Be A Brand – Not A Facebook Brand

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marc-grabowski-new-2"Data-Driven Thinking" is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Marc Grabowski, entrepreneur-in-residence at Highland Capital Partners.

Don't act like you have built a brand or amassed some sort of great will among your "loyal followers." You have spent money on Facebook and gained acceptance of your brand showing up in the newsfeed of some people. But you do not own a data asset. You do not own share of mind and you definitely do not own your destiny.

Facebook controls all of these factors. It has shown that as quickly as you grow a fan base, it can decrease or cut off your access to those people.

“What is the single most important piece of advice you could provide brands on the way they approach Facebook?” a friend recently asked me.

“Earn the right to communicate to your fans off of Facebook,” I said, “and then build a data asset that can be leveraged across multiple channels.”

Declining Reach

Over the past few months, articles on the decreased organic reach of Facebook posts have circulated the Internet. I know many that have claimed their posts only reach 1% or 2% of their fan bases. The reason for this could be threefold.

First, more people post more things on Facebook, meaning the social network needs to limit clutter in feeds. A few months ago, there were claims that Facebook began limiting click-bait or like-bait in news feeds. The aforementioned consists of posts that request users to "like" or "share" if they agree with an inane question, such as "Like this post if you hate terrorism!" Separately, it's (hopefully) safe to assume that cat memes are included in this change.

Second, posts follow chronological order. If a brand posts at 1 p.m. and I don't check my feed until 2 p.m., I must scroll through an hour of posts before reaching the 1 p.m. musings from that brand. If, however, this post takes on a viral life, via likes, shares or comments, there is a better chance that I'll see the post when somebody in my network shares it closer to the time when I check my news feed.

Finally, Facebook wants advertisers to spend money and promote posts. There are obvious business reasons for this. Most people believe that reason No. 3 is the primary motivation. Without knowing its algorithms, it's hard to know for sure, but I disagree. My belief is that Facebook recognizes that relevance of content to the user is the most important part of the user experience. Without a high level of relevance, the social network will churn out users and their ability to monetize will be irreparably harmed.

The question stands: How can a company build a brand that transcends Facebook?

They must monitor organic post reach and interaction, build a committed and communicate with users outside of Facebook alone.

1. Monitor Organic Reach

There are several companies that enable advertisers to monitor reach of posts, likes, shares and comments. If you have not contracted a social agency, there are a few quick techniques that are available from the Facebook page admin area.

• Examine reach of your posts as a percentage of your total fan base

For example, if your fan base is 100,000 and a post reaches 2,000 people, your reach of post is 2%. Clearly the goal is to create content that reaches a larger portion of your fan base on a given day. Also look at total daily reach (reach of all posts added together) vs. your fan base.

• How many engagements did your post receive?

Facebook does not disclose the silver bullet to organic reach but my experience has shown that if you receive more likes, comments, shares and clicks on a link, you greatly improve the chances to reach a large audience organically. Bucket clicks separate from the other three and monitor your post popularity. Compare these numbers to your post reach in the last step to determine which are the largest drivers for your brand's organic reach.

• Monitor landing page sharing

If you post a link and it drives to a product or article page, monitor how many people read the article and, in turn, share the content. If you have a low pass-along rate, it's safe to assume the user did not receive what they hoped from the article. If the pass-along rate is high, the user felt not only that you fulfilled your promise of content relevance, but they feel comfortable passing it along to their friends. This helps increase unpaid reach as well.

2. Build A Committed Following

Before you can build a data asset or expect users to hand over their email addresses, postal addresses or mobile numbers, you must forge a bond between your brand and customers. The only way to do this is with great content and strong community engagement. When users write comments on posts, you should reply in a timely manner with something that enhances the user experience.

Alternate between photo posts, link posts and video posts. The latter seems to receive much greater organic reach without social interaction. The only assumption here is that Facebook strives to train users to watch and ultimately click on videos, enabling sound upon demand, as they will serve more video advertising in the future.

3. Build A Data Asset

You have now earned the right to move users off of Facebook. You understand which posts are relevant to the desires of users and have constructed content that could take on a life of its own.

Currently the only data point visible about fans is their Facebook ID. You need to gather email addresses, mobile phone numbers and potentially mailing addresses.

You could ask fans to email you directly to enter a contest, receive free things or simply share experiences. Many brands make the mistake of encouraging and enabling Facebook users to communicate through the platform alone.

If you are managing a multichannel woman's fashion brand, for instance, you could post a picture of a fan wearing your brand's outfit and ask other fans to email or text photos of themselves wearing your brand. Request a mailing address and size with the promise that certain percentage of people who write will receive a free belt, shirt or something you are willing to give away. Follow through and send the goods promised and in return, ask for photos of users wearing that free merchandise. When they send those photos, post them and run a similar promotion.

The Outcome

It’s possible to build a mobile phone marketing list, a direct mail list, an email marketing database that can be used for email marketing – read the canned spam act first – as well as Twitter-tailored audiences and a much better understanding of fans, in terms of traits like size and geography.

This will ultimately move companies from being a blip within a Facebook news feed to those that have earned the right to foster one-to-one communications with a devoted following of loyal brand advocates.

Moreover, the data asset created allows for communication with loyal customer bases via a variety of channels, ultimately reducing reliance on any single platform.

Follow Marc Grabowski (@MarcTGrabowski) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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