With limited marketing budgets, many small businesses opt for social media over a full website – after all, platforms like Facebook, Google+, and Twitter are free, and accessible to a huge audience. The truth is, though, even a robust, frequently-updated Facebook page doesn’t replace a website. Visibility is key in marketing, but success depends on having a permanent web presence – a place where customers can learn more about your business, explore what you have to offer, and (ideally) make a conversion.
I recently heard about three local bars who host regular trivia events. When I searched for them online, I found that all three places had Facebook pages – but those pages didn’t have the information I needed. Surprisingly, though, only one of the bars actually had a website, and that site was small and limited, with no mention of the event in question. I ended up having to call all three places (and actually visit one, since their voice mail system wasn’t working properly). All three bars have been established in the area for a number of years, and do fairly good business. So why, I wondered, had none of them ever invested in a well-designed website?
With 1.26 billion users on Facebook as of September this year (Source: The Verge), social media is certainly important to building an online presence. Social media pages can be incredibly versatile marketing tools: they’re inexpensive channels to reach a large audience, in many different ways. So with all this functionality, why isn’t a well-designed, up-to-date Facebook page just as good as a website?
Identity. A website gives prospective customers an in-depth picture of your organization. By letting them explore who you are and what you do, it’s the most direct way for them to get to know and trust you before interacting with your brand in person. Moreover, if they’ve found your business through organic search, it may be their first impression of your brand. If your Facebook page is the only way prospects can connect to your brand, it’s likely to undermine your perceived legitimacy as a business – especially if that Facebook page isn’t updated often.
Information. A website offers a permanent and comprehensive resource for your customers. Social media depends on trending – that is, any update your followers see will only be relevant as long as it’s current and visible in their feeds. If prospects want more detailed information about your business, however – such as detailed product specs, pricing, menus, hours, calendars of events, payment methods, or even just directions– they should be able to find it quickly and easily on their own, in one location. If they can’t, they’ll likely forget about your business, or try their luck with a competitor.
Sales. Not all websites are shopping carts, of course. However, it’s important to remember that even if potential customers like what they see on your Facebook page, they can’t make any kind of conversion there – whether it’s a purchase, a newsletter subscription, or a file download. If you don’t have a website, your Facebook followers are left with the choice of a phone call or a visit to your brick-and-mortar location. While that extra effort may not deter customers already familiar with your business, it will discourage potential long-distance conversions and probably local undecided prospects as well.
In short, the main purpose of social media marketing is engaging, not selling. Facebook and other platforms fuel productive networking – they help to get your business name out there, and encourage interest and engagement with your brand. And yes, they’re great ways to share news, answer customer service questions, and generally reveal the ‘human’ story behind your business (and yes, to remind followers about upcoming events). Once you’re on prospective customers’ radar, though, it’s important to have a permanent ‘home base’ to reinforce your brand image, and to provide the mechanism for conversion.