I have a client with a department geared exclusive toward youth. This client asked for my opinion on what sort of Message Board to use on the website I've been creating for them. I was kind of shocked by this question. Believe it or not, I actually can remember the last time I embedded a message board. It was for a sight geared toward women in their late 40's. Message Boards have long since had their day in the sun, but is the proverbial pendulum about to swing back that way? Before I answered my client, I checked with my assistant Kristen. Barely being out of her teens herself, Kristen has kept her finger on the pulse on what captivates the youth of the day. So, I asked her, "Would teenagers be interested in a message board on a website?" The answer may shock you.
"Teens don't really go to websites" she said.
Of course they don't! When teens are online they are on social networks. That's what teens do; they hangout. When they buy stuff they goto the mall. Likewise when teenagers buy something online, they goto eBay because it's a more social experience. In case you were wondering if you should spend the time and effort embedding a Message Board on your website in hopes of connecting with your young audience, my suggestion would, of course, be no. However, this information does beg some important questions. What does the future hold for websites? If the target audiences of the future don't get online and Google where to spend their money is this bad news for the website industry? Should I spend more time working on my Facebook page than on my website? Let's take each of these questions in turn.
Are Website Futures Grim?
In short the answer is no. Website futures are still looking strong. Statistical information is difficult to contextualize. You have to know which questions to ask, and you have to know how to read the answers. Teenagers hanging out on Facebook does not indicate that websites will be in decline any more that teenagers hanging out at the mall indicates that corporations will be in decline. Teenagers social network not because they don't like your website. They social network because they don't need anything from your website. They hang out at the mall for the same reason. They don't have needs; they don't have money, and they quite frankly don't care. They are not opposed to your website; they are apathetic towards your website.
Now, that may not sound like good news, but it is. It's great news! Inertia is everything, and you get to determine in what direction it starts. I asked Kristen what teens do when they finally do need something. "What about when they're looking for a college?"
"Oh, they go straight to Google" she replied. As soon as these disengaged youth need to plug into the educational or economic world around them they will (and do) goto Google. They will (and do) find your site when they are finally looking for something. And what they do when they get there launches an inertia that will stay with them for decades!
How should this impact my website?
Let's break this down. The youth of today are growing up absorbed with (digital) social interaction. Harnessing that schema is essential to engage your younger audience. However, creating a new medium to do that is not a great idea.
Imagine if you had a store front and noticed that all of your customers wore shoes while they were in your store. Hoping to harness this experience, you offered each of your customers "Store Shoes" that they could wear while in your store. It is unlikely that this would work because your customers like their shoes. They are comfortable, familiar and trustworthy. Social networks are the same way. No one wants to use your new contextualized version of a social network. They want to continue using their own.
So how do you harness this experience? It's the Modern Age's Achilles Heal: actual involvement. If your young audience is absorbed with digital social interaction then digitally interact with them!
Should I spend more time on Facebook than my website?
Yes and no.
No! Do not, under any circumstances, sacrifice your website on the altar of social media! Look at Urban Outfitters' Facebook page. It shows some products, allows people to comment freely and then ... links back to their website! In addition to their eCommerce section, you'll also find their Blog that is updated constantly.
Yes. You do need to spend more time interacting with your potential clients where they are than trying to get them to come to where you are. Again, looking at Urban Outfitters, you'll see that they are active not only on Facebook but also Pinterest, Twitter, Tumblr, Vimeo and YouTube.
The Website Futures look good. They look like they will encourage companies to be involved with their consumers and enable clients to be evangelists for their suppliers. But, I've got to be honest with you here: the "brochure" model just isn't going to cut it.