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Engaging Social Customers in a Post-Tab World

  |  July 24, 2012   |  Comments

The social marketing landscape continues to change, yet many marketers haven't shifted their engagement tactics.

There was a time - not that long ago - when the formula for social media marketing was fairly straightforward:

  1. Set up a Facebook tab with a simple experience or a promotion.
  2. Buy some ads and point a few posts at the tab.
  3. Watch your fan count and engagement metrics rise.

Granted, sometimes it worked better than others - and creating a good tab + app experience in Facebook was fairly tricky in the early days - but those were the mechanics.

For several years, Facebook tabs were the training wheels for social marketers who were figuring out how to create social "experiences" that allowed customers to engage with their brand or product in a social context. But, it's not so simple anymore. The training wheels are off and here's why:

Today, Social = Streams

Looking back, Facebook's tabs feel a bit like a vestige from the bygone MySpace or Ning days. Tabs were mainly custom "widget" containers that let publishers and brands pull content into the social network's page, but they were outside the "stream" of tweets, posts, pins, etc.

Moving onward, the leading social networks - Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. - are now focused on improving the stream. And, in fact, most are actively working to allow more rich content and post types in the stream itself. Twitter's new Cards API is an excellent example of this.

As streams continue to support more and more rich posts and content, those marketers who are able to leverage the latest capabilities will have a distinct advantage in the battle for attention. As a result, marketers must make it a strategic imperative to put their best, most engaging content in the stream itself to capture the attention of their social audience.

While many marketers think of the "post tab" landscape as a debate about timelines, brands must think bigger than that as they have the opportunity to engage on a deeper level with their customers through rich content in their fans' streams. Moreover, marketers need to consider that today:

Social Customers = Mobile Customers

"Social audiences" are becoming increasingly synonymous with "mobile audiences." With over 430 million Facebook users accessing the site monthly on their mobile device, it's no wonder that social network use has eclipsed games as the number one mobile phone activity. In the old "Facebook tab" world, mobile customers were largely left out, since tabs + apps very rarely worked on mobile.

The fact that so many target customers are now accessing social networks via mobile has significant implications for how marketers approach and deliver social experiences for their products today. To retain an edge:

  • Make sure you create your social experiences and promotions as HTML5 web apps. Make sure the apps can be easily accessed on a desktop or mobile browser, and as a Facebook Timeline app.
  • Use responsive design for your web app interfaces. This way your social customers can see your content, products, and offers on screens of any size. You can learn more about responsive design here.
  • Bring social to the experience, not just the experience to social. Since fans will participate from different devices and locations, they expect that social features like sharing, commenting, and even rewards will be built in.

While this shift takes us away from the familiar landscape (and constraints) of a tab, there is plenty of good news for marketers. After all, highly portable web apps offer much richer opportunities to showcase products and content to social audiences - and Facebook's Open Graph actions offer lower-friction amplification than the old model. The key is to create experiences that engage audiences and amplify effectively.

Authentic Engagement Experiences, Not Polls and Quizzes

In the time of tabs, we saw a lot of polls, quizzes, and other "noisy" widgets that filled people's streams with notifications. This was partially because tabs + apps were initially limited in what they could support, and partially because (back to the "training wheels") we were all largely just figuring it out.

However, today smart social strategists are setting aside noisy quizzes and are instead creating experiences that invite customers to explore and participate with their products and content in an authentic way. Take a look at the multi-channel social campaign Hugo Boss put together for Fashion Week in Berlin. It spans Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Pinterest with content about not just the brand, but about its products, models, and music.

The original Facebook tab marketing landscape served an important purpose, as it allowed social marketing teams to try familiar campaigns and programs in the new, unfamiliar social context, all with the benefit of some fairly tight guardrails.

Today, the landscape has changed. The training wheels and guardrails are gone. As a result, social marketers need to rethink how they create authentic, engaging experiences for the social customers they want to reach - where they are participating in social today, in-stream, and on their mobile devices.


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Kevin Tate

Kevin has been working with brands and retailers to build e-commerce and social media marketing solutions since 1995. As an entrepreneur and business development leader in growth-stage companies, he is most interested in developing new markets at the intersection of consumers, brands, and emerging technologies. Kevin currently leads marketing and product management at ShopIgniter, providers of Enterprise Social Commerce solutions to the F1000.

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