“What Facebook Pages Are To Brand Messaging, Facebook Groups Are To Engagement”

By Anthony Cospito, head of strategy – MI&C

Given the digital dystopia surrounding recent media coverage of Facebook, you might think the world’s largest social network was on the way to the MySpace pile – sorry Tom, not so. Considering 2 billion people use Facebook every month, talk of the platform’s demise seems a bit premature.

While it’s true that reach of organic content on Facebook has been shrinking faster than Trump’s approval rating, most brands have been shifting their organic efforts to platforms like Instagram for quite some time.

Paid reach on Facebook remains highly targeted and extremely effective, that doesn’t mean organic is dead – maybe just our definition of it. 

In the days long before fake news, Facebook rose to prominence as “a social utility that helps people communicate with their friends and family” and that is where it aims to return. Is there a place for brands? Yes. Do they have to work a bit harder to ascribe some value? Yes. Is it worth the hassle? Absolutely. Just ask the billion plus monthly users of Facebook groups.
 
What Facebook Pages are to brand messaging, Facebook groups are to engagement. As the singular metric driving the algorithm for Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter, engagement is the new holy grail and it’s all about conversations, ideas, and participation. Engagement in groups is rewarded by the updated algorithm, resulting in higher organic reach and visibility – more reasons for brands to consider the strategy.

While publishers like the New York Times, BuzzFeed and the “Today” show have launched special interest groups, brands have an unprecedented opportunity to connect with their most active customers in a more intimate way. Startups like Peleton are leading the pack.

The Official Peleton rider group of +71k members linked to its page with 334,000 fans is going strong. They use the group to engage customers in conversations, listen to their ideas, and empathize with any challenges.

This level of human to human engagement deepens customer relationships – something quantitatively proven to drive revenue and market growth.

Understandably some brands are wary about diving too deep into Facebook groups for fear of changing algorithms or further attempts at monetization. In the meantime though, the learnings and deeper customer relationships they can build deliver a solid ROI and inspire innovation.

Beyond customer insights, groups are ideal for behind the scenes content and combined with Facebook Live – can be the perfect platform for influencers to do what they do best – engage, inform and entertain. These sessions inspire conversations – driving visibility and informing content strategy as influencers strengthen their role as brand proxies across social.

So before you do an about-Facebook, consider the role groups can play in the mix. It might be time to rethink how your brand uses the platform and switch out a slow moving organic content strategy for something a bit more dynamic.

3 reasons you need to rethink your social media strategy

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With ad costs rising for brands to reach their fans and followers across social media, forward thinkers are switching strategy – and going direct.

Organic reach is waning on two of the largest social platforms, Facebook and Instagram. Core to their model, Facebook offers paid options to reach more fans, as does Instagram. We’ve hit the pay to play threshold.

After reaching critical mass with 1 billion DAU (daily active users), it’s no surprise that Facebook is ramping up monetization. The problem is that organic reach on Facebook isn’t just slowing – it’s in free fall, down from 16% in 2012, to 11% in 2015 – and project to dip to 7% in 2016 according to AdWeek.

Instagram growth is also down 93% with engagement plummeting 70% in 2015, according to a study by Locowise.

With the average Instagram user now following 400 to 500 accounts, any kind of interaction is fleeting at best.

The age of “build your social network for free” has transformed to “pay to engage fans at scale” – platform owners win big, brands get squeezed. Understandable in the capitalistic grand scheme of things, you can’t make the rules if you don’t own the room. Unless you do.

One company out to change the game is Mightybell, a SaaS customer community platform, purpose built for direct customer engagement. Led by social networking visionary Gina Bianchini (co-founder of Ning), Mightybell leverages the ubiquity of smartphones to connect brands with 100% of their base, not a declining percentage.

Brands like Intuit QuickBooks and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation took notice and launched their own niche networks on Mightybell in 2013. Intuit, for example, has created OWN IT, the most active social network for small business owners and the self-employed with 100,000 members on the platform. The benefit is that members are building relationships with each other, not just the brand.

This quality of customer engagement at scale can generate network effects that spark innovation and help brands stay relevant – especially true for Millennials and Gen Z.

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Customer communities on Mightybell, Intuit’s OWN IT community shown in center.

These customer platforms aren’t new and have evolved quickly with the rise of mobile. As early as 2002, I worked on CPG customer community projects where participants were extremely high value customers (high spend/high frequency), first in their peer group to try something new, most likely to share new ideas, and would often brainstorm new products. A dream segment for any CMO.

The community approach delivers three key benefits over a standard Facebook or Instagram strategy:

Build vs. Buy – Building a customer community gives brands a chance to own the room and learn from all their customers, anytime needed. It’s a platform that focuses on customer interests, needs and opinions. Without limits on reach, brands can more easily deepen loyalty and engage in an ongoing dialog.

Whitespace vs. Whitenoise – The rise of content marketing and social media as a whole makes it harder for a brand to be heard. Communities offer a way to co-create new products with top-tier customers and tap opportunity gaps before the competition. Deep community engagement drives more ROI than standard social media postings.

Value vs. Vanity – Growing customer lifetime value is critical to long term survival. Brands need to go beyond superficial social media stats and care more about bringing high value customers into the fold, involving them in everything from product development, to packaging, and marketing.

While Facebook and Instagram still have a role in a brand’s social strategy, their roles are changing and the customer community is rising.

 

Anthony Cospito is Managing Director of Popbox Digital 

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