Back in 2014, entrepreneur and founder of Wired John Battelle published a popular and influential post on his blog in which he cautioned businesses against building too much of their brand’s “house” on social media or Google, even if that’s where all the people are.
“If your intention is to build something permanent and lasting on that land, it’s generally a good idea to ‘own’ the soil beneath your feet,” Battelle says.
Of course, no brand can avoid having some kind of presence in these rented spaces. People increasingly rely on these feeds or streams to navigate the constantly changing landscape of the internet.
We no longer “surf the web” in quite the same way as we once did – possibly why that term now feels as dusty as granddad’s Beach Boys collection. That was when people skipped from website to website following link after link to discover new content, new digital spaces. You’d start from a trusted website and gradually explore further and further out.
Now people are more likely to follow a stream, clicking on each interesting link before clicking back to the stream until the next link catches the eye.
The website has become less important as a tool of content discovery – crikey, even subscribing to RSS feeds is largely a thing of the past – and more reliant on search and social media streams to be discovered itself.
Business activities that used to be the exclusive domain of the website – the ability to publish content, sell products, offer customer support, run promotions, etc. – can now be done entirely within social media. Complete customer journeys, from awareness and discovery to checkout and payment, can happen in the same digital space – reducing the friction associated with all those extra clicks through an unfamiliar UX.
It’s tempting to see the website as an inflexible and expensive indulgence, particularly for smaller businesses. But the website still has an important role to play. Battelle’s warning is still true.
If you’ve invested plenty of time and effort over the years into building a strong social media presence, you might think your brand has strong foundations. But because those foundations sit on land you don’t “own”, you can’t control or even predict how the ground might shift.
Rules change. Algorithms evolve. Old features disappear while new features nudge behaviours in new directions.
What worked well for your business yesterday may not be ideal tomorrow. But, should you decide to change direction or adopt a different strategy, it can be frustratingly difficult to rebuild from scratch elsewhere when all of your content, customer interactions and possibly even your e-commerce systems are tied up in these spaces.
Recent events have shown us just how quicky and how far the ground can shift. With India already having banned TikTok, and both the U.S. and Australia considering blocking the popular app, any brand which has invested heavily in a TikTok strategy might be wondering if it was all a waste.
I’m not suggesting businesses should never publish content in social media, for fear of locking it into a walled garden from whence it can never be freed. I’m not even saying businesses should duplicate the content on a website it owns – some content is, and should be, platform-specific.
But when all of your branded eggs are in the same digital basket, your future options become seriously restricted. The best strategy remains to create a vibrant website experience which you can then promote in social media, supplemented with social content and activity to attract and build the right audience and guide them to your digital space.
In short, social media marketing and website marketing really should be the same thing. They shouldn’t compete with each other for attention but collaborate to create a single, consistent experience for the customer.
As Battelle concludes, “Spend your money building something worthy, then spend to drive people there.”