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Why Websites Don’t Matter

July 15, 2009 

By now, most companies have gotten a pretty good handle on what happens on their website. At the very least, they use a tool like Google Analytics or the simple and easy StatCounter to track total visits, referring URLs, visitor paths and time spent on site. It’s intriguing and fun to see where people are coming from and what they’re doing. It’s also increasingly irrelevant.

The website as we know it is becoming a relic of the first 15 years of the Internet. Sure, websites will always be important, but the action that takes place around a company, brand or individual is moving into a complex new web of stateless conversations. Some of these take place on corporate websites, but many of them don’t.

Consider Facebook, whose 200 million members are the world’s largest ready-made audience. Some brands have more active communities of customers on Facebook than they do on their own websites. In fact, their own websites may not even enable community at all. Perception of their brand is defined in a community that they host but can’t control.

Locationless

Our personal activities now take place in many locations. Look at Twitter, for example. While there’s a Twitter website, conversations take place in the ether. People who use TweetDeck, Twhirl, TwInbox or one of the other dedicated Twitter clients may never visit the Twitter website.In fact, the Twitter feed doesn’t even need a website; it can easily be displayed anywhere.

Steve Rubel, a public relations social media visionary whom I profiled in New Influencers, recently announced thathe’s abandoning his blog in favor of a lifestream. Steve is at the extreme edge of social media activity, so his experience isn’t typical, but I think his point bears considering. He’s saying that the action now takes place in so many nooks and crannies of the Internet that a website is, at best, merely a place to pull them all those activities together. Our own online presence is too expansive to be confined to one place.

This presents some immediate problems. It seems that just as we’ve succeeded in getting a pretty good handle on what happens on our websites, the action has moved elsewhere. In many respects, we have no insight into what’s happening there.

Facebook, for example, offers only rudimentary reporting on activity within its profiles and forums. There is no reliable way to determine how many people have seen a message on Twitter. Sites like Flickr, YouTube or SlideShare can tell you how many people have watched your presentation or video, but not where they came from or how long they spent there. Our window on online activity around our brand is actually becoming more opaque with time.

Not Dead Yet

Does this mean websites are dead? No, but they are changing. The website’s role will increasingly be to present a person’s or organization’s view of things in hopes of enticing conversations back to that controllable and measurable forum. It will be the home base for everything we do online, kind of our own organizational lifestream. But marketers must face the new reality that online success has many faces, even if we can’t measure all of them very well.

This also means that businesses should take a new look at hosting their own communities. Facebook is training wheels for the bigger goal of building branded communities that become the primary destination for customers and business partners. If you can build and measure those, you can gain a lot more insight about what motivates customers. If you can’t, well, try to send people back to your trusty old website for your point of view.


Social Media Success? Enter the SNCR Awards

If you got a social media success story to tell, tell it to the Society for New Communications Research (SNCR). We’re looking for nominations for the annual Excellence in New Communications Awards, which will be presented this November at a gala dinner in Boston. There are 12 awards in six categories. Read about them and enter here. The cost of entry is a modest $75, which goes to support the nonprofit Society. Winners and runners-up both are invited to attend the program where they can meet with other innovators in the field.


Tip of the Week: New Twitter Tools

Did I say you can’t measure how many people have seen your tweets? There are actually some programs that take a shot at doing that. A couple of new Twitter analysis tools that I’ve found to be interesting and fun are Twitter Analyzer and What The Trend? Twitter Analyzer is the more practical of the two. It looks at your Twitter activity and provides metrics comparing yourself to others as well as to your own activity. It presents this in some very nice charts (right). What The Trend? is the more fun of the two. If you look at any of the Twitter search or filtering sites, they show you the topics that are “trending,” or moving up the popularity scale. What The Trend? tells you why. There’s somebody behind the scenes doing the interpreting, but that’s part of the fun!


Just for Fun: Photo Mosaics

You’ve no doubt seen photo mosaics like this and marveled at the complexity and detail work they entail. I did, too, until I happened upon Foto-Mosaik, a freeware tool that the developer says you “können Sie aus Ihren digitalen Fotos ein Mosaikbild erstellen, welches aus vielen kleinen Einzelbildern zusammengesetzt ist.” That’s right, the website is in German, but software is a universal language and the program should work just as well for English-speakers. Apparently, you have to assemble at least a couple of thousand photos to create a mosaic, but many of us have at least that many cluttering up our hard drives already. If you use this tool and create a mosaic, send me an image or a link and I’ll post it in a future newsletter.

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