We recently asked you to send small business questions to OPEN Forum's expert, Guy Kawasaki, to help launch his new column. Today, he kicks off his fifth Ask the Wise Guy column about whether to use a website or Facebook fan page. You can send your questions to Guy here.
Q: I’m a small business entrepreneur, and I’ll be introducing a consumer product soon. Should I create a website for my company or a Facebook fan page?
A: I faced a similar question a few weeks ago for my book, Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions. I had three options: create a site for the book, add a section for the book to my existing website, or create a Facebook fan page.
After five minutes of thoughtful deliberation, I decided to add a bare-bones section to my website (which I haven’t gotten around to do yet—which should tell you something) and create a Facebook fan page but not to create a website for the book. Here’s why I did not choose a website:
1. I’m busy. Designing a website is a big deal. I can’t create one by myself so this means I’d have to find a company to do it or impose on my friends. A template or canned package would never make me happy, so I’d end up spending mucho time interacting with whoever is building website for me.
2. I’m impatient. I like to go from idea to implementation in a week or two. From start to “finish” (if a website is ever finished), it’s hard to make a website happen in two weeks.
3. I’m cheap—and picky. The good news about a website is that you can make it do anything. The bad news about a website is that you can make it do anything—as long as you pay for it. I wanted a site that can engage people by letting them discuss the book, post pictures and video, take quizzes, and enter contests. A website can do all this if you’re willing to pay thousands of dollars.
4. I’m realistic. Let’s say that I got beyond the laziness, impatience, cheapness and pickiness and somehow obtained a great website. The next challenge is getting people to visit it. Sure, I’d put the Facebook “Like” button, Tweetmeme “Retweet” button (disclosure: I invested in Tweetmeme), or Twitter “Tweet” button on it, and I’d blog and tweet the hell out of it, but the building traffic is still hand-to-hand combat.
By contrast, here’s my experience with a Facebook fan page:
1. Instant gratification. You get 25 friends, a Facebook vanity username, and boom, you’re in business. It’s still easier to get a Facebook vanity URL than a good domain name. Either that or God was with me a few weeks ago because Facebook.com/enchantment was available when I looked.
2. Built-in functionality. The social networking functionality you’d want on a website is built into Facebook: commentary, discussion, visitor posting of photos and videos, and reviews. This means you don’t have to figure out how to add this functionality to a website or pay someone to add it for you.
3. Limited flexibility. Facebook fan pages don’t provide the total flexibility of a website, but that is an advantage for people like me because it prevents us from going nuts with features and design. Basically, there are tabs and sub-tabs to play with. A side benefit is that people don’t expect a unique/cool/whatever website because they see that all Facebook fan pages have a similar look and feel. As my boss at Apple, Mike Murray, used to tell me, “Discipline sets you free.”
4. Flexibility. Within the limited flexibility of Facebook, however, there is substantial flexibility. You can choose from hundreds of Facebook apps to add functionality. If you can’t find what you want, then you can ask someone who knows a lot about Facebook like Mari Smith to recommend a developer. That’s what I did, and she sent me to Hyperarts Web Design. Two weeks and $2,000 later, you’d have a custom looking Facebook fan page that looks like this. I would have had to spend more than $2,000 just to buy the domain that I wanted for a website.
5. Curation. Facebook is a more curated environment than the wide-open web. People have to join Facebook, and most people care about their identities and reputation. You can also block orifices and complain to Facebook about them. On the web, it’s much easier for anyone to litter your website with trashy comments, photos and videos, and it’s much harder to get rid of them too. For the better, Facebook is a controlled environment.
6. Inherent spreadability. The best part of Facebook is that there are, depending on who you believe, about 400 million members. In other words, if Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest in the world—behind China and India but ahead of the United States. Every time people do something on your fan page, they spread the word about it to their social contacts. This is the holy grail of marketing: unconscious word-of-mouth advertising! I like this a lot better than hoping people will click on a “Like” or “Tweet” button on a website or forward a website’s URL in an email.
Here’s a tip for you. I discovered that you can create a “reveal” Facebook tab. This is how it works: People must “like” the page in order to see its content. I did this with the PDF version of my first book, The Macintosh Way. If people “liked” this page, they were presented with a link to download the book for free. It generated thousands of fans. If you have something you can give away such as a PDF, song, or discount coupon, you should try this.
7. Gratification. I’m a shallow person: I like to increase the number of followers on Twitter and fans on Facebook. Just as there are only two kinds of people on Twitter (those who want more followers and those who are lying), there are only two kinds of companies with Facebook fan pages: Those who want more fans and those who are lying.
I find that getting fans on Facebook is more gratifying than getting followers on Twitter for two reasons: first, on Facebook you pretty much know that a person made a manual decision to “like” your page. You’re never sure on Twitter if your new followers are bots, spammers, clever manipulation of Twitter’s database, or 50-year-old men with a 18-year-old, hot-babe avatar. Second, the follower count on Twitter for anyone who was on the Suggested User List is meaningless. The number of Facebook fans is a much more accurate proxy for the quality of your fan page interactions—or the offer on your “reveal” page.
8. Free. It’s hard to argue with free. I’ve paid nothing to Facebook for all the wonderfulness that it’s provided me. In fact, I would be happy to pay Facebook just as I would be happy to pay for my use of Twitter because both companies provide such valuable services. Until Facebook asks me to pay, I’m more than willing to let it run ads on my fan page. I don’t even want a cut of the ad revenue—keep it, Facebook, you earned it.
What are the dangers and disadvantages of a Facebook fan page strategy vis-a-vis your own website? There are some:
1. You are supporting Facebook’s inexorable ascension to worldwide domination. Is this different from using Windows? (Something I don’t do.) Or buying an iAnything from Apple? (Something I do quite regularly.) I’d rather ride a tsunami than build my own sand castle. Heck, if Facebook helps my book and your product succeed, maybe it deserves to achieve worldwide domination. I don’t care if Mark Zuckerberg is a punk or if Facebook is leaking my data (What is it going to leak—that I like hockey?). All I care is whether Facebook works as a marketing platform. “It’s not personal. It’s just business.”
2. You’re putting all your chips on Facebook. This is true. If Facebook pulls a “MySpace,” your fan page might disappear one day. The odds are, however, that my book will go out of print before Facebook dies. If it does go out of print, then the fate of Facebook won’t matter. On the other hand, if the book achieves critical mass (hopefully, in part because of its Facebook fan page), it won’t matter if Facebook dies. In other words, I don’t care if Facebook implodes as long as it doesn’t implode right away. It won’t.
If you have a long-term corporate perspective as opposed to my short-term, product-introduction orientation, then Facebook’s longevity is a serious consideration. But in the long term, we’re all dead anyway, and you can always start with a Facebook fan page and create a website later as your sales ramp up.
3. Gurus will tell you that won’t get the black-magic SEO juice, brand awareness, inbound links, street cred, etc. of a website. Also true. But then again I can allocate the time, effort, and money that I’m not investing into making a website into other efforts to make the book successful. When all is said and done, either a product sells or it doesn’t. I doubt that the cause of failure will be using Facebook instead of a website although I am betting that using Facebook will help make my book more successful than using a website.
Here’s some inspiration to look at to get your fan-page juice flowing: Starbucks (17 million fans!), The Wave and Mari Smith. These were the sites that I looked at when making my decision. For you, the bottom line is that if you’re small business owner who is busy, impatient, cheap, picky and realistic (shallowness is optional) and want to ride a tsunami rather than roll your own sand castle, then it’s time to consider a Facebook fan page instead of a free-standing website. Kawabunga!