Facebook – your company’s new web site?

Facebook

Scott Beale / Laughing Squid

 

Have you ever thought about making a Facebook page the actual home page for your business? Sounds a little crazy huh? Well, maybe it isn’t so far fetched. I’ve debated the concept ever since Facebook sent some representatives to come speak at AZIMA, the Arizona Interactive Marketing Association meeting a few weeks ago.

Truth is, there is very little that a Facebook page can’t do in terms of replacing the functionality you’d have on your own web site. And, with its built in audience and advertising platform, could you actually be better off with simply having your Facebook page be your home page?

First, an observation on social networking traffic

Social media is a great way to drive traffic to your web site – it isn’t necessarily a great way to keep traffic on your site. What I have personally seen from working with many clients across multiple verticals in relation to traffic and social media is that you can generally expect a high bounce rate. This is true especially with blogs. Why is that? I think its because folks on social networks are so used to seeing direct links to articles, pictures or even video from a wide variety of sources. They are also used to tools like Twitter and Digg or even RSS readers bringing content to them that they very rarely feel the need to spend time on a site or blog. Your friends send you a link, you take a look, then leave. Its just the standard operating procedure for web users these days.

How would a Facebook page remedy this issue? Well, first, any time you have something new to post as a business (a new product announcement or press release, perhaps a contest or marketing campaign) that messaging will live on your fans news feed. Here, it will likely be seen several times before falling off the radar. More opportunities to be seen = more opportunities to be clicked upon and potentially commented on or liked, which of course will help the content live longer and be spread further.

Second, the investment of creating a Facebook page vs. a web site

Planning for and building a new web site can be incredibly expensive. Even the most bare bones sites, in terms of function, can cost up to $20,000 to get up and running. Of course, there are some free options out there for hosting your site, but most companies would want to opt for a professionally designed web site with a CMS system backended by a database. You also have hosting to consider, along with finding a lucrative domain name if you don’t already have one.

Contrast this with having your company site based on Facebook. You’ve got a great framework for working off of, and with a little effort you can recreate the functionality of a commerce site with some FBML coding. For this you might need to hire a consultant but you will still come out ahead of where you might be if you brought on a developer to retrofit an existing e-commerce application into your own web site. Once you have 100 or more fans, you are eligible to register your own vanity URL through Facebook, one of the premiere domains on the web (facebook.com/your-company). I’d also mention, if you have an existing domain name registered you can easily redirect it to your Facebook page instead.

I also took into account analytics. As a search marketer, analytics is the guide which I follow to determine campaign effectiveness or to provide direction for future search engine optimization or paid search efforts. This is one tricky spot for Facebook – you get page insights which are similar to say, Google Analytics, however you don’t get keyword searches from exterior sources (say, Google or Yahoo) nor do you get to see exits, bounce rate, top pages, etc. My guess is that you could potentially tie in Google Analytics tracking code into your own Facebook page to expose some of that data, however I’ve not personally tried it (if you have, please let me know your experience in the comments).

 

Facebook Targeted Advertising

Facebook Ad Creation

Third, your marketing and advertising investment

Facebook advertising, much like PPC search marketing, is incredibly cost effective. You can spend as much or little as you want, and Facebook has killer targeting. Just over the past few weeks the Facebook team added some incredible new options for advertisers to pinpoint just the people who are likely to respond to ads.

First you can now target keywords used in the past 30 days in users status updates. That is incredibly powerful, just think about it. Literally you can target keywords in conversations. Amazing. You can now also selectively include the fans (or exclude) of particular products. Let’s say I have my own breakfast treat and I want to show an ad to the approximately 775k fans of Pop Tarts – I can!

Beyond these new targeting options, Facebook advertising can be interactive. You can display videos and even become a fan of a product from an advertisement without leaving your page. You can RSVP for events or leave comments about an ad from your page too.

It really isn’t that crazy of an idea

I think that making a Facebook page your company home page is a very interesting idea. Perhaps in the future this will be the preferred way of doing things. What do you think?

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  • Joseph Jaramillo

    Insanity.

    I’m a web developer, so I have a vested interest in this topic, but I can’t imagine why any company would want to do such a thing.

    Your first point about the benefits of Facebook pages is irrelevant with regard to making that page your home page, because the benefits you get from having a Facebook page aren’t mutually exclusive. If a Facebook user is already a fan of your company, they’re getting your updates regardless. Making that page your homepage might get you more fans more quickly, sure, but you’re effectively saying the only way someone can participate with you is through social media. That’s just silly.

    Your point about the resources to build a web presence is valid, but at the same time, not. It doesn’t cost anything to have a Facebook page, so while it certainly makes sense for most businesses to have them, it makes little if any sense to make that page a company’s home page. What if your company has to offer downloads like support materials? What if your company deals with confidential information, as lawyers do? I wouldn’t want to do business with a company that doesn’t have the time or resources to have a quality website. If I punch in yourcoolbusiness.com and end up on a Facebook page, I’m going to assume you took the easy way out. I don’t want to do business with a company that lacks the resources to put together a quality website.

    I’m not sure how your last argument is even relevant to the discussion. Yes, Facebook marketing is effective, both in terms of cost and in terms of conversions. So what? Does making your Facebook page your company home page have any effect on the effectiveness of your advertising *on* Facebook?

    I agree that Facebook is a great resource for companies and marketers, but putting all you eggs in one basket is always a bad move (unless it’s Vegas and you just *know* the next card in the deck will give you 21).

    It wasn’t long ago that MySpace was the dominant, and Facebook was but an ant. It wasn’t long before that when Livejournal was in Myspace’s position. These applications come and go. Facebook, like Twitter, has yet to make any real money. Why would you put the public-facing first-stop for your company on the web in the hands of such an ephemeral industry?

  • http://www.facebook.com/therealwilliamsmith William Smith

    Insanity is a little… harsh?

    I am merely stating that, with very few exceptions, you can technically replicate the functionality of a web site through a Facebook page. It requires some customization and development, sure, but it is possible. It wouldn’t be for everyone, but I think it is an interesting concept and I’d love to see someone try it.

    The way people consume content these days is just different. I don’t believe that you need to have a large, complicated web site anymore. And, i think that social networking is here to stay. I don’t think you can really compare Twitter to Facebook (or even MySpace for that matter). Those sites don’t have the user base of Facebook, or the same type of mature platform. MySpace went after kids (now, they are going after bands) and Twitter can’t get their act together and even keep their site up. I am not sure that Twitter is built for the long haul, whereas Facebook is. I also believe that Facebook Connect is a step towards a unified login and that Facebook will serve as the sign in for all of your essential web services within 2 years.

    With all of these things going for it, I don’t see how you can’t take Facebook seriously.

  • Joseph

    Insanity is a bit harsh… maybe.

    There’s a difference between not thinking it’s the right solution for every problem, and not taking it seriously. I take it very seriously.

    Facebook a great platform, but a site that can show something like this (http://twitpic.com/ek4d6) as one of the first things a user sees after login has no business being the homepage for any serious business.

  • http://authoritylabs.com Chase Granberry

    Facebook is an ecosystem of it’s own and one that’s growing at a pretty crazy rate. There’s no reason why a Facebook page can’t represent a business entirely on it’s own. Like you pointed out, Facebook as a platform has just about anything the good majority of businesses need and there’s no complicated setup or risky/expensive developer you have to pay.

    For the micro business it’s perfect. I have a buddy who’s a chef and he’s started selling his rubbing salt to anyone willing to pay. He’s got a website but it looks like crap because a buddy set it up for free on GoDaddy and he doesn’t know how to use it. Will, I may have invited you to fan it (Slavo Salt), can’t remember but it’s amazing by the way. Anyways, the site and blog look like crap but the Facebook page is an entirely different story. It’s clean, interactive and easy to customize / add content. It’s also got those viral hooks built in so people get exposed to it.

    I’m trying to convince him to focus on the Facebook page and not spread himself too thin with a website, blog and Facebook page. He could do much more damage on Facebook than anywhere else especially considering his technical knowledge.

    Facebook has made it much more efficient to connect as “Friends” and if that platform enables small businesses to reach more people more efficiently … well, then that’s big business.

  • Joseph

    Now, if we were talking about a community-oriented non-profit, it would be a completely different story. Non-profits could be perfect for something like this.

  • http://www.heidicool.com/blog Heidi Cool

    Interesting. Like Joseph, I’m also a Web developer, so I’ll admit to having a certain bias towards self-hosted sites.

    I think having a Facebook Fan page is probably better than not having a Web site at all, but I think there are still too many drawbacks for most businesses. The advantage you describe of having your fans see your updates on their walls is a plus, it’s like getting people to subscribe to your blog’s RSS feed. But it doesn’t allow for evergreen content that people might want to access in the future. One can click the more button or do a search, but otherwise there’s really not a good way to archive and categorize those little snippets we share on Facebook pages. Tools like FBML and Posted Items Pro allow us to more easily customize our Facebook content, but it’s still pretty limited.

    For someone who can’t afford to have a site built, I think I’d be more likely to recommend using a self-hosted WordPress installation with a free template theme. This way they can get started with a pretty clean and functional site, then as they grow and have more money they can hire someone like me or Joseph to customize it to better suit their needs. They could still have a Facebook page as an additional online presence and traffic generator, but the WordPress site could serve as a more permanent and adaptable home, complete with analytics, SEO, etc.

    I find it interesting that you are seeing such a high bounce rate for social media traffic. I’m getting a high bounce rate from StumbleUpon (82%) which seems logical given the nature of the service, but I’m averaging 35-60% from LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter with those visitors reading an average of 2.77 – 3.81 pages per visit. I think our bounce rate from social media depends a lot on our given social media strategies, who we engage with online, as well as the content we provide.

    Having a Facebook page is certainly a good idea, but I’m not sold on having it be one’s primary site. I also agree with Joseph that it’s important to have your own space and not be entirely dependent on a free service like Facebook. As big and stable as it is, it could still go away someday, or lose the popularity race to some new service we’ve not yet seen. I was an avid user of Pownce. In 2007 Pownce and Twitter were perceived by the media as direct competitors. Pownce was more robust, with a cleaner interface, the ability to embed media, create friend groups, etc. It was far more useful than Twitter, but Twitter won the popularity game and Pownce shut down in December. We never really know what the future may hold, even for a heavyweight like Facebook.