Monday, April 9, 2012

Website Or Social Network? Remember Who The Fish Belong To

Why do companies like Toblerone or Pepperidge Farm bother having websites? As if people are going to say to themselves, “Gee, I wish I knew more about Milano cookies. I know! I’ll go to their site!” Just a thought.
Many people have talked over the years about the gap between the amount of time that people spend online (which is large) and the percentage of marketing budgets that is committed to digital (not so large). Digital analyst Mary Meeker has estimated that this gap is worth about $50 billion globally (and that was a couple of years ago). I think that the reason for this can probably best be encapsulated by the quote at the start of this post, which is, if you’re interested, a quote from one of the characters in Douglas Coupland’s (excellent) novel jPod.
Essentially, the character is vocalising the problem that many brands, particularly the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) ones that have historically been amongst the heaviest spenders on TV, have had advertising online when. After all, they don’t sell anything directly to consumers (as opposed to sectors such as finance and telecoms, that moved spend into digital relatively quickly). Despite this, most brands created websites, such as the ones mentioned above. But the shift into digital was often rather tentative.


Facebook has changed this for many, as it’s not really about “selling things,” but is closer to TV in how it pitches itself to clients, concentrating on awareness and consideration. And, for this reason, as well as its sheer scale and its undoubted effectiveness, many of the brands that were slow to shift budgets online are now putting large amounts into building, managing and promoting Facebook pages.
I was reminded of this during a panel I sat on at a conference recently, where the head of a local digital agency said that he would advise clients not to invest in websites, but instead concentrate on Facebook commerce and mobile. His reasoning? Fish where the fish are.
As I’ve said, there’s no arguing with Facebook’s reach (which, in most developed markets, dwarfs all but the biggest TV shows), or its effectiveness — at some things. Because, as many people have pointed out, a social network isn’t necessarily the best place to sell things, as evidenced by the number of retailers who have closed or curtailed their Facebook stores.


What seems to work better is when the brands build social into their own ecommerce platforms, as Levis have done (though the fact that the most ‘liked’ jeans are 501s is unlikely to surprise anyone).
Now, as I said at the start, one of the problems for many FMCG brands, when it comes to justifying investment into digital media, is that they don’t actually sell direct to consumers, so whether or not fCommerce works or not shouldn’t matter. But thinking about this, and the comment “fish where the fish are” made me think of another hackneyed phrase — don’t put all your eggs in one basket.


When brand owners talk about Facebook, they often do so as part of their owned media strategy. But it’s important to remember that, unlike a hosted website, brands don’t own their presence on Facebook, they only lease it. And the landlord can change the T&Cs any time they want.
For example Facebook has just killed the old brand page templates, as it shifts everything on to the Timelines — the change has positives and negatives, but importantly, brands don’t get to decide whether they want to move. It’s mandatory.
And whilst Facebook is, as I’ve said, second to none when it comes to reaching large numbers of people, it only works in a certain way. Getting a “like” doesn’t give you the same level of access as a website registration or email. Also, and this isn’t unprecedented, those large numbers of people could up and leave, moving to some other new network or platform.  Back in 2008, 7% of all time spent online in the US was on MySpace. Now? Not so much.


I wouldn’t want this post to be read as an attack on Facebook, or a suggestion that its about to lose its user base (the way it has used the Open Graph to become the default log-in for a massive number of consumers should prevent that from happening). But we also shouldn’t be blind to the fact that large-scale investment into Facebook as a brand’s primary home is equivalent to paying rent rather than a mortgage.
Facebook has a massive role to play in most brand’s communications strategies, but ditching your website is almost certainly a step too far.