The Future of Building Community, Intimacy and Brand Advocacy in Social Media
For brands, social media is the most conversational, personal and direct channel for engaging with target audiences and thus, a dream place for organizations to discover, talk to and showcase brand advocates.
Social media brand advocates are extremely valuable to organizations, offering credibility that traditional advertising methods cannot replicate: Nine out of 10 online consumers say recommendations from friends and family members are their most trusted form of advertising worldwide, compared to just two out of 10 trusting online ads, according to Fast Company.
Brand advocates voluntarily and enthusiastically tell your organization’s story, extending your reach in a natural and compelling way, which boosts positive brand sentiment and impacts the bottom line.
How are social media communities changing?
A shift has taken place in where and how to foster brand advocacy in social media.
Younger audiences have shied away from traditional, established social media communities (“Like our Facebook page!”) that defined the 2010s. Facebook fan pages began as exciting communities formed around shared interests, but some lost their luster and their way after getting too big (“Why is mom commenting on my comment?”) and after social media transformed into a massive paid platform: Social ad spend in the United States is expected to eclipse $40 billion in 2020, up more than 20 percent year-over-year according to eMarketer.
Social media use continues to grow, but where to find and engage audiences is changing, so brands need to keep up faster than parents keep up with their tweens on social media. Mark Zuckerberg didn’t put it in those words, but he recently explained his vision about where social communities are headed in the 2020s.
“When I grew up in a small town, it was easy to have a niche and sense of purpose. But with billions of people, it’s harder to find your unique role. For the next decade, some of the most important social infrastructure will help us reconstruct all kinds of smaller communities to give us that sense of intimacy again.
This is one of the areas of innovation I’m most excited about. Our digital social environments will feel very different over the next 5+ years, re-emphasizing private interactions and helping us build the smaller communities we all need in our lives.”
What are three ways that brands can stay ahead?
As social media communities become more niche, and as interactions become more private, we are entering a new social media era—not unlike the first social media advertising wave— in which the savviest organizations will reap the rewards of brand advocacy and market share. Here are three paths to make that happen right away.
1) Drive brand advocacy with social listening and engagement
Conventional marketing wisdom says that social media is now pay-for-play, with success dictated by five-and-six-figure promotional budgets. That is only half of the story. No matter how targeted your ads are, they are by nature ads. Social media differentiates itself by its conversational, two-way nature.
Wise organizations will go beyond that conventional thinking to embrace organic opportunities to complement a strategic paid approach. That means finding and encouraging people who are already talking about your brand to also feel like they are truly part of your brand. From there, you can position these brand advocates to lead your movement on your behalf.
Social listening, which entails monitoring, analyzing, and engaging in conversations, is an often-neglected, twofold opportunity for brands:
- Engage reactively on owned pages
- Treat every positive engagement on your owned pages as though that person could be the next face of your ad campaign. Because, they could be. That means engaging, reinforcing, and addressing every single person like a person. Turn community members into brand advocates by recognizing and celebrating them.
- Engage proactively on non-owned pages
- Don’t limit your attention to people who are already engaging on your owned pages. There is a whole social world out there, and not all of your existing or potential fans are directly engaging on your channels or with your organization… yet.
- In response to social communities splintering and becoming more niche and more difficult to track, social media strategies should include processes and tools—Sprinklr is just one favorably used by many large organizations—to proactively monitor and engage. Are there influencers whose followings your brand can tap into? You don’t know until you know. Once you identify high-potential brand advocates, nurture those relationships, or even show them love via a surprise-and-delight campaign.
2) Explore and foster self-sustaining niche communities
You may have seen the Super Bowl commercial about them. You may get those little red irresistible notifications because of them. There is a good chance that you belong to at least one.
What are they? Facebook Groups, and they represent one example of thriving niche community spaces. Whether you are talking about Facebook Groups, YouTube channels or Reddit forums, Harvard Business Review has dubbed micro-community campfires as social forums that “offer a more intimate oasis where smaller groups of people are excited to gather around shared interests.” So, what does that mean for brands?
- Ride the rise of micro-communities
- Facebook has been promoting Facebook Groups heavily recently, including placing them at the center of their App in 2019, because they see that Groups is one place that their audience consistently engages. Groups are structured much better than Pages when it comes to sustainably connecting people and fostering discussion.
- Organizations should survey the landscape to see what micro-communities already exist in their niche, and if there is potential for developing a new one, with a little help from partering with the type of brand advocates and influencers that we outlined above.
3) Build and engage on personal and ephemeral ad formats
2020 will mark the first year that Instagram has more users than Facebook in the 18-24 age range, according to eMarketer. Even if your organization’s target audience is older, the shifts in where audiences are engaging will catch up sooner rather than later.
Those shifts go beyond simply which platforms are preferred. Yes, Instagram is popular among young audiences, and TikTok has resonated with even younger audiences. But brands must also now go a level deeper, to which placements are preferred.
For brands, this means building a well-researched, flexible social media plan that prioritizes emerging ad formats.
- Know exactly where your audience is interacting and speak to them in those places
- The drive toward a more direct and more personal social media experience has manifested itself in a preference for more private and ephemeral communication formats, which is why Instagram Stories and Facebook Messenger use continues to increase. Social platforms are quickly updating their ad offerings to match, such as with Story Ads, and Click-to-Messenger Ads.
- But organizations have been slow to pivot, which means ahead-of-the-curve organizations have a chance to exploit market inefficiencies in what is an otherwise increasingly competitive social media world.
Five Key POV Takeaways
- Brand advocates represent the most trusted voice an organization can have, and social media is the best place to find them and amplify their power.
- Although social media advertising is now a billion dollar industry, your brand advocate strategy is one area that need not be driven by advertising dollars.
- Young people are gravitating toward more niche and private social media communities, which impacts how organizations should find and showcase their brand advocates.
- Brands must go beyond thinking merely about what social media channels their audience is on… to understanding exactly where their brand advocates are engaging within those channels, such as on Instagram Stories.
- Social listening, when done right, enables organizations to find and leverage brand advocates and drive bottom-line results.
If you are interested in setting up your organization to leverage brand advocates via a social media strategy, contact [email protected].