Brands are freaking out about the rapidly decreasing organic reach of their Facebook posts, and you can’t blame them. According to a recent study conducted by Simply Measured, the total engagement for the top 10 brands on Facebook is down over 40 percent—even as total posts are up 20 percent. Per-post engagement is down more than 50 percent.
And as Contently Editor-in-Chief Joe Lazauskas wrote last week, “These numbers are even more striking when you consider engagement is significantly down even though brands are almost certainly spending more money to promote their posts to combat plummeting organic reach. Facebook’s ad revenue reached $2.27 billion in Q1 2014, up 82 percent from Q1 2013.”
To reach the same engagement, brands will likely need to spend even more. But is it worth it—especially when you consider that Facebook may shake down brands even more in the future?
There are alternatives to renting an audience on Facebook, and while they might not be as sexy as the major social network, they do allow brands to expand their reach and make the most out of their investments. Here are four steps you can take to wean yourself off relying on the social network:
1. Own your audience through email
As the social media landscape gets noisier and nosier, email marketing is making a comeback, with some companies seeing up to 60 percent open rates (or even 85 percent in some cases). Myspace co-founder Jason Hirschhorn’s new business, primarily built around a newsletter, raised millions in funding. Bestselling author and entrepreneur Tim Ferriss recently added opt-ins above the fold on his website.
Having an email list also allows you to connect with your community on a granular level and strike up conversations with individual consumers. On Facebook, you can’t access each person’s individual profile; in fact, you have no idea who the actual fans of your page are, and when it comes to organic reach, you’re at the mercy of Facebook’s whims.
The challenge in growing your email list is making the content so good that people want to forward it to their colleagues and friends, and doing all the little things on your website to maximize sign-ups—see this great guide from HubSpot. (Editor’s Note: Contently has also found that Twitter lead-gen cards are a great way to attract new email subscribers.)
Once your email list starts growing, it will be a powerful asset for your brand. More importantly, the data is yours and can be securely tucked into your company’s servers—not in the hands of some social network.
2. Take your email list social
You can also use a prospect’s email to connect with their social profiles, making your email list the gift that keeps on giving. By using a service such as Full Contact, you can access information about each of your subscribers’ Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook accounts—assuming that they’re registered under the same email address.
This information will enable you to get in touch with audience members on individual levels via multiple social networks. You can also follow audience members on these channels and see the kind of content that they are sharing.
3. Create your own community—and community chest of data
Although most brands are active on social media, they’re also starting to understand the value of building their own communities through their own platforms. A few months ago, Sephora built its own Instagram-like platform called the Beauty Board. Coca-Cola also has a platform dedicated to football (soccer) fans. And American Express has created a vibrant community of small business owners through OPEN Forum. (Full disclosure: both AmEx and Coca-Cola are Contently clients.)
Communities deliver not only basic membership data such as email addresses and first and last names, but also user-behavior data. You can understand what types of posts resonate with your core users, which topics they’re passionate about, and what they couldn’t care about less. You can spend more time with the users that actually matter—the ones that will become advocates for your brand—instead of trying to interact with everyone, and get crucial feedback that will inform your content strategy.
4. Create a mobile or web app
With your own app, you can gain the ability to start pushing notifications to users through their mobile devices. Given how the majority of mobile phone users have smartphones, and how mobile drives 30 percent of traffic (and 15 percent of sales), connecting with users on this medium is becoming increasingly crucial.
Ion interactive co-founder and CTO, Scott Brinker, is bullish on mobile and web apps—so much so that he bet his entire company on it. Just make sure you focus on something that your audience actually needs. As Brinker wrote in a blog post:
“Marketing apps can be things like wizards, configurators, calculators, assessment tools, contests, interactive white papers, games, quizzes, surveys, guided tours, portals, social hubs, diagnostics, workbooks, galleries, utilities, sweepstakes, learning exercises — any kind of digital experience that actively engages prospects in a helpful or entertaining way.”
GigaOM columnist Mathew Ingram closes his article about Facebook with a warning about gaining momentum on the major social network: “While it feels great to be riding that wave, you never know how long the ride will last, or how suddenly it might dry up and leave you stranded.”
Whether Facebook is simply refining its algorithm or just trying to encourage brands to try paid solutions, it’s evident that brands are losing control of their content on the platform, and as a result, losing touch with their consumers. Take control by investing in your own infrastructure and connecting directly with your audience.
Contently arms brands with the tools and talent to become great content creators. Learn more.
This post originally appeared on Contently’s The Content Strategist.