Do websites even matter any more?

Studies show that web page  views have been dropping precipitously as folks park themselves on the social web. There have even been a flurry of blog posts from Jason Falls, Jay Baer and Debbie Weil debating whether your blog is now the true “hub” of your marketing communication effort.

But honestly, it seems strange to me that these superb bloggers are even wasting space with this debate. Your good old website (Ahhhh … remember that?) is still your hub.  Here’s why.

What are you really trying to do?

Step away from your Tweetdeck, take a deep breath, and think about what behavior you are trying to drive with your communication effort. In most cases it is making some type of connection, right? Let’s just be honest and put the purist stuff aside. Ultimately you want your readers to take an ACTION like register for something, make a call, or buy something from you.

Is that going to happen on your blog?

Probably not, unless you are doing out-right selling there and that’s (usually) a no-no.  The actual “connection event” is going to happen on your website. So all roads should lead to your homepage, right?  Wouldn’t that make it the very epicenter of your marketing universe?

Even though websites seem to be out of fashion, they still play a critical role in actually driving behaviors. A website should explain what you do, why you’re special, and what a reader should do next.  This is where you sell. And that’s a big deal.

Creating the spokes

You need to use the social web to support this effort by creating an “information eco-system” to lead prospective stakeholders back to the Mother Ship and eventually DO SOMETHING. You can think of these outposts on Twitter, your blog, Facebook, YouTube or wherever as spokes or outposts leading your visitors home.  Likewise, your website should also be leading people back to the outposts, if that is where they need to be to get the information they need.

Whether you work for a non-profit, a university, or a business, you’re in this to drive some type of behavior. That behavior is consummated on the website (usually a contact page) and all social properties should point to your site and your opportunity. Your website still matters … a lot!

What am I missing here?

{grow} community update: Dave Fleet posted an article which serves as a nice reference if you’re interested in reading more on this topic.

How to use Twitter to crowd-source creativity

I have a “virtual” company. Well, it’s a real company, but I don’t have a building and employees and all that traditional stuff. I work with a posse of freelancers who might be spread out all over the country. So I have the best of both worlds. Great company, great people, but no worries about payroll and HR issues.

Everything works great about this model except for one thing. You can’t brainstorm by yourself.

This was the problem I was facing recently when I needed to come up with creative ideas to help a client company mark its 30th anniversary. I had some ideas, but I’ve been around long enough to know they weren’t the BEST ideas. For that, I needed to put some minds together. But how? I was on a deadline and needed to write a proposal quickly.

It dawned on me that this is what the social web is all about — networking, sharing, helping, creating. So with literally no planning, I wrote up an invitation on my blog to join a web meeting at 4 p.m. that very day and sent out one tweet asking if anyone would be interested in spending 30 minutes with me to think out loud. I was fortunate that seven people joined me, including one from Brazil and one from Spain. Some I didn’t know at all, some like Gregg Morris and Carla Bobka had become my friends over months of interaction on Twitter.

I used Citrix for the online meeting interface and conference call.  I wrote out ideas on my shared computer screen so all participants could build on what was being said.  On the notification on my blog I had given dial-in instructions as well as a little background on the problem.

In 30 minutes, I had two pages of great ideas.  I massaged the ideas into a proposal, presented it to company management and <ta da> they loved it!  But there were side benefits, too:

  • I explained to my client how I came up with the ideas, which further strengthened their interest and commitment to the social web.
  • The people who connected on the call enjoyed the exercise and have reached out to stay connected between themselves. I think that’s cool.
  • I had an idea that worked, will be repeated and it was something I could share with you.

What I could have done better:

  • Planned it ahead of time and allowed more time for people to learn about it.
  • 30 minutes was probably too short. Another 15 minutes would have made a big difference.
  • Two participants had technical problems which limited their ability to participate. A few additional people bopped in for a few seconds and left. I’m guessing they had tech problems too.

All in all, it was a  simple, cost-effective, successful people-technology mash-up.  Are you doing these kinds of things to support your business?

It’s time to draw the line on social media disclosure

Perhaps by now you’re heard of the “Please Rob Me” site that highlights those on Twitter disclosing that they’re away from their homes.

While the site is kind of funny, it draws attention to a serious point — disclosure of detailed personal information, including your precise physical location, will lead to crime. Notice I didn’t say MIGHT lead to crime. It is inevitable that the bad guys are going to figure this stuff out. They always do.

Last week I saw my first tweet that actually had a map attached to it. The stalkers can not only find you, the technology is telling them how to get to you.  Or your empty house.  Or your kids.

I’m particularly concerned by this emerging generation who is de-sensitized to what they’re sharing about themselves.  They’ve been conditioned to put everything out there all the time, so why not tell everyone where you are, too?  They’re actively and willingly teaching The Machine their personal habits, behavior patterns and hang-outs, just so they can be named “mayor” of a location on Foursquare or receive a free latte at Starbucks.

Where corruption can occur, corruption will occur. It is only a matter of time before a tragic crime draws attention to these serious issues and people start taking action, perhaps even legislation. Let’s not wait for that, OK?

As an individual, and especially as a parent, I think we need to draw the line on certain social web behaviors.

  • Actively teach your kids to be net-savvy. Instill a healthy dose of paranoia into their mindset.  Teach them about privacy settings and being Internet “street smart.”
  • Take a view that Internet access is a privilege, not a right. Set clear expectations and limits. If a child does something to endanger themselves on the Internet, there should be consequences, just as if they had wrecked a car or set a fire in the kitchen.
  • Personally, I would forbid my kids from using Foursquare or any technology that reveals their personal location at  a point in time.
  • Be involved in what they’re doing. Know enough about the technology to ask the right questions. Look at who has friended them and what those people are saying to your kids.  Until you are convinced they can demonstrate mature judgment, I don’t think kids have a right to Internet privacy.

A man told a story yesterday on a news report on Internet safety that as a precaution, he follows every one of his young son’s Facebook friends. “I’m a 39 year old man,” he said. “And these kids automatically follow me back even when they don’t know who I am. And their parents never question it either. It just shows me how dangerous this could be for young kids.”

If you’re a parent, deal with this. Don’t ignore the issue or avoid conflict with your kids over the family “privacy” battle.  Will you leave a comment and let me know what you think on this issue?

New report suggests corporate blogging may be at saturation point

A new study of the world’s 500 largest public corporations by the University of Massachusetts Center for Marketing Research indicates that the level of corporate blogging may have flat-lined while the adoption of of other social media platforms, especially Twitter, continues to escalate rapidly.

Corporate blogging

Of the Fortune 500 companies, 22%, have a public-facing blog with a post in the past 12 months, including three of the top five companies (Wal-Mart, Chevron and General Electric).  That’s up just 6% from a 2008 study.

Rank on the Fortune 500 list seemed to influence the adoption of blogging by the F500. The top 100 companies (or to 20%) on the list represent 39% of the 108 blogs.

All 108 blogs were examined to determine the level of interactivity the blog allowed — 90% percent of the Fortune 500 blogs take comments, have RSS feeds and take subscriptions.

Twitter

Of the 108 blogs located, 93 (86%) are linked directly to a corporate Twitter account, a more than 300% increase over the 2008 study.

173 (35%) of the primary corporations listed on the 2009 Fortune 500 have a Twitter account with a post within the past 30 days. Of these companies, four of the top five corporations (Wal-Mart, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and General Electric) consistently post on their Twitter accounts. For more on GE’s social media efforts: click here.

Podcasting and video

The 2009 Fortune 500 were also examined to determine usage of additional social media tools. 19% of the 2009 Fortune 500 use podcasting (up from 16%) and 31% are using video on their blog sites (up from 21%).

Implications

While blogging has more or less flat-lined for the mega-companies, a recent article I posted on the fast-growing Inc. 500 corporations showed a much higher rate of adoption. In fact, nearly half of the Inc. 500 had corporate blogs compared to 22% for the Fortune 500.  What could this mean? I guess you would expect smaller companies to be fleeter in adopting new ideas, but blogging isn’t that new.  Besides, the incredible adoption of Twitter demonstrates that the Fortune 500′s do have at least some understanding of the social web.

I have experienced first-hand how difficult it is to manage a meaningful blog in a public company straddled with so many laws and regulations. It’s hard to be responsive and authentic when you have to get everything reviewed by the legal department.  I’m guessing that many companies are experiencing the same angst –   What is the role of a blog in the corporate communications structure?  What are the benefits versus the cost of approvals and the time needed from executives to sponsor the work?  And just how many blogs does the world need any way?  Does the heightened use of video and podcasting indicate companies are turning to new means of expression?

What do you think?  Has corporate blogging reached its saturation point?

{grow} community alert: Jon Buscall has written a wonderful companion piece that actually answers the questions I pose here!

Many thanks to Nora Barnes and Eric Mattson for their detailed and important research.

Illustration: Web Tycoon
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