What forums do that Facebook can’t Friday 29 June, 2012
If I’m being so social, why does no one listen?
Facebook’s had a tough run of it lately; from the loss of GM to the widespread executive flight to the botched IPO, their troubles are well-documented (if the root causes less so.) Either way, one thing is clear; for brands, it’s not the silver bullet we were originally told. No doubt there is a place for brands on Facebook, and having a “social” budget still makes sense, but what is equally clear is that there are valuable social interactions to be had outside of Facebook’s walled garden.
So why are marketers flailing on facebook?
Well, I don’t call my friend Peyton, she of the famous Five-Dates-In-24-Hours, for her thoughts on the Affordable Care Act. Just as not every pal is suited to every purpose, social platforms aren’t one-size-fits-all.
Consumers don’t turn to Pinterest for nuanced long-form political analysis, or to Houzz for outfit inspiration. Remarkably few of us choose facebook to discuss brands or products, or, often, even interests; personally, I’m much too busy liking my friends’ engagement announcements and posting alternate Vogue and Deadspin links in my bid to appear feminine, yet down-to-earth. This is no knock on facebook—what it does, it does tremendously well. But brands have been treating it as a panacea, when in reality it’s a Friday-night friend; a lot of fun, but also pretty flaky.
To brands, Facebook can be:
- Unresponsive: 95% of branded posts on facebook go unanswered
- Undiscriminating: 3.5 billion pieces of content are shared each week, making it near-impossible to stand out amidst the sea of noise
- Unengaged: Only 13% of users said they post about brands they like
For all its reach and innovation, Facebook simply replicates what’s historically been advertisers’ greatest obstacle; they’re interrupting, instead of adding. But there are pockets of the internet where passionate talk of products makes brands and their outreach a welcome addition; welcome to the interest graph.
Interest Graph: it’s easier for brands to talk about their products when consumers are too
The social vs. interest graph debate has been bubbling for some time, but a brief recap: if the social graph is who you like, a map of all your social connections, the interest graph is what you like, the network of people with whom you share interests and interact, but may not personally know. From a consumer’s perspective, they opt into these interest-graph communities, be it posting Chanel style boards on Polyvore or a lighting discussion on Houzz, of their own volition and to feed their own passions. Because these communities are, therefore, a blend of knowledgeable experts and engaged amateurs, consumers get better information, more intelligent discussion, satisfying feedback, and often close social, albeit virtual, relationships.
What does this mean for marketers?
- Organic Brand Openings
- Interests often intersect with products (and services); it’s tough to ski without skis, or golf without clubs. As a result, product and brand conversations are happening inside these communities, organically, all the time. Instead of Sony interrupting my perusal of my best friend’s baby shower album to try (and fail) to sell me a new laptop, they get to talk to someone who may have actively just posted “Need new laptop; thoughts on Sony?” That consumer has brand awareness, purchase intent, and is actively soliciting further information; in short, a marketer’s dream.
- Massive Amplification
- The interest graph is built of one-way follows: an influencer’s response to a query like the above is like to be retweeted or reposted by his many followers, whose own followers will then do the same, creating a massive broadcast effect. As a result, the most mundane insights from the right source can travel farther, and wider, than even the juiciest status-update.
- Lasting Value
- Just as important, those eyes keep coming. In forums especially, a particularly authoritative response will become a common point of reference, as those who ask similar questions in the future get sent back to the original source. Thus, high-quality content remains alive and vital within the community’s ecosystem, as shown by the fact that a link’s half-life on facebook is 3 hours; on Stumbleupon, it’s 400.
Consumers may be flocking to these interest-graph sites, but so far marketers have been slow to follow. The biggest knock on the interest graph is usually that it still doesn’t overcome the trust factor; that people will still take a friend’s recommendation over a stranger’s any day. But the interest graph lives inside the social graph; for marketers, it’s hardly separate from, but instead integral to a strong social-media strategy.
The reason is that these communities have hierarchies, experts, friends, and rivalries all their own. So the suggestion isn’t that I get on the subway, grill my neighbor for his thoughts on my RAM needs and head straight to Best Buy. The idea is still that I reach out to a friend, just one I can be confident really knows his stuff, thanks to a long history of demonstrated expertise within our shared community. And if Sony happens to weigh in to offer 20% off as we consider my options, who’s to say that’s not a win-win?