I have recently been thinking a lot about how important it is for us to be creative with our sites. In a digital world where it is very easy for your budget to be blown on everything from SEO to mobile support and social media strategy, it seems that trying to be creative may be a step too far for our stretched wallets, especially considering we are in the second half of a major recession. So what is the answer? Create practical sites that are ultimately not very memorable or blow your budget on something really out there, but that doesn’t work all that well on other devices and probably won’t get much organic search traffic (but will get a load of social media buzz…hopefully)?
There isn’t really a correct answer and a lot will depend on how far the purse strings will stretch. In my experience ‘creativity’ can come in many ways. Some of my favourite sites, and those I consider to be very creative, are actually quite simple and have spent the time thinking about the content and persona of the site. Take http://www.wychwood.co.uk/ (which may say a bit about my drinking habbits!), this is a website that is absolutely beautiful and quintessentially Wychwood in brand. They have included quirky little games and information sections along with the shop (which is their core reason for being on line) in order that the site is memorable and fun. This is exactly like their brand. Now this site probably wasn’t the cheapest thing in the world, and we will draw a discreet veil over the heavy use of flash, but it is creative in a simple way.
At the moment there is a lot of talk about doing really ‘clever’ things…HTML5, media queries for template alteration, interactive video, etc. A lot of the time this comes about because the commissioning client has someone who has a subscription to .net magazine and realises these are the latest things in the developer toolbox, despite not actually knowing what the technology is for. I see it as our responsibility as practitioners to advise clients how best to spend their money, rather than just nodding and taking it from them. I am a firm believer that creativity is not intrinsically linked to technology, despite what many developers might say, although a healthy consideration of ways that it could be implemented do help. Content is king in the end, a site can fantastic but it is ultimately an empty box if the content isn’t there.
The social media world is undoubtedly huge, Facebook alone has nearly 1 billion active accounts (we have to accept that not all of these 1 billion accounts are real people though). New social sites are growing all the time as well, Pinterest is a good example of one of the newer ones that has found a slightly different slant on things. Although Pinterest only has a fraction of the users that Facebook and Twitter currently have, it is growing and in the US is the 3rd most used social site. Significantly for advertisers, it seems that near 90% of the user base is women, so there is definitely an opportunity to tap the market.
But social media as a form of marketing has been criticized recently, with many companies saying that being on Facebook has done nothing for their profits at all. Indeed, the news has been rife with claims that Facebook’s own marketing and advertising approach is flawed, casting doubt over the value of social media for digitally savvy companies.
But is the problem here not with the platforms but with the expectation of businesses about what they can achieve? One of the things I bang on about a lot is rather than social media, concentrate on ‘clever social media’. What I mean by this is that any business thinking about engaging on any of the social platforms needs to really think about why they are doing it. There are some key principles that have to be part of the considerations; where are your target audience? what sites will allow you to talk to them? how does that platform work? are you prepared to have a conversation?
For me, the latter is the most important thing. There are many ways to make your mark on a social site, but in the end you are there to have some sort of conversation with customers and potential customers. Simply being on a site is not going to achieve anything much, but actually engaging with it and getting involved could have huge potential. In my opinion, the biggest opportunity in social media at the moment is not in advertising but in reputation. O2 recently showed how Twitter has the power to be a PR machine if handled right. They turned a complete disaster into a PR piece of genius when their networks went down by dealing with customer tweets one at a time, with humour and respect and more importantly they engaged in a conversation with everyone of the customers who messaged them. The result was a huge surge in reputation for the company.
In the end, a key thing to remember about social media is that people have largely chosen to be their because they want to interact with others. If a business starts by interacting, creating conversations and communities on these sites then that will be the start of successfully using social media sites to generate leads. Make advocates of the audience and they will come to your brand, but if you just sit back and expect them to come to you just because you have a Facebook page, then dream on because you aren’t likely to get very far at all.