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Is it time for brands to build their own social networks?

From January this year, brands have to rethink their communication strategy on Facebook, as the social media giant rolls out restrictions on companies posting content that looks and sounds like ads.

How will brands change their communication in the new Facebook Age?

Jim Hawker, co-founder, Threepipe, says that, “Brands will have to resist posting overly promotional status updates going forward; as these will be seriously reducing your organic reach of the all the content you post.”

Hawker advises that, “You don’t want to be pushy by using words such as “buy”, “comment” or even “click here”, instead now brands will have to focus on quality content first; things that people actually want to interact with.”

Many believe the changes that have been brought in by Facebook have been expected and therefore most astute marketers aren’t being taken by surprise. Digital experts such as Venkat Mallik, president, RAPP India, point out that many of the people who have predicted this change have tried, “not to make Facebook the central social media vehicle and to build out their own digital infrastructure and communities on their websites.”

Mallik foresees that, “Community features on brand websites and other forms of branded communities will start making a comeback. This was a key strategy especially among B2B players and had drifted away because of the ease of building communities in the erstwhile Facebook era.”

Suveer Bajaj, Director, Media Operations and Co-founder, FoxyMoron Media Solutions Private Limited, says that content consumption patterns of consumers on Facebook are driven by important hallmark or marquee events that are considered to be ‘trending topics’,  and “brands will start creating macro content that stays relevant to these ‘hooks’.”

Suveer adds, “Content will start centralising itself to be more topical in nature in order to retain its relevance to the user. Brands will not be hungry to generate empty fan bases and boast of large pages but will now focus on driving interaction and engagement to develop well rounded and healthy communities on Facebook.”

How will content change?

Mallik says that, “Facebook had already propagated the 40: 40: 20 rule – where only 20 was to be ‘salesy’ brand messaging. The last 20% is what has been restricted. The pressure on creating interesting content that gets shared will continue – even though the reach for that content may be dependent on paid Facebook properties. The content will also need to be creatively stimulating enough for it to deliver the maximum possible, albeit depleted organic reach.”

Mallik adds, “New brands will think very hard before deciding to build a new Facebook community. The era of the Facebook community being a default marketing strategy is over. “

Should brands invest in their own social networks?

There is no one answer to whether brands should invest in building their own social networks. Mallik says this would work, “In some categories. For B2B, building a social network or community would make sense – the investment might be justified.”

However Mallik says this may not work for other categories: “I especially wonder about the value of building a social network for FMCG brands with low price units and repertoire buying behaviour. It might make sense only to build a community of hard core loyalists and advocates rather than vast communities of consumers who buy infrequently or have weak brand connect.”

Hawker believes that if your entire social media strategy is built on Facebook you’re already doing something wrong.

“I’ve always been a strong believer that there’s value in building your own platforms; Microsoft did it extremely well with Xbox Live, Gamertags and Achievements in 2005. Reddit, launched in the same year, is another impressive example as it enables anyone to bring breaking news”, says Hawker.

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