Some call them microsites, others campaign sites. And most of us working professionally with digital communication in some form, well, we hate them.

With good reason.

Microsites often becomes graveyards after the campaign has done it’s job. Or, it’s simply put to sleep, never to be remembered again, often taking what there is of potential SEO juice to its grave.

They are like flares, burning brightly for just a short period of time before quickly fading into digital waste.

My friend Tom Daly, nowadays online manager at Swedish fashion retailer Acne, wrote a great guest post on my blog some time ago, The Campaign Site — Please Rest In Peace. Tom goes on to list five main problems with setting up micro sites:

  1. You are creating temporary inbound links to the e-commerce infrastructure.
  2. You are creating dead links. Click-happy users all over the word will link to your campaign site and these will become dead links. (common practice is indeed to setup a redirect however serving me content I don’t expect or want is as bad as a dead link).
  3. You are trying to take a site from zero unique visitors to a substantial figure rather than hosting on the brand site and benefitting from an existing visitor base.
  4. Your client’s campaign site will hang itself slowly. As Burberry‘s “Art of the Trench” and Tiffany’s engagement ring campaign sites know: substantial hype is created and unique visitors come flooding in… Then the site matures, it becomes stale and dies a slow and painful death. Why not pay the Sartorialist to shoot additional content to make it seem somewhat alive – I hear every blogger has their price these days?
  5. Commerce and content should be interwoven. My purchase taking place away from the content that created gives me another reason not to buy. If you create the desire, fulfil it right there and then.

Activation Hubs Are Still Essential

So, why don’t we just once and for all kill off the microsites all-together in our digital activation strategies?

Tom implies that this has to do with agency billing structures, but I think that’s only part of the context. To make matters a bit more complex, I think there are some things to be said in defence of microsites as well.

I’m a true content fan myself, and I’m a strong believer in Victor Hugo’s old saying that “There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come”. But nevertheless, most corporate content needs a place to originate from.

This origin is crucial for ramping up the community. A controllable place to display social proof and to reward sharing and loyalty. And this is why I refer to it as an activation hub for campaign content. Personally, I use my self-hosted WordPress blog as such an hub. I love when my content gets shared, but for brands the activation hub could be a Facebook App, the main corporate website, a newsletter, a shareable widget or Google+ Hangout.

Or a microsite—at least in some rare cases when they’re motivated.

Don’t get me wrong. I dislike unnecessary microsites just as much as Tom and other digital professionals. But having an activation hub is essential.

How To Choose A Better Alternative To Microsites

Now, obviously there are plenty of alternatives to micro sites. You can host your campaign on a social network, like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or LinkedIn as long as you comply with their terms of service. agreements. But the case can be made that you’re doing more good for the social networks than for your own brand, since it’s difficult to build email lists, create a creative user experience and to keep the interaction close to your business.

So, what’s arguably the most prominent alternative to creating a campaign microsite is to host the campaign on the main corporate site.

And I would love this and I opt for this ten times out of ten, if I can.

But that’s just it. So many large international brands have the craziest website structures. Quite a few smaller ones too, to be honest. It breaks my heart when I’m literally forced not to include the main corporate site into the digital activation strategy for a company.

I’m sure there’s quite a few of us digital professionals who has tried and failed in convincing the IT department of a large international brand to incorporate the main site into the online activation strategy.

Often they’re bound to contracts with web agencies who has built sites only they themselves can change, so very far away from open standards as you can possibly come. I’ve encountered situations where it would cost the owner of the site thousands and thousands of dollars just to add some sharing icons.

In 2013, it shouldn’t be such a big deal to have a flexible corporate website, but I’m afraid we still have som distances to cover before we’re there.

I think we should keep fighting against microsites, for sure. But activation hubs are still just as essential—and we shouldn’t expect Facebook Pages and Apps to be a good enough singular alternative for ramping up audiences and building communities based on purchase intents.

So, my suggestion for 2013 is simply this:

Let’s encourage small- and medium size businesses to lead the way in the fight against standalone microsites. Companies that aren’t yet too bound by complicated website structures have so much to gain from building communities, rewarding loyalty and activating their audience on their own sites.