If you were given a choice when first taking your “brick and mortar” business online to develop a website or set up a Page on Facebook, and you weren’t allowed to do the other which would you choose? Would you build a website and give up marketing through Facebook or would you set up a Facebook page and give up having your own website?
Think about the questions as you read through this post.
Last week Clay started a thread on my small business forum that essentially asked the question above. The thread started with the following statement
I was shocked today to discover a pretty well-put-together restaurant in Chicago that only has a Facebook page instead of a designated website. I personally don’t like that and think it looks bad on them, what do you guys think?
Many local only businesses still forego developing a site for their business, restaurants especially. Some, having heard of social media, are now setting up profiles and marketing through social sites, but still don’t have their own website. Is this a good idea? Is a website no longer necessary? Or are these businesses making a huge mistake?
Last week I talked about how many of our social media profiles are little more than a wasteland. As part of that post I mentioned the idea your site being your home base online and your social profiles being outposts.
I wanted to take a little more time today to discuss that idea and then offer some reasons why you might forego a site in favor of Facebook (or any other popular social site) and then explain why I think having your own site is so much more important and why it’s more valuable to you than your presence on Facebook.
The diagram above will be explained further down in this post.
The Theory of Home Bases and Outposts
A few years ago I wrote a post on how to build your brand through social media that was my attempt to get at something about using your site as a home base and using your social media profiles as outposts of that base.
The basic idea was that instead of always trying to use social sites to bring the web to you, you should see social media as a way to bring your brand to the web outside your site. It was an idea for increasing the reach of your brand. I never thought of it in terms of home base and outposts and don’t think I ever mentioned either word in the posts, but it’s how I was thinking of it.
A year later I came across this ProBlogger post on home bases and outposts, where Darren talked about how he used social media in this home base/outpost way. He had gained the theory from Chris Brogan, who I believe really created this idea. I’ll link to a few of Chris’ posts on the subject at the end of this section.
The theory breaks down to three concepts.
- Home Bases are places online that you own like a website.
- Outposts are places you don’t own, but where you can build and maintain an online presence
- Passports are credentials for being able to get into outposts.
Home bases are your websites, your blogs, your own real estate on the web. If you own a domain and build something on it, then it’s a home base. You control what happens there. No one can take your home base away.
You can have more than one home base, though my feeling is it should be one per business. The idea is to have a place that serves as the base of operation, the command center, for your business online.
The most important aspect of a home base is he ownership. The only way your home base goes away is if you decide to make it go away. You have complete control over everything that happens there.
Outposts are really the crux of this theory. Think of where the term comes from. Outposts are usually military for advanced scouting, diplomatic for networking, or economical for being able to trade goods beyond your main place of trading. Each is an extension of a home base of some kind.
Social sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are perfect examples of outposts. They are extensions of your online presence.
Outposts can be taken away. They can be overrun militarily. They can be removed by the country you’re seeking diplomacy with. They can fail to generate enough business to keep going.
Your online outposts can be taken away too. Facebook can remove Pages anytime they want. Twitter could delete old tweets. LinkedIn could cease business. You never have complete control over your online outposts and you are always limited in what you can do by the sites in question.
Passports are your login information or any other criteria for gaining access to a site. In order to participate fully you need access to the outpost sites. They’re simply a way to get in to the outpost.
You can see a limited amount of information when not signed in, but each social site offers more to you when you do login, when you present your passport. You generally need a passport in order to interact with other members of the site.
Moving between Home Base and Outposts
In the image above this section (the one I said would be explained later) the central blue dot is your home base and the purple dots around it are your outposts. The lines in between allow communication and traffic to flow both ways between your home base and outpost.
The smaller home base/outpost clusters belong to other people on the web, who you also connect with. The lines represent you building a presence on their clusters and in so doing bring others back to your home base and outposts.
The lines are simplified in the diagram. In actuality lines could flow between outposts and between clusters. Basically if you see a dot you could draw a 2-way line of interaction between it and any other dot.
Here are a few of Chris’s posts where the concepts of home bases, outposts, and passports are mentioned. They’re listed in chronological order
- 100 Personal Branding Tactics Using Social Media
- Using Outposts in Your Media Strategy
- The Beauty and Problems of New Presentations – hour long video. Home bases and outposts talk starts about 20 minutes in.
- How to Put Your Small Business On the Web
And here’s a short (7 minute) video by Darren that explains how he’s using home bases and outposts
The Best Approach to Using Home Bases and Outposts
There’s no one right way to use your home base and your outposts for marketing online, however I do think there’s a best approach.
Overly marketing yourself at any of your outposts is usually frowned upon. Even if you can get away with it, you likely won’t forever or even for long. In fact when a social site allows too much overt marketing the community quickly becomes a cesspool. That’s not to say you can’t market there at all. Much of what you do on your outposts will be marketing. It’s that you shouldn’t be trying to directly sell there.
You sell on your site, at your home base. You use your outposts to extend the reach of your brand, and interact with customers and peers. You give as much as you can to your outposts and build 2-way avenues between your home base and your outpost.
You want to bring people from your outposts to your home base and you want to send people from your home base to your outposts. Ideally people will be flowing through this entire network and engaging with you in as many as possible.
You can further extend things, but participating on other people’s home bases and outposts. These are also outposts for you.
For example if you consistently comment on posts here, you interact with me and others who are also commenting and reading. You build your brand here and some of this community will flow through to your network of home base and outposts.
The key though, is the selling happens on your home base. Your business model is built on your home base and your outposts are a way to connect with people.
Why Your Site is Worth More than Facebook
I used Facebook in the title of this post, since it was the site mentioned in the forum thread. You can really substitute any social site, any outpost you want. When comparing your site to these outposts there are pros and cons for each side, the pros of one being the cons of the other. They break down into two basic categories.
- Who has control
- The size of the community
You control your site. You don’t control your outposts. You will always be limited on your outposts as far as what you can do and they can be taken away at any time for any reason. Not so with your site. There’s also no functionality on your outpost that can’t be implemented on your home base site. Given enough time and resources you could rebuild any other site on your domain.
You probably aren’t going to do this, but in reality you could and it’s not nearly as hard as it might seem. Set up a site with WordPress, BuddyPress, and bbPress and you’ve mostly got Facebook. Add some kind of instant messaging and you’re close to having Twitter too.
What you don’t have is a community as large as the ones on those sites.
The advantage of your outposts is they have large communities you can interact with. You still need to find the people you want to connect with in those communities and have them find you, but it’s generally easier to do so on a site like Facebook than it is on your site due to how interconnected everyone is there.
Go to your outposts and connect with the communities. Most of the connections you make at your outposts will tend toward the shallow side. As you build some of those connections and make them stronger people will follow back to your home base, where your connection will be the strongest.
You will usually have a more meaningful conversation with a person you invite over for dinner than you will with the person you run into at the store shopping for groceries. You can meet a person at the store every day and exchange pleasantries and the depth of your conversation or relationship will never be as strong as the one you have with the person who accepts your invitation to dinner.
Would You Choose Your Own Site or a Facebook Page?
If you read your way down this far you know my answer. I’m guessing it was your answer too, even before reading. I might be preaching some to the choir here, but I want to bring this back to the forum thread that led to this post.
If you don’t have your own site then you’re driving all your marketing to another businesses brand.
Most of the arguments in favor of going the Facebook route revolved around the ideas that you can’t do everything Facebook does on your own site and that since people were already at Facebook it was easier to connect with them.
The first is complete BS. Facebook is a website like any other. What’s stopping you is time and resources, but the reality is if it was built on Facebook’s domain, it can be built on yours too.
As far as the second is concerned it’s true a site like Facebook is always going to have a larger community and social network than you do, but so what. You’re not trying to connect with everyone in that community. You couldn’t even if you tried. You want to connect with a much smaller subset of that community and you want to have meaningful conversations with them.
Those meaningful conversations are going to happen on your site, at your home base. Sure people are already hanging out at Facebook so it’s easy for them to say hi. The same way it’s easy for them to say hi when you cross paths at the supermarket.
The real conversation takes place when you set out to talk to each other. The person who takes the action to come to your site is much more important to your business than the person who dropped by your Facebook page while they were visiting 20 other Facebook pages and playing Farmville.
That second group of people might interact with your more often because they’re at Facebook more often, but the point is they didn’t go to Facebook specifically to talk to you. They did, however, go to your site specifically to talk to you, which leads to a much more meaningful conversation.
That’s not to say that sites like Facebook and Twitter aren’t important. It’s not to say they can’t help your business. It is to say that it’s far more valuable to get the people you meet at those sites back to your site and interact with them there.
Social sites are great for meeting new people and for quick interactions with the people you know. You can start a relationship on any of them, but to make that relationship deeper and stronger you need to interact outside the social network. Your site is the better place to grow the relationship.
Your site will always be worth more to you than Facebook or Twitter or any other social site will be. Your site will always be the more valuable resource as far as your business is concerned.