Website versus Facebook page: Do you really need both? Yes. I could end this column right here, but I suppose I should explain.
If you don't already have a website, or if you have one but are tired of maintaining it and paying monthly hosting bills, it may be tempting to scrap the website idea and simply sign up for a Facebook page. After all, it's free and oh-so-easy to set up and maintain. Don't do it!
So, should you bother putting time and energy into maintaining a Facebook page when you've already made a considerable investment in a website? Yes! You need both, and here's why:
1. Your website is your identity. The address, content, and look and feel all support your company brand. While you can and should customize your Facebook page to convey your brand identity, it's still under the very visible Facebook umbrella. A website lends credibility to any business or organization. Today, people will question your reliability if you don't have one.
2. There are certain things that you just can't do with a Facebook page. It's great for sharing updates, photos and videos, but you can't post other kinds of files. For example, if you want to provide recipes in easy-to-print Adobe Acrobat (PDF) files, you can't do that on Facebook. Also, the ability to organize your information is limited. Information you post is listed chronologically. With a website, you can organize your information according to navigation that is familiar and logical to most users.
3. Facebook, on the other hand, allows you to do things that you can't easily do with a website, the most important of which is to communicate with your customers and allow your customers to communicate with each other. Sure, you could build a discussion forum into your website - that's not a bad idea - but a Facebook page is quick and easy to set up, and it's free.
4. Probably the biggest benefit of Facebook is the visibility it gives your business. Every time you post something, people who have "liked" your page will see it in their news feed. And every time someone likes or comments on one of your posts, all of their friends will see that they liked or commented on it, which could lead some of their friends to also like your page.
I think of a website as analogous to your farmstand building. It has an address, it has a structure, and it may be a place where people can go to buy things from you. How does a Facebook page fit in that analogy? I think of it as representing you, the owner, walking through the farmstand and having a conversation with each of your customers.
Your website and Facebook page should not exist in separate universes, however. Use your website to pick up new Facebook followers, and use your Facebook page to drive traffic to your website. Do this by putting a "Find us on Facebook" link with the Facebook icon on your home page, and include a link to your website when posting on Facebook whenever it's practical. If you have a Twitter account, integrate that into your online presence as well.
The thought of setting up and maintaining such a varied array of marketing tools, and getting them all to work together, may seem daunting if you don't have the time or aptitude for such things. However, don't be afraid to get help. Attend a workshop or ask a tech-savvy friend, family member or employee to walk you through it or even do it for you.
It's well worth the investment of time and effort to take advantage of all the new marketing tools available. Customers will be looking for you out there in cyberspace, and these tools offer the ability to connect with them in ways that were unheard of only a decade ago.
The author, a freelance writer, is a public affairs specialist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in Amherst, Mass., and was previously director of communications at the Massachusetts Department of Food & Agriculture. Read past marketing columns by this author at http://farmmarketing.blogspot.com.