Why Your Website is More Valuable Than Facebook

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.

Facebook logo

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.

Graph showing the relationshi between home basses and outposts

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.

  1. Home Bases are places online that you own like a website.
  2. Outposts are places you don’t own, but where you can build and maintain an online presence
  3. Passports are credentials for being able to get into outposts.

Soldier from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division

Home Bases

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.

Santo Domingo Indian Trading Post (post card)

Outposts

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.

Isabel Ingram's 1927 passport

Passports

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.

Additional Resources

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

And here’s a short (7 minute) video by Darren that explains how he’s using home bases and outposts

Map of Online Communities

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.

WordPress logo

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.

  1. Who has control
  2. 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.

BuddyPress logo

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.

Community of lego people

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.

A crowd of people at Piazza del Campo

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.

Faraway Station lego outpost in space

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70 comments

  1. I saw this story when it was shared on Facebook. If not for Facebook, I most likely would’ve never, ever read the story nor heard of vanseodesign.com.

    So, it seems to me that this comparison may be apples and oranges. Sort of like, which is more important – the product or the marketing?

    Additionally, any real assessment of value has to be taken on a case-by-case basis. A boutique restaurant obviously has different needs than an online retailer of electronic goods.

    Now, I understand a writer must make some generalities in a story like this to make it useful for more readers.

    But I’d say, in general, a client may be better served to have only a Facebook page with active Facebook use than a web site without active Facebook use.

    With limited time, resources, patience, and attention span, doing both might not be an option for all clients.

    For many small businesses, the more “outposts” they have to their home base, the more frustrated they get because of the complexity and learning curve surrounding each one.

    So, I can see the attraction to having only a Facebook page. It’s simple (mostly), free, familiar, and can be very, very useful in generating interest in one’s brand/business.

    And I build web sites for a living.

    • John I understand what you’re saying, but you didn’t see it on my Facebook page since I don’t currently have one for this site and you still found your way here. So which was more valuable to me, my nonexistent Facebook page or this site, the one we’re having a discussion on.

      I’m not saying not to use Facebook. Only saying your own site is more important. I think that’s always true, though I did mention the pros and cons of both. If you go with the Facebook page you’re trading long term success for a quick fix. You’re choosing to do what’s easier now at the risk of losing it all on the whim of another company. I don’t think that’s ever a good idea.

      I do understand your point though.

      As far as having too many outposts you shouldn’t try to be everywhere at once. Set up as many outposts as you can reasonably work with. You don’t have to be everywhere.

  2. I agree with the article – it’s important to have a home base, something you own and not depend on the mercy of some social network.
    Social networks are good for getting attention but where do people look at when trying to figure out how a restaurant looks like or where the super market is located? Facebook? Not yet.
    Ordinary websites still got the information everybody needs – social networks come and go, real business will not rely on third party services but will always need its homebase.

  3. Coming from a web designer background I would have to agree with this post. The main thing I would emphasize is that there are still some people that are not on facebook (for one reason or another), with that in mind, they won’t be able to connect with your business if it is solely marketed towards the facebook audience and not elsewhere with your own website(s).

  4. I completely agree with this article. A more specific example of how outposts can be taken away from you. My facebook was hacked about three months ago and I had been on facebook since 06. The more people, the less secure it becomes. With your home base (own personal domain), you have complete control over security. Not only do you control the security, but the content too. If someone posts a picture of you on facebook, it’s still out there whether you untag yourself or not. On the other hand, all you have to do is delete it off your own domain.

    • Thanks Ben. Good point about being hacked. Sorry that happened to you. I guess the point though is what could you have done about it and the answer is nothing. You had to rely on Facebook to secure their site.

      Security is one of the control aspects I didn’t mention in the post, but it’s obviously a good one to consider.

  5. I totally agree and like the analogy of Home Bases, Outposts and Passports.

    You’re right in that people who come to your site are actually interested in having a proper conversation.

    I’m pretty sure Gary Vaynerchuk said some similar things in his book ‘Crush It’.

    Makes a lot of sense to me! Thanks again for the post!

  6. I am not only a practitioner, I teach eMarketing in India. And I am going to use this article as the ice breaker for my social media session.

    Thanks Steven! for a well written article.

    PS: My 13 year read the article along with me, and she liked what you said! (That is a double complement!)

    • Thanks Ratan. Pretty cool that I can reach a 13 year old too. I try to make these posts accessible to everyone and I suppose with this post I succeeded.

      I hope the post helps break the ice at your session.

  7. It depends on how you judge ‘value’. Anything you own does have value for you but may or may not have value for others. There are billions of websites and each company owns them. They have business value in themselves apart from having you have called home base. But Facebook is the only one that holds values for billions. My blog – digitalgossips.com – has great value for me more than valuable for my audiences. But Facebook is valuable now more for audiences. Thus, anything you own has value because you own them but that does not mean anything that you won’t own is more valuable than others. I believe Facebook is more valuable than millions of website that suck. But if you ask these website owners, they love their own assets. This does not prove correct!!
    Last but not least, don’t compare apple with orange.

    • I understand what you’re saying Munaz. I certainly wouldn’t say my website is more valuable in general than Facebook. It’s more valuable to me though.

      Any Facebook page I create can be taken away from me in a moment simply because Facebook decides to remove it. My own site can’t be taken away from. When I work to build and improve my site I add value to it and my business. If I work to build and improve a Facebook page I’m working to add value to Facebook.

      Facebook becomes more valuable in the sense that so many of us have added value to it, but our businesses don’t get all that value back. We only get a small part back, whereas we get the full value back from our own sites.

  8. I’ve to agree with John on this because end of the day, it comes down to the numbers.

    I’d add, the practicality whether or not you need a website depends on your business too.

    For example, if you were a boutique or restaurant, you would need pictures, feedback and sharing to not only deepen your relationship with customers but increase your sales at the end of the day.

    However, if we replaced the cafe/boutique with a company offering web design services, then I’d say Facebook doesn’t provide enough flexibility to sell the service.

    Quick example, how do you tell clients what is it do you do? Do you write a long description in the Info tab or create many tabs?

    As what my friend David always mentions, it’s based on the objective. And I want to add, it depends how current visitors perceive a business if they did or didn’t have a website of their own. :)

    • Fair points Danny. And I do agree a lot depends on the business itself. No one strategy is right for every business.

      You mention a restaurant. How do the customers of a restaurant know to connect on their Facebook page? Presumably the restaurant sends them their in some way. The address is on the credit card statement, the menu, the business card, etc. A site’s address could just as easily be placed on those same things and the customers would go to the site to interact instead of Facebook.

      Facebook would shine with customers recommending the restaurant to their network of friends. The restaurant itself isn’t involved in that interaction.

      The people who ultimately are interacting with the restaurant are doing so because they want to interact with the restaurant. Not because the restaurant happens to be on Facebook.

    • Thanks Donald. I’m pretty sure Darren and Chris have both offered some real world examples as well even if I may not have linked to them. Still I’ll gladly accept the compliment and pretend I did something better than the both of them. :)

  9. The trouble with outposts is that they need to be manned, preferably by someone who knows what they’re doing – and why. I don’t think enough companies pay enough attention to the logistics of it, or to developing a coherent strategy for embarking on a social media campaign.

    What I’ve seen happen is so much effort being put into Social Media outposts that the homebase suffers – not just in terms of visits and interactions, but also in terms of search engines. A weakened homebase is an easy target for competitors, and that should never happen.

    Personally I’d prefer to have a strong homebase that did what it was designed to do. That’s where you build from IMHO. Outposts can suck up time and resources, and if you’re not pauing attention to the ROI it can seem like you’re doing a lot while achieving very little.

    My 2c.

    Good article BTW.

    • Very true. I think the lack of manning them is why so many fail to have success with outposts. I mentioned this in a comment above, but you don’t need to be everywhere. Be where you can reasonably spend your time. If that’s only one outpost that’s fine.

      Great point about the home base suffering in search engines. I presume you mean because too much focus was placed on the outposts leaving the home base neglected.

      I completely agree with you. I think it’s better to build the strong home base. Then I look to outposts that I think I can do well with and only as many as I can do well with.

      Once it’s become part of my routine I can usually look to another outpost and see if I can do well with that one.

  10. ROI kinda makes a difference here. The cost of building, upkeeping, debugging and expanding the features of a website can be a near infinite money sink. a facebook page, on the other hand, costs nothing, and can be run by a single person with little or no knowledge of code or software. That’s a pretty big distinction.

    • I don’t think a website has to be a money sink. There are so many free and low cost solutions out there. The only thing Facebook can offer that you couldn’t build quickly and inexpensively is the community.

      And there’s no reason why you can’t direct the part of that community that’s interested in you back to you site.

      As far as the ROI is concerned, remember that Facebook can change the rules on you anytime it chooses. Where’s the ROI in that? You can ultimately put in a lot of investment for 0 return.

  11. Yep, I totally agree… I was immediately reminded of Crush It!’s advice on utilizing social media (Outposts) as a way to funnel viewers back to your Website (Home Base). Spot on, James.

  12. Great article. It helped me to understand why I thought the sites and blogs more important and reliable than social networks. Facebook and twitter sometimes tire me, nevertheless they are important to get information, like this one I git through twitter. Thank you very much for you clear thoughts.
    Teresa Loureiro (Portugal).

  13. Good article – it sums up the whole Web 2.0. People running their own bussiness often seems to forget that Facebook, Twitter etc. should be only an addition to their own website (home base as You have called it).

  14. Something I love about this confusion FaceBook/websites – as a web designer it happens very often than I am asked for a nice free website (friends, colleagues). Now, Facebook is an alternative way for people in need of a web presence to get it for free. Thank you facebook.

  15. I think this is an excellent article. I have also read many of the comments and each person has valid things to say. However, what has been proven time and time again recently is that when open source goes wrong there is no recourse. Hence it is important to maintain your home base.

    • Thanks Tracey. I also think everyone makes valid points. I do understand why some people would sooner have a Facebook page. For me it comes down to the idea that I think it’s important for a business to not give complete control to a 3rd party. That seems to me to be asking for trouble. As you say when things go wrong there’s often no recourse.

  16. Own site. Always. Social Media sites cheapen the value of your content and make it look juvenile and amateurish. Go own site. Always.

  17. Great post Steven,

    Facebook is a really powerful marketing and networking channel but I hope that people will continue to understand the importance of having your own home base.
    It will be a bad day if we ever let the big players own all our content and all our distribution platforms…
    But there will always be rebels fighting against the Empire. ;)

  18. Yes – you brilliantly make the argument I’ve been making at every Music Business Conference I speak at. You think restaurants are bad. Musicians think all they need is myspace and sonicbids to run their business.

    I use the roaring river analogy. FB, Twitter, Craig’s List, even myspace – they’re a roaring river. You could dive in there, head first and get tumbled, lost and drown in the river with all the other fish in there. Or you can dig an irrigation ditch to your own pond (i.e. website) and guide some of those precious resources to you. Where you’re the only fish in the pond and you don’t have to fight for the resources.

    • Thanks Debra. Feel free to stop by any time and tell me how brilliant my arguments are. :)

      That’s a great analogy. I’m going to have to borrow it. I don’t have any musicians as clients at the moment, but I do have other creatives as clients who think similarly.

      One thing I might add to your analogy though it does favor the social sites a bit is that there are a lot of fish moving through the river and you’ll likely meet more of them and make contact with more fish in the river than the pond.

      However those fish that settle in the pond are much easier to talk to and as a result you build deeper relationships with them. Also as the fish settle in your pond they each bring a little something with them that helps make your pond bigger.

  19. There is always the temptation to take the easy, fast and least expensive route, “the Facebook Page as opposed to a functioning website. Since we are talking about businesses, we need to concentrate on who controls the doorway to the business. The website or the Facebook page if that is the primary web doorway to my business is my storefront or reception area and that is where my customers first meet me and I need to have control of that.

    This is more true for a small business because they generally have just one entry point into the business. I can’t afford for someone else to be able to shut my doors if they want to or if I make a mistake and break their rules of behavior.

    This is a great post.

    • Thanks Jim. I like your analogy to the storefront and reception area. You’re right. We can’t set things up in a way where another business can shut us down at a moment’s notice. If Facebook would make more money closing our Pages they would do so in an instant. It’s too great a risk to take with your business.

      Use Facebook as the reception area, but not as the whole storefront.

      • Resistance if futile. The entire web will soon collapse into Facebook. Barring some miraculous intervention, it will then swallow the entire universe. By comparison, it seems silly that some of us feared the Large Hadron collider.

  20. It seems to be the bandwagon effect with Facebook now, where it doesn’t really matter whether its the better platform or not. Recall the Beta/VHS war.

    On one level it seems illogical that a platform which requires one to login would be more appealing to the general public than one which doesn’t. But it appears the masses, especially the younger, who are the more online active ones, are all into Facebook.

    So, it seems this drives companies to forsake their own websites for a Facebook presence. It’s the phenomenon of going for the lowest common denominator. The non-Facebook audience then, are forced to sink down to the depths of the crowd.

    The larger issue here is how the phenomenon of Facebook is not only transforming the Internet but also dumbing it down.

    • I’m not sure it’s all bandwagon. With so many people on Facebook you can market your business there and because the community is there it can be easier to do than trying to market through your site.

      However I would agree some of it is the bandwagon effect. People feel like they have to be on Facebook because everyone else is there.

      The danger of course is that tomorrow Facebook could cease to exist or more likely change the rules of the game. Ignoring something like your site is giving too much control over your business to another company.

  21. I agree with you about using your own website as the main hub to your online efforts. For one thing, you have a lot more control over it – which is always great. And for another, there are many more things you can do with your own website than you can with a page on someone else’s website, which tends to limit you to their specific features and purposes.

    • We seem to agree. Another site is always going to limit some of what you can do and keep some of the control for themselves. Plus they could always change the rules on you tomorrow. It’s their site after all.

      For our own businesses it makes more sense to keep control over our websites and not let someone else dictate to us how we can run them.

  22. Thanks for the read. One of the additional differences I see between facebook and an own site is the dynamic nature of facebook.

    Now how to incorporate this dynamic nature into own webpages? This is important not only to build a relationship but also to maintain it.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the post Marc.

      Very true Facebook content is more dynamic than a typical website. I’m not sure if that means it’s more or less valuable, but it’s certainly an additional consideration.

  23. Great post, Steven…

    There have been a number of changes to FaceBook since this thread was started…

    Some aiming to broaden business viability…through this medium…

    Though, regardless how much weight is thrown towards the social sites, I feel that it will pan out in favor of websites..in the end.

    Building a strong, vibrant website community, and making the most of those social media sites(though, not becoming compulsive) should be of benefit…

    Currently, traffic diversity is a big plus.
    To rely only on search engines for a business(site) may be a little difficult…as would be to rely too heavily on social sites for business engagement.

    • Thanks Danny. Yeah, there have been some changes since I wrote this. I’m with you though. I still think having your web property is more valuable. Not that I have anything against Facebook or Twitter or whoever, but you’ll never be able to do on them what you can do on your own site.

      You’ll always be at their mercy and they’re going to make decisions based on what’s best for them, not you. Much of the time the two may coincide, but when they don’t…

  24. My general stance is to just be everywhere that’s appropriate for your business but as you suggest, keep your website as a homebase.

    This is critically more important now that with Facebook, you can no longer reach every who liked your page and wanted your updates without paying a fee.

    • That’s a good stance. I think there’s a tendency for people to think they need to be everywhere and jump into every new site that gets some press. We don’t all need to be everywhere. We should be in places where it makes sense for our businesses.

      Good point about the changes at Facebook. Maybe this post is even more true today. :)

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