Top brands in all industries are set apart not only by their services or products but by their ability to build a community of loyal customers. And their community is not just on public social media but on their very own properties. The easiest way for most brands is to create an account on popular external social media and gain followers. However, that’s something that can actually cost a company dearly nowadays.
This story is about brands who miss tremendous opportunities of a real and direct collaboration with their audience to build a strong community in the age of hyper-personalization.
Over-investing on external social media is a strategic misstep
Experts on the web 2.0—the futurists—warned brands and marketers in the early years of Facebook to be very cautious on this platform. They had advised not to put all their focus on a platform they don’t own, just to build and grow followers they don’t own, either.
And now, the stone-cold winter has arrived for brands who relied on Facebook and generally social media/network to build and grow a community (well, kind of).
After dropping the organic reach rate of brands by half over the years and increasing ad prices, last year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg officially announced the beginning of the zero-organic-reach era (or pure pay-to-play era) on its platform. As a brand or marketer, you have probably felt it more in the last couple of months.
Here is the statement straight from the horse’s mouth:
“[..] Recently we’ve gotten feedback from our community that public content — posts from businesses, brands, and media — is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other. [..] The first changes you’ll see will be in News Feed, where you can expect to see more from your friends, family, and groups. As we roll this out, you’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media.”
Reason? Could be many things; from improving user experience and tackling Cambridge Analytica scandal to responding to the new generation attitudes (Gen Z) that prefers more private social interactions. According to a Pew Research Center survey, roughly 51% of U.S. teenagers ages between 13 to 17 use Facebook.
Recent surveys also revealed that users do not use Facebook as before. A significant portion of users had used Facebook less than before or even stopped using it at all.
For brands, Facebook, and soon, other major social media/networking platforms are now a mere ad platform, nothing more. It seems all hard-earned money paid and time spent doesn’t really justify the returns.
Relying on influencers is another misstep
Influencer marketing, of course, is the next in line.
Some brands have been insisting on their old mistake by taking another wrong step towards improving the situation, i.e., relying on social media influencers. However, any attempt to resurrect the old dream of organic-reach is doomed to failure anyway.
Facebook and Instagram will not let influencers take their share of advertisers’ budgets.
Since August 2017 Facebook has started adding features that automate the transactions between influencers, brands, and advertisers on its platform, and will add more regulations and constraints when the market is maturing.
More regulations may even favor big brands like Unilever which urges for cleaning up the influencer ecosystem, as it has loudly been criticizing dishonest influencers who buy fake followers and use bots, and also social platforms and marketing agencies which do not move fast enough toward improving transparency.
Influencers will soon have to pay to promote themselves and brands have to boost paid content to reach influencers’ followers to get the results they want, just like on their Page.
Influencer marketing will not remain as cost-effective and affordable as today. It may evolve to a new business model or lose credibility just like the old eye-watering celebrity endorsement.
No more free ride on social media/network for no one! It’s time to build a community you own.
Social network has to serve communities, not rule
Social media network is, at best a catalyst for building and nurturing a community, but lots of brands use it as the solution and fail.
Why? Because they degrade the community into a marketing tool, instead of considering it as the business strategy, core value, or even the brand itself. Community is created to stay as close as possible to customers like being in a tribe and serve them, not to sell them.
Yes! A tribe with a personalized fort, where members can trust residents and feel safe to collaborate with others. For what? To keep the member tied with a shared purpose that also connected with the essence of the brand’s history and values.
But social media network facilitates connection and communication, not a community-driven collaboration. Of course, connection really matters, but as author Henry Mintzberg wrote on HBR, networks just connect; communities care.
Brands always dream about increasing engagement, but, at the end of the day, what that’s matters and help get things done in a collaborative manner.
In actual communities, people go beyond social engagement. They know each other and genuinely collaborate to create more value out of connections. They communicate to collaborate and care, not just to feel seen and connected. In other words, networks promote engagement; communities promote collaboration.
It does take time, but the effects are real, as demonstrated by brands like Harley Davidson and Nike.
And if brands think third party social networks can manage such a thing, they’re sadly mistaken. Keep this in mind.
Even a large connected fan, user or customer-base will not make a community for you without a well-designed community platform, a well-defined strategy, a right mindset, and knowledge on building and managing a community, and enough resources to engineer one.
You own data, you control everything
It’s never been more critical for brands to own and listen to customer data.
Building a community on a platform you own gives you access to a wide range of data points (from demographics to minute activities in the community). And of course, it can be integrated with all other data repositories such as CRM, marketing hub, analytics, and reporting tools. You can augment the internal data with the community data and external social media data to get a 360-degree view of the customers.
In the 21st-century, without a data-driven strategy, running a business is impossible, let alone beating the competitors in the crowded markets. In this age of personalized-everything, a community makes your brand strong and has the capability to lead you through the most radical digital transformation ever that is unfolding fast.
Go ahead, start your research on the right community platform for your precious users!
About the author
Iman is a researcher and content marketer who delivers engaging content on a wide range of topics related to marketing, business, and technology. Follow him on LinkedIn at @ibarazandeh.