Is it time to retire your brand.com?

The idea of forgoing your branded website is a big shift in communication.

The idea of forgoing your branded website is a big shift in communication. I am fishing for a response with the very question, but if you look at the engagement that social media masters are seeing on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, it begs to be asked.

What is driving the high levels of engagement within social networks? Much of the traction is a result of the sheer volume of audience that the larger social networks have. These communities have become our virtual water coolers and coffee-break stops.

There is also a change in the way users arrive at our websites: Google has recently shifted its ranking algorithm to favor new signals, and the ranking is influenced not only by social media, but the rising dominance in mobile use. The resulting trend is that many brand websites are seeing an overall decline in traffic. The issue is intensified by previous trends by marketers to write keyword-rich copy that offers little for end users. Google, and many other search engines such as Bing, are leveraging our social network interactions to identify sites that are shared, referenced, and linked to within social networks as validation for best content.

B-to-b communication is also seeing the shift in how contacts are made and information is shared. There are over 200 million users who traffic LinkedIn to make connections, share opinions, and as of this past February, publish long-format content. This is just one example of a platform that allows professionals to deliver brand-specific content to audiences that have context and a high probability of exchange.

How can I create a branded website that can compete with social networks?
The solution is to not compete, but use these networks to identify new audiences and make bonds with existing users. Here's how:

Target your audience based on a customer profile built from what you already know:
Who are your users? Are they on a social network? What information can I deliver to them that will capture their interest and drive them to engage my brand?

Build a consistent brand voice that is aligned with your corporate branding:
This voice will inform the tone, expression, and personify your brand. It should be carried through all of your digital properties including your brand website

Provide value:
Whether on a social network or your brand homepage, every interaction should provide value to the user and confirm why your user should be a customer.

Social media provides customers and potential customers the chance to invite you, as a brand, into their virtual living room. You have the right to show up at anytime in their timeline and news feed. This kind of engagement is what makes social media such a draw to communicators. It is also why you should make every effort to draw your audience out of their private network space and onto your branded website. By continuing the engagement in an ecosystem you cannot control is dangerous and misplaces valuable effort spent in creating that relationship with the customer.

The tenets outlined above are basic and completely agnostic to what platform you choose to publish on. They are critical to observe if you are committing to owning your platform and perfecting your corporate website. Every user that you draw to your website should feel as though they understand your brand, what it offers, and why it is important to them. To build such a relationship, you need content. Not just any content, but content that is worthy of sharing. Worthy of clicking through from the social network they are so comfortable with. Worthy of coming back to see more of.

It is that critical value of content that can activate customers and that search engines and influencers look for to calculate the value of a brand.

The next time you see a great article on LinkedIn or Twitter, ask how you feel about the brand it has come from and if you've been drawn in by their brand and its content.

Chris Cullmann is director of digital strategy at Coyne PR.

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