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Ignore the Social Media Hype. Your Business Will Always Need a Great Website

At speaking engagement with about 200 small business owners, I asked how many spent more time on social media efforts than on maintaining/improving their websites.

The majority raised their hands. Then I asked how many saw their websites more like a Yellow Pages ad than a still dominant marketing and sales tool.

Surprisingly, about 40% kept their hands up. One said, "If a potential customer stumbles across my website, fine -- but I'm not going to put effort into it anymore."

That's a terrible approach. Social media marketing may pay dividends, but you'll always need a website.

Here's why:

  • Social media is largely "push." Sure, Twitter followers chose to follow you, LinkedIn connections chose to connect, and Facebook friends want -- well, who knows what they want. So in theory they opted in... but not really. Anyone following more than 20 or so people can't be reading all their tweets. And how many people are consistently active on LinkedIn? Actually engaging customers on social media takes significant effort -- and often that effort is designed to send customers to your website anyway.
  • Social media is rinse and repeat. Twitter was hot; now I'm not so sure. And Facebook faces real challenges from Google+. What new social media platforms and tools are in the works? Who knows -- but building a presence on whatever does come next will require significant effort and yet another learning curve. Website innovation also continues, but at a slower and more manageable pace. From an investment point of view, resources allocated to your website generate longer-term returns.
  • Social media content is far from evergreen. Say you sell a do-it-yourself product. The instructional content you create -- articles, videos, slide shows, etc. -- stays on your website forever. Tweets quickly disappear; same with Facebook updates. A great video on your website is the gift that keeps on giving, both in terms of customer satisfaction and from an SEO point of view. Same with articles and blog posts and photos.
  • Websites create or extend your brand. Face it -- no matter how hard you try to customize it, your Facebook page is still a Facebook page. And no amount of creativity will make your Twitter design look like anything other than a Twitter page. In a way you're like a guy wearing a Nike t-shirt; you may wear the shirt, but the Nike brand wears you too.
  • Websites tell stories. In many cases, especially in service businesses, potential customers don't only want to know what you provide -- they want to know about you. Creating a great About Us page establishes credibility while letting potential customers see the faces behind the business. So does social media... but not really, partly due to the medium and partly due to the fact...
  • Social media is out of (your) control. Set aside the reality that social media creates conversations you only partly control. Social media platforms themselves are outside your control. Facebook could change policies for business users, LinkedIn could revamp its search function, and Twitter could decide losing more money no longer makes sense. The only online marketing platform you really control -- and can count on -- is your website.
  • Social media generates interest; websites close. Potential customers only become customers after visiting your website (or physical location.) Social media marketing is really no different than a flyer or ad. Your website has the information, tools, resources, and incentives to convert potential customers into clients. What is more valuable in the sales world: lead generators or closers? A social media marketing campaign will only be as effective as the website that supports it.
Related: Photo courtesy flickr user @dakno, CC 2.0
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