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Your website is less useful than ever, and that’s ok

Recently I was asked if I felt that my website was an important part of my promotional strategy. My answer was a sort of shoot-from-the-hip response but an honest one and also something that made me reflect on that response long after the broadcast. Long enough that I am now sitting here days later and blogging about it.social-background

The answer I gave was that my website has become more of a contact portal than a promotional tool. In the past, your website was the first place people went to find out about you and your business. If I was interested in Coke in 2005 I went to coca-cola.com. And when I say “interested” I mean that I was curious about the brand, the culture, the latest news, products, etc. Today, if I’m looking for that kind of content I am more likely to first go to twitter.com/cocacola or facebook.com/CocaCola or maybe instagram.com/CocaCola.

This trend isn’t unique to big brands. I regularly advise people to go to instagram.com/emberstudio to see the most up-to-date work samples coming out of my business. I post to Instagram regularly, sometimes daily when there are lots of new and interesting projects coming out of Ember. And as far as people finding me on their own, most of my new leads and contacts come through places other than emberstudio.com. Dribbble is by far my most productive lead tool today. I receive frequent requests for information and estimates, and our last 3 new active clients came to Ember through Dribbble. I just went on to a new client meeting yesterday, the same day that said client found me on Dribbble and also the same day that my most successful Dribbble “shot” (project/design) to date was posted.

None of that is a coincidence. This all happens because of the shift in how people use the web and how we seek out brands and businesses we are interested in. And, more importantly, what information we are seeking drives which avenues we go down to connect with a brand. Going back to the Coke example, if I just need to know their mailing address or how to reach customer support, I might go directly to their website. And even in that case, I would still be tempted to seek out support or an answer to a question on Twitter as well. But if I want to know more about what is going on right now at Coca-Cola, what new products are out now, what events they are going to be at or where they are today, this very minute, nothing is better than social media for that information.

Likewise, for my business, yours, and most others, social media is rapidly replacing our websites as the primary means of contact (especially initial contact) by which our audiences connect with us. More than ever, the value of our social media efforts is increasing while the value and usefulness of our websites is decreasing.

Websites are still critical components of any marketing strategy. While some folks have talked about social media replacing the traditional website for years now, we’re not there yet and probably never will be. I really don’t believe that websites will ever become completely devoid of value in favor of an online presence that is exclusively social and done through third-party products like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.

However the scales of value and usefulness may continue to tip in favor of social media, and the need to make your brand available and active through social platforms will become increasingly important. This isn’t a bad thing, either. I welcome the shift in value away from my website and towards social media. Social tools are built to be easy to use and fast to post to, so being able to lean towards social platforms more than my own website actually saves me time. I can get more information, new work samples, and updates posted to Instagram and Twitter faster and more frequently than I can do the same on my own site. And my website isn’t built for that kind of daily content creation, nor are most business websites. Social media tools are built for exactly that. The whole idea of social media is to be able to quickly and easily share information with a large audience, and interact with that audience.

I still regularly hear from businesses who say that they are not on social media and some have no desire or intention to change that. Some are completely opposed to the idea of testing the social waters at all. I say that businesses who shun all forms of social media do so at their own peril. Like it or not, we are in the age of social media and not just for posting vacation photos on our facebook pages. Businesses need to embrace the power and potential of using social platforms as a first point of contact for new and existing clients/customers. This isn’t a guess at the future of web marketing. This is how things are right now, this very minute.

Should live streaming be a part of your social strategy?

The popularity of live streaming apps like Periscope and Meerkat is fairly recent, and although live streaming has been around far longer than either of those two products, only this year has it become a viable mainstream option for social media strategies. But is it right for you and your business? Let’s find out.livestreaming

The Basics – What You Should to Know

The major options in live streaming right now are Periscope and Meerkat. Secondary options include YouNow, Hang w/, and Ustream, but for the purposes of this discussion we’ll focus on Periscope and Meerkat. The reason for this is simply that these two apps are the most popular, the most accessible, and the platforms with which you will likely have the most success should you decide to try live streaming.

Getting set up to broadcast is simple. If you have a smartphone or tablet running iOS or Android and access to WiFi or a decent mobile data plan, you’re good to go. Simple install the app of choice (or multiple apps, experimenting with different ones is a good idea), log in using your Twitter account, and you’re ready to go live.

A quick note on Periscope vs. Meerkat from my experience: These two apps aren’t identical. They each offer somewhat similar basic capabilities, those being the ability to quickly and easily start watching or broadcasting live streams. Beyond that, though, they vary somewhat. As it relates to broadcasting/streaming, you should know that Periscope is a faster-paced environment. You will notice viewers come and go quickly, and it can be challenging to maintain an audience for longer broadcasts. If you want to do a quick stream and hit as many people as quickly as possible, Periscope might be best for you. On the other hand, Meerkat is the preferred app for longer format broadcasts. Live streaming for more than a few minutes at a time is best with Meerkat, as the audience there tends to hang around longer and engage more. Personally, my preference is Meerkat for this exact reason, that I can build a good audience over an extended broadcast time.

Does Live-Streaming Fit Into Your Social Strategy?

The great thing about live streaming is that it brings your audience into your world, your workplace, your office, or your home. It’s a direct connection to a large number of people, and it adds significant personality to your social media presence. You’re not just 140 characters in a tweet anymore, you’re a face, a voice, live and immediately available to answer questions, explain your product or service, talk shop, etc.

But this isn’t for everyone. Everything that makes live streaming hugely powerful and exciting also makes it potentially terrifying for some people and businesses. Getting live on camera can be scary, and inviting a live audience into your workplace can be equally frightening. There may be things you don’t want the public to see, proprietary information, sensitive information, etc. If you do decide to try live streaming, be sure to check the area you’re broadcasting in to be sure it is clean and clear of anything you don’t want seen on camera. There is no editing in live streaming, once it’s out there, it’s out there.

That said, the potential of live streaming is enormous. Live streaming adds an incredibly powerful and impacting new component to social media. It gives you a platform to instantly connect with an audience in ways that were not so easily accessible before. Instead of that potential customer/client needing to meet you in-person to get to know you and decide if they want to work with you, live streaming potentially gives us the ability to more quickly assess potential partnerships or collaborations. Most importantly, it gives you the opportunity to sell what you do to a large group anywhere, any time of day. Simply fire up your smartphone with your live streaming app of choice and in seconds you can be pitching your goods/services to a few people or possibly hundreds of potential customers.

Does it Work?

So this all sounds great, right? But like everything I do at here at Ember, and especially in things that I might advise my clients to try, to be worth the time and effort it needs to get results. In my experience, live streaming can help grow a larger social media following, reach more people, and yes, it does give you new opportunities to sell products and services. By my 3rd live stream on Meerkat I booked a logo design job and sold 3 t-shirts on Cotton Bureau as a direct result of my broadcasts.

Of course results will vary based on what it is you’re promoting, what kind of audience your live streams attract, and how enjoyable your content is. If people don’t want to watch you or what you’re broadcasting, it will be pretty hard to get to the point of being able to sell anything if no one stocks around long enough to hear what you have to say. And with that in mind, you can’t be 100% selling all of the time while streaming. The most effective broadcasts are the ones that are casual in nature, not overly scripted and definitely not excessively “salesy”. Keep it casual and approachable. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to talk about what you do and what you want people to buy from you. Live streaming is more about selling you than it is about overtly selling your goods and services. If people like you and your content, they’ll want to know more about what else you can offer them.