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Lou Jesse HallBy Lou Washington

Social Media has been with us for several years now and its making an impact on many traditional communication and engagement models. Most marketing organizations have considerable resources committed to Social.

Unless you are fortunate enough to work in a marketing environment with unlimited funding, the bucks spent on Social have to come at the expense of some other Marketing program. So, where are those bucks coming from? What are we giving up to pay for Social? What do we get for our money?

Ten years ago, our websites were going to handle almost all engagement with our customers, prospects investors and the general public. The website would be our chief sales outlet, our main customer support facility, our primary marketing instrument. The mission of the web page was to facilitate and hopefully accelerate tire-kicking browser interest into buying action.

Somewhere along the line, that didn’t really happen. Sure, for some retailers with huge investments in brick and mortar, the online point of sale replaced the cash registers in Topeka, Springfield, Chicago and everywhere else. But the traffic in and around malls in our area is still enough to make me break out in a cold sweat and reach for the Mylanta.

Corporate websites became huge sprawling facilities that frequenlty turned into just another power silo within the enterprise.

The problem with web sites is they are not effective tools for interactive communication. All the brainpower that goes into the design and content selection in most web sites is aimed at pushing information out to the frequently disinterested world. Sure, there is the occasional “click here” button to learn more, contact us or talk to an expert.

That is not engagement. Under that model you are still hanging a product catalogue out there with a shopping cart button next to each product.

There is nothing to tell you why people come to your web site, why they stay, why they can’t find you and especially what they really want you to do.

I know, cookies, IP addresses, analytics and traffic stats are supposed to do that for us. But I would submit they don’t really get the job done.

Social on the other hand provides terrific inbound communication, unvarnished truth as your audience perceives it and all manner of opportunities to react and measure the effectiveness of your actions. It also facilitates out bound communication but care must taken because social is a “public place” so you can’t just say it’s true and expect to be believed.

To often, we as marketers take the approach that we know what people want. What could our customers tell us that would be of value? The best answer to that is to ask your customers. Or, approach your social strategy with a large helping of listening.

I think the role of social is clear. This is where we converse with our audience and where our audience can converse with one another. . . .  and we get to listen! We must always remember that listening is where the value is found.

Using Social with maximum effectiveness should make the role of the web site less complex. The web site can then be assigned a more tightly defined role. It may well be that your website is merely a store front. Or perhaps your website serves as a portal to product information and support. I’ve seen some websites that are mostly for investors and regulators. A place to publicly post documents as directed by law or regulation.

But, your web site doesn’t have to carry the burden of advertising, mission statements, executive bios and the rest stuff that no one really cares about. Most importantly, it won’t confuse, lose or anger your customers.

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