The most recent Pew Survey on social network usage shows that 67 per cent of online adults use social networks, with that average peaking at 83 per cent for 18-29 year-olds. As stated earlier, more than 90% of adults use the Internet to search for goods and services. Clearly, these numbers show that you will not go wrong using either tool to take your business online.
Again comparing to the offline world, a website is like a free-standing shop. You are in control of all aspects of signage, hours, heating, clean up, etc. A social network might be closer to being in a shopping centre with millions of other stores where your control is more limited and certain restrictions apply, but you benefit from the mutual traffic. We recommend that you take both paths, taking advantage of the unique features of each.
A website will offer you the most advantages in terms of flexibility and control—and it can be very, very simple. At its most basic, think of a website as a one-page flyer or an ad for your business. Many registrars can help you build a simple Website with Web hosting and other tools.
The drawback of your own site is minor – just keeping content up to date and making sure it is linked to the other parts of your business – directories, advertising, social networks and signage. The site can be as simple as a contact page or as complex as a multi-page e-commerce site – the level of complexity will determine your investment in time and money.
- Quick and free – company profiles are simple to set up and most platforms don’t charge a fee.
- Low-commitment – if your chosen social media platform no longer suits your needs, you can easily delete your page or switch to a new provider at any time.
Whether or not you build a website, we recommend using your domain name for company e-mail, e.g. email@example.com. It can make a big difference to potential customers. In fact, our survey found that a full 90 per cent of people feel more comfortable as the customer of a small business with branded e-mail versus those that use @aol.com, @yahoo.com, @gmail.com, etc. You can set up multiple e-mail addresses for different employees or departments for a consistent company impression (firstname.lastname@example.org, etc.). You work hard to be professional with your services, equipment and staff – that professionalism should extend to your e-mail and give potential customers added confidence in your business.
- Engagement – access to more than a billion potential consumers, which allows you to easily communicate and helps build relationships.
- Branding – customers will learn more about the business’s values, mission and purpose, which will nurture loyalty and build the company’s brand.
- Lack of control/ownership – the social media provider’s terms and conditions control what content and promotions can be presented. Also consider what happens if the provider shuts the site down and if this is your only online presence.
- Constrained creativity – social sites offer limited design layouts.
- Open forum – these sites give consumers an open forum to voice their feedback and complaints, which necessitates more monitoring of the site.
- Limited reporting/tools - the level of reporting and features available are often less than with a website, and are limited to only what is offered by the social site.
If you decide that your sole online presence will be on a social network site, you should still have a domain name “point” to your social network or e-commerce page. That way, you will have a single address on the Web no matter which social network you use—even if you change networks or move to your own company Website. You will also get the benefit of an easily-remembered address to use for marketing, as well as a company-branded e-mail through the domain name.
It is hard to believe that just ten years ago, no one had really heard of Facebook or Twitter. Today over a billion people use these social networks as well as e-Commerce sites such as amazon.com, etsy.com and Yelp.com. There are many positives: it is easy to set up a social network page, there is a built-in base of potential customers, and it is a great way to get started with a low-commitment online presence.
Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are trademarks of Facebook, Inc. LinkedIn, Inc and Twitter, Inc. respectively.
- Cost effective - there are a variety of options available, ranging from free to expensive. Free websites, depending on your budget and business needs, may be a good starting place as some are created for the non-technical user with easy-to-use templates so you can simply point-and-click your way to a new website.
- Credibility – consumers are looking for your website, whether you have one or not. In a recent survey of millions, 56% said that they would not trust a business without a website.
- Full control/ownership – there are myriad options as to how to use and present your website. Even if you decide against a custom build and use a website-builder tool with templates, today’s tools offer many customization features so you can easily personalize your website.2
- Greater branding and promotional flexibility – you can increase your ability to communicate with and sell to your customers. A website not only has more space to market your business; but more ways to market as well, such as videos, customers reviews, blogs, special promotional offers, etc.
- Reduction in overhead costs – most consumers prefer to get a business’s information online and that could reduce your administrative and operational expenses.
- Around the clock availability - a company can promote their business and market products and services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, anywhere in the world.
- Maintenance - depending on the size of the site, keeping content up-to-date will require some time and effort.
- Increased complexity - sites with more sophisticated designs and functionality will most likely require more investment in time and money.
A minor drawback may be the lack of control. You are posting a free page in a crowded network and rules apply that limit what or how much you can post. The social aspect may also require a bit of monitoring. On these social networks, people are able to comment on your page and leave feedback – it is important to address any complaints quickly and/or control who can post on your page.