Some comments I made while at SXSW this year as a guest on the live, end of season, Boagworld podcast seem to have caused a bit of stir. An interesting discussion ensued on the Boagworld forum surrounding the idea that an organisation may not need a standalone web site any more. All they really need is facebook.

The company site

This came from a question that suggested that many company sites do not really have a purpose other than to say; “look at us, we are here”. This same effect can be achieved, at a fraction of the cost, with a facebook page. Therefore, do many organisations only need a facebook presence?

Some have started to go down this route. You’ll see many advertising campaigns now promote the facebook page over the corporate web site. Some have dropped the web site from advertising all together. There ae valid reasons for doing this.

The youth of today

For many web users, especially at the younger end of the spectrum, facebook is the internet. They will find out what is going on in the world, what events to buy tickets for, what videos to view online, what books to read, the answers to questions, all of their day to day online needs, from their facebook feed. Indeed, why search for news, information, or other content when it’s right there in front of you on your “wall”.

With this knowledge in mind you can see the logic in focusing on facebook for your web presence. And for some, this is a viable option. However, you need to be sure that you are aware of what you are getting into.

Facebook is not all there is

Of course, facebook is not all there is. While many users do not leave the safety of the facebook ecosystem there is a big wide web out there. To focus on facebook as your medium you need to be sure that this is where your target audience is residing. And you need to be on the look out for when they move on. This may sound unbelievable at the moment but facebooks time will end. At the very least it will experience a major demographic shift. In fact, this shift has already begun.

The major area of growth is no longer young adults. But instead, it is with their parents; even grand parents. Over time, this will have the knock on affect that young people will no longer be as religious about their use of the medium. After all, who wants their parents to know what they really got up to at the weekend?  As this happens the door to the next big thing will be open.

So be aware, if your target market is currently locked into facebook, this may not always be the case.

Also, be aware that, unlike the web, facebook is not an open system. They are a business that have profit making objectives. Facebook can change the rules at any time and you will have to comply or lose your presence online. You have no control over the facebook landscape and, while it may suit you now, it may not tomorrow.

Contextual thinking

I think, once again, it comes back to context. This is something that I am acutely aware of with another of my hats on as a founder and director of iTakeout. At iTakeout we run an eCommerce experience via the web but we run a majority of customer service and user engagement via our facebook page and twitter. We also have an iPhone app on the way. We are working with Dootrix.com as we know that users want to engage and order food via their mobiles. And this is the key question. How do your users want to engage with your organisation? Which platform do they want to use to shop? Which medium do they want to use to complain? How do they want to tell their friends how great you are?

As you run your online presence you will need to be increasingly aware of the fast moving environment in which your users are operating.  Is it useful that somebody shares your facebook fan page with all of their friends? Of course it is.  Is this the main way that word about your organisation will spread? Possibly.  Will this always be the case? No!

Users online behaviour will change. Indeed, it is changing all of the time. There is a complex relationship between web sites, web applications (facebook) and mobile (apps) and this relationship is only going to become more difficult to balance.

Is facebook all you really need? The answer is maybe, for now.  But going forward, your users will expect, and need, more from you.

Do you operate a facebook fan page? Have you noticed any difference in the interaction you receive via it compared to your corporate site? Maybe you have gone down the road of only having a facebook presence. Share with us your stories.