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Is social marketing killing the corporate website?

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Is the Gilded Age of the corporate website in decline, or are these sites merely being transformed by the rapid rise of the social communities that surround them? The answer has great implications for marketers—and their content strategies—as they adapt to market changes, new online social tools and platforms, and new customer behaviors. Much like the Gilded Age in the late 1800s in the United States—an era marked by extreme growth and economic expansion, massive immigration from Europe and incredible innovations—the last 15 years of the corporate website have been similarly remarkable. Once companies broke through the early walled gardens (AOL, CompuServe, etc.), corporate sites took off, first as static brochures, then as commerce engines and on to dynamic, engaging communities. But all good ages eventually come to an end. The Gilded Age in the U.S. gave way to the Progressive Era in the early 1900s; now, we have the rise of the social Web. It's a multichannel Web dominated by Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter flanked by upstarts such as Google+, Path and Pinterest. Has this era of social media vanquished the corporate website altogether? There is certainly plenty of evidence suggesting this is true: Large numbers of advertisers use a Facebook.com/brand address as the call to action in spots for the Super Bowl. Small, local companies don't bother with a website and instead let their Facebook or Yelp pages do the talking for them. And word-of-mouth, tweets, social recommendations and even Pinterest drive recommendations like never before. However, it seems too early to proclaim the death of the corporate site. In fact, that day is probably pretty far off. Most companies are not about to turn the keys to their brands over to a social channel which they do not control. There is no question, however, that the function of the corporate website is shifting. Companies have realized that customer engagement happens everywhere on the Web, not just on their corporate sites, and they are engaging with their communities in the channels they frequent around the topics that matter to them most. Although the corporate website is still critical for establishing a strong, recognizable brand, creating meaningful and engaging conversations in social channels will ultimately drive business results. That means two things: participating appropriately in relevant, existing communities and creating an authentic community around a topic of interest to your prospects. Being active and engaged allows your prospects to experience your brand in these communities without any hard sell. If they migrate back to your site to convert, then great. But just as often they will convert right there in the community without ever visiting your site. Here are three strategies for making these social communities work for you:
  1. Think holistically. Transform the corporate website into another node in your online network, and create a comprehensive view of your Web content strategy. This will help you prioritize content and measure its impact.
  2. Reuse content. Develop themes around relevant issues and topics, then engage with your key audiences in each community on those themes. Create multiple types of content for each topic and reuse that content across each channel while measuring and optimizing what content works best for each community.
  3. Engage the community. Don't wait for people to come to you; instead, use your content marketing to engage appropriately with your prospects in their community and be willing to let them convert in that community without coming back to your website.
These three actions will help smooth your own transition from the Gilded Age of corporate websites while remaining relevant in the new era of the social Web. Aaron Dun is VP-marketing and strategy at Web content management company Percussion Software (www.percussion.com). He can be reached at aaron_dun@percussion.com.
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