Fake news. Algorithm changes. Election interference. Cambridge Analytica. GDPR. While some people may have believed that Facebook was infallible, it’s undeniable that the social giant’s reputation has taken quite a beating in the past two years. And with the number of daily active users flat in North America, and falling in Europe, it’s clear that consumers are taking note and starting to jump ship.
Other networks are facing similar issues. Snapchat experienced its first-ever decline in users earlier this year — falling by 3 million over the course of a few months, with many users voicing their displeasure over Snapchat’s redesign. And Twitter’s monthly users dropped by 1 million amid a sweeping cleanup of fake users and bots.
The fact that social networks are experiencing missteps doesn’t mean they’re going away, but it does beg the question of their overall influence. And it’s a wake-up call to marketers that putting all of your eggs in the Facebook (or Snapchat) basket is a dangerous game. I strongly believe it’s time to think outside the social box.
What’s the (Facebook) status quo?
With social media ruling for the past several years, many marketers have become accustomed to relying on the networks to build their audiences and run their entire marketing campaigns. Instead of engaging audiences directly through their own customer journey, many businesses have been renting space — and audiences — on social platforms. This is a high-stakes mistake. Facebook and others have long been accused of “grading their own homework” when it comes to results and metrics. Even worse, they keep the consumer data obtained from marketing campaigns within their walled gardens, putting marketers at a serious disadvantage.
But, perhaps the most egregious result of this practice is that it strengthens and improves the social platforms, rather than improving the companies using them.
I call foul. And I think the missteps in social media over the past year should be a rallying cry for marketers to change this practice. Moving forward, I believe that social networks should be used by brands mainly as distribution channels for content created together by them and their consumers. Marketers should take back control of their content and their audience, ensuring their investments are working to make their own customer experience the best it can be, versus that of a third-party social network.
Social networks as the venue, not the source
How, then, can this be done? The fact is, people trust content that comes from real people, not from paid influencers or advertisers. Peer sharing led to the popularity of social networks from the start: the opportunity to engage with friends and family online, the chance to have a “witness” to one’s life. The smartest businesses out there are using this knowledge to build sharing into their product experience and get their customers and fans to do the talking for them.
Take Warby Parker, for example. By encouraging its customers to try glasses on and share their looks online before deciding on frames, Warby Parker accomplishes two things: First, it’s getting free advertising from its customers. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it’s building brand loyalty as customers purchase more confidently, having gotten feedback from friends.
But, there’s still a critical missing piece in Warby Parker’s UGC formula: Without the use of a technology platform to drive the customer experience, the insights, data and content are not part of a closed loop of inputs and outputs that work together to provide a digitally “symbiotic” relationship. A closed loop platform cultivates and maintains value by harnessing content, data and insights to optimally activate and distribute across the entire marketing funnel. Furthermore, Warby does not “own” the user content, leaving gaps in its strategy for potential brand safety mishaps.
By giving consumers engaging digital experiences and building consumer activation and user-generated content creation and distribution into their own ecosystem, brands can go back to using the social networks as distribution channels — and not rely on them to rent an audience or control their campaigns. That way, when the next misstep occurs, brands will already be in control of their own destiny.