Social platforms cannot replace corporate Web sites

While Asian consumers are spending more time on social networks, companies need to keep their corporate sites at the core of their branding to retain autonomy and make it easier for customers to find them online.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

Even though consumers are spending more time on social networks, companies should not invest all their branding efforts on social platforms and must include their corporate Web sites as part of the company's core branding strategy.


Liz Miller, vice president of global programs and operations at Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council, said many customer-facing brands in the United States had begun placing more emphasis on their social media engagements, including Facebook Pages, over corporate Web sites. She said the same pattern would likely emerge in Asia as more consumers in the region continued to be involved in social media conversations.

Miller noted Facebook Pages should be maintained in addition to a Web presence. "The benefit of having a social profile is it allows a marketer to engage in an open, transparent and personal conversation with consumers who are opting in and admitting there is something they like, or even love, about the brand," she said, adding it is a platform to listen to and learn more about customers.

However, she warned it would be "very easy to get caught into the sexy side of social". Citing figures from the Internet World Stats, she noted there is an estimated 236 million Facebook users, representing 44.8 percent of the region's online population.

For companies, having a social presence is an attractive idea as they theoretically can reach all of this audience in a free, publicly available, easy-to-use, and customizable platform, she said.

Corporate Web sites allow autonomy, control
Nate Elliott, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, also advised companies against focusing their branding efforts on social platforms. "Yes, we know your audience uses social media--most audiences these days do--but that doesn't mean you should use Facebook or any other social media property at the heart of your branding ecosystem," he said.

Elliott said companies will likely reach more users on the company's own Web site. "Although most people engage with social media, not everyone's on Facebook or YouTube... Do you really want to ignore half of your audience?" he said.

He added customers will be able to locate companies online more easily through corporate Web sites. More than 60 percent of online site visits currently are driven through search, he noted, adding search engines often prefer owned media to social media. Coca Cola's corporate Web site, for instance, is ranked higher than its Facebook profile page on Google Search, even though the food and beverage company has 55 million Facebook fans.

Elliott added corporate Web sites have a bigger brand impact than social media profiles. "Consumers tell us they trust company and brand Web sites more than company-run social media profiles," he said, noting  marketers believe this translates to a greater opportunity.

Having company-owned Web sites allows the business to create deeper content and experience, Elliott added. "Your Facebook page is just that--a single page," he said, adding that company wiki or customer loyalty programs cannot live entirely on Facebook.

He noted companies would have full control of their Web sites, unlike social platforms which can be changed by the host without any warning. "When Facebook changed its page layout in March 2011, marketers were left scrambling to redesign their content to fit the new page structure," he said.

He said if Facebook changes its rules on data ownership, the repercussions "could be far more serious". In comparison, corporate-owned sites give marketers full and permanent control over content, design, data, and customer relationships, he added. 

Besides the lack of control over social platforms, Miller said brands find they have little control over what a fan or detractor says about their brands on social networks. "Not everyone on Facebook will like your brand. And if a negative experience is brought up online, marketers are often met with executive teams demanding comments be deleted or removed," she said.

She noted companies also need to remember social media is about visibility and authenticity. Thus, they should be honest and open in social media and listen to their customers, she said. "Be present, do not just build a page and leave it untended or ignored," she added.

Nicole Nilar, digital marketing manager at Singapore-headquartered creative mobile studio, EdenCr8, agreed: "We have our company Web site as a brand identity and Facebook Page as an engagement channel with our users.

"The company Web site represents credibility when people search for it online, while the Facebook Page expresses our voice--who we are, what we do, and what we believe in," said Nilar, adding it is important to invest equal efforts on both Facebook and the corporate Web site to have a well-balanced digital strategy.

Consumers have mixed reaction over social-only companies
Dorothy Chang, 26, said she is unperturbed if companies she wants to engage with only have a Facebook Page but not a Web site. "As long as their Facebook Page has testimonials, I will still buy from them," she said.

While Chang had come across a merchant which did not have a Web site and sold its products only via Facebook, she did not buy from the seller due to the lack of payment options which she was comfortable with.

Chok Pei Shan, a Malaysia-based marketing executive, said she is willing to buy from a company without a Web site, but her final decision would depend on the products and price. She said she is willing to make purchases such as mobile phone accessories or apparels if they cost less than 100 ringgit (US$33), as she will not pay too much to try the product. 

Research assistant Cliff Chew added he would buy from a company with only a Facebook Page if he knew someone who had bought from the seller and gave a good rating.

However, media coordinator Therese Chan said she would unlikely buy from a business which only has a Facebook Page. "Having a properly designed Web site shows dedication since it's much harder to put up a proper Web site, with all the shopping cart and payment components, than a Facebook Page," Chan said.

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