Understatement of the year: People are upset with Facebook. From the way they’ve handled data and privacy to fake news to changing algorithms, it has been a tough year for the social network. However true that may be, though, Facebook is still the most widely used social media platform by a longshot.
That raises the question: Do people actually care about how their personal data is being used? In my opinion, the answer is a resounding yes, but the reality is that from both a consumer and marketer’s perspective, comparable or meaningful alternatives to Facebook have proven hard to come by, at least to date.
Recently, a few upstarts have been stepping in to fill the void, and from an advertiser’s perspective, there are certainly pros and cons to be considered with all.
Highly targeted, highly engaged audiences
Whether meant for a specific demographic or to encourage users to stick with birds of a feather, some new social platforms bank on high engagement from small, targeted audiences. Instead of encouraging users to follow large groups of people for the sake of volume, users are prompted to interact with smaller groups categorized by specific interests and topics. The overarching principal is that what consumers share with a close-knit group is different and much more authentic than what they might blast out to larger groups. Said differently, content found in these places offers the closest possible look at what people find to be important and useful in their lives, which is invaluable information for brands.
Outside the box content curation methods
More and more people have turned to social media for their news, and upstarts have stepped in to curate news in really interesting ways. Many news aggregators take a relaxed approach, helping readers discover things they like on the web “just like a friend who spends way too much time on the internet,” as news curator Digg aptly describes it. These platforms generally offer a novel and authentic avenue for advertisers to connect with consumers. Instead of creating traditional, interruptive ads and placing them on a news site, these platforms allow brands to create useful editorial content and weave them into the information feed to be discovered organically.
The term “hyperlocal” continues to be a buzzword, and the idea that consumers want information and real feedback about the places where they live and work is not new. Social platforms have jumped at this and are streamlining how consumers can access that information in a major way. Many platforms like Nextdoor and Patch offer easy ways for users to stay informed about what’s going on in their neighborhood. Business owners, particularly small businesses owners, can use the platforms to drive local awareness and build trust from within the community, a vital tool as consumers become more and more wary of ads and social media platforms in general.
Where Facebook is a catchall (family photos, event planning, news curation, instant messaging, etc.), most alternatives either cater to specific audiences or services. That means a single alternative, as it stands today, could not replace the scope and dynamics provided by Facebook.
Unsurprisingly, some new platforms have removed advertising altogether. Vero is an app-only, subscription-based service. It affords users an ad-free social network and boasts the promise of “no algorithms and no data mining, ever.” Mission-driven companies like Ello launched under the ethos “You’re not a product!” and the platform does not serve advertisements and does not sell information about its users to third parties. Instead, the platform is custom designed to promote and connect creative people like artists, designers and musicians.
Divesting all your Facebook-specific efforts and redistributing those resources across a host of new, diverse social platforms is not the logical next step as things stand now. But it is important to acknowledge that there are other ways to engage and advertise on social media that are not solely reliant on Facebook, and that those alternatives come with both their positives and negatives.
The number of social platforms delving into the advertising space is growing and will continue to grow. Facebook and Google still dominate, but these social upstarts offer supplements. More recently, some of the biggest technology companies on the planet ( Apple, Microsoft, Oracle, Adobe, Amazon and Salesforce, to name a few) started doubling down on their advertising platforms. Simultaneously, hosts of digital websites, ranging from Quartz to PopSugar to Rolling Stone, are joining digital advertising marketplaces like Concert that are designed to combat tech giants’ ad dominance collectively.
In the future, advertisers will not have a shortage of platforms on which to reach their audiences through advertisements. However, the most successful brands and businesses going forward will be those that can think beyond the space they “rent” on current social media platforms and instead consider the social experiences they can create and host themselves.
To realize true success, these brands will not rely on third parties to facilitate the relationship between their brand and their key audiences but instead will use their owned digital channels, like their website and their blog or other digital properties, to engage with consumers and fans directly. It will give those brands unfettered access to first-party consumer data and the ability to draw inferences from that data without having to rent or buy. From there, it will be the brands’ responsibility to be true stewards of their own consumers’ data—and quite frankly, isn’t that the way it should be?