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January 19, 2012

Social Media – Part of Your Web Strategy?

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It depends on what you are trying to achieve with your site, but for many sites, the answer is increasingly ‘YES’.

Social media (mainly Facebook and Twitter for the purposes of this article) have become increasingly pervasive. Recently I read that one minute of every eight spent on the Internet, is spent on Facebook. If the purpose of a web site is to communicate, then identifying where other people are – is a good start.

A ‘No-Brainer’ for Charities

Charities web site Justgiving tells us that 15% of all people donating via the Justgiving site come via Facebook. Clearly, then, for a charity it should be a ‘no-brainer’ to set up a Facebook page and work on integrating it: both your web site and your Facebook presence should benefit from it. However, one shouldn’t underestimate the work involved in maintaining one’s presence. From my experience, with Tanzania Development Trust, I know that for a voluntary organization, resources can be an issue, particularly if it takes a while to build momentum. Can volunteers maintain the consistency and enthusiasm required to optimize a social media presence?

A ‘Must’ for Band, Gigs and Events

We have all heard stories of teenagers informing the world via Facebook of a planned party, with disastrous results! But it points to a truth: no sensible music event, festival or gig would dream of setting up without a Facebook presence. Bands and performers use social media to build a fan base and keep it informed of their plans and movements. It is fair to say that in these cases, social media leads the way, with the web site complementing its more ‘buzzy’, up-to-the-minute feel.

Not Just Teenagers Any More…

Still for those who haven’t invested time in creating a Twitter profile and presence, the overriding view is likely to be that it’s a waste of time. Why should we be worried about what someone had for breakfast? Who cares about what people are tweeting during the ‘X Factor’? Isn’t social media dominated by young people who use it to exchange the minutiae of their lives?

In fact, the most significant growth in recent years among social media sites has been from users aged 50+. This has steadily driven up the average age of users. By 2010, the average age of a Facebook user had reportedly risen to 38, with 61% of users older than 38. The average Twitter user was 39, with 64% of tweeters older than 35.

No wonder, then, that businesses are now seeing social media as a significant force for business. Many major corporations acknowledge this by seeking to build a social media strategy to communicate and engage with their customers. At a more human level, Twitter and Facebook can be used to drive viewers to a web site. Have you made an interesting post on your blog, an important update to your Facebook site, launched a product on your web site? Then why not alert your followers on Twitter?

Facebook as a Complement to a Business Web Site

Making the most effective use of social media for business purposes is a subject in itself, and heavyweight businesses and brands team up with expensive agencies to try to figure it out. For now, therefore, I shall limit myself to the observation that people like to engage with other people. It’s realistic for businesses with a social aspect (after all, it’s called ‘social media’) to hope to make an impact via social media without such an expensive approach.

In developing web sites for a couple of pubs, I was very much aware of the need to achieve a balance between appealing to the new visitor, probably interested mainly in the food offering and amenities, and the regular crowd, more interested in the social gossip and upcoming events. The former is very likely to be put off by pictures of the pub bore leering into the lens, or the guy who specializes in falling off his bar stool! For the latter, a feeling of real involvement is probably hard to achieve on a conventional web site, even with regular updates and the easiest content management system.

I used to maintain a site for my local pub in Cornwall, The Ship Inn at Mawgan. Since I moved away, the pub has changed hands and the new owners opted to use people they know for their web site. Though the new web site is pretty basic, I have been very much struck by their use of Facebook. In a matter of months, they built up almost 400 ‘friends’. The Facebook/shipinnmawgan.co.uk site is a useful tool for the proprietors to send out details of forthcoming events and promotions, but it is used just as much by customers, sharing their buzz, reflecting on the weekend’s music, etc. etc. An excellent way of building a loyal following, in an increasingly difficult industry!

Developing a Fan Base for a Sporting Event

In a sport that I follow, horse racing, I have been watching with interest the social media campaign for the QIPCO British Champions Series. This new (in 2011) series, sponsored by the Qatari royal family’s business QIPCO, was criticised at the outset for lacking a logical focus: though its end-of-season climax called itself ‘Champions Day’, most weren’t really championship races, they were sandwiched between established championships built around the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France and the Breeders’ Cup in the US, and so on and so forth. However, the horse racing season follows a well-trodden path, its rhythms, rituals and great occasions having endured for decades, even centuries. The 35-race series, running from April to October and sponsoring many of our most historic races, is ideal for the development of a narrative, and the building and involvement of a fan club. And the Twitter and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/britishchampionsseries) campaigns have displayed admirable energy.

But here’s the rub: it’s not enough to just set up a profile on Facebook or Twitter, integrate them with your web site, and expect amazing results. You need to do the work, in building up a base of followers, and in presenting content. More than anything else, to be consistent. This doesn’t mean tweeting or posting about every little thing. In fact, that may be the worst thing you can do. On the other hand, even if your message is a serious one, you must remember to ENTERTAIN your followers now and again. Just like life, it’s about balance.


Robert Gibson is a former finance professional with experience managing businesses around the world. In recent years he has developed an interest in web sites – both design, and what can be achieved by web sites and social media. This, and other articles, can be found on his web site http://www.dovedaledesign.co.uk

5 Responses to “Social Media – Part of Your Web Strategy?

    Great post useful advices! Thanx

    avatar Andy says:

    Hi Robert. Interesting Article, and true. But I still think Facebook particularly needs to re-think its sign up/create a web presence/fan page. It used to be easy, with everything you wanted clearly marked. Now, I even have trouble finding my inbox, and accessing my ‘wall’ messages. ‘Their ‘less is more’ ideology just doesn’t wash with a lot of marketers. They must do better, I think! Thanks.

    that’s right, facebook has connected so many people together. It’s free and you can let everyone know when and where there will be a party or a band playing. It’s great, you just have to have a lot of friends signed up with you.

    avatar Mike Dutton says:

    Hi Robert. I notice the facebook page you mention; http://en-gb.facebook.com/shipinnmawgan.co.uk is a pub using Facebook as a person. I thought this was unacceptable and would be interested to know your thoughts on this practice.

    avatar Chris says:

    I agree with Andy. Call me cynical but I have the feeling that FB makes navigation difficult on purpose. If one isn’t careful you could end up adding everyone in your “contacts” hotmail email list as “friends” with an accidental click of your mouse.

    Maybe good for FB’s data base and marketing agenda, but not necessarily good for you.

    I was shocked to see how many of my contacts’ profiles suddenly appeared when I recently (and reluctantly) signed up for a FB account.

    Maybe it’s because I’m not that lonely, but I find it very difficult to rationalize the success of these “social media” platforms as a legitimate marketing tool.

    Personally I can’t imagine anyone but the very young and perhaps seniors among us signing up for this type of time consuming activity.

    I think I’m making a good bet when I say that the people who sign up for an account do it mostly (if not completely) to socialize only.

    And speaking of time consuming, all business owners and marketers must put a dollar value and ROI on their time.

    The time (and headache) it would take pretending to be “sociable,” all the while trying to sell something I believe would have diminishing returns for most owners and marketers.

    Yes, except for a small percentage of businesses (and we’ve all heard the fabulous stories) this type of ruse may work, but for me I would rather focus on better (and more legitimate) marketing endeavors.

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