Don’t build your house on rented land.
If you’re thinking about creating a branded community, I’m sure you’ve heard this phrase before. But are there actual repercussions to creating a community on a social platform (i.e. “rented land”)?
Generally, no matter which social platform you pick over a branded community, these are the features you’d miss out on:
- Your data is valuable -- It’s valuable to you, and it’s especially valuable to social platforms. If the platform is free, it means you and your members are the product. Most branded communities don’t store, use or share your data -- they’re not trying to turn your platform into their own marketing tool.
- Lose inbound leads and SEO -- Wouldn’t you rather bring leads to your website where they can download content and learn more about your organization, rather than to a third party? If your community is hosted on an unconnected, unbranded platform, you’ll lose brand awareness and the cache that comes with it. Plus, you lose the opportunity to bring in organic leads through searches. As your community members create content, the community’s SEO increases -- make sure you take advantage of that and bring new leads directly to you.
- No integrations -- Your database and contacts are invaluable, and communities are an important tool in making sure it’s up to date and accurate. Social platforms don’t integrate with your database the way a branded community platform does. Rather than managing two disparate data sources, you’ll only have to work with one at a time.
- Missed revenue -- On social platforms, your members are bound to see ads, which isn’t inherently bad. The catch, though, is that someone else gets the money. Ads are a great way to increase your community’s revenue, but only if you have control of the platform. If your members are going to see ads, you may as well make sure you’re benefiting from it -- and choosing what gets promoted.
Now, let’s take a look at specific alternatives. Are they really all that different from a branded community platform?
Organizations often start community building on LinkedIn, since it’s free and an excellent platform for professional networking. It can be a good place to experiment with community and decide if it’s worth investing in a comprehensive, branded platform. In fact, depending on your industry, customers or members may have already created a networking group on LinkedIn.
Don’t be fooled into thinking LinkedIn is the final frontier, even if people seem to engage fairly well in those groups. Imagine how much stronger the engagement could be in a controlled ecosystem, tailored to fit your members’ needs. LinkedIn’s user experience isn’t ideal or malleable, and you don’t have any control, tools or extra features to facilitate conversation. Instead, take the momentum that started on LinkedIn and migrate those dedicated users to a branded community -- now they’ll have a better space to discuss and share resources, and know just how much you value their input.
Almost everyone is on Facebook -- 72 percent of adult internet users, to be exact. So it’s very tempting to think Facebook is the answer to your community dreams. Most of your users already have accounts and know how to use the platform. Plus, if your community isn’t purely professional, Facebook is the obvious alternative to LinkedIn, since it’s widely used for personal interest groups.
But just because almost everyone has Facebook, doesn’t mean everyone uses it -- or wants to use it. Facebook’s demographics have significantly changed since its start -- at the beginning, only college students could sign up. Now, younger generations eschew the platform, which is why Facebook bought Instagram -- they’re struggling to stay relevant with younger generations.
What about Facebook’s new “At Work” platform? Although Facebook At Work is also tempting, it’s not a suitable community building platform. People have strong feelings about separating work from personal life. Even though Facebook At Work won’t connect the two accounts, the very fact that it looks and feels like Facebook -- since it is -- will be a significant barrier to engagement.
More importantly, even if the network is secure from hackers, Facebook itself can see the data being shared. Remember -- on social platforms, you’re the product. How comfortable should people be sharing documents and resources if someone else can see that data?
Is Twitter a community? If you’re really intentional about your interactions, it is possible to make Twitter a community, but it isn’t inherent. If you want community, Twitter is not the place to start -- it’s a good platform to promote or build audience, but not an encompassing solution.
Many organizations use Twitter as a form of customer support, since people often vent or tweet at handles to get attention. And it works. But, again, branded communities can take those interactions to a whole new level -- not just listening to customers, but responding and learning from them as well.
Bringing customer support from Twitter to a community has several big benefits. Response times are fast and comprehensive, since fellow community members enjoy diving into the conversation to lend a hand and advice. And many communities integrate with ticketing systems -- if a member is still stuck, they can create a support ticket with the click of a button, sending their discussion thread to a support person. Streamlining customer support and community reduces support costs, saves your team time and leaves customers happier.
Why is Slack in this list? Although it’s not a social platform the way Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are, it’s definitely worth taking a closer look. Slack wouldn’t be used as a customer or member community; it’s the new, modern solution to stale intranets.
Slack almost works too well, and is known for creating monster, day-long meetings -- all via instant messenger. Instead of choosing when to engage -- or feeling empowered to disconnect when you need to buckle down and do work -- Slack engages too much, creating a constant stream of information, complete with GIFs.
How can there be too much engagement when engagement is usually seen as value?
Not all engagement is created equal -- you want members to engage on their own terms, in a way that works best for them. Otherwise they’ll feel overwhelmed and give up. Some people enjoy messenger apps and a constant discussion stream, but not everyone does. That’s why it’s important to create a community that engages people on multiple levels, through daily digests, mobile apps, discussions and resources.
Every platform has its place
Each social platform -- LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and even Slack -- has a place in the world and your organization. They’re all important and powerful tools. The trick is finding the right job for each tool. And it’s important to pick the right tool for your community. If you’re community is small, Facebook or LinkedIn could work for now. But as it grows, you’ll want to harness that energy more effectively -- and grow your community on secure land that you own.