Owned social networks: the new brand engagement model

Owned social networks: the new brand engagement model

Remember when it was all about organic reach?

We all remember the golden days of Facebook. Originally a student directory focused on the university community, it evolved to connect everyone - family, friends, colleagues, and the brands, influencers and organisations we were interested in. We enjoyed the updates filling our feed, the content was relevant to what we had chosen to engage with, and it was overall a much more personal experience.

The change to the advertising-first model

But that all changed with Facebook continuing to grow, adding in more features and changing their algorithm to prioritise paid ads. Gone were your personal community-vibe updates, replaced with ads for brands you didn’t necessarily care about. Community updates were also out, with reams of memes, fake news, and click-bait content in.

While the initial sparkle of being able to target users with advertising was a huge drawcard for brands, it came at a cost: organic reach. No longer were your biggest fans and followers seeing your content out of genuine interest; you had to pay to play, otherwise, you were out of the game. Not only did you have to compete with other advertisers, but you were also playing in a seriously cluttered newsfeed.

Brands moving to owned channels

We’ve all seen the recent controversial decision from Lush Cosmetics, who, during an audit, found that on average only 6% of their social media followers were serviced with their content (other studies have estimated this can be around 1-2%). As a company, they refuse to pay to play for additional reach through the advertising opportunities that Facebook has allowed (e.g. paying to boost their posts). On the Lush website they state:

“As a business, we don’t pay for advertising. The same applies when it comes to social media. Over the years we have created, published and cross-promoted organic content and conversation with the Lush community across multiple platforms and accounts. However, it has become more and more apparent that these genuine conversations with the Lush Community cannot grow without us paying for the reach and engagement. We are proud of what we have built organically using borrowed platforms, but it is time for a change”.

They’ve decided to invest in and focus on their owned platforms, such as the Lush Labs app and Lush Player, where they report they have seen stronger engagement. Some may consider this to be a bold move, but it is likely to be a move that becomes the norm for many brands. When you bring it back to basics, the key motivator is driving engagement and the desire to reach out and connect with those who are interested in your brand - be it a personal brand or business.

The switch to owned social networks

With brands like Lush Cosmetics showcasing higher engagement levels across owned platforms, there is a strong case for brands to make the switch from third party networks to their own private social networks. While there are many reasons to make this change, the following four are compelling reasons on their own:

  1. Direct connections with users. By redirecting advertising dollars into building and promoting your own branded social network, users are directly plugged into your brand, opting to be involved and partake in a community with a common interest.

  2. Organic reach. No more pay-to-play. You can reach your engaged users, fans and followers through organic reach in your own network. Your content is a key feature in all feeds and channels.

  3. Advertising revenue / social selling. For influencers or services, being able to monetise your own social network provides a strong opportunity. For brands, showcasing your products and services direct to (engaged) consumers will drive up conversion, and ultimately revenue.

  4. First-hand data and insights. All data on how users interact with you is yours to understand. Alternatively, use polls or surveys on platform to understand user needs and preferences. A golden nugget for businesses wanting more information on how best to connect with end users.

These are just the starting point - there’s a range of other reasons to remove the “middle network” and create your own space to engage directly with fans and followers. The future of social lies in creating your owned community, the way you want it, free from the noise.