I’ve had a several conversations about marketing on Facebook lately. They usually go something like this.
Business owner: Can I just use Facebook instead of a website?
Me: Sure, you could scrap your business website (or for new entrepreneurs not get one in the first place) and just use Facebook. I wouldn’t recommend it though.
Business owner: Why not?
From there our discussion veers into issues of search, findability, meeting new people online, control of your destiny and so on. But I’ve begun to wonder really, why not?
This isn’t the first time I’ve thought about an entirely distributed web presence, where you scrap your website in favor of an entirely social media presence. In fact, I first wrote about it almost exactly three years ago. And companies, typically agencies, have given this a try as well. I’m certainly not alone in talking about this.
What’s new is that this conversation is being initiated by business owners. And not business owners who are necessarily looking to be on the cutting edge like Modernista or Dachis Group or Zeuss Jones.
I’m hearing this conversation coming from mom and pops, real estate agents, local businesses. These people aren’t trying to win awards or land high-profile accounts. They’re trying to make the next sale.
I still think the “Stepping into Traffic” strategy is usable for an organization that is prepared to go through with it. But today I want to look at the issue from another angle.
Why are business websites so broken that business owners are willing to hand over their access to the market, their customers and their operational capability to a guy who has demonstrated schiesterly traits throughout his business career?
If I were to walk up to someone who had a retail storefront and ask them to locate to a mall that:
- requires shoppers to be members in order to enter any of the stores
- doesn’t share that membership information with any of the stores
- has very strict requirements requiring all stores to look very much the same
- changes rules and policies frequently and without warning
- doesn’t let you address any of the shoppers directly
- has such an engaging center court that shoppers may not ever really want to visit the store at all
I think the store owner would think it through very very carefully before moving locations.
That is, unless the current landlord wasn’t much fun to work with.
Answer: Building, maintaining and managing business websites is too hard for business owners.
I believe the reason that business owners are starting to seriously consider a fully distributed web presence is because their current situation is untenable. They’ve paid significant sums of money and spent a lot of time making websites. These sites are often not being measured for performance.
Since these sites aren’t being measured for performance business owners don’t know if they work better than Facebook–but they do know the website costs more.
There’s a lot of problems and fingers to point here. None of these examples are you, gentle reader, they’re someone else you know, perhaps a very close friend:
- The people selling the website promised a “build it, they will come” scenario
- The tech-enthusiast who recommended the content management system insisted it was “easy enough that her mother could use it” (without mentioning her mother was a computer science PhD)
- The business owner demanded being involved in every minute pixel shoveling during the web design process, but never considered business goals of the site
- The employee of the business who researched what to put in the RFP read every blog and web article on web design requirements–including some that are from before 2004
The end result is that business owners primarily only know what their website costs and the amount of time and pain that are involved in making a change.
Even if a site is designed on a supposedly user-friendly (you’re the “user” by the way) content management system like WordPress it’s still too hard to manage.
If you disagree, please leave your explanation of the difference between a WP page and a WP post in the comments below or how a WordPress theme has an impact on search engine rankings.
Don’t get me wrong here. I like WordPress and all CMSes a great deal. They saved us from doing manual updates and other crazy things. But ultimately, they just outsourced the hassle of maintaining a website onto the business owner.
Websites that are fully in the control of the business owner are great for everyone in a lot of ways (no more 2am calls to do a “minor” update on the website). But they are not so great in others (the business owner already has a full time job).
People who design and develop websites need to be more honest about what is required in operating a website on a day to day basis. They also need to be honest about making sure site business goals are accurately reflected in the finished product.
Business owners need to be more honest about having a business reason to be on the web in the first place. They also need to be honest about how much time they will devote to their online efforts.
Perhaps new skills are required
The way business operates today is different than it was even just ten years ago. There are new ways of reaching customers. The old ways of reaching customers has changed. And the pace of change doesn’t seem to be slowing.
Business owners are in an environment of constant change on the web. Costly constant change: switching costs, CMS costs, content costs, training costs and so on. In the face of that, no wonder they look at the relatively static and pre-determined experience of Facebook as a serious way to get out of all those costs.
There are old processes, from the mid 20th century, that are still prevalent in many business organizations. Silos. Waterfall. CYA. Specifications gathering. Core competencies. Standardized toolsets. None of these things fare well in a constantly changing environment. Not that they should all be thrown out, but their value to the business organization must be fully understood and if there is no value perhaps they need to be thrown out.
Perhaps business owners who are not willing/able to develop new skills and processes that are able to thrive in an environment change will be better served by exiting the open web and going to Facebook–where someone else manages change for them.