I have spent a lot of time working in the small-business space—from starting my own endeavors to working with other entrepreneurs to start theirs—and one of the most valuable lessons I've learned is that you have to stay lean. To do so, you need to observe what the big guys are doing.
You can't afford to do everything they do—you're on a shoestring budget (and even if you're not, you should pretend you are), but that's precisely why you watch them. The big guys are doing all that they are doing because they have the resources to test multiple tactics and measure the results before committing to the ones that gets the best results.
So when you see that the big guys are doing X, most likely they're doing so because they've tested and retested X, and it makes dollars and cents.
That brings me to a new trend worth watching. Everywhere around me now, I see companies dispensing with the traditional website in favor of integrating the most popular social networks right into the website and communicating with customers in real time via tweets and Facebook posts. Big players like Skittles and Coca-Cola have completely bought into social, as have savvy small mom-and-pop shops.
Here are four reasons that brands are opting for social sites—and why you might want to follow their lead.
1. It's fresh
You scour the Web every day to update your Facebook page with interesting news and industry info. When you turn your website into a social destination, that content you've worked so hard to collect becomes multipurpose: It keeps your current fans in the know and lets anyone who lands on your website get the most up-to-date information rather than static Web copy that hasn't been changed since the company started. We know you worked hard on that mission statement, but is that really what customers want to see when they search for you? Probably not.
Going social is an easy way to keep things fresh and your customers coming back.
2. It's automatic
Think about the time required to research the latest website platforms, features, and best-practices for building a website—it could take months to settle on the best platform alone.
Though we turn up our noses at the "forced" updates from Facebook, the alternative—manually updating our own sites to comply with new standards and consumer trends—is much more costly and time-consuming in comparison. You don't have to code to update to new Facebook layouts. The migration is handled on the back end. All you have to do is pop in some cool cover art and you're done.
As much as we dislike the many facelifts our favorite social networks undergo, the fact is that we also get plenty of tutorials in taking advantage of those changes to enhance our customer experience, which, in turn, saves us time and builds our brand.
3. It's familiar
US consumers spend, on average, more than 11 hours per month interacting on Facebook, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And market research firm Chadwick Martin Bailey reports that Facebook is consumers' preferred channel for sharing content online after email.
If all your customers are accustomed to a particular environment, doesn't it make sense to design your own web environment to be close to and complementary to that environment? If they can feel like they're on Facebook when they're on your website—or, better yet, actually be on Facebook while on your site—their Web experience will be seamless. And that's precisely what you want.
4. It's affordable
Creating a business presence on any social network is free; all it costs is the time to get it up and running. Compared with the cost of building a website from scratch, plus maintaining it, establishing a business presence on a social network is ultra affordable.
So even if you are not inclined to create a social website just because the bigger guys are doing it, do it because it'll save you money—now and over time.
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Big companies don't just adopt new practices on a whim. They are building socially optimized websites because doing so decreases lead-generation costs and increases reach and ROI. They're also employing video, which increases conversion upwards of 20%. Why should the big guys have all the fun?