When Facebook started to pop and roll, brands got very excited about the prospect of creating online communities of customers, prospects and fans. The idea was a powerful one: cluster like-minded people together, share information and engage.
Brands flocked to Facebook. They hired community managers and social media experts. They posted daily as if they were filling up the cafeteria bulletin board. They began collecting fans and likes like they were gold nuggets.
And then three important things happened that changed everything about Facebook and killed the idea of a brand community.
1. First and foremost, turns out people don’t really want to belong to brand communities.
There are exceptions of course. Some brands attract legitimate dedicated fans – Apple, Starbucks, etc. But these kinds of brands are the exceptions, not the rules. Most people have no desire to engage regularly with their phone or gas company or exchange holiday greetings with their online storage vendor. And most brands don’t have the ability to engage with real people without talking ad nauseam about themselves. They aren’t really interested in listening, but in waiting for their turn to talk – about themselves.
It’s also difficult to run real-time communications when companies generally operate 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Or that most of the content written for Facebook (and other social networks) is generally done by committee, making it impersonal and extremely boring. Go ahead and read most of the post from a brand and you’ll find that the language is mostly the same: vanilla.
2. Facebook became too big.
Once people started connecting with people beyond their immediate friends and family, it became impossible for Facebook to serve up all that content. The News Feed is only so big. If you “like” 200 people, brands and groups and they each created one posting a day – that would be 200 individual pieces of content – everything day. Double that and its 400 pieces of content. Double that and it 1,600.
The Facebook algorithm simply couldn’t keep up without turning the Facebook News Feed into a Twitter stream. So Facebook needed to start prioritizing the content. It became to serve up content that it guessed you like: content from people and brands that you had interacted with before or shared before. The friends and brands that you didn’t interact with got put on the back burner. In fact, you can be friends with someone and never see their content.
3. Facebook turned into a paid platform.
Facebook went public. When a company goes public, it needs to be profitable. They came up with a simple, yet fundamentally anti-community solution. Only brands to interact with their fans, but only if they pay for the privilege. We are now at a place where most brand content is only seen by about 2-5 percent of their fan base when they post organically. If they want to reach more people – they need to pay to do so.
It’s hard to create a brand community on Facebook when the brand’s post only are seen by a randomly generated 2 percent.
So what does this mean? Social communities – for better or worse – are dead on Facebook and probably on every other social network as well. As all social networks become too large and move to monetize there’s no real opportunities to foster and grow a community.
So what are social networks then?
They are distribution networks for content – much like email lists. They are places where people have opted in for content about the brand – as long as it is valuable and informative content. Otherwise, they will likely leave or block you.
So brands need to abandoned the idea of community on Facebook. It’s not about that anymore – if it ever really was.
It’s about the content.