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Why isn’t every website Facebookish?

May 6, 2009

This is the basic text of an e-mail John Favalo, a Senior Partner at EMA, sent to a client.  I thought it had so many good ideas, that I asked him if I could post it here. The question was, how does one make their website more like Facebook? This is his answer.

The easy answer is that most websites are one-way communications tools, not designed or optimized for Web 2.0.  Why is this?  Because most websites have a primary informational, business or marketing/sales-support function. They are destinations for information and lead capturing, not communities.

What I’m describing is a website/community.  This is a hybrid that may not be widely prevalent. There are communities and there are websites, but not too many that work as both.

Why is this?

Most organizations want a website and want it to function in the traditional sense.  Communities are different. They aren’t necessarily designed to develop or support business opportunities.  They are designed to support interacting, conversing, sharing, and participating. The fear of creating communities is that in doing so the business function may take a back seat or no seat in the community environment.  The fear is that the website will not perform a critical business function…that it will become an investment in community building, paying no mind to business building and paying little return.

And getting people to return is business building. A website that can drive someone back to it is a website that builds a relationship with potential consumers.

The technology is available for us to create a new kind of hybrid…to be able to build into a website many, if not all of the features of Facebook.  Or, areas can be created on the website that become a feed for a brand’s Facebook page, LinkedIn page, YouTube channel, etc.

With Facebook connect, it is also possible to open Facebook within the website. We’ve even suggested “Virtual Websites” composed of specially-created areas on Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Flickr, MySpace, etc. that are all linked via a very simple website home page or home-page-plus pages. This digital presence, in effect, become the “website” (think Skittles). One other option is to create a special brand presence on Ning which provide all the features of community but lives outside the core website.

Why don’t others do this? First and foremost, most companies don’t want to fund a community instead of a website.  They want to pay for a website that does website things. Few companies have communities because they can require heavy monitoring and maintenance.

The trick to the hybrid…where the site functions as a website AND a community..is to integrate audience business needs with the brand and try to apply fairly rigid guidelines and structure to the experience.  So things don’t get out of control.  So the website/community, i.e. “webcomm” becomes a very unique and collaborative place where people come seeking unique solutions to problems. Where the community (as sponsored by the brand) helps people do their jobs better. Where the community AND BRAND provides value from not just the content but from the value users get from the relationships they establish within the community (users to brand, brand to users, users to users).

A hybrid, or a webcomm, is possible. But it would require a much larger level of effort to plan, develop, test and manage on an ongoing basis.

In this article from the Harvard Business Review, there’s a quote that applies to this discussion:

“If the company’s (Google’s) expressed mission is to organize the world’s information, it has a somewhat less exalted but equally important unexpressed commercial mission:  to monetize consumers’ intentions.”

This says, it’s possible to do both, doesn’t it? in the article, there’s an illustration of Google’s Innovation Ecosystem that could be sort of a model.  In it there is the Google Platform at the center with Content Providers, Consumers, Innovators and Advertisers surrounding the core. Hmmm…what might a brand Ecosystem look like?

Is a website, rather than a community the right move?  Is creating a new hybrid webcomm right?

That’s going to the be fun questions in an era where people like to share.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 7, 2009 3:51 am

    You’re right that websites and communities are different. Websites are one-way information, communities encourage two-way conversation. Websites are often shop fronts or brochures for marketing/sales, while communities are forums for market research and sales leads.

    The hybrid approach is eminently possible. The humble blog can be created with static pages complementing the ‘active’ blog. I notice you’re on WordPress: you can do this with WordPress. You can even structure the static pages like a website, and have a static page as the home page.

    I would still be tempted to keep the two separate, however. There’s greater SEO potential in having two sites that link to each other because you have two domains, and search engines love links.

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