and so the Google machine rewards it with a high ranking and, by association, high levels of relevant traffic. In contrast, social business pages are much more limited and harder for the spiders to crawl. The end result is a diminished presence in the SERPs and a significantly weakened acquisition channel.
The best of both worlds
The website vs social media argument has been a thing for a while now but it can be all too easy to miss the wood for the trees.
After all, why choose between the two?
If you have two members of staff and one is a fantastic salesman and the other is a great designer you don’t fire one and tell the sales guy to download Photoshop do you? So why do it with your digital presence?
The truth is if you are missing either one you are fighting for customers with one arm tied behind your back.
A powerful social presence confers benefits that a website does not, and vice versa.
For instance, direct selling has proved difficult on social (author’s note: this might be about to change with the introduction of Instagram Shopping). Direct conversions from offers on platforms such as Facebook can sometimes be as low as 5%. The solution here would be to switch the pressure of conversion onto your website, which is traditionally a far better bet, and use social as a place to build trust, provide value to your customer base and distribute content that will passively promote your brand. Bring email into the mix and you have a powerful, self-reinforcing sales funnel that can build an audience, generate leads and produce revenue. That’s also three independent pools of first party data and customer insights that you can consolidate to build impactful, personalised journeys for those who are interested in your message. And the best thing is the synergistic effect you get from all channels working together, in the places where they will be most effective.
See what happens when you use each piece of the puzzle as it was originally intended?
What are your thoughts? Are you a social-only business or do you see the necessity of having a great website to future-proof your success?