In many ways, this is a fair question. Social media has rapidly become a part of our daily lives – it’s how we connect with friends and family, see what people we know are getting up to, get news on our favourite bands, brands and see what’s going on with the world. In the last 20 years, we’ve seen social media revolutionise and re-invent the internet wheel.
The wheel is, in fact, a good metaphor for your online presence. The early days of the internet were like the earliest potters wheels. They were clunky, not very pretty, and you needed a fair amount of skill to get something useful out of them. They were effective in the simplest way – just a block of stone that was chipped away until it was round. It wasn’t until much later that wheels evolved to be used on carts for travel, or on mills to be turned by water. The key principle here though is that the evolution was based on the idea of spokes around a central hub.
The same can be said for your online presence. When businesses first started looking at getting online, a website was pretty much the only option. A website, and an email address. Fast forward a few years and bring in the social media revolution you now have the website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, Soundcloud, Tumblr to name but a few. In the same way that the wheel expanded, so have the options for your business, with your business website as the central hub and social media as the spokes surrounding it.
Well, that’s how it should work.
An increasing number of bars, restaurants, and small businesses are choosing to run their digital marketing solely through social media. It’s not hard to see why when you think about it – social media accounts are free, very easy to use with a minimum of technical knowledge, and there’s already a substantial user base for the biggest ones, running into the hundreds of millions.
Don’t get us wrong, there’s nothing wrong with social media, in fact, we love social media – it’s a vital part of any digital marketing strategy – but without a central hub, something to tie it all together, how stable is your wheel? A wheel will still turn if it loses a spoke or two, but without the hub, the whole thing can collapse. Not good for business.
These are three key things that a website can do for your business that social media, well, can’t.
Your Website Represents Your Brand.
Branding is everything. It’s you, it’s your company, it’s your reputation and what you stand for. It’s the logo you’ve chosen, the way you speak to your customers, and the feeling you want them to have when they look at your company. It’s where you make them think “wow – that boutique gothic clothing company really looks like my style” or “that clean, airy, bright bar is just the kind of place my friends and I will enjoy on Friday.”
A website, simply put, makes you look more professional. That has always been the case and will continue to be; it’s psychological. A business that has taken time to lay out its wares on the internet properly, get a domain and email address, research its audience, and provide what they want accordingly is the kind of company we all want to deal with, especially if they expect you to hand over your hard-earned cash. Do you want to deal with MyCompany.com and contact them through [email protected] for a speedy, professional reply? Or would you rather contact them through [email protected] which you found through their generic Facebook page?
Here are the Facebook pages for three food-related places in the Manchester area. One is a tapas restaurant that has recently been awarded a Bib Gourmand by the prestigious Michelin Guide; one is a reasonably priced, mid-range restaurant; the other is a small coffee shop.
Look at the image below. Which one is which? You have two seconds because that’s the time it takes someone to make a judgement on the look of your website.
It’s hard, isn’t it? There’s no branding there. The only way to really differentiate one from the other is the logo and the photography. They’re all the same, there’s no style to them. Social media is great for reaching them, but it’s lousy for controlling your brand.
A Business Website Gives You Control
Sticking with the wheel thing, what happens if you attach your wheel to someone else’s business vehicle? Are you driving? Are they? What happens if they crash and go under? Admittedly it’s not looking hugely likely right now that Facebook or Twitter are about to fold, but they could. Remember MySpace?
By relying purely on social media you’re hitching yourself to another business (or selection thereof) that isn’t working with your best interests at heart. Social media sites are there to make money off you, not vice versa. They want you to pay for the advertising to get more people to see you – that’s how they keep going!
With your own website, you are in control of what your visitors see from the outset. It’s your site and your message and branding that is being put across; not what InstaTwitBook algorithms think your visitors want to see. If any social media platform decides to change their algorithms, what was working for you great previously may no longer work for you at all, and all the work you’ve put into your marketing campaign gets wasted because no-one is seeing it, and it’s not your fault!
The great thing about social media is that there are billions of users.
The awful thing about social media is that there are billions of users.
As a user goes through their social media feed, as a business, you have to really get people engaged to get your message out there, to cut through the noise and be seen, but what are you going to show them? Where will you take them? Your business page, which we’ve already established is going to look pretty standardised, may also contain adverts for a local rival company, placed there by the social media page because the user visiting you may have used them before and the site recognises their interest in your similar product or service.
Your business website is owned by you, run by you, and you can choose what goes on it. Perhaps you’re sponsored by a beer brand or a particular food supplier, maybe you want to generate more business for them through your site, maybe you’re an affiliate. You can’t put ads for them on Facebook, but you can with your own site.
The only thing visitors should see on your site is what you want them to see – not distracting them with game requests, messages, and pictures of cats. Unless you’re in a feline-related industry, of course.
Your Own Website Gives You Greater Flexibility
There’s a lot of great stuff you can do on social media, and in terms of being able to interact and engage your customers it’s hard to beat, but there are a few things you can’t do easily.
Keep Your Content Visible
One of the addictive and fun things about social media platforms is the ephemeral nature of the posts. They’re there one minute and gone the next. Every time you visit, you get something different. This can be problematic if you’re trying to get a particular message out. With your own website your content is always there, and if you’ve keyworded and written about it properly, it will be easy to find. You don’t have to rely on people having the patience to scroll down through every post you’ve made on social media – they can visit your website and find it quickly!
Even now where social media is ubiquitous, email is still a vital tool in your digital marketing strategy. You’re not dependent on people happening across your post in the noisy feed of data that’s coming through their phone – you’re targeting them directly, with relevant information, and you don’t have to pay to make sure they see it. You can deliver content directly to their inbox, dripping new products to them one-by-one as they come in, or even give them a ten-step course on cooking the perfect Christmas dinner over a period of days.
Social media is great for marketing, but not so great for dealing with actual sales. If you’ve got a product to sell, none of the big platforms really have any way to help you. As a bar or restaurant, none of them will allow you to book a table or a party-space, or allow you to show your menu in any other form than a picture. If you’ve got your own website all of those things instantly become a possibility.
As a user of a social media platform, you’re bound by terms and conditions. Those 10-page documents in very small text that no-one really reads. For example, if you run a competition on Facebook asking people to like and share in order to win something, you’re actually breaking the terms & conditions of using the site.
If it’s your website, it’s your rules. It comes back to control.
Visibility On Search Results And Proper Analytics
Despite the prevalence of social media, when people want to look for something, they still use Google, and Google doesn’t pay a huge amount of attention to social media for that. Google will find your social media accounts when it searches for you by name, but how are you going to make sure that they find you when they look for “trendy bar in Manchester” or “best steak in Macclesfield”?
That’s where your website comes in. Well-written, regularly updated content with all of the ingredients you need to make sure search engines know exactly who you are and what you do when they come crawling so they can point people in your direction.
When it comes to analytics, too, social media rather falls flat. Yes, Facebook offers “Insights” but it’s not always clear exactly how people have arrived at your page, from whom, and it certainly doesn’t help inform you of their overall browsing habits. A website can record all of that information, the country they’re in, whether they’re on a computer in a browser or using the app, the search terms they used, and which search terms are working and which aren’t. All of these little pieces of information can be used to understand your customers and pitch to them more effectively.
Your Website Should Be Your Hub
We said it before, but it’s worth repeating. The centre of your online presence should be your website, not your social media accounts.
Those accounts are tools – great tools, admittedly – but they are just that. They’re owned by someone else, run by someone else, and at the whim of someone else, they can be closed down. Do you really want someone else running your business in that way?
Use them, take advantage of them, spread your message far and wide and use that message to drive them back to the real you, in the way you present yourself on your website. Cross promotion is great – link your Twitter to your YouTube to your Facebook to your Pinterest. Each spoke on your wheel will make you stronger and your message louder, but without something at the centre to hold them together, to be YOUR brand, you run the risk of having a very deflated wheel at the end.
Yes, this has been another long piece, but when you feel as passionately about a topic – about web design and marketing – as we do, it’s easy to get a bit carried away sometimes. There’s a lot to say on the subject, and it’s a very important one, too.
So if you’ve heard our message, and if you think we can help your online business vehicle run smoothly, whether you’re a bar or a barber, a restaurant or a designer, call Merlin’s Mule now on 01625 359025 to see what we can do for you.