The questions plaguing many corporate leaders these days about social media include: How can we take best advantage of this continually-changing platform for business, sales, and reputation enhancement? How do we choose which platforms to engage on? Where does our website fit in among all the emerging social media options? What about mobile? Must we do it all? And, is the effort it takes worth the investment, risk, and loss of control?
In fact, loss of control may be the most worrisome. There aren’t many places left where organizations can have total control over what is said about them, especially on the internet. But corporate websites can provide a still center of control, continuity and clarity of message. A website – compellingly done – can capture a brand, and encapsulate its positioning for all to see. A stake in the reputational ground, the best websites showcase their organizations’ aspirations and best selves as well as their brand.
Davids Into Goliaths
Virtual capabilities brochures available 24/7 to anyone with an internet connection, websites can turn corporate Davids into Goliaths – and occasionally, Goliaths into mincemeat. A local hardware store in Duluth can compete with a national chain, if it gets its strategy right. And with websites now making the transit to mobile devices, all depends on how much time, creativity, agility, and marketing savvy an organization pours into its website. The possibilities are almost endless.
The Straw Man
Yet, just over two years ago, one Australian media guru, Jeff Bulas, wrote an influential blog “Is Facebook Killing Off The Company Website?” cataloging the fact that website traffic was down by more than 70%. Coca Cola’s website traffic, he told readers, was down more than 40% in 12 months; and Nabisco’s traffic had decreased from 1.2 million hits per month to only 321,000 (a drop of almost 74%) in a year.
A study by webtrends confirmed that a majority of Fortune 100 websites (68%) experienced negative growth, with a 23% average decrease in unique visitors. At the same time, Facebook traffic was clearly growing according to the same study.
So, the straw man was constructed, and the question rippled through digital marketing departments: should companies get rid of their websites – or stop improving them – in favor of Facebook pages, and other social media company pages? Many parties were heard from, but most responded with a resounding, and compellingly reasoned no.
As one of our clients said, when asked this question, “are you kidding, and turn my brand over to Facebook? I might as well be turning it over to an authoritarian sovereign state…”
And, of course, no matter how alluring Facebook (or other social media ) company pages are, the company will never have ultimate control. These sites are known to be quixotic – changing rules, rights, and value propositions at the drop of a hat…or an IPO. Who would want to plight his troth exclusively with them? Besides, there will always be a newer platform arising to knock out an older one…which will leave companies scrambling even more if they were to let social media company sites dominate their brand outreach.
Yet, Facebook IS the place to connect with a dynamic and growing customer base. An organization ignores it at their peril. LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and Pinterest also offer intriguing benefits to their corporate-page hosts. And the next new platform is just around the corner.
The REAL Question
So, the real challenge is not shall we kill off our website, rather it is how should we coordinate all the many parts of our company’s social media presence? How can we choose which platforms to use? And then how can we leverage the special attributes of each platform to conduct business and build the totality of our brand presence on social media?
Very few organizations have gotten this strategy totally right so far. But we submit that the answer will be for organizations to use their websites as the hub of their electronic and mobile business and their reputation, and then use social media company pages as spokes, exploiting each platform for its unique benefits and audience.
Following then, are some of our suggested best practices to create company pages on Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+, culled from a review of hundreds of on-line articles, as well as an examination of company pages that are popularly considered “the best.” (The name of each site: Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+, is linked to a list of the top-ranked company pages on that site.) Then, we will list 6 companies who we think are beginning to integrate their social media pages with their websites, and we’ll draw a few more conclusions that might be useful to our readers.
- Optimize your cover photo The first thing you see when you open a Facebook page is the cover photo. This is also the first thing that anyone who comes to the page will see. First impressions are important. The cover photo should be gorgeous, eye-catching, relevant, and complement or supplement your profile picture itself. It also doesn’t hurt to make sure that there’s a good description, and links to your website and other social media pages within that photo’s description.
- Tell a story with Timeline Timeline’s most interesting feature is the fact that it acts just like – well – a timeline. You can use ‘life events’ and ‘highlight post’ features to structure the timeline and focus it on important events. Often, it is good to back-date posts (unlike stock options!) so as to make sure the brand’s history is easily visible.
- Engage This is the piece of advice that is most often thrown around. But what does it mean? Engagement is interacting with customers like you might in real life. This includes responding to their comments, not just watching them “like,” “share,” or comment on your content. This is one of the most important aspects of social media, and requires minute-to-minute strategy and monitoring in order to implement the right way, in real time.
- Use Apps Facebook Applications are essentially add-ons you can create for your page. Generally, these have to be designed and coded before they are released. They allow for more content flexibility on a page than would normally be allowed, and can be used to host contests or other kinds of interesting promotions for brands. For example, an App like EazyContest creates photo and video contests, custom banners, buttons, CSS, custom menu tabs, custom entry forms, and reveal pages that pop.
- Start from the Bottom Smaller businesses, or those just starting Facebook pages, needn’t be shy to start with friends and contacts. The worst they can do to an invitation to like a brand page is say ‘no.’ Often, they are the best starting point for businesses that are looking to create a following. Next, get your employees to ‘like’ the page, and invite their friends as well. This is a great way to begin building a Facebook page – and creating this initial network is one of the first of all steps to take to grow a following on Facebook – and social media at large.
- Use Tabs LinkedIn has ‘tabs’ that you can use to diversify the page. You can open ‘insights,’ ‘services,’ ‘products,’ and other tabs to augment the main page. These are important because they not only allow you to post jobs and recruit with LinkedIn, but also make it easier to communicate what your brand is all about.
- Optimize the Cover Photo As with Facebook, this is basically the first thing you see. The banner on top of the page is important, and should give a good, professional feel to the page. At the moment, customization options for these LinkedIn brand pages are relatively limited, so creating a good photo is one of the most important things you can do to improve the page’s appearance.
- Include Your Employees Ask your employees list your brand page on their profiles. Many large companies have networks of over 10,000 employees on LinkedIn, so leveraging this network is important. Have them ‘follow’ the company, and make sure you provide them with plenty of resources.
- Create a Group This is a great place to put content, and encourage your employees and others interested in your brand to join. Here, people can start discussions, brainstorm ideas, chat about your latest thought leadership efforts, culture, and anything else you’re interested in. Make sure the group is closed so as to avoid spammers and other extraneous input, as well.
- Participate in Discussions LinkedIn discussions are a great way to network, share ideas, and spread content. Brands and individuals would do well to participate in them. LinkedIn has a highly vibrant community that loves to talk about the next big thing in business. Often, if an employee is impressive in LinkedIn discussions, he or she will help the reputation of his company, as well. Companies can encourage employees to participate intelligently and speak on topics in which they have expertise. This way, by associating smart comments with the brand, you can create a kind of word-of-mouth advertising system on LinkedIn.
Other useful LinkedIn tips can be found at: 20 Tips to Amplify Your Brand On LinkedIn and 8 Tips for Creating a Great LinkedIn Business Page.
- Use Communities Communities act much like LinkedIn groups. Google+ isn’t incredibly popular, yet, but if you go to the ‘communities,’ you will find that many of them are full of content and discussions. Posting articles and other pieces of content here is a great way to build your brand page, and become recognized on the website.
- Optimize your cover photo Just like in the preceding two, this is one of the few ways you can really ‘brand’ your page. It is also the first thing people see. This is a great way to catch users’ eyes, as Google+ has the largest of all cover photos, and will be an immediate draw for your page.
- Engage Just like on Facebook, it is very important to engage. Make sure you’re responsive and that your content is relevant.
- Find your Niche Look for the communities that are right for you. Find the groups and people you want to follow, and add them into your circles to share content with them. This often comes with access to email – making it a great tool for marketing your new posts.
- Sync with YouTube YouTube has made it so that Google+ accounts are connected to your profile. If you haven’t already, it’s very important to make sure that both of these profiles are optimized. If you’re using YouTube, make sure you have a nice Google+ profile, because people will be able to see it through your YouTube account.
Other Google+ tips: 5 Reasons to Leverage Google Communities to Influence SEO.
6 Examples of Corporate Websites That Are Beginning to Serve As The Hub Of Their Entire Social Media Presence
Of course, Mashable is in the social media business, so it had better be good! But it does provide an unendlingly interesting website that is linked strongly to its social media presence. The integration is impressive. They have a great mobile website and app that makes it easy to read and share articles, and are very good at coordinating a multitude of twitter accounts, and leveraging a large network of influential writers.
Coca-Cola is a social media pioneer. They have been using Facebook and Twitter with success since long before many other brands jumped onboard. They have a top-notch website that churns out new content, and they make sure that their entire presence is very well integrated and accessible for everyone. Their mobile website reflects this, and is fully optimized for all users.
Zappos is an exemplary internet commercial site. It takes a lot for someone to buy shoes over the internet, without being fitted in person, but Zappos has figured out a way. It talks a lot about its culture, values and customer service, and is known for having one of the most social CEOs. Zappos generally does great things on social media, and has a mobile website that is simple and on-point design-wise as well.
SONY has a great mobile app, manages a multitude of accounts (including playstation) and engages its users both online and through gaming communities.
Despite its Twitter misstep, JP Morgan has a nice website and does a good job with their mobile app, mobile website, and manages a respectable social media presence (especially for a highly regulated industry). Every social media presence has a bump or two; they have recovered nicely.
Delta also generally does a great job at integrating mobile. Customers can get notifications from them, tickets are synced to ‘passbook’ and to their app, and they have been running Instagram promotions as well as other promotions on Twitter and Facebook over the years.
Every one of the social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram — is changing constantly. And thus every suggestion we offer, or best practice we highlight, most likely will be outmoded in a matter of months.
The trick for every organization is to embrace a dynamic social media strategy that integrates website and mobile, and all platforms used, but revisit it monthly to make needed updates.
Indeed, corporate presence on social media is like the expanding gas law: the work will expand to fit whatever time, staff and budget you can afford.
Given the fluidity and changeable nature of the medium, our best recommendations: invest in your website; make it the centerpiece of your efforts; link voraciously to all your other company pages and presence. Stay nimble, embrace continuous change, but don’t get carried away.
In other words, let strategy and results, combined with wise opportunism, dictate your corporate social media presence. And that will go a long way to answering the toughest questions any leader can pose.