Time for Brands to Build Their Own Social Sites

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram shouldn't control your customer relationships

Social networks have grown rapidly and gained genuine market power in a world where social conversations have become the new global information currency.

But there is no guarantee that social media will continue to be defined by the handful of networks that currently dominate it. As brands realize that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine and Tumblr don’t have a patent on the social experience, they will create their own on their own websites. 

Illustration: Miguel Montaner  

Technological advancements now allow companies of all sizes to engage and interact with their fans in more meaningful ways through e-commerce-enabled websites with elements of the visual Web (Instagram), social commerce capabilities (Pinterest) and video (Vine). These increasingly social company websites allow brands to capitalize on user-generated content that might be buried in a news feed on Facebook, and give it a second, longer life.

Some key trends will push brands to build social media capabilities into their own websites and own, rather than rent, social interaction with their customers.

First, consumers today are more powerful than they have ever been. The largest generation in U.S. history, the 87 million millennials (and the generations that follow) are redefining how brands relate with their customers. The careful curation of a brand’s image over a period of decades is becoming a thing of the past, and a social experience between brand and consumer that is housed on a website is a large step toward owning interactions that are deeply influential.

Indeed, brands that build the social experiences consumers demand, rather than rewind to an era of brand message broadcasting, will dominate a new era of business where consumers are in charge.

In this shift, the value of audience ownership is a crucial concept to grasp. The promise and disruptive power of social media came from brands’ ability to broadcast messages to their consumers free of charge. With a little hard work and creativity, businesses were able to connect with their social media audience outside of a traditional advertising or marketing model.

Today, that is less true. Brands are realizing that if they want to continue to reach their audiences, they are going to have to pay for sponsored posts or social ads. The result is that brands that thought they had an ownership of their social audience now realize they are still renting ad structure where they have to pay each time they want to communicate with their customers.

Brands are increasingly realizing that they can continue this free social interaction with their customer base by replicating the social experience on their website where the experience can be completely customizable and consumers are one step closer to the point of purchase.

The democratization of technology now allows brands that once relied on social networks for communication in the social sphere to instead offer that experience themselves. A company’s website can offer photo and video uploading, commenting, contests and sharing—and is no longer governed by the whims of algorithm changes or the rise and fall of individual social media sites.

Finally, the billions of interactions on social networks yield a treasure trove of consumer data that now rests in the hands of giant social networks. Just as they don’t own their social audiences, brands are realizing they also don’t own this immensely powerful data set about their consumers.

By embedding social capabilities into their websites, brands now are reclaiming that data and building the databases that will position them to succeed—as insights into consumer behavior take a central role in business operations.

This data represents both the consumer insights gleaned from online interactions and the valuable content that consumers supply to brands in exchange for contest entries or discounts. By owning this process from end to end, brands can now generate and control data that will be the foundation of marketing, advertising and product development efforts in an age governed by data insight and social consumer content.

It just doesn’t pay to rent anymore.

Kevin Bobowski (@bobowski) is vp of marketing, Offerpop a digital marketing SaaS platform