What happened to URLs such as www.facebook.com/yourbrand? Is the great promise of building a community through social media effectively over? Just as brands were starting to figure out how to improve their social investments ROI, and how to attribute success to their social media efforts, prominent networks such as Facebook have pulled the rug out from under our feet – by killing organic reach. Especially for small and local businesses, this has become a big problem because they can no longer reach – without lot of paid promotions – their fans who specifically liked and engaged with their social presence and beliefs. Look at this blog by Josh Bernoff, this blog post by Augie Ray, and this Forbes article by Elan Dekel for a great description of this problem.
So, what can we do to make social continue to work for us? Here are some thoughts I’m experimenting with. I have by no means figured this out myself – especially because the investment stakes are much higher now.
#1: First step – Stop listening to advice that “you” are the problem:
This advice generally starts with positioning the issue as how your content is not valuable and engaging enough. That’s not really the problem. Several experts have shown through analysis that brands and businesses with great posts and large followings still aren’t reaching even a fraction of their followers. Because it’s not you, its the business model of our social media platforms. They need to push advertisements and paid services. On the other hand they want to play (wrongly in my view) the role of moderator thinking that they know what’s best for users. Its not personal, its business (and it also goes against the philosophy from which social arose).
Experts have long pointed out how we should not rely on a third party platform for our business. This is an example of that. For the short term, we should definitely continue to share useful and engaging material and offers on social platforms such as Facebook. Because even if the initial reach is tiny, user sharing still has a multiplier effect. It still doesn’t solve the problem for local and small businesses, but that’s the way it is for now.
2: Medium term goals – Treat your social presence as a different kind of outlet
There’s no denying that we need to be where our customers are. For most businesses, especially consumer oriented ones, that’s critical, at least for the purposes of staying top of mind and visible.
From that perspective, think of your social presence as an extension of your integrated branding stream that links what you stand for with what the customers moods and interests are, offering ways for customers to co-create your products or services with you. On Facebook, we can identify our business appropriately with a matching theme such as organic food, environment, peace, fitness, fashion, satire etc. On LinkedIn it can be about business innovation, functional excellence, leadership or other such professional topics.
Second, being an outlet means that promotions, engaging content like surveys, contests and videos, will continue to be a part of your presence by being an extension of your primary presence outside of the networks. To support these initiatives and drive awareness, paid advertising is unfortunately going to be the norm unless platforms update their algorithms. So while presence is important, investments / spending should NOT be made only from the perspective of raising social (e.g. Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, or LinkedIn) engagement because such engagement is temporary in the new “pay to play” model. Our social presence should strive for engagement outside of the social media platform.
For example, a small local business may need to “promote” their posts on how they are supporting healthy eating, or local community events. But each of these posts should ultimately get customers to be part of something outside of the social media platform. Signing up for an upcoming local charity event, engaging with local farmers, taking part in a marathon, supporting a green cause, helping with child education, or signing up to get updates from the neighborhood community are all options. The key is to get away from the “gain followers and promote” model. And as theme based selling goes mainstream (e.g. IBM and smarter cities, Nike and fitness, Coke and community etc.), the social presence will amplify that message.
Third, a major perspective is customer service. Customers are more likely to engage when the friction to engage is low. That means that providing feedback, ideas, and recommendations / reviews are easier when the channel is right there for them.
Finally, for the medium term, doing away with your social presence is not an option for most of us at this time, but we do need to think a little harder about how we engage, and at least drive awareness. This is primarily because higher investments and bandwidth are now needed to just to keep the social channel alive. It may not be feasible for many to stay in the game by sticking to the same old rules of engagement.
#3. Medium to long term plan – Prepare for the social platforms to be disrupted
The connected experience trend is catching up, and niche social networks and communities are also rising. Since the primary networks have converted their model to “pay and play”, it makes sense to start evaluating alternatives. Actually, its even better because some of the alternative networks may be more targeted and relevant. A nice list of some of these emerging communities was shared here on Convert With Content.
Second, as our fitness trackers, home thermostats, refrigerators, cars, and almost everything else starts getting connected, the social networks may just become broadcasting stations. And paid ones at that. That means that your home bases (owned and shared media) must be thought of as even more important. This is because people may not interact directly with traditional providers at all as someone else takes over the medium – e.g. Amazon is experimenting with ordering items through one-touch button in your home, online dinner service providers such as Plated and Magic Kitchen are eliminating the need for you to visit a store, and online food ordering services eliminate the need for customers to call or visit a local restaurant.
So we need to think harder about creating these 1-1 connections with our users to maintain our relevance. Building email lists is one option, as well as finding other ways to gain stickiness such as being an early part of a niche community around topics such as pets, environment, health, fashion, fitness etc. Ultimately, these communities are themselves likely to evolve into large platforms, but when that happens, other more niche platforms will definitely surface. Its human nature to rebel and be different.
All said and done, the onslaught of content (such as this one) is almost becoming too much for customers to handle. Our inboxes are already cluttered, and so are our Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn feeds. The only way is to establish relationships with our customers by offering them something special to engage with us on, and to create multiple entry points into their ecosystem – and that will soon be true for both large and small businesses alike.
Read about the 5 principles of competing in a digital economy here. Photo credit: mkhmarketing via Foter.com / CC BY