Social Media 2011: Virtual doorsteps and why your website may not matter as much

Social Media 2011: Virtual doorsteps and why your website may not matter as much

Summary: I'm not saying the physical commercial storefront is dead yet, I'm just saying they're starting to make as much sense as the solar-powered flashlight.

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What a crazy year 2010 was for social. It seems, just like everything else involving technology, the "early-adoption-of-new-ideas-and-trying-them" curve, even by non-techies, is vertical to the point of being upside down. Non-computer people on are their computers as much as us longtime geeks because of Facebook and Twitter. The roller coaster of innovation that charged through its peaks and valleys at 1,000 MPH, continuously evolving our business intentions and plans before we even had a chance to finish putting them together, has been noisy and intense. What we thought made perfect, market-researched sense yesterday, is outdated within a quarter or less.

While I could sit around and talk about the noisy nostalgic past of social's yesteryear, I'll let that drop off this post like an old status update. I'm here instead to take a crack at letting you know what I think the future of social media looks like for online retail and search and it's integration into our lives, both business and personally.

The "Official" corporate website will take a backseat

I think that biggest switch you'll see is that official corporate websites and domains will matter far less. They will become the ranger stations of the internet, full of info, manned by a general information/customer service desk type person, team or entity, that are there to answer your questions. These shrinking static official websites will offer you some history, investor info, some photos and videos about the brand, and how to get ahold of them.

However, if a customer wants to see what a company is actually doing and/or selling everyday, they will go check out their Facebook pages and online communities to get the latest news, videos, photos, contests, events and more. Customers will be able to interact with real people from the company 24/7. As an every day consumer, they may even get to have real influence on product roadmap decisions for a company by providing meaningful feedback and engaging with the brand (which is already happening - see my post about Moxsie.com).

Now with the Like/Recommend buttons on practically every influential page on the internet, we have Facebook bringing everything from all over the web to our virtual doorstep…..which so far, seems to be working. Younger generations are starting to expect at least a limited virtual doorstep experience while they are online checking out a brand. It's evident in what I'm seeing when my two teenagers are online.

I believe 2011 will be an era of Generation Z scoffing and shrugging and throwing their arms in the air if they have to go outside of Facebook to do anything. We may soon all expect that if a business is not bringing itself 'to us', then why the hell should we care? If during the year of 2011, social commerce becomes seamlessly streamlined and integrated into the bubble of our Facebook profiles and favorite brand's fan pages, why should we leave Facebook to go to some other website with another online store? If we are ready to buy, why should we go somewhere else where we have to create yet another account, spend time searching for what we want using some crappy store catalog search implementation on a website, if we can instead have it contextually provided to us in a familiar environment. "Have it your way" becomes the new data mantra of the consumer. If I can stick with a familiar user experience that is embedded in my memory banks forever from daily repetition (Facebook), why shouldn't I expect my favorite companies to be on there, ready to do business with me on my terms? I believe that there won't be a need to really "surf the web" as we've put it, where we go out to other websites to buy and search for things. Instead it'll be fed to you through one website/feed in a way that you, the end-user, had voluntarily (and in most cases without realizing it) programmed it to be over the last few years.

You might laugh at the concept. You might wince at the thought. You might be wondering how many triple cappuccinos I downed before sitting down to write this. I have seen friends of my 8 year old, finally get an authorization from their parents to finally surf the web at their leisure (under some guidance of course) and when asked what they think the internet is, or is for, they ask me "oh you mean Facebook?" The first thing they want is a Facebook account because mom and dad and big brother and sister and grandma are on there all the time. I believe that once Facebook has a more robust general web search and commerce engine built into their system, you won't have to go anywhere else unless you want more of a boutique experience.

With a steadily increasing number of local retail shopping centers plagued with proverbial tumbleweeds rolling through their lonely parking lots, I've noticed that some retail store brands only rent out seasonal spaces (holiday) in certain shopping malls instead of trying to make a go of it year round. If they don't do the seasonal thing, they lose money hand over fist because the economy sucks. Why should companies pay for all the overhead when they can be exposed to more relevant customers, in global markets, year round, while doing business on a site like Facebook? I'm not saying the physical commercial storefront is dead yet, I'm just saying they're starting to make as much sense as the solar-powered flashlight.

The popularity contest of the corporate website fueled by SEO and media buys, will be coming to an end soon. Budgets will be redirected to innovative and comprehensive shopping experiences on a customized Facebook page with online store features and apps bolted onto it. I believe that the future success of most companies in any industry will be driven mostly by the presence and quality of it's online communities. These communities will be where every customer experience happens ranging from "Hi, this is our brand. Here's what we do." all the way to "Thank you for purchasing our product."

[image cred]

Topics: Browser, Social Enterprise

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41 comments
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  • RE: Social Media 2011: Virtual doorsteps and why your website may not matter as much

    Hi Rich: Yours is a nice take on where corporate websites may be headed in the short term. I personally do not think they all end at Facebook, though. There is clearly a missing piece - the lack of creative style that separates one company from another.

    Right now all Facebook pages look just about the same. Either THAT has to change or some new SM platform just might be developed to create a Social Network of business websites that allow for more real time interraction. Perhaps, such a platform could be woven together within the context of a directory. But, instead of just being dropped at a business website and left there, users would be able to use split screens to compare similar and/or diverse offerings. They would also have the ability to interract with the businesses and with other users to discuss potential purchases - in real time.

    This new Social Network would have the flavor of an outdoor flea market filled with lots of vitality and color.

    Marc LeVine
    Director of Social Media
    RiaEnjolie, Inc.
    www.riaenjolie.com
    Follow on Twitter @RiaEnjolie
    RiaEnjolie
    • RE: Social Media 2011: Virtual doorsteps and why your website may not matter as much

      @RiaEnjolie - Thanks for the comments (and the RT). I only say Facebook because that's currently where everyone is. I could replace that with "social network of choice." <br><br>At a high level, yes FB pages for brands look the same for the most part. However, Facebook has made it possible to customize tabs on their pages that are full of interactive content with customized and branded creative to create a less homogenous experience, replacing it with a more rich and resonate one. If all the next generation consumers (teenagers) grow into the online shopping experience I just described above and don't know anything else, it will only be us 'older folks' wishing there was another website we could go to to do our shopping. <br><br>-R
      Rich Harris
      • RE: Social Media 2011: Virtual doorsteps and why your website may not matter as much

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        just-do-it
    • RE: Social Media 2011: Virtual doorsteps and why your website may not matter as much

      @RiaEnjolie - I don't even think that creativity matters. If you allow too much creativity you end up like MySpace. I think Facebook is heading in the right direction, since the consumption of a site always stays the same. But what is really missing in my opinion is the social media opportunity for small enterprises. Rich is talking about favorite brands I can follow. But what about the plummer next door, who also has some services to offer, and for sure has not a brand I am searching for. On Facebook you need to know the brand or the person you want to get in contact with. Small businesses depend on being found on the Internet with their knowledge and services. They must convince with their expertise. This I currently do not see on Facebook, and this is where SEO in interaction with social media is still required.

      Dieter Jakob
      CoFounder
      www.chocoBRAIN.com
      Follow on Twitter @DieterJakob
      dieter_jakob
    • RE: Social Media 2011: Virtual doorsteps and why your website may not matter as much

      @RiaEnjolie well put ... "the flavor of an outdoor flea market" but I must add ... critical to success is social interaction that allows people to be who they want to be ... in an environment that they are accustom to ...
      Wndrwho
      michalshome@...
      • RE: Social Media 2011: Virtual doorsteps and why your website may not matter as much

        @michalshome@... - "critical to success is social interaction that allows people to be who they want to be ... in an environment that they are accustom to ..." -> Bingo.
        Rich Harris
  • RE: Social Media 2011: Virtual doorsteps and why your website may not matter as much

    "You might be wondering how many triple cappuccinos I downed before sitting down to write this."

    Nah, I'm just wondering which illegal substance you laced them with.

    If there's one thing I can rely on ZDNet for, it's mispredicting deaths of old technology. I don't think I've seen an article in over 5 years where ZDNet predicted something will die and it actually happened.
    CobraA1
    • RE: Social Media 2011: Virtual doorsteps and why your website may not matter as much

      @CobraA1 - Thanks for your comments. I don't think websites are gonna die, I just think their purpose will be bent in a new direction.

      -R
      Rich Harris
  • Ummmm

    I think your tie is too tight. We like to call this sensationalism . . . not reporting. You act as if multi-billion dollar companies like Google, Microsoft, etc. will just sit by and watch Facebook take over everything. If you ever took a look at the social media map through the years, you'll see that the internet does not stay the same, no matter how wonderful something is today. http://www.flowtown.com/blog/the-2010-social-networking-map
    knoxbury
    • RE: Social Media 2011: Virtual doorsteps and why your website may not matter as much

      @knoxbury - Thanks for taking the time to comment. The point of this particular post is not to report anything other than my opinion and thoughts on where things *might* head based on my experiences exploring business trends on Facebook and other social channels. I've been using the super highway of information almost everyday since 1996 so the fact that it changes often is not news to me....although I appreciate the heads up. :-)

      I don't believe companies like Microsoft, Google, et al will ever "sit back and watch." They wouldn't be where they are today if that was their approach. My only point here is that these companies need to continue to evaluate where the people are, as they always have, and make sure they stay plugged in.

      -R
      Rich Harris
  • RE: Social Media 2011: Virtual doorsteps and why your website may not matter as much

    I agree that the traditional website has taken a back seat to the more fluid social networks as far as being that first step in obtaining customers these days.

    I have found several new small businesses this year because of people posting about visiting these places, but actually used their services because of the tweets or FB posts of specials and deals. Social media has changed the way businesses find and keep customers. Facebook just needs to get the commerce aspect integrated and it could become the one stop shop for many consumers. When that happens let's see how Amazon reacts.
    Cyberpyr8
    • RE: Social Media 2011: Virtual doorsteps and why your website may not matter as much

      @Cyberpyr8

      I don't think that amazon will die if FB becomes a commerce center. It survived the dot com burst, became a huge center for all things buy-able, and has some amazing deals. If anything, they'll just make a FB page that links to their servers and website catalog. There are going to be some major players that will always remain, ebay, amazon, steam, etc. These guys are too big to drop out and paved the way to internet shopping the way we know it today. I do see major companies using FB as a way to lure prospective buyers or consumers to their products and services, whether they be paid or free. Hell, maybe that'll get FB to stop advertising those lame dating sites :)
      KBot
  • Dude you're too nice

    Off topic, man sometimes you just have to rip people a new one. Two of the three comments listed here are from people who's life aspiration is to troll on other people's posts.

    In any event, nice post. It has come increasingly apparent that facebook is ruling the internet as of late. There are a few issues though. Currently, there are some security issues on Facebook that need tweaking before some serious commercial business is to commence. Secondly, the vast majority of causal computer users over the age of 40 probably don't use facebook. I understand that this is changing and that in 10 or 15 years this will essentially be irrelevant, but in the mean time, its still an issue, of course, those same people probably don't shop online either so this may be a moot point. Lastly, and I can only speak for myself on this one, I don't feel comfortable giving facebook my real birth address and date let alone my credit card number, although even this may change if facebook becomes a bit more secure, (look at steam, I never would have bought games over digital distro, but steam is an amazing setup that won me over).
    KBot
    • RE: Social Media 2011: Virtual doorsteps and why your website may not matter as much

      @KBot I second that
      Cbagley
    • RE: Social Media 2011: Virtual doorsteps and why your website may not matter as much

      @KBot - Thanks for taking the time to comment. Hey whenever you put your opinion out there in a column, I'm as free to say what I want as people are free to comment on it.<br><br>RE: Security<br>I agree. Facebook's specialty was never online security or privacy but they're starting to catch up. They're starting to get it.<br><br>RE: Giving CC numbers, more private info, to Facebook<br>You have some very warranted comments and opinions on this. I will say though that if at some point, Facebook works closely with companies that you possibly currently DO trust with that information - eBay, Amazon, etc. - you may find that FB may learn a thing or two about a thing or two from these companies that have already been through the trials and tribulations of online security and transactions. If Facebook can keep an open mind and learn from & partner with the masters of online retail, we have the potential of ending up with one of the most secure, relevant and fluid online shopping experiences that we've ever encountered...all theoretical of course but if the right companies approach this the right way, think about the opportunities...
      Rich Harris
  • RE: Social Media 2011: Virtual doorsteps and why your website may not matter as much

    This is dreaming. One poster already mentioned the lack of control and style. I agree. Then there's the issue of a single point of failure. FB (or "social network of choice") goes down and all those doing business there are down. With individual web sites, one being down does not affect the other. Then there is the control that FB (or whoever) could exert. Talk about having leverage to raise the commissions they'd be sure to charge! And security? FB has not figured that out and keeps stumbling over this important issue. I think you have tunnel vision. FB may be a player, but not to the level you envision.
    GTGeek88
    • RE: Social Media 2011: Virtual doorsteps and why your website may not matter as much

      @russcampbell@... - Thanks for your comments. I agree that a single point of failure on a new platform like Facebook, relied upon exclusively for a company's revenue, would be sketchy at best.

      ......however......

      There are many companies that would die in less than a month of Google.com shut down. There are certain companies where massive keyword/phrase purchases every month yield them the revenue they need to be profitable and survive. The strategies of many organizations still revolve heavily around SEO, paid search and relevant inbound traffic.

      Hopefully with Facebook, unless they get greedy right out of the gate when launching a full on ecomm platform, companies might be able to test out Facebook as another arm of their overall online retail effort with the goal of it making up only a small percentage of revenue.

      It doesn't have to be Facebook or bust. In fact, it would be down right moronic for companies to just make a big ol' 100% switch over to a new Facebook commerce platform, hoping it all works out for them.
      Rich Harris
    • RE: Social Media 2011: Virtual doorsteps and why your website may not matter as much

      @russcampbell@...
      you can hurdle over the issue of FB dropping out if businesses use their FB pages as portals to their marketplace. I don't mean simply hosting links, more like their FB pages housing apps that access their store. This way, if FB drops out for whatever reason, people can still go to the vendor specific web site to shop or et info.
      KBot
  • No Facebook for me!

    Maybe I'm a "Luddite" but, considering the enormous quantities of things written about the frequent, and sometimes unannounced, changes at Facebook, I don't trust them! The idea of that much "exposure" scares the daylights out of me.
    When I was "forced" to buy some needed textbooks and software 10 years ago, I didn't like it, but I wasn't too worried about it. Not any more. I don't buy or bank online and since getting online in 1998, I have had only one "virus" problem and that was after I got DSL 2 years ago.
    I won't live in a "glass" house either.
    JTF243@...
  • RE: Social Media 2011: Virtual doorsteps and why your website may not matter as much

    I totally agree and have transferred interesting articles and used FB to inform my family & friends about new products and services etc. Retailer, Penny's has begun to brand itself on FB.
    WndrWho
    michalshome@...