Brands strive to exist wherever their audience gathers, and they’re always on the lookout for the next proverbial watering hole. Whether it’s a new social network, image sharing app or anything else, businesses are ready to jump on the platform du jour and engage their target audiences.
However, “chasing the new” can lead your business down a dangerous path. When many of these content platforms first get going, they tend to be very brand-friendly and offer up great avenues for engaging existing customers and reaching new prospects. However, as these platforms mature, the need for monetization kicks in. Platforms change—they may limit organic engagement opportunities, dilute the purity of brand messaging through ads or integrate new rules that directly affect how companies use these platforms.
Facebook is an obvious example of the dangers of building your house on shifting sand. When the social network started booming, many companies jumped at the opportunity to build their own pages—some brands even use Facebook pages in lieu of a website. However, over the years, Facebook has continually updated the newsfeed algorithm to limit organic brand exposure. A post that once would have been seen by a company’s entire audience may now only reach a fraction of subscribers. You have to pay if you want to play on Facebook.
The scarier reality is when you spend time and effort integrating a platform into your engagement strategy, only to see it get shut down completely. For example, the live video streaming service Blab attracted 4 million users within months. With the average user spending 65 minutes per day on the site, brands soon began flocking to it as an engagement platform. However, the Blab hype was short lived, and the site was suddenly axed in August after a year of operation—with no warning ahead of time for those that spent so much time cultivating a follower base on the site.
It’s not just Facebook and Blab either. Snapchat is in the process of adding a Facebook-like algorithm that may impede organic brand exposure. Recent rumors suggest the struggling Twitter is in acquisition talks with Google and Salesforce.com, which could result in further changes to the social site. Platforms are evolving all the time as they grow and mature.
The dangers of setting up camp on rented land are not new. However, the changes to many of these platforms over the past year or so have been more significant than most enterprises anticipated. For example, one study conducted by SocialFlow suggests that media companies on Facebook have seen organic reach drop 42% this year due to all the algorithm changes.
Simply put, the more users any third-party platform gets, the more valuable this audience becomes. It’s only logical from a business standpoint to introduce algorithms that encourage brands to spend money to access the platform’s highly coveted user base.
Now, this isn’t to say you should avoid integrating third-party content platforms into your marketing efforts. However, there is something to be said about being more cognizant of how you use these unowned properties. Every time you incorporate a new third-party platform into your customer engagement strategy, you need to realize that you are investing resources into an ecosystem that you can’t control. At the drop of the dime, platform owners could change the rules or algorithms that govern how people use their sites. And the new rules may upend everything you’ve worked for to that point.
You need to build your house on a rock. Your owned properties, such as your website or mobile app, should be the center of your digital empire—not third-party platforms. Treat unowned properties as landmark attractions. You can use them to build audiences and engage customers, but take this audience and drive it back to your own ecosystem as soon as possible.
Getting customers into your own ecosystem is important not only because it helps you regain control of the experience, but also because it enables you to craft an even better one. There are so many data points that can be used to personalize and enhance customer engagement initiatives, but your access to this information on unowned platforms is limited. If you can drive your audience to your own properties, you can use this data—with the right CMS—to craft a more captivating and enriching customer experience.
Nick is a member of the marketing team at Progress. He kicked off his marketing career by getting a degree in History and then promptly diving head first down a completely unrelated career path. Now, he writes. Often. Obsessively. About technology. For Progress.
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