When I hear this, I chuckle, reminiscing about those who in 1990 said, "We need to drive customers to our stores, not to our website. That's just crazy!"
Times, they are a' changin'. And while the marketing and sales goals stay pretty consistent (brand awareness, engagement, increase sales), the tools used to accomplish them do change. Saying that real businesses must host all information on their own website and neglect the social sites seems born of more stubbornness than practicality. With over 845 million Facebook users each sharing 3.5 billion pieces of content every week and spending an average of 38 minutes per session, why wouldn't a simple corporate website want to take advantage of this communication channel? Or Twitter, with 100,000 Tweets going out per minute? Most corporate web sites are lucky if a user spends two or three minutes at a time on the site. Why not fish where the fish are?
One may state, "A real carpenter always uses a hammer, not a nail gun." Social media is a tool that can be used to accomplish certain goals. And just like sometimes a nail gun is the best tool for the job, sometimes a Facebook or Pinterest campaign might be the best tool for any certain marketing outreach effort.
As one Twitter friend asked, why would you want to drive traffic away from the corporate site? The answer lies in a truism: no one cares about your brand. No one cares about your site as a destination any more than they care about the coffee shop that is six blocks out of their way to work. Or the giant ball of string that they may visit once on vacation but won't ever visit again. We are going to use the coffee shop right next to the office, because it's on our way, we go there anyway, and we'll run into coworkers and friends where we can chat a bit before starting our day. You could run a campaign all day long to get these folks to the out-of-the-way coffee shop, but it will likely fail.
First, because we are social creatures. The reason social sites such as Facebook and Pinterest succeed is because they appeal to the inherent human desire to connect and share with those like us who share our interests. The average Facebook session is over 38 minutes, and 2.2 million users visit Pinterest on a daily basis. What is driving that is connection, communication and affinity. Social media sites are like a second home where users can hang out, share ideas and chat with friends. It's leisure time, not focused shopping time. What is the reward for going to a corporate web site? Maybe you get a coupon or a discount. Big whoop. It's like visiting the giant ball of string: you might stop by once on vacation for curiosity, but you're not going to hang out there and tell your friends every week how great it is.
Second, because we are creatures of habit. Anyone who has ever tried to convince anyone over the age of 12 to floss daily will understand how difficult it is to create a new habit without intense amounts of inner personal motivation and drive. The amount of inertia that must be overcome in the target market in order to create the motivation to form a habit of visiting a corporate web site is phenomenal.
However, social site such as Facebook and the rapidly-growing Pinterest are ideal for marketing campaigns simply because people are already there and already habituated to sharing their brand affinities in that space. The habit is already created, so significantly less initial momentum is required for a call to action.
And plenty of wildly successful social campaigns took place outside of the corporate site. Remember the 2010 Old Spice video campaign? Highly interactive, riveting and held in a place where people had already created the habit of enjoying and sharing engaging content. And to celebrate its 60th anniversary, Holiday Inn Europe just announced a new campaign: they are placing diamonds under selected guest pillows in some Euorpean hotels. Guess how you get clues? Not the corporate site. Through social media.
Why your corporate site isn't a destination
Why host a campaign on a social site? Because it's like going to the mall on Saturday: everyone is already there and involved in leisure time activities. Because if you're looking for brand affinity, it's the best tool for the job. Because if your demographic is already engaged on social sites, it's easier than forcing them onto a new, unfamiliar location. Because it's already set up for easy social sharing and public declarations of brand affinity.
Oh yeah, and because no one cares about your brand.