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SOCIAL MEDIA IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR A WEBSITE

 

 Mike Jacobson Facebook account 30-05-13 900x820 Good Publicity Facebook account 30-05-13 900x810 Good Publicity Twitter account 30-05-13 700x430

Facebook categorises accounts as personal (left) or commercial (centre), but Twitter (right) couldn't care less!

 

 

If you're not into social media – Facebook, Twitter and a handful of other lesser-known sites – then it might seem that it's for people who feel compelled to let the online world know where they are, what they're doing, and other minutiae. Ad nauseam.

 

While the wisdom of sharing personal information with potentially millions of other Internet users is debatable, social media has become so popular worldwide that inevitably the corporate sector has moved in. Many businesses and other organisations, from consultants and sole traders to trans-national corporations and governments, incorporate social media in their marketing strategy.

 

HOW SOCIAL MEDIA WORKS

Social media is like your local pub or club. People congregate in groups with common interests - sport, business, social activities and politics, to name but a few. And, like any group in a pub or club, some of the members don't join the conversation but just watch and listen to the others.

 

To participate in a social media site rather than observe other members of the group, you must have an account. Normally this is free of charge, fairly straightforward, and virtually instant, providing you give the site owner information such as your real name, a 'User Name' (not necessarily the same!), a password, email and phone contacts.

 

You also must agree to abide by the site's rules. These mainly concern responsible online behaviour, but they also give the network owner authority over your accounts (see Weaknesses, below).

 

As a social media account holder, you can choose to be notified about particular account holders' activity - new 'posts' (that's the generic term for social media messages, although Twitter calls them 'tweets', and Facebook calls them 'statuses' for reasons known only to whoever coined it), others' new comments about your posts or in response to your comments on others' posts, new photos, etc. Not surprisingly, active social media users spend a lot of time on it!

 

Clicking 'Follow' on any Twitter account, or 'Like' on any Facebook commercial 'Page' account, automatically adds you to those accounts' notification lists. One exception is 'Add Friend' on a Facebook personal account, which requires the other account holder to confirm your 'Friendship' (see Weaknesses, below).

 

 Clicking the notification icon displays the unopened posts, which you can read or ignore.

 

Twitter Follow button 90x35 Twitter tweets notification 140x35 Facebook Like button 65x35 Facebook Add Friend button 104x35 Facebook notification 144x35
Twitter 'Follow' button and notifications Facebook 'Like'/'Add Friend' buttons and notifications

 

Social media uses a 'blog' format that displays information in continuous chronological order. Posts and photos disappear out of sight down the 'digital toilet roll' as they're replaced by new posts. They can be seen by scrolling down the page but, as with Internet search engine results, few people can be bothered scrolling down more than a screen-page or two.

 

When you've registered as an account holder, you're allocated the use of a simplified version of a personal website. Usually this includes a profile form on which you can enter information about yourself (or your entity if it's a Facebook 'commercial' account). Your account also has a facility for you to make unlimited 'posts' (public messages) with your news, opinions, graphic images and links to other Internet locations. Often you can restrict public access to some or all of your profile information, and block all or particular visitors' ability to post comments.

 

You can search for people and organisations you know or want to know, and after you 'Follow'/'Like' them or they accept your 'Add Friend' request your account will display notifications of their new posts as well as new 'Follows'/'Likes' (if you have a Facebook 'commercial' account) when you log on or while you're logged in.

 

FACEBOOK vs TWITTER 

There are key differences between the two most popular social media websites:

  • Facebook attempts to separate accounts held by individuals and entities (ie. businesses and other organisations). The latter are called 'Page' accounts, for no apparent reason (like a lot of Internet jargon). This doesn't work in practice, because there's nothing to stop an entity owner from establishing a personal account in an entity's name! A 'Page' can be added to a personal account and accessed via the same log-in, or it can be registered separately using using a different email address.
  • Conversations - Facebook displays other Facebook account holders' responses to posts (eg. comments and 'Likes' - not to be confused with account 'Likes', which are entirely different!). Lengthy conversations involving multiple account holders can be conducted and followed by the participants, as well as other Facebook account holders who read posts but don't participate actively. This is difficult with Twitter, because the standard display only shows the posts of your 'Follows' account holders. To read the whole conversation, you have to click 'Expand'!
  • Accessibility - Twitter accounts can be viewed by all Internet users, but Facebook accounts can only be accessed by other Facebook account holders.
  • Messaging - Twitter has Direct Message and Facebook has Instant Message, but only Facebook personal accounts show the message trail.
  • End-uses - A Facebook commercial 'Page' account is best for informing current and prospective customers about new products/services, promotions and other marketing initiatives. Twitter is best for high-profile people and organisations to communicate frequent news in short bursts.

 

SOCIAL MEDIA'S STRENGTHS

First, the good news:

  • Cost - Social media is free, provided you comply with the arbitrary, and sometimes silly, rules (see Weaknesses, below).
  • Immediacy - It’s simpler and faster to post information or graphic images on a social media account than than a website. Not only do posts appear instantly on their own account, but a 'notification' appears instantly on the accounts of everyone who 'Likes' or is a 'Friend' (Facebook) or 'Follows' (Twitter) that account. Twitter's strength is minute-by-minute updates of sports and other events.
  • Website bait - If you have a business or are a professional practitioner, you can attract social media account holders (ie. those who 'Like'/'Follow' your Facebook/Twitter accounts) to your corporate website by incorporating a hypertext link in a post. On your website they're not distracted by their other 'Friends'/'Likes' and 'Follows' and the clutter of unsolicited advertising and contacts.

SOCIAL MEDIA'S WEAKNESSES

Now the bad news:

  • Ownership - Social media accounts belong to the website owner, not the account holders (that's you). Under the terms to which you agree when you apply to join, the owner can suspend or remove posts or even an entire account arbitrarily. This is primarily to enable obscene, illegal or otherwise offensive material to be removed promptly, but it also gives the website owner control over who can and can't have an account, and for how long.
  • Adding Facebook 'Friends' - Before you can become a 'Friend' of another Facebook personal account holder, he/she has to accept your 'Add Friend' request. According to Facebook's rules, you must already know anyone you ask to become your 'Friend', otherwise your account can be suspended or even closed. This is ridiculous of course, because social media was invented to enable people to expand their social networks beyond their existing circle of friends! Most people ignore this rule, but before you hit the 'Add Friend' button it's wise to consider whether that person will take exception to your approach, and possibly report you to Facebook administration.
  • Reliability - Social media sites are popular targets for hackers. They've been known to go offline without warning, and if that happens you have no say in how long it takes for normal service to be restored. A prolonged service outage could be costly if you use social media as your prime marketing channel.
  • Primitive technology - Most social media websites use their own rigid, and usually creatively unimaginative, page design. Unlike a conventional website, a social media account can't be tailored to your design preferences. There are very limited options for sorting information into categories, no tables, and no text formatting except within graphic images. Social media is a 'one size fits all' concept that makes everyone's products and services blend in with the crowd.
  • Technical glitches - Some social media functionalities defy logic, such as why Facebook post comments often appear out of chronological order - even when 'Recent Activity' mode is selected!
  • Measurement - Unlike a website, which can provide free data about visits in minute detail whenever the owner requires, social media sites provide little if any useful data. Even Facebook only measures the number of people who 'Follow/'Like'/'Friend' an account, and comment on posts. Standard format reports are emailed free for commercial 'Page' accounts with more than 30 'Likes' (why that number was chosen is a mystery), but only weekly. There's no record of the number of visitors who read an account without 'Following'/'Liking' it, or commenting or 'Sharing'/'Retweeting' a post.
  • Message size - Twitter posts are limited to a measly 140 keystroke characters!
  • ‘Blog’ format - Posts, comments and photos are displayed in chronological order (more-or-less with Facebook!), so they disappear down the 'digital toilet roll' as new posts/photos are added. People with many 'Likes'/'Follows'/'Friends' don't necessarily read all of the notifications they've received since they last logged on, so unless yours is near the top of their list it's likely to be ignored. It also makes archiving difficult at best. Facebook puts posts in a year-by-year archive, which is some help but not much.
  • Openness - Only use social media if you’re prepared to accept others’ brutally honest and occasionally mischievous comments. Businesses should appoint a responsible staff member to monitor the account(s), respond promptly and courteously to legitimate questions and comments, and remove inappropriate or vexatious ones.

SUMMARY

Some social media fans think that corporate websites are old hat - wrong! As a marketing channel, a website is vastly superior to social media.

 

Social media’s prime commercial role should be to direct current and prospective customers to a permanent corporate website, away from the channel distractions of their 'Follows'/Like'/'Friends'. Using social media as a prime marketing channel is a waste of resources on a 'digital toilet roll'.

 

In a nutshell, social media is an Internet phenomenon - but don't swallow all of the hype surrounding it.

 

Click here to read an article written by David Kirkpatrick, author of The Facebook Effect, about why Facebook isn't like Twitter.

 

Good Publicity is located in Guildford, six kilometres south of Parramatta in the heart of Greater Sydney, NSW. No matter what industry you're in, or wherever you are in Australia or overseas, you can be assured of prompt, professional and affordable service.

 

Click here for information about websites, or contact Good Publicity to discuss your social media strategy.