The following article was originally published in Forbes here.
We’ve grown accustomed to Facebook sparking controversy, but it certainly feels like we’ve reached a watershed moment with the recent Facebook boycott. Advertisers are taking real bottom-line risks by pausing their spending, and it’s not just in the name of brand safety, but in public protest of Facebook’s continued failure to address hate speech on its platform. We see genuine efforts from major corporations to enact change and to stand up for what they believe in.
From Unilever to Starbucks to Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s, we’ve watched the Stop Hate for Profit boycott bring together more than 1,000 companies to abandon advertising on Facebook for at least the month of July. Add in mistrust surrounding privacy issues and fake news, and the long-simmering tensions around Facebook seem to be reaching their boiling point.
Marketers are making real sacrifices. They need alternative strategies in the short term, but they are also rethinking their long-term plans. They’re asking big and difficult questions: Will Facebook do more harm than good to my brand? Have we put all our “engagement” eggs in one basket? How do we build a relationship with consumers that will outlive a third-party channel? What’s next?
Facebook has no doubt been an incredibly useful tool for businesses, especially in driving acquisition and direct response. But this is a moment that reveals new opportunities.
As such, we’re seeing a noted shift in the marketing world toward building consumer relationships owned and managed entirely by the brand and prioritizing retention and brand advocacy efforts to drive revenue. But take note — we can’t just reset the clock a couple of decades and go back to accumulating massive email databases broadcasting one-way messages or launching cookie-cutter transactional loyalty programs. The next evolution of consumer relationships must be alive with emotional loyalty, personalized engagement and authentic community connection. For forward-thinking brands, here are three ways to future-proof your business.
Enhance your brand’s digital presence with a vibrant online community.
Especially in the era of social distancing, there is no question consumers are craving connection and spending more time than ever before with digital channels. If you’re serious about building real relationships and real connection, invest in an owned channel that is dedicated to your brand’s promise and your value to consumers. By owning an online community environment, you’ll offer your consumers a much more beneficial experience, and you’ll be able to set the foundation of lasting brand affinity and trust.
In the past decade, digital brand presence has evolved from creating information-gathering hotspots to elegant online productions that host a variety of functions such as e-commerce, video-sharing and social integration. An online community is a natural extension to the overall brand digital ecosystem.
For a brand like Peleton, the community of fellow enthusiasts is as much a part of the customer experience as the bike, while other brands like Etsy or Netflix leverage technology to integrate community into their product or service. Sephora’s Beauty Insider community is a dedicated destination that adds value to its brand website and drives engagement, emotional connection and relationship-building. Communities can bring your company values to life and elevate brand trust, drive Net Promoter Scores and increase customer lifetime value.
Align and express your values through personalized two-way engagement.
This is an opportunity to transform your brand’s online presence into a positive, transparent feedback loop between the data given and the value received.
To create a substantive value exchange that triggers emotional motivators, marketers should provide inspired, digitally connected experiences that enable them to collect values-based personal information at the same time. Did a consumer share their love for photography? Solicit action that puts their shutterbug or artistic interest to use. Is a consumer passionate about a certain cause? Deliver ways to get involved or shape how the company can get involved in their local area. Marketers can use this information to deliver brand interactions that highlight values shared by the consumer, creating one-of-a-kind experiences that make people feel valued, special and appreciated.
Leverage dedicated consumers to drive acquisition efforts and brand equity.
In its infancy, the promise of investing in a Facebook presence was the ability for brand marketers to deliver content to engaged consumers and prompt sharing to friends and followers. Unfortunately, that door was closed abruptly as marketers watched their organic reach drop to paltry levels. Facebook quickly gated its users and required advertising investments for marketers to gain access and visibility. Marketers have begun to question why they should rely on an intermediary for consumer activation and engagement.
Research has consistently shown user-generated content, customer reviews and recommendations are the most trusted forms of advertising. A community offers brands the ability to mobilize their ardent supporters and activate them — to not just drive new consumers to the brand, but also to communicate the brand’s value and promise authentically. What better way to show what your brand stands for than to have your own consumers say it for you?
Time will tell if this is the beginning of the end of Facebook’s grip on the advertising world. Still, regardless of the ultimate outcome, the clear lesson from a marketer’s perspective is that it is no longer an option to stake all or even a good majority of your consumer engagement strategy on Facebook. So, while the marketing community pushes ahead for reform for the social media giant, it’s probably a good idea to start thinking about pushing forward with building something better.