Earlier this month Nielsen released a report that found Americans are spending an increasing amount of their time online visiting social-networking sites like Facebook and playing games. (It wasn't clear how Nielsen counted time spent playing games on social networks. FarmVille, anyone?)
Given that, is it any wonder we are seeing companies allowing customers to perform functions formerly confined mostly to their own websites on social networks? One example: Delta Air Lines just rolled out "a social media ticket window" that lets Facebook users book Delta flights on that site instead of navigating to delta.com. According to SiliconValley.com, it wants to extend the service to other websites and to allow booking within Delta online banner advertisements.
IT Business Edge blogger Mike Vizard touched on this earlier today, noting it creates some "troubling issues" for corporate websites. He writes:
Social networks such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook on the one hand drive traffic to a site, while also cannibalizing the audience of a website. The owner of the website generates and pays to create the content, while the conversation about that content takes place on other sites. The website owner doesn't know who these people are, though the major social networks do. Yet the website owner doesn't benefit from the conversation by adding registered users.
I don't see this as a huge problem. I'd contend companies can communicate just as effectively with their customers on Facebook as on company sites. I vastly prefer seeing company news and offers on my Facebook feed over receiving them in e-mail. With e-mail becoming less relevant for many folks, is it really that important to harvest addresses? Still, some companies are responding to the growing popularity of social networks by creating their own, says Vizard, using packaged social-network applications or Web tools like Drupal Commons, an extension to Drupal that makes it simpler for websites based on Drupal to add a social-network platform.
Rather than simply adding social-network features to their own sites, will some companies consider doing away entirely with their corporate sites? That's a question Julie Hunt poses on CMS Wire. This is an interesting swing of the pendulum.The shifting landscape of the mature Internet is causing some companies to ponder the same question they did in the earliest days of the Web: Do I really need a website?
It's a more valid question for business-to-consumer companies, points out Hunt. I'd agree, since business-to-business customers are far more likely than consumers to use a corporate website as an initial point of contact and to open accounts on those sites that allow them to conduct regular business transactions. It's different for consumers. As Hunt writes:
Most corporate websites do not work well for customers. The sites are designed from the corporate POV, with too much useless content that is hard to find anyway. Frequently corporate websites become money pits, requiring too many resources over time compared to the benefits received.
Reasons why social sites might work better than corporate sites for B2C companies: Customers obviously like social sites, given the amount of time they spend on them. Existing customers can evangelize to potential ones through forums, communities, ratings and reviews. Of course, companeis can add some of those features to their own sites, the strategy mentioned by Vizard. As Hunt says, "This approach appeals to companies that want a measure of control over customer "conversations" and also makes sense if the company is using social capabilities as part of a customer relationship and support strategy."
Whether or not they seriously consider giving up their own sites, both B2C and B2B companies must consider social sites in their overall Web strategies. Hunt followed up her CMS Wire post with a second one in which she discussed how a Web Presence Management Framework could be the best approach for companies to manage their Web content and presence, both on their own sites and on outside sites.
Hunt closes with what she calls a "starter list" of 15 potential capabilities and attributes for such a framework. While many of them are features, others are ideas as to how a framework could ultimately affect a company's marketing strategies. For instance, she suggests segmented customer advisory groups will interact more closely with companies to help them manage their distributed Web presence.