Why bother with a website when there’s Facebook?

I’ve met with this ‘website vs Facebook’ question a few times recently and when it’s with a small business, rightly focused on the metrics of cost, simplicity and control, it makes for an interesting debate.  Yes, there’s obvious pros to using Facebook as an internet presence, but there’s cons and alternatives to consider too.

Cost

Without doubt Facebook’s ‘free’ price tag is attractive.  How much time though does it take to keep it really engaging and to respond to customer posts?  ‘Time is money’ after all.  A company website might be ‘less social’, and not as interactive as a result, but might it need a little less time to maintain?

As a low cost alternative, D-I-Y website builders (Moonfruit, 1&1 etc.) can be used to create and host a simple, professional looking website for under a £100 per annum.  There’s also many a small digital agency out there who’ll create a simple but more bespoke website for under £500.  (Copywriting extra of course…)

Simplicity and control

Yes it’s simple to set-up and maintain a Facebook page for a business.  It’s quick to do, there’s no real training required – agreed. Equally though, a low cost website builder, while certainly more complex, can also be self-taught over time.

Likewise, a slick content management system (CMS) integrated into a bespoke website, will let you make your own updates and keep you in control.  Over time, both options become equally simple to maintain.  (Admittedly, the more tech savvy you are the easier it becomes.)

Reach

So there are indeed a billion active monthly users of Facebook.  How many of them though are prospective customers?  Only market research will tell.  And related to the aspect of simplicity, how many of your target customers actually like Facebook and find it as easy to use as you?

A well organised company website requires no sign-up, no learning, no prior knowledge.  It’s accessible to all – no market research required.  A significant advantage if you ask me.

SEO

While a Google search is increasingly taking into account all those ‘social media signals’, it’s a fact that all those goodly on-page SEO tactics (described in a previous blog) are largely irrelevant for a Facebook page.  So while a prospective customer might find your company’s website, s/he’s far less likely to land on your Facebook page.

Brand building

If creating and nurturing a strong brand identity was your highest priority, then a Facebook page will fall somewhat short.  Consider the URL to start with, it’s www.facebook.com/marcomwords rather than www.marcomwords.com.  Yes you can brand a standard Facebook page to a degree, with cover photo, profile picture, corporate photos and videos, but it’s still a Facebook page.

The layout, the colours, the logo – it still says ‘Facebook’.  Yes it can be customised using specialised development, but there’s the added cost, and are you then just trying to make it into a company website?  Something it wasn’t really designed to be?

Noise

Related to the above, the thing that’s going to stop your well-honed message from reaching your target audience is a good smattering of ‘communications noise’.

You take a prospective customer to a page governed by Facebook rather then your own webpage, it looks very much like anybody else’s Facebook page, there’s people posting unregulated comments – some positive, some negative, there’s a timeline stretching deep into the company’s history.  It’s just ‘noisier’ than a company website and it might just hinder message delivery.

Facility

‘From small acorns big trees grow’ goes the saying and I can’t help but think that while a Facebook page could suffice in presenting a small company, could it effectively present the bigger entity it might become?   You can achieve a lot with Facebook.  It can present a company, its products, services and latest news, while handling customer queries at the same time.  It needs apps developments though to be able to handle a complex product portfolio, full e-commerce, a global distribution network and tie-ins with corporate infrastructure.

Longevity

Will all today’s social media platforms be around in 5 years time?  Probably not.  Will they all remain free-to-use services?  Perhaps not.  Questions worthy of consideration if you were concerned for longevity.  Then again how safe the D-I-Y website builder or what happens if you wanted to change your digital agency? I guess there’s an element of risk in everything.

Conclusion

A consideration of aspects far beyond cost and simplicity and a longer-term view in my opinion turns the question of Facebook page vs website into a non-question.

Facebook was conceived as a wonderfully engaging, two-way communication platform, a relationship marketing tool, so use it as such.  I’m in no doubt that it can add personality to a business, help put a face to a name and increase customer interaction, but don’t expect it to do everything.

It’s an ideal channel for driving traffic to a company’s website and blog, but it won’t replace either.  A website will ensure you can be reached, help build a brand, increase SEO etc.  It should be the hub from which other social media channels extend – and that might well include Facebook.