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.
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