6 Brands Taking Social Media Strategy Beyond Facebook

We found ourselves intrigued by last week’s Forbes post on “Why Facebook Can’t Be the Center of Your Social Strategy”, because we’re fairly certain that every PR/marketing pro would love to work with a social media platform less infuriating than the big FB—a platform that grants brands a little more in the way of control and allows reps to more clearly demonstrate the benefits of a given project to clients.

According to author Rob Tarkoff of Lithium Technologies, some of the most socially successful brands have moved beyond Facebook by establishing their own “on-domain customer communities”. In other words, they encourage fans to participate in social media forums located within their own websites.

Tarkoff writes that “The most cutting-edge B2B and B2C brands are placing bets on on-domain, owned, social media hubs where they can control the brand, guide the experience, and drive real business outcomes.”

Sounds great–so who are they? We’ve chosen to highlight six:

  1. American Idol
  2. Sephora
  3. American Express
  4. Google AdWords
  5. BMW
  6. Starbucks

Click through for details on each.

  1. American Idol’s “Idol Nation” may be the prototype for the branded social media community—the page encourages fans to create profiles, link their other social accounts, and interact with fellow AI enthusiasts. The page highlights “Fans of the Week” (allowing for yet another AT&T sponsorship) and individual messages that form “the conversation” about Fox’s ridiculously popular karaoke competition show.
  2. Sephora’s BeautyTalk promises to provide fans/community members with the answers to all their health and beauty questions courtesy of “Sephora’s beauty experts and [their] peers”. So even if a user ends up having a conversation with another user about a completely unrelated product, it’s all happening under the Sephora heading. That’s brand awareness in action.
  3. Open Forum isn’t just a site for AmEx customers to manage their credit card accounts and read business news—it’s a community encouraging members to set up profiles, check out new content, and connect with other business owners…with the American Express logo keeping watch over everything.
  4. Google’s AdWords community pumps up the brand’s reputation by exposing users with technical questions to Google employees as well as peers who happen to be AdWords “experts”. It’s like a crowdsourced version of customer service.
  5. BMW’s official Motorrad site gets very specific: it’s a page and community dedicated to those who love riding high-priced motorcycles and scooters. We’d love to observe some of these “conversations.”
  6. Starbucks maintains “My Starbucks Idea“, a branded community solely designed as a destination for customers who want to make suggestions to the coffee chain. It includes a list of submissions and even features a page called “Ideas in Action” that shows the company turning community feedback into real-world practices.

Of course, these branded properties aren’t completely independent of Facebook and Twitter—they simply incorporate the massively popular networks into their own on-domain communities. Ideally, users can have the entire social media experience while under one brand’s virtual umbrella.

This strategy obviously won’t work for every company–one needs a certain level of brand recognition and loyalty in order to form a truly sustainable online community. Still, we think these six brands and others like them are well worth watching in order to better gauge the successful social media strategies of the future.

PR pros: What do we think of these “in-domain” social media branding projects? Do we have other examples to share?

@PatrickCoffee patrick.coffee@adweek.com Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.