Do I need a Website, Facebook, Twitter? What next?

The Internet has grown quickly, very quickly. It began (to the general public) as a niche space for people to share things. I refer to this in my article Make it Stop. It remained like this for a few years, but soon commercialization took over. Everyone had to have a website, you were behind the times if your business didn’t have one.

To be fair, I find myself researching things on the web before ever venturing out into the world at large, that includes local businesses. Do they have a site? Is there any feedback from other customers about them? Do they even have the product I want, and if so what is the price? I firmly believe this is the way of the future for most people (if it isn’t the way for most right now).

Your business will benefit from an online presence. Not might, will. I honestly believe that, no matter what you do, being able to be found online will benefit you.

With that in mind how do you do that? What should you do? Do you need Twitter? How about Facebook? What is Instagram, do I need that too? A website of my own? The options are immense and the answers are never easy.

More questions for the small to medium sized business; If I do get some of these things, or even a website of my own how do I do it? Do I do it myself, do I hire someone? Who do I hire? How much does it cost? Who takes care of all this once it’s built? The answers to these questions are as varied as the types of businesses out there, there is no “right” answer. Each individual case is slightly different and needs a different approach, from what you do, right down to your own technical ability.

I’m going to try and give some very vague answers to some of these questions. Just to give you a primer on what’s out there and why you may (or may not) need it.

Social Media

Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, they’re all forms of social media. The definition of social media from Merriam-Webster is as follows.

forms of electronic communication (as Web sites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (as videos)

Short answer: Yes. You need social media.

Long answer: While Merriam-Webster includes websites as a social media avenue, it means websites like I mentioned above, not your personal or business website. Social media has the ability to reach vast numbers of people inexpensively compared to other marketing options. People like, favourite and share things that interest them, since your friends have friends you don’t have, and those people have friends neither you, nor your friends have, the message you post can be spread quickly to a very large number of people.

Social Media also allows for an easy way to communicate with your customers and offer support. Most large organizations seem to be moving to Twitter and Facebook to offer support. Personally I’d much rather Tweet at Rogers than sit on hold for 20 minutes after navigating 10 menus to talk to a customer support rep.

Which Social media avenues your business should use are dependent on what you do, and what you hope to accomplish.

Websites

This one is a tougher question. Do you actually need a website?

Short answer: Probably.

Long answer: I honestly think with the way marketing is these days most companies will benefit from their own website, due to the online research more and more people do every day. Whether it’s a single page brochure site, or a complex CMS (content management system) depends entirely (again) on what your business does and what you hope to accomplish with your site.

There are rare cases where you may not “need” a site, one example comes from personal experience. I have a friend who runs a painting and maintenance business. Years ago we talked about a site for him, we worked through some thoughts, designs, even bought a domain. Then the project just died. He was busy working for clients, I was busy too. The site never got built.

Now his online presence is his company’s Facebook page. He posts to it often, he gets responses, likes and shares from friends and clients alike. He even communicates with prospective clients through Facebook messenger. He puts the time into the page that it needs, and it does for him exactly what he wants it to do. Gets the word out there, and showcases his work and client testimonials.

Do I think his company would benefit from a website? Probably, but I don’t get the feeling he wants to manage it or update it, therefore he’d probably have to pay someone to do it and then the cost vs benefit becomes a concern.

So, you probably need a website. First and foremost let me qualify “website”. You need a good website, not just a website. Quality of content and aesthetics matter, a lot. Even if you’re a plumber, or a hair salon, if you have a bad website people are going to equate that to your quality of business. This may not be fair, but it is absolutely going to happen. My personal first thought when hitting a bad website is to leave. If I can’t find what I am looking for in a few moments, if the site is hard to read, or has terrible pictures and layout, I’m sure there is someone else out there that does what you do that makes this information easy to get.

Now what? In this space there are lots of choices for how to proceed. From large advertising agencies, all the way down to do it yourself from scratch. I’m going to start with the most expensive of these options and move down the list with just a few comments on each.

Advertising agencies — This is usually the option for large businesses and corporations (including cities). There are a ton of benefits from working with a an agency. They’re all in one shops. You don’t have to look for a social media expert, a designer, a copywriter, programmers. Agencies are like the general contractors of home building. You go to them, tell them what you want and they do it, from start to finish. If you have a solid budget and a large project this is definitely the route to go. Another thing many agencies offer is they’re language agnostic, meaning they build a project to fit your needs and don’t shove it into their box of personal knowledge.

The downside? Cost. All those resources cost a lot of money to keep on hand all the time. Agencies have overhead that smaller developers don’t and that generally reflects in their prices. Websites can range from the tens of thousands of dollars well into the millions. That being said if you find an agency you really like, or know someone at one of these agencies, it never hurts to have a chat with them. They’re sometimes known to cut deals for smaller clients. It can’t hurt right?

Small shops and individual developers — The upside here is expertise and personal contact. You’re going to be dealing with one or two people that are intimately aware of your project. The other upside is cost. While some projects will still be very expensive by their nature alone, you’re rarely going to see small shops and individual developers doing million dollar plus jobs. Our overhead is much lower than an agency since we don’t have to keep expensive employees on staff all the time, and we generally work from home offices, co-working spaces or small offices.

Shameless self plug: This is where I fit into the scheme of things calder.io

That doesn’t mean the quality of product you get is any less, it just means we probably won’t be the person(s) you turn to if you’re a multi-million dollar corporation looking to produce a huge website.

The downside here unfortunately is the web is full of these shops, many offshore, many offering sites for as little as $199. The simplest thing to keep in mind here is you generally get what you pay for, if it seems to good to be true it probably is. You also want to be careful of shops that demand you use a specific software stack without giving solid reasoning. WordPress is a great thing that has its uses. Those uses do not cover every website imaginable. Ask questions, ask what the shop is going to use and why it fits your needs.

DIY options — These include things like Wix, Grid, PageCloud, the list goes on (and on). While these are a viable option for some very basic sites they’re not terribly extensible and they can be difficult to style exactly how you want your site to look. They also offer very basic functionality, if writing blogs, or selling things online is your goal, this probably isn’t the option for you.

Regardless of what their marketing says, it’s not “easy” and not everyone can make a good site using them. They all have beautiful portfolio pages created with their software, those pages are generally created by real designers and developers. (Remember when I qualified what I meant by website?) At the very least you want to be technically proficient and creative. While these options are cheap you have to take into account your own time invested in creating the site, and maintaining it.

The other downside here is they almost always create garbage code in the background. You don’t see that while looking at the page, but search engines do and web servers have a harder time serving bad code, so they’re generally slower too.

This option is cheap, very cheap, but again you get what you pay for and in this case you get no expertise at all. This is an option for the very cash strapped, or the very technically able and creative mind. You aren’t going to get the same quality site you would from either of the first two options. That’s a fact.

Really DIY — This is the option where you build the site yourself using real tools. If you’re capable of doing that, you already knew everything I said above. Just keep in mind, your neighbour’s gardener’s nephew might really be a good web developer, but he also might not be, cost matters, it should never be your only deciding factor. Remember quality matters!

Conclusion

I hope I didn’t confuse matters for you more, although there’s a good chance I did. The web is pretty complex these days and it’s a full time job wading through the options to make the right choices, and again I’m going to stress that making the right choices matters to your business.

If you’d like to talk to me about your specific needs I’d be happy to schedule a consultation.