There’s been some chit, and chat, around the water-cooler recently about brands moving their social marketing and branding efforts from existing platforms to their own, custom-crafted networks. This is, by no means, a shiny new idea; brand managers and business owners have long since coveted a valid alternative to spending their money on social ads.

When social media was still a marketing novelty, specialists were working very hard to convince business owners to give the concept of developing a one-on-one relationship with their audience through social networks a chance. Like with most attempts to be convincing, pitches were made, articles were written, conferences were attended and in all this excitement promises were made and expectations were set high. Expectations we can no longer live up to.


Social media marketing was supposed to enable brands to elegantly barge into the everyday social existence of their potential audience and one of its strongest assets was that it seemed to be completely and utterly free. Today we know better. Facebook has been gracious enough to teach us that you can, and most certainly should, buy love. Possibly the greatest myth out there is that social media is free. Creating an account might be but that’s about as far as “free” will take you and Facebook is the worst offender.

In this context, it should come as no big surprise that businesses are looking for ways of driving traffic away from the social network into an environment under their control. In a recent AdWeek article Time for Brands to Build Their Own Social Sites , Kevin Bobowski discusses the next step in B2C social interaction. At first glance his proposition is a no-brainer; why pay to build a following and then pay again to communicate with it when you can use those resources to build a better platform, suited for your needs and for your public.

In practice, however, things are a lot more complicated.

Resources

One of the most appealing traits of Facebook advertising is its affordability. You can still get something out of it even if you have a small budget. Building your very own social network is way, way more expensive. Design, development, hosting and marketing, because simply building it means nothing in this day and age, can run you into the ground.

Hundreds of hours of development mean tens of thousands of dollars, and that’s without factoring in testing, bugs and constant bug fixing. And if you think you’ll never run into bugs, Facebook still acts up every now and again, despite the fact that it has been up and running for 10 years and it has legions of bespoke developers working around the clock.

The only businesses that could afford to build their own social platforms are medium to large companies, leaving small businesses out in the cold. Not to mention that large businesses are already doing very well on existing social networks, because they can afford to invest, test, experiment; rinse and repeat until they come up with the content their audience responds to.

The anatomy of social network participation

Resources aside, probably the most important thing to consider is why people sign up for social networking sites.

  • Connect with friends and family
  • Keep in touch with people you would otherwise not have the chance to connect with
  • Share important moments
  • Have a voice and use it whether the world likes it or not
  • Brag
  • Keep up-to-date with news about topics you’re interested in
  • Get recommendations from friends on products and services
  • Discover new places, things to do and people
  • Connect with interesting people and celebrities
  • Improve certain skills or learn new ones

What do I get on a business’ very own social network:

  • Product promos
  • Brand news
  • Product promos
  • Brand-related content
  • Product promos
  • Product discounts

The reason why brands succeed on social media is because they’ve figured out how to seamlessly tap into the everyday social interactions between users. They understand what else their users like to talk about and create their content accordingly. Given the choice, people won’t even navigate away from the social network to get to the content because it’s disruptive to their online social routine.

So why would they sign up for a brand new social network, only to be marketed to? It’s the equivalent of actively seeking out door-to-door salesmen, whether you need their services or not.

The nature of communities

Communities are generally built around ideas, interests, goals and causes, not brands. The ones that are, took time to define and polish a culture people would feel privileged to be a part of. What are the odds that a professional photographer or a small pastry shop could build a coherent brand identity and culture, and somehow attract their audience to a platform of their own? Slim to none, especially when you consider the fact that branding and building a brand culture have one essential component, exposure; the repetitive kind.

Thing is, if you take social media platforms out of the equation, you cancel the most accessible exposure mechanism small businesses have.  The social network community survives because it caters to a wide range of needs and interests and brands can join the conversation and steer it towards accomplishing their own goals.


The Bottom Line

If and when a brand will find a viable way of migrating an entire fanbase away from a social network and into an environment of its own, it will be another milestone in the evolution of the online world because that will be a brand new beast and all of us will have to reevaluate the way we interact with consumers.

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