How do corporate websites coexist with social media strategies?

May. 24th, 2010

Following on from his controversial post of 2007 suggesting that corporate websites were irrelevant, social media guru Jeremiah Owyang told attendees at the recent GilbaneSF content management conference that corporate websites as we know them may not survive into the future.

As organizations begin to seed and continue customer interactions on external social networks, customers will no longer be able to tell the difference between a corporate website and the company's presence on Facebook. It's already happening, he says. Just go to Vitamin Water's website and you'll be forced to visit its Facebook page. In fact, a message on its website reads, "We've temporarily moved to Facebook—let's hang out."

If that sounds scary to you, don't fret. The change isn't going to happen overnight. And even if the change does eventually happen, you can gain control of this shift and turn it into a win-win situation for you and your customers. Your first step is to understand that your corporate website and social media networks should be blended rather than separate strategies.

Customers are directing your social strategy. The change is happening because we're led by customer preferences. Say you're in the market for a new car. Don't you take information on vendors' websites with a grain of salt? But you pay attention to what friends and other buyers are saying on car forums or other independent sites, right?

Some enlightened companies may even host discussions on their corporate sites—even if some of the comments are negative about their products. This is one of the eight evolutionary steps of the social corporate website, according to Owyang (view the slideshow).

Owyang's evolution of the social corporate website

1. No social integration with the corporate website. Owyang cited Traderjoes.com as an example of a website that has no social media element, despite the existence of unofficial fan sites.

2. Sites that link directly away without a strategy. These sites have chicklets that encourage users to "follow us" on various external social sites, but has no strategy for what customers should do after they leave. Owyang also points out a particularly troubling offense by McDonald's: When you click on the Twitter link on its website, up pops the legal disclaimer about the dangers of navigating away to a third-party site.

3. Sites that link away but encourage sharing. Outback Steakhouse, for example, has a Facebook "Like" link on its home page.

4. Organizations that replicate their brand across the corporate site and social channels. Starbucks is an example of this, as it replicates conversations across all its consumer-facing channels.

5. Organizations that aggregate discussions on corporate sites. Skittles aggregates conversations from Twitter, etc., on its own site. The benefit is that discussions are centralized on your site, driving traffic there. However, you have no control over the content, which may contain links to competitor sites.

This strategy reminds me of my work as an editor on a tech magazine. We were one of the first to aggregate stories about our topics from around the Web, and that included linking to stories in competitor magazines. It was a radical move—why would a journalist want to discuss and link to stories on other publications? But the result was that readers would come to us first for a comprehensive view of how the blogosphere and other media were covering the news of the day.

6. We're seeing these types of strategies a lot—companies encouraging their visitors to sign in using their Facebook Connect log-ins. Marketers lose on the one hand because they can't collect e-mail addresses, but they also widen the marketing funnel because Facebook friends can share their activities, including the sites they've visited.

7. Social login systems that allow users to stay on site, but trigger a viral loop. The Pepsi Refresh Project awards grants to community-improvement projects voted on by visitors to Pepsi's site. Visitors vote by logging in via Facebook. Pepsi benefits when visitors recruit friends.

8. Seamless integration between corporate sites and social sites. We're now back to the Vitamin Water example. Do you dare go so far?

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