What Facebook can’t replace
Predictions of the demise of corporate websites in the wake of Facebook’s rise to popularity greatly exaggerate the reality, David Bowen says.
|Nestlé and Greenpeace||G4S Careers Facebook|
|G4S careers centre||Siemens YouTube Channel|
|Walmart YouTube channel||Boone Oakley|
Facebook UK’s commercial director, Stephen Haines, said recently that so much customer activity is happening on Facebook pages that corporate websites could become redundant.
I’m not going to go over again why his argument is flawed (think Nestlé’s Facebook disaster in 2010 over Greenpeace for a start). Let’s look at the positive. How well could Facebook do the work of a corporate website? And while we are at it, why not look at other platforms – YouTube, for instance?
I’m not choosing these randomly: there are examples we can look at. They are intriguing and clever, but I’m afraid they wouldn’t give much fuel to Mr Haines’ argument.
Employable for recruitment
When Mr Haines was making his claim, he was thinking purely in terms of consumers and brand-building. When a B2B company considers Facebook, it is more likely to be thinking of recruitment. The appeal Facebook has for so many young people makes it perfect for talking to potential and actual employees and, more important, for letting them talk to one another. Where Mr Haines is absolutely right is that when a Facebook page works, it is far more effective than a corporate site – it is a place to learn what others think, rather than just get the company line.
Many HR departments use Facebook with vigour. But few if any have gone as far as G4S, the world’s largest security company, in creating a page that matches the look and feel of the corporate careers section. G4S is also the second-largest private sector employer, with 625,000 staff, so not surprisingly recruitment is a bit of an issue for it.
G4S and its agency, Netnatives, worked very hard to achieve their match. The logo is in the same place and the navigation bar is similar. Try clicking ‘Meet our people’ – a link the web and Facebook pages share. Exactly the same content, with photographs, features on both. But there are fundamental problems – Facebook doesn’t let you make its page look like yours, because it is in control. All the ‘furniture’ it uses to decorate its page is there, and that squeezes and competes with what you are trying to do.
Most obviously, it does not give you the full width of the page. The left column has standard Facebook features such as information, people who like you and photographs, while the right column has advertisements. The ads are particularly distracting. I was looking at the Wall (discussion area), where G4S had posted some dull but worthy pictures of its people in South Africa. But my eyes were, I’m afraid, being drawn to towards the image of a banana with ‘Five Foods to never eat’ in the ad column to the right.
The furniture at the top of the page is also resolutely Facebook. It has its own bar at the top, then the usual tabs beneath. Despite the designers’ best efforts, this still looks like a Facebook page.
Sense in diversity
Does this matter? The opposite, I think. Had G4S succeeded in making a Facebook page that looked just like the careers section on g4s.com, great would be the confusion. It would in effect be producing two websites where there was one. I have seen real problems with online annual report sites that looks so similar to the parent site that you really don’t know which you are looking at or whether you have to read both. So, assuming that Facebook is not going to give up control of the look and feel, or its ad revenue, it is doing corporates a favour.
But it does beg the question of why G4S is trying to mimic its own site in the first place. Surely the corporate website is one thing and the corporate Facebook page another – they should complement each other, not try to do the same job.
Control the distinction
The same is true of corporate YouTube pages – though it is easier to get a look that is more your own. Both the Walmart and Siemens YouTube channels have the YouTube bar cross the top, but otherwise the page belongs to the company. Walmart’s page is particularly clean, with a panel showing a carousel of videos, tabs for navigation, a blue background and top links to walmart.com, Facebook, Twitter and a store finder.
But they do not in any way mimic the corporate websites. Siemens’ YouTube page is a poor cousin indeed of its slick corporate site. While there may be little YouTube furniture, there are limits to the ways the chairs can be rearranged. I wrote a while ago about a US advertising agency, Boone Oakley, whose web address steers you straight into its YouTube page. This, it announces with childish graphics, is its web page; ‘chalk’ links to the left act as navigation buttons. It is brilliant, but it also shows just how far YouTube is from matching the functionality of a ‘real’ website.
I imagine that this could change: YouTube could allow companies to make their channels much more like their own sites. Should you be tempted to take advantage? No – use the extra flexibility to improve the look of the channel, but keep it quite distinct from your corporate site.
And don’t even think of replacing your own site with one that someone else controls. That’s just silly.
First published on 09 March, 2011