Looking back on 2014, one of my main takeaways for the year is that marketing on social media platforms – especially Twitter and Facebook – is facing diminishing returns, becoming increasingly pay-to-play and less “free”. Research by Forrester also backs this up, finding that posts from top brands on Twitter and Facebook reach just 2 per cent of their followers and engage just 0.07 per cent organically. While this doesn’t necessitate a knee-jerk reaction of abandoning all the investment that you’ve put into building your communities, the important thing for brands to start thinking about for 2015 is this: What can I do with the communities that I’ve built? How can I activate or excite them further?
While social media was primarily touted as the golden ticket for engagement, the statistics above show that you either need to hire a top notch copywriter to develop compelling content or invest money into social advertising in order to maintain the engagement rates that you once had. The problem with Facebook and Twitter is that, with a switch of the algorithm, all your efforts can be for naught. In essence, you lack control.
So if that’s the case, where should you devote your time and energy? Again, I’m not saying abandon social media but perhaps it’s time for a rethink of whether they should be the main focal point for continuous engagement. Nowadays, I feel that social media platforms work better around specific activations, such as Twitter for an event or Facebook for an app-driven, sharing campaign.
Well, Forrester predicts that branded (or owned) communities are going to rise to the fore in 2015, and we’re already seeing a couple of our clients develop these, such as Adobe’s Behance which allows creative professionals to showcase their portfolios. But that said, branded communities aren’t brand new – think back to Nike+ or P&G’s Beinggirl.com that have been around for a few years. However, social media’s diminishing returns should drive an examination of making branded communities the primary vector of driving engagement. The great part about such communities is that brands retain absolute control over the platform and can use it to better understand their audience too.
Diving a little deeper, I would say that building a branded community should never be around a product or a service. Instead, the best communities thrive when they are formed around a topic. Indeed, savvy marketing organisations know that the best branding campaigns occur when brands try to own a topic or an issue, selling products. Think Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ or Coke’s ‘Open Happiness’ and you’ll see how effective this can be. Essentially, if your brand has a strong point-of-view around a key long-term issue, you can use that as a topic or talking point for forming your own branded community.
Aside from having control and not worrying about paying to get your audience to read your content, owning a community also means that you can use tools such as email newsletters to ensure that your content gets delivered. It’s been proven that email is still an effective marketing channel and the best part is that you can A/B test your email marketing until it’s optimised – something which you’ll never get with a Facebook page or Twitter account.
Other benefits I see to having owned communities are that the content that you have in there leverages search engine optimisation to improve your search ranking around a particular topic. At the same time, your site analytics will always be more robust than Facebook or Twitter analytics and provide you with better insights as to how your community members are behaving. Finally, if you have an e-commerce platform, that can be integrated seamlessly into your owned community and making it less of a hard sell than driving people to buy stuff directly from a social network.
All that said, what happens to social media then? Well, the skill sets that you’ve developed within your organisation to manage your Facebook or Twitter communities can certainly be ported over to managing branded communities. At the same time, social media is still a good vector to drive traffic as well as amplify content, and I believe that will ultimately become its role for brands which choose to start their own communities.
The write up is part of the DMA Annual Report ‘What’s Trending 2015‘.
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