Hey you, you forgot the basics and now look what’s happened.
Where is the center of your social media universe? Facebook? Well then we have a clear #Fail.
The primary goal of social media networking and sharing has always been to lead the viewer back to your “home base”. Your website, your hub, the place YOU control, and the thing you call “home-base”. Whether you are a business or an individual, you have to own – or rent – your website.
Guess what? They are pulling the rug out from under you. Slowly edging you away from the brass ring. Where did it all go wrong you might ask? Who is going to do it next? Time to review the basics and figure out how to fix this mess you might be in.
Facebook as the enabler.
As Facebook buzz grew viral, brands flocked to the platform, people quickly abandoned efforts to direct users back to their own website. The result was often complete loss of control of the community, without even considering that as a possiblity.
If you don’t own it (or rent it), you will eventually lose control of it. If you live or die by your data, how do you benefit from a platform that values that data even more than you do?
What went wrong? Far too much for a single post, a detailed analysis you would require an entire volume of posts, and only the geekiest of data-geeks would enjoy that.
Let’s analyze some of the clear reasons for a failure of a Group or Page to a cause, brand or any entity.
Its pay to play, and that is how it should be. Facebook built a powerful “drug” and gave it to you all for free, now it’s time to pay the piper and they know exactly what they are doing. They control the supply, and you have the demand, basic economics really.
The scariest part of this is when you realize they potentially have a monopoly. So what happens when everyone is paying to play? The price goes up, and continues to do so until the market won’t bear it, and it levels out.
The clear choice is that it is time to make a decision. Do you pay and stay, or do you prepare to shift with a well-planned exit strategy and chalk your failure up to not remembering the core essentials of social media marketing.
Option A: Stay and Play
It’s their game, and their rules. If you choose to continue, enticed by the exposure and amplification you used to have, and the promise of its return (no guarantee), then you have to pay the price to boost your content. Build a case for budget for the purchase of Facebook advertising. Facebook has the most comprehensive data pool available, and incredibly powerful targeting tools to optimization your allocated budget and resources. There is no doubt they have mastered data mining and utilization of data points.
The downside of remaining: you still don’t own your content or community. The Facebook Terms of Service are clear. They reserve, and have exercised, the right to take control of any group, profile or page that they choose. Is it really worth investing in something you have no guarantee of having access to tomorrow?
Option B: Pack Your Parachute and Plan the Jump
Planning an exit strategy is a much better way to gain control of your community and efforts. You shouldn't completely abandon Facebook just yet, you still need them for a smooth transition, even perhaps after to gain additional exposure to their user base. You should consider the entire experience as a powerful lesson in doing social business better.
To begin to shift the focus of your social media marketing back on yourself, you first need to identify where to transition your community. A number of platforms exist that may meet your needs, others such as aggregators don’t really fit the model, you need a site that can house a community and offer other features such as social sharing.
What if you already have a blog or website? Static doesn’t encourage community interaction and engagement. Live and dynamic is the way to go in 2014 and beyond.
Build your community a home. Where to Start? 3 Great Options.
In no particular order, here are a few proven best options for replacing, and enhancing your community presence on any social network you might use but not own or rent.
3 Top Choices to Replace your Facebook Group or Page:
Lithium - http://www.lithium.com
“Turning Websites into Social Destinations” is how they describe themselves in an informational video. Lithium is a SaaS that provides customer care and enterprise solutions based around the concept of connecting to your customers via a community website. Popular corporate solution. It is difficult to connect with other members other than via the proprietary methods built into the platform. There are no clear links to find the Lithium community members off the platforms. I found this frustrating when I wanted to connect, or reference a connection on another network.
Service sampling: Social sharing to a limited number of networks; heavy focus on vBulletin style forum interactions. The product has been very successful with large corporations. Lithium recently announced it would be acquiring Klout.
Advantage over Facebook for your community: You build it, you control it, and you pay a premium and can monetize it. You host or they host. Enterprise options are available. Good SEO and optimization. Pleasant UX design. Well organized and structured. Some aspects of Gamification integrated via “ranking system
Ning - http://www.ning.com
Allows users to create custom community websites with a look and feel of their own. Can monetize via community or integrated advertising. Three levels of premium services to choose from. Some social integration. Boasts “90,000” users meaning how many communities are currently running. Communities are built on topics of interest, not predominantly used by brands but by individuals. They offer login via Facebook or Twitter.
Advantage over Facebook for your community: Ning reports over “90,000 users” and I read this as meaning 90,000 active community based websites. Ning can be popular and has a good user base, social integration is a bit more limited and they have a history of controlling some of the content shared. SEO focus isn’t as strong, indexability is average. Commnity growth must rely on external sources like ad word purchases.
Follr - http://www.follr.com
Originated as a Digital Identity and social sharing platform, in 2014 Follr released the Follr Communities addition to it’s robust product suite. Follr incorporates social sharing, social content displays, forum style discussion boards, community newsfeed, photo, video and document upload features. It is unlike any other platform in existence, and continues to add features on a frequent basis.
The Follr suite of features are completely integrated, including: event management, power tagging features for building connections, job search via an integrated feed from Indeed.com, extensive social sharing, the list includes some networks the author has never heard of. Monetization of Follr Communities is also available, so it can become a self-sustaining cost, or a profit center.
Advantages over Facebook for your community: The familiarity of many features will make for an easier transition of a community from Facebook to Follr. Full integration allows easy discovery by existing users (exact user numbers were not provided but estimated to be around 50,000). The development team has incorporated powerful SEO results to the individual profiles and community websites. Follr offer options to assist in moving your community, content and other materials from any other social network to your new community. The platform is free of advertising, and offers freemium or premium versions for individual accounts. The communities are currently free while the final list of features are rolled out, eventual pricing is expected to be competitive with comparable products.
You Only Lose if You Wait Too Long
Which option might work best for you? Take time to investigate, explore their sites and services, ask questions, and investigate. Invest time in researching your choice thoroughly, never rush to change.
Invest generously in your time to focus on design, community management, content creation and sharing to see a rapid increase in community growth and interaction.
If you do all these things, you will quickly see a far greater return on your investment and efforts than might ever be possible on a hosted platform like Facebook. Build at least 6 to 8 weeks into your plan to complete migration of your community to their new home. Once completed make sure to budget for time and resources to touch your old outposts and remind the stragglers where to find their new home.
Whichever solution you choose, you should plan to focus some of your budget on utilizing the power of targeted Facebook ads to continue to build your community and gain additinoal exposure. The accuracy and focus of the Facebook targetig for advertisers will effectively deliver your message to existing, and potential, community members with the best ROI on expenditure possible on any other platform.
It’s never too late for a do-over.
The information used to describe the platforms suggested here was collected from WikiPedia or the individual company’s websites using videos or demonstrations.
[Full disclosure: I have not used Ning since 2011, and I consult for Follr (but have been a fan since January 2012), information on Lithium was purely garnered via their website and marketing, as well as minimal exposure as a short term community member].