Last May, I took on the job of creating a website for LessThanUThink, a student-run communications campaign combating binge drinking on campus using a $75,000 grant from The Century Council. At the time, I thought I held the key to campaign success; in a digital world, a website makes or breaks a company, brand or product – right?
After more than 100 hours of hard work and frustration, I launched the LessThanUThink website on Aug. 3, 2010. After another week of arguing with domain hosts and calling customer service hotlines, the website actually launched. Throughout the summer, I relentlessly insisted the team promote the website on all posters, postcards and promotional items. When writing the communications plan for the campaign, I set a goal of 20,000 website views for the six-week implementation – a modest number, I believed.
However, when I checked http://www.LessThanUThink.org’s Google Analytics account throughout our campaign, my goal of 20,000 views seemed ridiculous. I didn’t understand; everyone we approached with promo items or posters already knew about the campaign and loved our message. We believe our campaign hit campus with a bang, and we know it reached students.
Why the lack of interest in our website?
As I pondered the exceptionally low website hits, I tried to remember the last time I visited a website I saw on a poster, T-shirt or television commercial. My realization: almost never. I do, however, visit new websites via referrals on social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook or YouTube almost every day.
Trying to rationalize a lack of organic website visits, I researched trends in website traffic for 2010. I found no statistics or articles on trends in student website use; however, John Arnold’s article “10 Web Marketing Trends for 2010” on Entrepreneur.com answered my question.
Arnold explained that generating organic traffic, or getting people to actually type your website into the address bar, won’t work in 2010. Instead, Web developers should focus more on driving their website content to high-traffic sites such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Advertisements, fan page updates and tweets send a site’s content to its audience in places where they’re already getting new information, generating more interest in the site.
Confirming my personal experience, Mashable provided statistics for its website traffic proving my new point; the site received most of its traffic from Facebook. After reviewing LessThanUThink’s Web statistics again, I found more confirmation. Yet again, most traffic to our website hailed from Facebook.
PR professionals can’t get enough of social media, and we’re constantly talking about the impact of social media on PR. Study after study shows how social media influences consumers and industries in huge ways.
However, will social media hurt direct website traffic? Should Web communications pros turn their attention to Facebook or Twitter to promote their brands instead of spending hours and resources developing a creative and interactive website? Is this a generational trend, or does society as a whole prefer social media to the traditional website?
As part of the LessThanUThink campaign’s final research, I requested we test trends in student Web usage. I’m curious to see if our generation is creating a new trend in Web communications or if I’m simply justifying a low interest in our website.
Do you believe there’s a shift in website usage? Can you remember the last time you visited a website from a poster or commercial?
By Allison Cook