Why Brands Urgently Need ‘Owned Social Media’

The bad news for Facebook just doesn’t seem to quit surfacing.

  • We had Cambridge Analytica’s data scandal in 2018 that revealed it had harvested the personal data of millions of people’s Facebook profiles without their consent and then used it for political advertising purposes. Despite reports of this happening since 2015, Facebook refused to publicly say anything, rendering it complicit in the scandal.
  • In March of this year, Facebook, Instagram and related messaging apps went “offline” for some 14-hours, which left them mostly inaccessible across the world.
  • Also in 2019, a reported bug highlighted a weakness that allowed app developers to illegally access photos of nearly 6.8 million users that were uploaded but never posted.
  • A bug in June 2019 caused a glitch that publicly published the posts of 14 million users that were intended to be private.
  • Mark Zuckerberg faced accusations in a lawsuit filed by the software firm Six4Three in May that he “weaponized” the ability to access user data.
  • We also realized that Facebook was collecting text messages and phone call records through smartphone apps while not presenting this notification/warning to many users. This led to a class-action lawsuit that, in turn, lead to the social network stopping the practice of sharing this data.
  • And let’s not forget the criticism being lobbed at Facebook for not doing its part to stop foreign-government sponsored agents from creating and disseminating “fake news” leading up to the last US election.

And now we have big business brands putting their money where their mouths are, not only calling out the social media network but walking away from the platform altogether.

Cosmetics giant Lush took exception to Facebook’s double dipping policy when it comes to engaging its fans.

“Increasingly, social media is making it harder and harder for us to talk to each other directly. We are tired of fighting with algorithms, and we do not want to pay to appear in your newsfeed” read a company statement after it shut down its UK divisions social media marketing plans to focus on “owned social media” instead.

Wetherspoons, a multinational chain of pubs announced it’s closing all its social media accounts due to the amount of trolling and negativity found on these platforms.

And more recently, fitness giant CrossFit launched a war against Facebook after the social network arbitrarily shut down a popular independent community dedicated to discussing the low carb, high-fat diets popular among CrossFitters, with no explanation provided.

The company’s statement read “CrossFit Inc has placed Facebook and its associated properties under review and will no longer support or use Facebook’s services.”

Given the brand loyalty CrossFitters have to this company – and as witnessed by the followers who stopped drinking Coke when started attacking Coca Cola for its negative health effects – this is not something that can be dismissed as a simple media stunt.

Why Brands Need “Owned Social Media”

Lush’s executives have a similar view on Facebook Business Pages and communities that I do: You pay them a tidy sum of money to advertise in order to draw attention to your brand and build a fan base only to have to once again pay them to have those same fans see what you’re posting in their feeds.

It’s the social media version of “double dipping,” and it’s arguably an unethical practice.

In 2017, Facebook made $40B in revenue and $15B in net income (profit). $39B out of those $40B came directly from its advertising business.

Lush reported that its analytics showed that only about 6% of its fans could be engaged on Facebook without the company paying Facebook directly for the right.  That number is actually pretty good as most report a view rate of between 2% and 4%.

Brand page engagement on Facebook has been averaging only 3.75% in 2019, down 2.1% Q-O-Q.

Yet, we keep putting money into Facebook communities and social media advertising because conventional wisdom dictates that we should be where our customers are. And since Facebook still enjoys the greatest number of daily active users of all social media platforms, should we not be there, too?

Think of it this way: If 15 years ago I would have pitched this concept to you, what would you say?

“Dear Business Owner,

I propose you pay me to advertise in an online community that I will build for you (but that I will own) in which I will gather all your online fans.  I will also own the database of your fans.

Those fans will engage with each other and your brand while we collect their personal information, and we’ll earn revenue from selling that information, and from selling advertising space to other brands.

Once we have a large audience of customers, prospective customers, and others in the database, we’ll refuse to allow your content to be seen by the vast majority of those fans. We’ll ask you to pay us again to allow some or all of them to readily see your content.

And if at any time I deem it appropriate to shut down your community, with or without notice, I will do so and give you nothing.

Kthanxbai,

Sam”

Would you say “yes?”

A business’s database and the community engagement within that database is an asset of the business. Or it should be. Yet, we’ve all become complacent and allowed social media to take ownership of that asset.  They control it, they monetize it, and they limit our access to it.

Why? Because that’s where our customers are?

Nuts, right?

Building Your “Owned Social Media”

First, let’s talk about what Owned Social Media is.

Too many mistaken “social media” as content and engagement that occurs on a 3rd party social media sites. The big networks have done a great job at brainwashing us that way.

Social media are websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking. Period.

That sharing and networking can happen on a 3rd party social app, your business’s mobile app or your own website for that matter.

When that happens on your site, it’s “owned social media” because you own the data and control the user experience. You monetize it instead of enabling 3rd party sites from doing so.

This has been a conversation that my team and I have been having for almost 8 years. It’s one of the reasons why we don’t have a Facebook account.

In fact, it’s one of the early impetuses for my firm’s creation of BONDAI, an owned community platform and customer engagement service that our clients use to attract and nurture prospects, earn greater loyalty and advocacy among existing customers, and forge stronger bonds with all of them to improve the business’s bottom line.

But this post is not about BONDAI; it’s about what it represents.

Owned communities – however you choose to build and manage them – are an asset your business should own and control. Note: This is not a “ban Facebook” call to action, as social media platforms may still be useful as satellite outlets to push owned content out to – and to drive new members back to your own community hub.

So, what should an owned community look like?  Well, there are three approaches you may wish to consider.

1. On Your Website

An online community on your website could take the form of a blog that encourages and supports online commenting.

An engaged blog community is still one of the most underrated digital assets businesses can deploy.

It could include a forum where prospects and customers engage each other as well as your customer service teams.

It could be a public interface or a private extranet where customers, channel partners, and your staff access and share resources as well as support each other.

2. In Your Mobile App

If you wish to take advantage of people’s growing addiction to mobile devices, the development of a branded app is ideal.

Depending on the functionality you allow, mobile apps provide on-the-go, on-demand access to other community members, your team, and/or value-added services.

The experience can be personalized and timed to coordinate with the delivery of services (such as customer feedback and support request) or the use of your products (such as real-time rating, referrals, or social shares).

3. Your “Owned” Branded Community

Owned branded communities are not specific features like a site forum or blog but a dedicated full-function digital community dedicated to your audience.

They share similar features to social media platforms like Facebook or Instagram in that members could access information, share information, and engage each other or your staff in a variety of ways.

The difference is when someone registers for membership or you grant them access, their personal data – and all the subsequent engagement data – is owned by you. You can data mine that information and use it to build loyalty, drive advocacy, improve customer service, or satisfaction scores.

Here you have a lot of opportunities to create personalized engagements that align with the needs of your prospects and customers and that will augment the relationship they have with your brand.

Such engagement can include access to educational or entertaining content, loyalty reward or perks, event management, contests and surveys, and/or fun social engagement such as quizzes, video/photo sharing, and other user-generated content.  (Note: BONDAI can help with all of these things)

Own and Analyze Your Customer Experience Data

What’s most valuable here is the analytics tools you incorporate into the platform and the APIs used to merge existing data from your CRM, accounting software or marketing automation tools.

Monitoring engagement among members should allow you to identify key influencers, opportunities to create advocates and convert those at risk of leaving.

An added benefit to creating one or all of these owned social media communities, they are just as easily be created for B2B organizations as they can for B2C.

In fact, ROI may be realized more quickly in the B2B space.

You Have a Decision to Make

In the end, you need to make a decision: Do you want to control your community asset or are you comfortable with the risk of allowing a social network to control it?

Yes, there are cost savings to be had if you choose to use a “free” social network but long term you’re not really building a company asset and risking losing it all.

(Note: for real world examples of owned social communities see our blog here).

Further, you will need to continue to invest in keeping up with the constantly changing algorithms that determine what content the network will and won’t show your audience. Or continue to be at their mercy when it comes to paying for access to that audience.

Other than the 65+ cohort, Social Media engagement has plateaued. In fact among the 50-64 age cohort, use hasn’t increased since 2013.

Regardless, we see a trend current developing. With consumer confidence in networks like Facebook declining, privacy concerns growing, Mark Zuckerberg issuing a manifesto that calls for a move to dark social engagement, and growing links between social network engagement and negative mental health, a dramatic upheaval is looming.    Facebook and their ilk, once considered sacred cows and untouchable, may be falling victim to their own greed.

Build Your Branded Community with BONDAI

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