Top thoughts from BRITE 2014

brite_logo_2013[1]Last week I was at the two-day BRITE conference, organized by the Columbia Business School “brand leadership” think tank. BRITE is for the most part a series of reflections on the impact of technology, delivered by high-level marketers from large companies.

If there was a common thread, it was the impact of technology on a company’s ability to “tell a story.” That is, craft the brand image. We heard plenty of big-budget successes, and savvy marketers can indeed adapt to truly leverage the technology.

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12 Hacks for Picking Web Apps

The world of web services has mushroomed in the past few years. This is great for buyers, except the vendor selection process has become more time-consuming.

You can easily build a comparison chart in a spreadsheet with feature comparisons, integrations, support and prices, but you’d miss the qualitative part of the story.

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Why have a website when you have Facebook?

cake2My English friend Frank makes cakes.

What begun as a hobby is now a day job. So he made blue polka-dotted business cards, and over coffee on a Sunday morning he handed one to me.

Under his email address was a URL. Was it Nope.

Did he have any intention of building a “regular” website?


Your Company, On the Web

Companies that need an online presence (meaning, um, all of them) can either:

  1. Build a standalone website.
  2. Build a standalone website AND make a Facebook page.
  3. Make a Facebook page.

Most people are at #1, and moving to #2.

Frank made me consider, is choice #3 viable? Can you run a business with just a Facebook page?

Since I’m a consultant, the answer to hard questions is nearly always the frustrating but honest “it depends.”

Yet we so enjoy breaking down the Pros and Cons, and it’s a good thought experiment.

Evaluating the Facebook-only Approach

Customers. It always has to start here. If his customers are already on Facebook, then he’s not shutting business out. (One has to sign up for Facebook to see the delicious confections.) Frank targets upmarket people who have a big social event, so there is a sociographic match there. Is a Facebook-only web approach making it harder for the customer to buy? No, it’s the same as if he had a regular website. Verdict: No Difference Here.

Frank's Cakes_1299624644400Social Proof
. Buyers want to see market validation. On regular websites, this takes the form of testimonials, client logos, awards, twitter followers and so on. On Facebook, the social proof is right there, with pictures of “friends” running along the left column. This is dynamic and believable, and a major plus for the Facebook-only business site. Verdict: Easier and more personal on Facebook.

Startup Cost. Custom websites cost in the thousands (your mileage may vary), and you ordinarily need to spend a nontrivial amount of time with the development team. DIY websites (e.g. WordPress, Weebly) can be free or have a nominal cost, and they take about the same amount of effort. Verdict: Facebook is free, but so are other options. Tie.

Maintenance Cost. Facebook shines here, since the system is so templated and they have hundreds of developers working on the interface. Frank has uploaded photo galleries of his cakes without worrying about FTP and HTML. You can make basic updates to a Facebook page from a phone, or from any computer. WordPress has maintenance easy. Verdict: Facebook in a narrow win.

Intangibles/Positioning: The entire Facebook ecosystem is built around 1:1 personal relationships, obviously. So using FB as your site makes the most sense if your business is in that mental space. Like career coaches, personal trainers, churches, PR people, and event planners. In these jobs, you’re selling yourself as much as the service, and Facebook works best when there is a personal voice behind the business message.

Here, however, we arrive at the first big elephant in the room with the Facebook-only approach. Doing so risks giving the perception that your company is too cheap to have their own website, are technically challenged, or are just too new. The best way to counteract this is to have a lushly designed, popular Facebook page with several engaging apps. Attaining this requires either talent or money, which means you’ve lost some of the cost advantage. Verdict: It Depends.

Lead Generation: Interestingly, Facebook may have an advantage here. Advertising within Facebook is obviously possible — with its excellent targeting options — and you can run AdWords on Google with the FB page as the landing page. So you get to advertise use the biggest PPC search network, and the biggest social media network, all with one “site”. As for SEO, with a Facebook page you probably give up some upside on very competitive terms. For narrow “long-tail” terms like Princeton NJ Wedding Cakes, however, a Facebook page could theoretically break into the top three. (Disclaimer: I am looking for more data on this.) Verdict: It’s a wash.

Conversion and Measurement: At this writing, Facebook pages have no ecommerce component, so you’d need to complete a sale offline or at a third-party website. Facebook’s Page statistics are improving but come up short next to the commercial stats platforms. Plus, measuring conversions is much easier when you have your own site. (That said, if optimizing page conversion is important to your bottom line, it’s time for your own site.) Verdict: Facebook loses here.

facebook-logo1Branding and Control: 
A company Facebook page is always in the Facebook wrapper, which dilutes your corporate image. We can expect Facebook to give Page editors greater visual control in the future, but that will naturally bump up against their desire to keep some consistency of experience. Similarly, even though Facebook’s Pages can accomodate more widgets and functional applications, you can always do more on your own site. Verdict: Better to have your own website.

Security: Another elephant. If your Facebook account is compromised, all sorts of mayhem can ensue. Recovering access is time-consuming and uncertain. True, there are single points of failure in the website world as well (your registrar account, your email account), but the authentication safeguards are better, and you usually have recourse to a staffed help desk at your website host. Verdict: Facebook loses here. Use complex passwords everywhere.

Copyright and Ownership: Last elephant. Facebook owns the content on its site, not you. Even though their usage policies are not likely to affect you in the short term, this fact carries obvious business risk of the “unknown unknowns” variety.

What About Frank?

The choice is not really whether to build a standalone website or a Facebook page; most companies eventually grow into needing both.

For entrepreneurs like Frank, the real question is, “which is better to begin with?” The best candidates for the Facebook-only approach are small, young, local, businesses whose sales rely on a strong personal connection. Other than that, small companies are better off beginning with a WordPress site.