By James Glover
The proliferation of social media, in addition to traditional media channels, has created a seemingly endless list of channels in which brands can reach their customers. But marketers should save themselves the headache of trying to use every channel, or at least attempting to vet them all, by remembering that their priority should be impactful customer engagement. With that in mind, the first question a marketer should ask themselves when choosing a channel is—will I be owning or renting this platform in my customer engagement efforts?
So, what does it mean to own or rent? If a marketer is “renting” a platform, they are using a marketing channel where they are not in control of the content distribution, specific audience targeting and timing of their messages, whether it is through a feed on a social media site or search engine. When a channel is rented, the power lies within the hands of the platform itself as platform design or algorithms change. Conversely, if a marketer “owns” a marketing channel, they are able to control distribution, audience targeting and timing of their content.
Whether a marketer or a brand is able to “own” or just “rent” a channel can have a tremendous impact on their communication efforts. Specifically, with customer engagement efforts through social media and search engine advertising, marketers are only “renting” space through these platforms. Take Facebook, for example. While a brand typically has its own Facebook profile page and can advertise to specific target segments within the social media platform—it is really only renting that space. While marketers can post messages or communicate directly with customers—the brand itself actually has no control over the Facebook algorithm and how those messages are pushed out externally. The same goes for online content promoted through search engines, such as Google. A brand marketer has little control over whether Google puts that content at the top of the first page of search results or buries it on the tenth.
To make control even more difficult, these platform companies are constantly changing their algorithms, so it is hard to guarantee that a post that made it into a customer’s feed last month will still be easily found this month. For example, in June 2017, Facebook announced it was changing the computer algorithm behind its News Feed again to limit the reach of people known to frequently blast out links to clickbait stories, sensationalist websites and misinformation. Additionally, it has been reported that Google changes its search algorithm around 500–600 times every year. These frequent changes make it virtually impossible for marketers to keep up with the evolving content filters and algorithm adjustments and continue to effectively reach its customers.
This doesn’t mean these channels aren’t important, but it does mean brands need to invest in their “owned” channels too. Thankfully, marketers have plenty to choose from, including mobile push notifications, websites, blogs, email and direct mail. While certain channels may have higher costs, such as mobile messaging or direct mail, the costs are still relatively lower for a brand compared to rented channels—and more direct and under your control.
Email is a great example of an owned channel – and you can take Facebook’s word on it. Noah Kagan, the 30th employee at Facebook, stated that Facebook isn’t the best way to market and connect with your audience—it’s email. In his interview, Noah recognizes that email is the only medium that gives brands control and scale to market to and communicate with customers without having to worry about the constant algorithm changes associated with social media platforms. Additionally, when it comes to reach, email has nearly three times as many user accounts as Facebook and Twitter combined, and Facebook and Twitter combined make up just 0.2% of the number of emails sent each day. While social media platforms have certainly become prolific in recent years, email still maintains a stronghold in terms of being able to reach a brand’s whole audience – Dreamgrow found that email is at least four times more effective in reaching your audience than Facebook. With email, brands can also tailor messages to each specific customer, as opposed to a “rented” social media platform where they’re targeting large customer segments typically based on general demographic information.
There is no perfect equation that marketers can follow when it comes to customer engagement—but there is a right balance. Social media platforms are still a viable channel to reach customers, but brands need to make sure they focus on “owned” channels that are algorithm-proof, where they can control the content and messages that reach their audience. As marketing plans are developed, marketers need to make sure they are owning and not just renting their customer engagement platform and efforts.
For more tips on how to maximize customer engagement in today’s socially-driven world, check out Oracle’s “The Modern Marketing Essentials Guide to Social Marketing” webinar to discover how to better navigate the sea of social change by exploring new uses for old channels, engaging in the most welcoming ways and analyzing activity meaningfully.