Your social media guru (derogatory term) tells you to "fish where the fish are" meaning shift all your energy away from your brand Web site to Facebook. Your "traditional" digital agency keeps selling you Web sites. Who is right?
Presuming you have a digital strategy derived from an overall business strategy and then, like a neatly packed set fo Russian dolls, you have a social strategy based upon that, you will likely find that your Web site should sit at the heart of the business strategy and therefore at the heart of both your digital and derivative social strategy.
(Note about the "nested strategies" metaphor: At the end of the day, your business strategy trumps all. What are you selling and who are you selling it to? Are you acquiring new customers or serving the ones you have and so forth. The only reason we have a digital strategy is cause everyone needs a specific 'stimulus package' to help them catch up with consumers' digital habits. Once that is done, we will likely not be talking about a separate digital strategy. Likewise on social strategy. It really is a part of that stimulus package. We might all do better not calling out a distinct 'social strategy' save for the fact that it remains new and must be forced into our attention.)
There are four reasons that your brand Web site should at the center of your social strategy:
- You want to build trust
- You need to won the right search shelf-space
- Your CRM program is important to you
- You may someday sell via eCommerce
Brand web sites still earn high trust marks from consumers. They should. If I want to learn about the features and be benefits of products and services, I go to the folks that make that product. When I want to know how other customers feel about the product, I will search the social Web and review sites, specifically. This shouldn't be news to anyone. But think about building trust. A simple equation for trust (that I think I picked up from David Maister) goes like this:
Credibilty + Reliability + Intimacy divided by Self-Orientation
Think about that. It's not a static, steady state. While many brands are out there shaving hairs of "truthiness" with product claims, you could be the brand that continues to publish plain-spoken product and service information on your Web site and in general work that channel to earn more trust. You might do that by going beyond the straight-shooter talk about products and services to actually engaging with your customers there (e.g. inviting customer feedback) and in so doing reduce your "self-orientation" ('look at how great my products are').
While tempted to narrow this down to just Google, Bing is actually growing (14% of US market). Therefore, having a rich search program that includes the major search engines not just Google is important. Search engines continue to be the great aggregators funneling traffic just about everywhere. Brands need to be have their sites and pages within their sites return well against a complete brand vocabulary (brand, proper nouns and sub-brands and a complete topic collection that relates to the brands business and what customers are searching for - see Jeremy Sanchez's paper on Speaking the Customers Language). We need our Web sites as our primary Google-juice. Your Facebook page won't serve that purpose, nor will your YouTube page (although each si an important part of the SEO recipe). you need web pages chock-full of content that consumers are searching for. That's on your Web site.
Let's face it, CRM (or 'socialCRM' if you insist) is the future. So many of the great social technologies that we are learning to love like FourSquare (location-based services) and Jetsetter (high-quality deal sites) are ways to manage customer relationships. Facebook is a way to manage customer relationships (if you just knew they were customers). With more and more pressure on brands to deliver superior services above and beyond what their core products deliver, personalized service may be the answer. Brands can tune a CRM system by adding social data to growing customer profiles. They can use that channel to drive purchase and advocacy. While a CRM system is based upon progressive user profiles and content delivered via distributed means like email, mobile and Facebook, most of these touchpoints serve as hubs pointing to deeper content that can be found...on your Website.
Lets presume you are not doing ecommerce today. If you are then you know the value of your Website. It's based upon sales. But if you don't sell through your Web site and you may not sell directly through any channel, you might really examine whether that might change someday. I doubt P&G knew 5 years ago that they would sell directly. Now they aim to sell direct through Facebook of all places. If the Internet has done anything, it has surely shown how brands can sell direct. I have all but given up finding Hugo Boss black jeans in stores. I now just buy them direct online. Your Web site should be your storefront or your storefront of the future.
A Brand Ecosystem
I hate the word "ecosystem."It reeks of fluff. But in this case it seems to fit the circumstance. Your Website serves a central role in what can only be described as an ecosystem of sites and overlapping communities. Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, YouTube brand pages, email lists, mobile subscribers and your Website(s) weave a complimentary cluster of communities that you will want to do everything in your power to funnel into a single, social data-infused CRM system so that you can reward your customers and encourage them to tell their friends and families about the products, services and companies that matter most to them.
So, don't worry, your investment in your Website is sound...so long as you made search engine optimization, a door into CRM and building trust the top three requirements (vs. some impenetrable, Flash-based alleged 'brand user experience').