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Small Business Can’t Afford to Rely on Facebook

Network Solutions recently released its State of Small Business Report, and its findings have sparked conversation about whether Facebook threatens to replace traditional business websites.

According to the report and an article in My Venture Pad:

62% of small businesses said that social media didn’t change their spending plans for the coming year. 27% said they are planning on increasing their spend due to social media.

But 9% plan on eliminating (4%) or spending less (5%) on their traditional website due to social media. While 9% sounds low, last June only 2% reported plans to spend less or eliminate their traditional website due to social media.

From its inception Facebook was intended for individuals, not businesses. Initially the site’s main founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg was disinclined to even accept advertising despite calls from all sides to find ways to monetize the social networking site. (Just go watch “The Social Network,” it’ll save us all some time.)

Now that Facebook has given up any notions of being “cool” and is friendlier toward brands, it’s tempting to dump a massive amount of effort into your company’s Facebook page. It’s the number one social networking tool with over half a billion unique monthly users, and its utility as a resource sharing and recruitment tool cannot be denied. But there are troubling questions.

Where Did My App Go?

As corporations big and small began to adopt Facebook–first through Groups and Fan Pages and now simply Pages that users “like”–it seemed as through the company took every step possible to make this process difficult. The standards for what could and could not be done with HTML and Facebook’s own FBML (Facebook Markup Language) changed without notice, terminology shifted, and standards and practices were nonexistent.

Now the site has adopted iFrames, which allow companies more freedom to display whatever web content they choose within a subset of the overall Facebook experience. What happens when Facebook changes its mind again? Every change in strategy and back-end technology represents a seismic shift in the way businesses interact with the site and its users. As soon as your brand is up and running successfully, you find yourself in the position of rejiggering your content, feeds, and apps, expending time and money repainting the same house over and over.

Do I Own My Data?

Facebook has to its credit suffered relatively little downtime throughout its existence. But as with any website, it does happen. When it happens to Facebook, one can hear the screams of withdrawal the world over. As the site has become more popular, it is increasingly the target of scams, phishing attacks, and other efforts to steal user data. If the site’s databases were to become compromised, a staggering amount of personal user information would be available to scammers, thieves and other criminals.

Just as people once believed that if humans were meant to fly we’d be born with wings, there is a general sense of finality with Facebook. Where else could we possibly go with social sharing and communication? But ideas do not stop, and when the next big thing comes along Facebook is not immune from suffering a fate similar to MySpace and Friendster–dropping rapidly and popularity and use. There is no way to say the site will last forever. What happens when Facebook, like other social networking sites before it, starts to look like a ghost town? Where did your investment go?

The Lesson: Own Your Content

Your website adheres to your brand at all times, from the visual design down to the domain name. Barring a disaster of Michael Baysian proportions, any data and content contained in your site can always be backed up or transferred to any host you like. You and your IT team–internal or external–have the ultimate say over anything related to your site.

The same cannot be said of Facebook. You and your brand are at the mercy of their shifting company priorities and policies, changing tastes, and design, not to mention their often-questioned privacy practices.

All of this sounds incredibly negative. I am the first to say that a solid, well-funded, well-planned Facebook strategy is absolutely essential for a business of any size. But to shift the majority of online spending into one silo is suspect. While the transition from a traditional media approach may be difficult to operationalize, it is crucial to maintain a multi-channel presence in which each one supports and augments the other. In short, you need to drive the content on your website to people, utilizing the channels those users like best.

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