The Risk of Third-Party Social Media Platforms

The Risk of Third-Party Social Media Platforms
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When Facebook went down for a period of 20 minutes late last week, the hearts of C-suiters, advertisers and marketers around the world skipped a beat.

When would it come back up? Would it come back up? Many brands and organisations have invested untold sums in the social networking behemoth, to build audiences and then market to them. What would they do if those audiences were lost in an instant?

As online community managers, we always put the audience first. Taking a strategic approach to audience outreach, we’re skilled at communicating with people. In many roles we currently have a large focus on the Facebook audience and spend a lot of time there. We have an extensive knowledge of the ins and outs of the platform. But if Facebook disappeared tomorrow, good community managers could apply their knowledge of online audiences to any existing or emerging platforms whether it’s a social network like Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram or Pinterest.

Or, longer standing platforms for online engagement such as forums, blogs, instant messaging and online chat. Good community managers manage people, not platforms. There might be an impact on our current incomes but we have the skills to continue working long into the future.

While third party platforms certainly have their place, as community managers we understand the inherent risks in making large investments in third party platforms that are beyond our control.

Some of the key risks of being platform-centric are:

  • There is little access to or ownership of the audience data you’ve paid to build. Unlike email, membership and loyalty marketing, Facebook doesn’t allow you to gather data like email addresses or demographics specific to the audience members you’re marketing to. There’s no way to export this information to use across integrated campaigns or safeguard your brand against losing out on the investment that’s been made to build a big audience. You can get access to some of this data by running competitions through which users give you access to limited data about themselves (often only an email address). You need to pay to create the promotions and to reach your audience. And yet, there’s no way of ensuring all audience members will enter the competition.
  • You’ve paid to build your audience, and now you have to pay to communicate with a specified quantity of them. You can get some organic reach, if you have an excellent content strategy and content creators (writers, designers, video producers) however, you’re still paying for the resourcing to do so.
  • There is no control over Facebook’s constant, opaque and often baffling changes to the platform. Community managers understand these risks. They’re at the ‘coal-face’, usually a minimum of 40 hours a week. Such is the life of a community manager, we take it all on board. But if our C-suiters, marketing and advertising stakeholders understood more fully the time involved managing Facebook and the potential cost savings of considering an owned platform – I think we’d all dance with joy!

As we know there are risks and rewards with all marketing and communications endeavours, especially when we seek to engage publicly with the audience. We do need to consider being active where our audience is, and that includes the big players such as Facebook and Twitter. But it’s important to do so with a considered approach and a long-term strategy that includes owned online community that equates to control of the platform and its development and data ownership, among many other benefits.

There are some great examples of owned platforms being used for customer service, especially in regulated industries such as telecommunications. Telstra, Optus and Vodafone have peer customer support communities with outposts on Facebook and Twitter. There are some great marketing communities too. Huggies and Thermomix are two examples of owned online community. There are many examples of blogs being used for marketing purposes too, we like Real Estate Australia and Westfield.

Some marketers might have been completely oblivious to #facebookdown while their community managers were short of breath, worrying about their campaigns and scheduled posts and how the audience might react. Some marketers were clearly not quaking in their boots; Kit Kat Philippines tweeted within what seemed like minutes. Capitalising on the #facebook and #facebookdown hashtags and maintaining relevance with their brand they wittily tweeted:

Screenshot 2014-06-23 18.23.21

Next time you have a break, perhaps consider your potential reliance on the platform, and what other channels you can utilise if #facebookdown becomes permanent.

Julie Delaforce, General Manager, Quiip

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