Don’t Outsource Audience Engagement — Why Your 2015 Social Strategy Must Include Your Brand Website

More marketing leaders than ever are adopting social strategies. But one of the biggest problems we see is that social is frequently approached as just “one” thing. It’s not. It’s many things — many tools, many strategies, many tactics, and many destinations. All of which together can successfully serve different stages of the customer lifecycle.

At its best, social should be an integral part of driving business value. It should help brands to build relationships with their consumers. It should offer the chance to explore a brand’s products and services. It should help consumers discover and learn something new. And, if a purchase has already happened, it should invite those purchasers to engage with the brand to get support, ask questions, maximize value from the purchase, and, ideally, generate positive word of mouth.

So are brands investing in the right areas of social? For brands to embark on a successful strategy for engaging and supporting consumers who are “trained” on social, they must pick their social engagement battlefield.

And the battlefield of the social newsfeed has become bloody indeed. The major social newsfeeds — Facebook and Twitter — are no longer an effective means to reach customers except through paid social reach. Alternative newsfeeds — Pinterest and Instagram — are still accessible, though we can assume that will not last long. Added to that, brands face the challenge of filling their newsfeeds with interesting content that maximizes likes, shares, and comments. All of which increases the challenge of cracking social newsfeeds for authentic social engagement.

As a result of these challenges, brand marketers should look to their owned audience channels for solutions to this challenge, including an increasing focus on their own community — their website. Forrester Research reports that the top way that consumers “stay in touch” with brands they like, or that they purchase from regularly, is their website — more than to the brand’s Facebook page, Twitter feed, or Instagram feed, or even their store.

So how are some ways to approach this traditionally non-social, commercial, and static environment to spark socially charged engagement?

1. Look to Audiences to Help Create Content

Brand websites don’t have to be staid and static catalogs of products and services. Brands that call out to their users for content — in the form of photos, videos, and/or stories — relevant to the brand story, bring an authenticity that both humanizes the brand, and adds trust. Content can be uploaded directly, and/or solicited through social channels such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter by using hashtags, and then gathered in using content curation platforms that allow for moderation into branded galleries.

The performance shoe brand Hoka One One is putting a call out to its audiences on both its website and simultaneously on its Facebook pages to ask for great photos of their running gear, with the added incentive of possibly winning a new pair of performance shoes.

2. Activate Audiences to Participate and Share

Promotions such as contests, sweepstakes, quizzes, and challenge campaigns that activate audiences provide a multitude of benefits: they gather content, they provide insight into opinions, and they can gather names and email addresses to add to the customer database. When it comes to choosing between adding a Facebook fan and an email address, an email address these days can be considered more valuable and is “owned media” for the brand.

Vail Resorts’ Breckenridge Ski Area asks its fans “what is your peak personality?” as a series of questions that prompt visitors to discover their ski destination personalities. Answers match visitors with a personality type, and give the resorts the added value of insights against which they can provide appropriate content and products.

3. Tap Website Audiences for Insights, Opinions, and Knowledge

A brand’s best customers can become brand advocates and will help promote the benefits of a brand. They can be invited to participate in opinion gathering, give feedback on new products, as well as knowledge that can be shared with other users. Having a community of returning brand advocates is invaluable. Their opinions and responses can be measured, and their insights used in ways increasingly difficult on social platforms. The data, content, and insights gathered are all owned by the brand.

The Lenovo brand website community used its audiences to contribute more than 1,200 knowledgebase articles, resulting in a huge cache of data that can help drive new business insights.

The value of an owned audience is critical. With social network audiences now fully rented, the incredibly powerful disruption offered by giving brands a potential way to broadcast purely organic messages has passed. But brands still want to have that valuable social, interactive, and conversational relationship with their audiences. If audiences want to find a brand, they will seek that brand out. Brands should make the experience on the website enlivening, social, and fun when they arrive.

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