Would you ditch your website for a social media campaign?

My roster of clients has ranged from Ultra-Portable Device inventors to the fashion & beauty industry to physical therapy. The big question on everyone’s mind is really how to promote their business through social media channels.

About two years ago everyone was desperate to have some SEO value so they’d show up in search results. While still important, the focus has been shifted to generating excitement about your brand through a social network. ClickZ posted an article a few days back stating that ads on Facebook that contain social context are 68% more likely to be remembered by users. That is, when Heineken posts an ad on Facebook that links to one of their videos, when I ‘like’ or share the video, my network is 68% more likely to remember the Heineken brand (within the context of the video). Since word of mouth referrals generally hold more weight than search results or email campaigns, a social network would be the best place to cleverly advertise so your fans/users/potential customers will ‘like’ or share your content.

In theory, it may be more cost effective and powerful to focus all of your online marketing efforts on a social media campaign. Having a website is – or was – a standard or rite of passage, much like having a business card. Buy a domain name and have it redirect over to your Facebook page. You’ve undoubtedly seen brands that are using social media platforms for customer servicesales and other communication like all-important Rugby World Cup news.

If the value of a well executed social media strategy is higher than that of the website, why not just ditch the website?

Take a moment and evaluate why you have a website: for customer contacts, to showcase products and services, to provide a resource for customers to get assistance from your brand and what else? Facebook’s platform has a core purpose of allowing users to share information with their network. Is there a difference between what Facebook facilitates and what your website facilitates? For small or local businesses, trying to complete in search results is a painful and sometimes expensive ordeal – competing against companies and campaigns with a broader reach than your small town cause increases in the price for Pay-Per-Click advertising. Larger companies and campaigns also have multiple people guiding and monitoring the interactions and often small businesses cannot dedicate a staff member the same way. On social networking platforms you can even target ads at specific regions and demographics (based on social data stored on the platform). A fine-tuned Social Media presence could very well be the replacement of the website.

On the other hand, having a website for a small business is still a rite of passage. I have yet to find a client or business who has a social media presence and does not have a website. The baseline for establishing a brand online is still a unique URL for your products, services etc. That said, the challenge is now about keeping your website content as fresh and updated as your social media presence. Search engines are constantly crawling your website for new content, users want new content – so why keep it all to the social networks?

Facebook has a series of social plug-ins for your website. Plug and play code you can drop anywhere on your site and it will pull the latest from your Facebook page. Twitter also has a large number of third party plug-ins that allow you to post your latest tweets or even query their search API for trending topics.

I would recommend for small businesses to get their website to a self-sustaining point through social media. The website will have the baseline product and service descriptions, pricing etc – that’s great – but then add social plug-ins for the networks where you’re actively engaged with customers and fans. Keep your fans happy through the social networks – and at the same time your website will be updating with relevant content as your brand’s on the social network will be syndicated through your plugins to your website.