According to a recent study from EdgeRank Checker that analyzed 50,000 posts from 1,000 brand Facebook pages, Facebook’s organic reach has been on the steady decline over the past two years. Marketers should realize that this decline is not only natural, but unavoidable. While user growth — the goal of every social network — will increase the amount of social status updates, the total amount of time people have to view this content will not.
To remain successful, marketers have to understand the implications of social media data ownership and monetization. Brands have spent a lot of money building their "likes" so they could harness Facebook as a channel within an overall marketing efforts.
Going forward, however, Facebook will continue to tweak its filtering algorithm to hide and show content according to the investments made by brand marketers. Without paying, brands’ content may never appear in their customers’ feed. So, what should marketers and brands do to use social channels to build an audience and take advantage of the available customer data?
Recognize Who Owns the Channel
First, brands need to truly understand every channel they invest in and make sure they are extracting as much value as possible. If I were a brand that had spent millions of dollars building my social fan base, I would ask myself questions like, “Will this channel remain free forever?” and “If this company goes public, won’t they have pressure to prove a monetization strategy?”
The reality is that brands that invested heavily in social effectively captured subscribers on a channel they do not (and will not ever) fully own. The Facebook lesson is a great one to learn from. To be clear, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Foursquare are all for profit businesses that ultimately need to show a return for investors. None of these companies are enterprise technology plays that charge brands a license fee. They are consumer products and if you want play, you must pay (whether it’s now or in the future).
This is not to say that investment in social is a waste. Think of TV as an analogous media. Consumers don’t watch TV for the ads, but ads have supported and helped grow a massive industry to the tune of $70+ billion. Though the invention of the DVR rocked the market, advertisers succeed in finding new strategies like product placement and sponsored shows to remain relevant to audiences. Reason being because they understand the channel in which they are investing.
Ad-supported channels — like social — have to be treated as such. Exciting creative engages audiences, but marketers have to drive customers to a channel where they can contact them without the advertiser network serving as a proxy. Make no mistake: you do NOT own the subscribers on TV, on social or on any ad-supported channel. You are simply renting them for a moment in time and hoping that they like you enough to engage with a purchase then or down the line.
Fortunately, today’s marketers have very powerful tools to capture those subscribers (and their data) via a channel they own: an email or mobile subscriber database.
Many leading brands transform their social following into owned data and mobile customers by providing opt-in incentives via posts and updates.
Getting From Point A to Point B
Just like TV ads, a social audience is in a specific network and marketers have to devise a way to capture customers’ attention and drive them to a site, subscription list or call center (this is what advertising is all about, after all). I would caution brands against asking too much too fast. Focus on building a relationship and engaging customers, rather than trying to sell them immediately. Consumers buy from people and companies they like, but a LIKE on Facebook or a Follow on Twitter does not mean they like you or that you can even reach them. As you continue to deliver targeted, engaging content on these channels that have low pressure calls-to-action, you will build your owned list and monetization will come over time.
Above all, think about your advertising and marketing moving forward as one big “funnel” where you acquire, engage, nurture and only sell only when customers put their hand up and tell you that they want to be sold. If you follow Forrester research, you may have seen they have even done away with their funnel for customer engagement and are promoting their continuous lifecycle of engagement.
The key in this new model is building robust subscriber profiles and how well you use data to advertise and market to your customers. Don’t be shy about asking your customers to tell you what type of content and interactions they want on a given channel. You would be very surprised how many clients are willing to offer up this personal insight if they feel they are getting a good value in exchange.
About the Author
Matt Silk is head of strategy for Waterfall, Inc., responsible for corporate development, strategic partnerships, and client services. As a cofounder of the company, he leads Waterfall´s Austin office.
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