For years I have been asked whether Facebook brand pages could possibly replace traditional websites. Now, a UK-based pub operator, Barracuda Pub Group, has taken such a step with one of its popular brands, Varsity. All of its web-based content and online activity has been migrated over to Facebook.
As a brand that is designed to appeal to students, Facebook is a natural fit. Its page provides information about venues, drinks deals and events solely through the social network. More importantly, the move is an acknowledgement that Facebook is now the major communications tool for the 18-35 age group, and that effective engagement with this audience is better achieved via social media than regular website content.
“We have always advocated brands taking their message to their audience where they ‘live’ rather than expecting them to come and visit. This is a pioneering move by Varsity, who really know their audience and are comfortable engaging with them on their own turf,” said Sarah Friswell, Group Account Director at Red Ant, the digital strategy agency responsible for creating Varsity’s Facebook page.
Simon Gaske, Sales & Digital Marketing Manager for Barracuda said that, “By replacing the designated Varsity website and migrating to Facebook with the Varsity hub we can interact with our customers in a way that they prefer, as well as bringing them a more social and intuitive experience.”
Results of Move to Facebook
Within a month of launch a lot of activity has been generated on the Facebook page:
- 17% increase in number of Facebook fans;
- 279% increase of average daily users on the page with the addition of the new content;
- 2,074% increase in traffic reaching Varsity’s sister brand Party At The Pub’s booking page from the Varsity hub versus direct from its own website.
What This Means for Brands
In a post written five years ago, web strategist Jeremiah Owyang stated matter-of-factly that corporate websites were becoming irrelevant. “The corporate website is an unbelievable collection of hyperbole, artificial branding, and pro-corporate content. As a result, trusted decisions are being made on other locations on the internet,” said Owyang.
His surmise was that marketing had spread to many other areas where conversations occur, including social networks. That was five years ago, long before Facebook became the force to be reckoned with that it is today, and long before the term “f-commerce” entered into the marketing lexicon.
Back to the question of whether Facebook could (or should) replace traditional websites. In some cases, I think there is real validity, but it depends on the demographics of the market and the type of business. For bars, pubs, coffee houses and restaurants that seek to appeal to a younger crowd, then Facebook has great relevance and should perhaps become the locus of online activity. Still, that does not mean there is no room for a more traditional website.
Are we likely to see more brands shift completely away from corporate websites to Facebook? Undoubtedly. However, I think there is room for both. With a website the brand controls the design, owns the data, can provide more targeting and personalization options and reach the entirety of its audience. However, social networks like Facebook put brands where people are gathering in an environment that is inherently interactive, social and viral.
Of course, thanks to Facebook’s Open Graph the company website can take on many of the very characteristics that are common to social networks. In a sense, the website becomes an extension of Facebook itself. It doesn’t have to be either/or, but both/and.