Is It Time to Shut Down Your Website?

Last Updated Jun 8, 2011 10:22 PM EDT

Just last month, the U.S. State Department announced that it was shutting down www.America.gov, the website launched to provide cultural and policy content to the world. Instead, the State Department will focus on using social media to get out its message. The aim is to communicate in a more interactive way with today's networked audiences around the world--like those blogging Egypt's revolution from Tahrir Square or documenting Syrian unrest on YouTube.

Shutting down your website to communicate solely through social media channels might seem like a crazy idea for any large organization. But then again, there is some logic to it. The Wall Street Journal reported that Starbucks receives over ten times as much traffic to its Facebook page (19.4 million unique visitors each month) as to its corporate website (1.8 million). For Coca-Cola, the divergence is even starker: 22.5 million visitors on Facebook vs. just 270,000 to its website--over 80 times as much traffic.

A decade ago, the corporate website had become the new "must-have" communication tool. But now, as web users spend increasing amounts of time on social media, traffic to static corporate websites appears to be on the decline.

Facebook vs Website Traffic for 2 Brands
But before you rush out to pull the plug on your own web site, it's worth considering the benefits of each approach.

Benefits of Social Media
1. Inherently interactive. That's where the term "social" comes from. Unlike a static HTML website, designed to read and click, social media like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are designed around sharing, responding, and interacting.
2. Where people are spending time. With over 500 million active users on Facebook, most Web audiences are spending more time there than browsing company sites. Just be sure that's true for your own demographic (e.g. Facebook is a nonstarter in Japan) and your own industry (most users still do not use Facebook for learning about b2b topics).
3. Easy to acquire. Clicking a "like" button on Facebook or "follow" button on Twitter is a lot easier than filling in the sign up form on a web page. So it's no surprise that many companies find it easier to build a large following on social media platforms.
4. Virality. When your audience interacts with you on social media platforms, it is instantly visible to their own friends and contacts. This digital "word-of-mouth" can be one of the most powerful tools for reaching new audiences.

Benefits of Your Own Website
1. Control the design. Have you ever tried designing a page on Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube? The experience is like trying to swim with one hand tied behind your back. Having your own website allows you complete control, which may be essential if you have a lot of content or options that you need to organize for different audiences.
2. Own the data. Social media platforms are owned by the companies that run them, and, as such, they are the only ones holding all the data on your customers and your interactions with them. On your own website, you own all the data.
3. Targeting and personalization. Owning data and controlling design allow for much more targeted interaction with your customers than is possible on social media platforms. If you know which emails a customer in your database is clicking on, you can ensure her follow up emails, Web landing pages, and ecommerce experiences are much more suited to her particular interests.
4. Reach all your audience. Unlike Facebook, Twitter, or other services which might reach large segments of your customers, your own website is available to 100% of them. (That is, as long as your website has been optimized to work on a mobile phone.)

So, unless you are so small (e.g. a one-person enterprise) that you lack the resources to maintain both a Facebook page and a website, you almost certainly need both. (Even the State Department still kept its main website after shutting down America.gov.)

Fresh Approach Needed
But as you hold on to your familiar company website that's grown a little musty over the last decade, be sure to give it a fresh look. Are you using the unique design capabilities of a stand-alone site? Are you capturing and leveraging data? Are you interacting and building a database with your most loyal customers who care enough to do more than press a "like" button for you? If not, your website needs a revamp to be worth keeping it alive for next year.


Related:
David Rogers examines the five core strategies of successful networked businesses in his newest book, "The Network Is Your Customer: Five Strategies to Thrive in a Digital Age." He teaches Digital Marketing Strategy at Columbia Business School, where he is Executive Director of the Center on Global Brand Leadership. Rogers has advised and developed marketing and digital strategies for numerous companies such as SAP, Eli Lilly, and Visa. Find him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/david_rogers
Photo courtesy of flickr user, stefanx80
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    David Rogers is a consultant, speaker, and author of The Network Is Your Customer: Five Strategies to Thrive in a Digital Age. He teaches Digital Marketing Strategy at Columbia Business School, where he is Executive Director of the Center on Global Brand Leadership. Rogers has advised and developed marketing and digital strategies for numerous companies such as SAP, Eli Lilly, and Visa.

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