For many entrepreneurs focussed on building their brands, it’s hard to imagine life without a strong presence on the world’s biggest social networks. They often end up spending countless hours chasing vanity metrics such as likes, shares and followers in the hopes of being heard among all the noise. They prioritise social media simply because it’s the done thing. It’s what everyone seems to be doing; constantly battling for attention among the millions. But recently a number of brands decided to create their own private social networks.
Many will still try to convince you that doing otherwise is tantamount to brand suicide. But, the truly important question is, are those likes turning into clicks, and are those clicks turning into conversions? Chances are, few of these interactions are leading to meaningful engagement. And, let’s not forget that brands have little control over the process anyway – the social networks do what they do for themselves, not for you.
What is meaningful engagement and why does it matter?
Engagement isn’t about likes and shares. It’s about building relationships through constructive commentary and learning from one another. That’s not likely to happen when you’re relying on mainstream social networks where you have minimal control over the customer journey. In fact, having a huge follower base can actually hurt your brand if all you have to show for it is large numbers but no real interaction between your community members. Let’s not forget, a dead community is nothing but a liability.
Over the past few years, numerous studies have shown that social media is making us lonely and depressed. Much like being alone in a crowded foreign city, people on social media often find themselves lost among the masses. The spam and other toxic behaviour that pervades a lot of social networks doesn’t help either.It’s the lack of focus of these online communities that’s creating a divide between people and meaningful relationships.
More than ever, people yearn for a sense of belonging. They want a space to share their ideas and passions with others. They want to be part of a club of likeminded individuals. Give them the necessary tools, and they’ll be all the more likely to engage on a level that’s vastly more satisfying than the interactions they’re likely to have on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
But how is this relevant to brands?
Businesses often approach social media as a game of numbers. The more followers, the better. Except, such metrics rarely have any bearing on business success. Rather than trying to be everything to everyone, successful brands are turning towards private social networks to build small, tightknit communities where everyone shares something in common. A wellness coach, for example, might have a private group where their clients can keep up to date with upcoming trainings as well as chat with one another and leave their feedback and ideas.
For brands, private social networks offer a way to connect with your target audience on a far more personal level. Since people are driven to these private social networks by a desire to be part of something, they’re far more likely to engage. And, when they do, they help keep conversations flowing which, in turn, makes the communities they’re a part of important to them. In fact, for some, the community is more important than the product or service; it’s the driving reason for them to remain loyal to the brand. Co-working spaces are a great example of this; members often join to become part of a community, and not just to rent a desk.
From a purely practical perspective, private social networks also make it easier to keep members informed. Push notifications, for example, can alert members to upcoming appointments and events. Newsfeeds can stay relevant, instead of being diluted by countless others vying for attention. Customised analytics dashboards can help you monitor your community’s behaviour and use data-driven insights to continuously improve the user experience. The list goes on.
Owning the responsibility to build your brand
It’s only natural to look for shortcuts when trying to achieve our goals, and brand-building is no exception. Unfortunately, focussing too much on the shortcuts means neglecting the bigger picture. This is even more the case in branding, which should always be considered a journey rather than a destination. With audiences in the billions, social media presents the ultimate shortcut. It’s a way to get your content in front of as many people as possible as quickly as possible and with minimal effort. At least, that’s what businesses hope for.
The problem is that you’re not in control. Just one algorithm update can change everything. Suddenly, your posts vanish from people’s newsfeeds as the social networks try to lure brands towards paid advertising. Many businesses have learned that the hard way by putting social media marketing above everything else. Rather than taking the responsibility to build their own communities, they’re relying on audiences that are, supposedly, already there. In the hope of massive amounts of website traffic or app downloads, they’re relying on someone else to do the work, simply because they have impressive-sounding numbers.
While mainstream social platforms still offer great potential for raising that initial awareness, successful brands are more likely to put their own communities first. They’re tapping into large audiences in the beginning to drive people towards their branded communities; private social networks over which they have full control. They don’t have to wait for Facebook et al to take action against the millions of fake accounts, spammers and trolls, and they don’t have to rely on generic user experiences that don’t align with their business priorities.
Building customer success through delightful user experiences
At the forefront of any great brand is customer success. When you create a private social network that’s unique to your brand, you have unprecedented control over the user experience, and a great experience drives customer success. Not only can you preserve your branding more effectively through logos, colours, typography and imagery; you can also choose the process. For example, your members might want to make in-app purchases, join specific groups, follow certain hashtags or browse through archived content.
When you have control over the user experience, the only limit is your imagination. Rather than try to be everything to everyone, you can build a user experience that truly resonates with your customers. You can turn member analytics and feedback into actions that continuously adapt and improve the experience to better suit your audience.
With more control over user experiences comes more control over wellbeing of your members as well. Now that online privacy and security being among the biggest concerns of modern times, the ability to demonstrate that you genuinely care about your customers directly feeds into a great user experience. That’s unlikely if you’re using Facebook to build your community, for example, which is potentially facing a fine of £1.2 billion for failures to comply with GDPR.
It’s an uncertain world for social media. In light of major scandals and increasing data privacy concerns, there’s an ever-greater chance that overreliance on the major social networks can lead to more harm than good. One thing that doesn’t change, however, is human nature. The need for meaningful relationships will continue to drive the adoption of private communities. People will always want to be a part of something, but is that going to be Facebook in one, two or perhaps five years from now?