Sales & Marketing

Building trust with branded communities amidst the social media backlash

6 min read

30 April 2019

Our love affair with traditional social media channels has begun to wane. High-profile news about data misuse, its negative impact on young mental health and the promotion of fake news and fake users mean that the honeymoon period for social media is well and truly over.  Both businesses and consumers alike are starting to question what’s really at the core of their relationship with channels like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat.

Traditional social channels have lost their appeal. In just a few short years, consumers have gone from obsessively engaging with traditional social media channels, to disengaging with them in their droves. In short, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and others are all failing to make new friends.

Facebook reported falling daily and monthly active users in Europe for the first time last year, with numbers dropping from 281 million to 279 million and from 377 million to 376 million respectively.

While according to a recent Pew Research Center study, 42% of American adults report they haven’t checked their feeds for several weeks; with 26% of Americans deleting the app completely from their smartphones.

Users no longer trust social media, they want to take back control

It seems that a newfound lack of trust and control is what’s pushing people to log out. Figures suggest that as people better understand how traditional social channels track them, they change the way they interact with the service.

Pew Research Center’s figures show 70% of people try to actively curate what goes onto their feed and will make changes to their ad and privacy settings. While about half of those who’ve downloaded their data from Facebook go on to delete the app entirely, and almost 80% have changed their privacy settings.

These behaviours strongly suggest that, understandably, consumers now want more control over how they communicate and share information; and how their data is used.

As a marketer, how do you continue to engage digitally with your audiences if they are no longer engaging with your core social channels?

How do you distance your brand from ringfenced services they no longer trust? How do you build trust with them directly? How do you make them feel like the control is in their hands? The answer is building positive relationships with brand owned communities.

Building a brand owned community offers a single answer to all of these questions. It gives marketers a way to own and develop positive relationships with their most passionate audiences, away from the negative connotations of the social media giants.

Without the pressures of having to ‘cut-through’ noise from competitors or beat the algorithm, brands can focus on providing people will quality content, information, and help.

Organisations with cult followings like Sephora Beauty, Lego, Starbucks, and Xbox have all invested in their own nuanced brand communities with tremendous success. While lesser known brands like Young Foodies and a financial advisory firm have teamed up to launch their own community to support small business owners at their most critical growth face – YF Funding.

The secrets to brand-owned social success

While these communities come in different shapes, sizes, and purposes; their similar approach is what’s helped secure their success. Other marketers can learn from their lessons to build their own successful communities by ensuring they are clear on the purpose of the brand’s community – who are the prospective members? What are they looking for and why would your community serve them better than any alternative?

Plan ahead

Develop a high-level strategy that is revisited regularly and tactical plans that advance this strategy. Tactics not anchored in the strategy will divert resources and focus.

Collaborate with the right technology partner

There are plenty of companies offering to build branded community platforms but if you are committing to running a branded social network you do need to plan for the long haul. Unless there is some promise of longevity you will end up driving a negative perception of your brand.

Create robust processes

Make sure it is obvious who is leading the project, establish clear reporting lines and accountability.

Set ambitious but achievable goals

There need to be membership targets and regular monitoring to see if the programme is undershooting or overshooting. However, they must be realistic and scaling too quickly is as problematic as slow growth.

Determine whether you have an audience of passionate advocates

Use it to give people what they want – research shows that consumers want brands to use communities to:

  • Keep them informed of new products and services (46%)
  • Benefit from special offers (42% )
  • Learn about the product or service (41%)
  • Interact with other enthusiasts (40%)
  • Consistently prove its value to its members 

People will always want digital communities as they are places they can share their passions, quality content and collaborate, safely.

As the figures show, traditional social channels are no longer deemed the best place to experience this. But brand owned communities provide a superior and supplementary alternative.

The initial wave of early brand adopters, both large and small, show the successes that can be achieved by doing so. The only real challenge now is for other marketers to get on board before every other brand catches on.