A man poses with a magnifier in front of a Facebook logo on display. File Picture: REUTERS/DADO RUVIC
A man poses with a magnifier in front of a Facebook logo on display. File Picture: REUTERS/DADO RUVIC

The #DeleteFacebook movement picked up speed after the social media platform’s entanglement with the Cambridge Analytica data scandal. Elon Musk deleted the SpaceX Facebook page as if he were disposing of the garbage, while Playboy did the same.

Though two swallows do not a summer make, the veracity of the media coverage, as well as a groundswell of unhappiness with the platform, now makes it look like the social media leviathan might be harbouring a limp. When was the last time you spoke to someone who actually had something positive to say about their Facebook experience?

What does this mean for brands? As most marketers are already aware, the number of followers you have on Facebook means little if brands are not willing to open their wallets to actively engage with them. Facebook’s bait-and-switch points towards a “show me the money” attitude and leaves one with a simple conclusion: Facebook owns your customers, not you. This is not set to change and becomes harder with every algorithm update that makes it even more difficult to reach customers.

Your platform matters

While many companies have used competitions to build up a following, Facebook must be seen as primarily a social media platform where people want to connect with friends and family. And only certain people, since Facebook doesn’t have the cool factor for young people, especially not with moms and grandmas being able to comment on last night’s embarrassing photos.

Instead of throwing their money at social media, brands should rather focus on attracting people to their wholly owned platforms. Inevitably it might mean exposure to fewer people, but the relationship to be had with more dedicated, interested, customers will be far more engaging. And they need to apply the same degree of personalisation that social networks have been offering them when people visit their own platforms.

Internationally, many large brand websites profile customers and offer personal experiences, but locally very few are doing it. This despite the fact that there are products like IBM Watson's campaign automation offering, which allows brands to create deeply personal journeys for their customers; journeys that use AI to get the right message to people at the right time.

Social’s a stepping stone

Organisations like Kraft Heinz have been hitting the nail on the head for years, posting useful content to their website and channelling customers there. This is done using Adwords through Google search and, yes, also social media. The difference is that it sees social media simply as a stepping stone on the journey, not the final destination. For Kraft Heinz it is all about the individual, not groups of consumers clumped together. 

The company analyses who are on their sites and what content they are engaging with, using this data to feed yet more related information to them. For example, using marketing automation software they drip-feed relevant content – and offers – to customers who have clicked on specific articles. This strategy works. A couple of years back Kraft Heinz revealed that its content marketing programme generated a return on investment of four times that of advertising, both digital and conventional. 

If all around you are admiring the emperor’s fine set of clothes, it can be tempting to agree rather than point out that he is wearing his birthday suit. But it seems that too many marketers have been swept up by a misguided belief that social media is the answer to all their needs. In the process, they have ignored the reality that if they want to build a relationship with their customers, they need to speak to them directly, rather than enter someone else's domain. And to do that effectively, marketers need to embrace the technology that will allow them to show the customer that they understand them and can tailor messages to meet their needs.

Charlie Stewart is CEO of digital marketing agency, Rogerwilco.

The big take-out

Social media is less effective for targeting consumers than marketers think. Brands need to build relationships with their consumers through direct, targeted, personalised communication.

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