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Social media is dying — at least the way businesses have come to know it. Meta’s earnings call is just the latest signal that Facebook is no longer the ultimate destination for brand awareness and connecting with customers. The tech titan’s profits were cut in half compared to the same quarter a year ago. This sent its stock spiraling.
Two main culprits seem to be at play: a significant drop in digital advertising (thanks to Apple’s App Tracking Transparency) and younger users drifting to newer platforms, like TikTok, at the expense of Meta’s Facebook and Instagram.
While a new wave of social apps have experienced explosive growth among Gen Z users and others, a simple truth remains: When you don’t own the platform, you can’t truly control your interactions with your audience. And this should give businesses pause as they think about their next steps.
How did we get here?
Facebook, circa 2010, was arguably the place for businesses to build a community. That’s not to say other social platforms didn’t have communities at the time, but Facebook was the lowest common denominator.
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Companies created business pages and encouraged their audiences to “like” them, inviting consumers to engage with content there. This was all well and good — until it wasn’t.
About five years in, businesses noticed that their Facebook pages were generating less and less organic engagement among their fans. On closer inspection, it was apparent that Facebook’s algorithms gained control of what had previously been organic reach. The social giant’s new revenue model was born. Businesses started paying Facebook to show people their content via boosted posts and advertising campaigns.
Now, in light of the iOS 14 update and the cookieless future of advertising, which will limit the amount of user data Facebook collects from third parties — and therefore its ability to target ads with the same granularity — Facebook’s stranglehold on brands isn’t what it used to be. Couple that with younger generations’ preference for other social sites and services, and businesses are at a crossroads.
Organizations spent many years and big dollars building communities on Facebook, but communities, like technology, are constantly evolving. Facebook no longer adequately serves companies’ needs, yet community has never been more important for brands.
Fortunately, there is a better, more decentralized way to build it.
Going solo to build community
The community that once made Facebook one of the biggest platforms in the world will now flourish instead within individual applications. These applications can be purposeful and engaging, so that community becomes part of the overall experience. That means the new, best way to build an active, relevant community around your brand is not to hop to another social site but rather to bring it into your own app.
The community is your property, so you set the rules. You have the best read on the pulse of your users and can provide a space that suits their needs to connect with others, find information or create. If you’ve designed an environment that offers the features users want and respects their privacy (assuming you don’t sell or share their data), you have a good shot at creating a flourishing community that adds value to your business.
By taking community in-app, you also have a natural tie-in with your topic or business. Compare these two basic scenarios:
- A user is playing a video game and he/she pauses the game to compose a Facebook post that goes out to some people who may or may not understand what the person is talking about before he/she resumes the game.
- In the middle of gameplay, a user composes topic-based group chat, voice or video messages that go directly to people who are also actively involved in the game.
Which scenario prompts the highest level of engagement and enjoyment? The answer is clear.
Providing an easy way for your community to interact within the context of your topic earns interest and creates connection. While gaming is an obvious example, the same principle holds for marketplaces, streaming platforms, dating apps and just about any other product that invites conversation among users.
But will users show up?
In the past, brands have been reluctant to go their own way, in their own app, because Facebook already had a massive audience to draw from. As enticing as it is, when you look closer, in today’s reality it no longer pans out as you’d envision. Sure, Facebook has the audience, but can you actually get that audience’s attention when the marketplace has gotten so crowded and overrun with everything from jokes to politics? The same risk holds for the future of other social platforms.
To stand out, brands have to create authentic quality content and robust conversations that bring users back. That’s where the hard work is, and that work doesn’t change whether the technology platform underneath is Facebook’s or the brand’s own app.
You can’t just show up on Facebook and expect to pull an audience. If you’re going to do the work of creating a great place for conversation around the topics you care about, then what exactly is Facebook or another platform really getting you? This is the question more and more brands are asking.
Is this where conversations remain?
In-app communities are an outstanding way to invite more people to engage and have positive experiences with your brand. In fact, they will become table stakes. But other options, like the metaverse, are surfacing. Will they take over before in-app communities develop to their full potential?
Meta has poured billions into creating a new online world. It is striving hard to build a new type of community, one where brands and avatars can interact in ways other social platforms have yet to allow. Brands ranging from Wendy’s and Coca-Cola to Nike, Samsung, Gucci and Louis Vuitton are already there. But will it work? It’s a pretty big gamble.
At the recent Meta Connect event, Mark Zuckerberg said, “The metaverse needs to feel inspired.” Yes, it absolutely does, but people and community are what will inspire it — not the better graphics that were unveiled at the event. Users’ presence and their ability to communicate in authentic ways are what will make the metaverse a place worth visiting, and this is a concept Meta has yet to fully master: Allowing the people to build the communities they want, rather than algorithms forcing experiences upon them.
At the end of the day, communities are about people, not technology. The novelty of the metaverse will certainly attract a crowd, but soon technologies that allow people to immerse themselves in AR/VR will become commonly available, and user preferences will be back to square one: Going where they can find authentic connections. Will that come in your app, or as part of someone else’s experience?
John S. Kim is the CEO of Sendbird
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