I often get asked by business owners “Do I really need a website?” This is sometimes followed up with “Can’t I just use my Facebook page?” The first question deserves its own write-up (look for that soon — the quick answer is “yes”), but the answer to the second is an unequivocal “no”.
Yesterday, March 13, 2019, Facebook and Instagram were down or only partially available for most of the day (as most people who are active on the internet know.) While people who use these sites for personal interest were mildly inconvenienced (and perhaps chagrined to realize how much time they normally spent on these sites), the impact on businesses was more serious.
Social media has become an important part of business promotion. It is an area most businesses cannot afford to ignore—even if the business is not active on social media, their customers will be. Not having access to Facebook and Instagram certainly caused problems for many businesses who were running promotions, posting events, and generally using these platforms to reach out to customers. However, the ones who were hurt the most were those businesses who falsely believe they can solely rely upon social media as their web presence.
Yesterday’s outage was a solid reminder of why you cannot rely upon social media for your web presence. For an entire day, your customers had no good way to find you and you had no good way to reach out to them. Yes, you want to be on social media, but no, it is not sufficient in and of itself.
Outages are not the only reason you cannot rely entirely upon social media. Read those terms of service. You do not own your content on social media sites. The site can be taken down at any time at the whim of the social media provider. Is this likely to happen? Not if you follow the terms of service. But, it is also unlikely that two of the biggest social media sites in the world will be down for an entire day, yet that happened. It’s not a chance a business should take.
In addition, your Facebook page or other social media platforms are public and open to attack. There have been cases where a disgruntled customer has rallied their friends and associates to attack a small business on social media, posting negative reviews and comments to the point that the business has had to take down their page. In one I know of, it was a small restaurant with a good local following and great reviews, but all of that got ruined in just a few days of an organized attack. The Facebook page was the restaurant’s only website. It had to be taken down and suddenly, their web presence was gone. If they had of had a website and had been collecting email addresses from customers, this attack would have been annoying, but not a huge loss. Instead, they lost all access to their customers, many of whom may not have known what had happened.
So, no, you cannot rely solely upon social media as your web presence. You need a platform that you control. You need other ways to contact your customers. If you are small and do not have the budget for professional web development, there are free or inexpensive tools you can use to get something going until the business gets to the place where you can bring in professionals to help. And, you need to be collecting email addresses from your customers, using one of the many email marketing solutions out there (my favorite for small businesses is MailChimp, but there are many good ones) to manage your list and ensure you are not violating privacy or spam rules (again, another article that needs to be written!)
If you do these two things, then you will not be a hostage to your social media platform, but instead can use it as a supplement to the marketing tools that you control. If Facebook goes away for an entire day and you need to reach your customers, you will be able to do so without concern. And, that will give you the peace of mind you deserve!