Moving Beyond Facebook
Many of us following Facebook’s ongoing updates to News Feeds are convinced that the new rules, filters and algorithms are making it harder for businesses to reach their audience without spending big money on sponsored posts. Given the rising costs and unpredictability of reaching their fan base with organic content, brands and business owners are considering to limit their reliance on Facebook as their core social media platform, and are more likely to continue using Facebook for it’s 1 billion+ users, primarily as one of their many distribution channels. A recent NYTimes article by Nick Bolton “Disruptions: As User Interaction on Facebook Drops, Sharing comes at a Cost” brings up these issues, with a very relevant example. The desperate monetization attempts of Facebook (costs of audience acquisition, engagement and reach etc ) and, the concerns of privacy and control, are few of the many reasons that are forcing businesses to move away from Facebook as a destination site and, are encouraging them to embrace alternatives, available in more controlled, and privately owned community sites.
Audience Size and Quality
Social Media experts and marketers have been ranting for long about the need for businesses to have a sizable audience on Facebook to have any meaningful existence. This directly translates to investments in getting consumers to like their page. These investments would make sense, if there were a guaranteed formula to correlate the likes on a page to the engagements they would drive. Unfortunately there is no such magic formula. The audience thus cultivated or rather, bought does not ensure quality. In more cases than not and, with targeted investments, this audience does not give the assurance of any long-term commitment.
Further investments need to be made to reach even a small fraction of this audience and, businesses are required to promote their messages. Then again, Facebook model favors content producers. Not all businesses support this model. This inherent assumption in the design impacts such businesses in getting visibility with their fan base, and, deems Facebook not the preferred medium to build a thriving community. Why would businesses pay to acquire fans, when they have to pay to reach them?
Ownership and Control
Finally, after investing in fan acquisition and in engagement, there is very little that business owners can do with their audience. There is no straightforward way to reach out to the audience they've acquired, without any intermediary (which, is Facebook) or through any other channels like, email. There is little to no ownership of audience data. Facebook knows more about your hard-earned audience than you as a business owner do.
Yes, Facebook dominates as the largest generic platform. But, the media environment is fragmented and consumers will subscribe to a truck-load of niche platforms that are rich in content like Path, Pinterest, and other content-based websites. I predict that we will witness a shift where businesses and brands will place less focus on the channels and more on the pathway of content communication that is most linked to the desired outcomes, thus making such sites as mentioned earlier to be distribution channels, rather than destination sites.
Embracing Niche Community Sites
Niche community sites that can be built using platforms like Ning 3.0 offer power of participation and group-think, which keeps the community thriving, without any external stimulus.
Businesses are willing to invest in members and are increasingly interested in creating communities that can be nurtured and developed to produce long-term commitment. By focusing on vertical niches, business efforts can be directed towards building high yielding destination websites. A members-only community facilitates relationship building without concerns of privacy and it presents more direct ways of engaging with a member-base.
Erica Berman, who is the Director of Communications for The National Peace Corps Association, and manages a thriving community powered by the Ning Platform, shares her experience:
“While Facebook was good for us at the beginning, now it feels like fewer and fewer people are seeing our content. We can’t afford to promote posts and even if you do, there’s no guarantee members see them. If I send something out in the Ning community I know they see it. Plus, it’s easy to export our membership data for our monthly email newsletter. When we send a message out to our Ning community, we always see a bump in responses. We sent out a survey to many places asking members about their service and life after the Peace Corps–the Ning community was the most responsive."
The Peace Corps still uses the reach of other social networks, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn, but the Ning site is the core of its online efforts. Read more about Erica Berman’s success and others at Ning.com.