Wrestling Social Network Control Away From the Big Guys

Jan 07, 2013

Article ImageThe ability to build online networks has been boosted significantly by social media sites that deliver literally millions of potential prospects to content providers hoping to grow an audience. These sites vastly expedite the process of gaining online momentum requiring much less time and expense than what was required prior to the days of Web 2.0.

As social media behemoths like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn continue to grow in popularity, some organizations are beginning to question the wisdom of giving up ownership of their data through these sites and are considering hosting networks via their own on-domain sites.

Rob Howard, CTO of Telligent -- a company that provides enterprise collaboration and community software to customers including Microsoft, Dell and Cadbury -- for instance, is predicting a "seismic shift" in 2013 to more on-domain social networks. "In 2013, businesses that had previously shifted marketing funds away from their traditional dot-com domain towards Facebook will reverse that trend," he says. He points to research from Forrester Research, Inc., and other leading analyst firms that continues to validate the need for organizations to invest in their own websites and community experiences. 

Over the past several years consumers-and businesses-have become increasingly comfortable with letting their information flow freely across social networks. But, notes Howard: "I expect that, in 2013, we will see businesses take a more active role in controlling who owns the data created in their communities and in their social media channels."

One example comes from Microsoft Dynamics. The company runs an online community for its customers, partners and prospects featuring forums, blogs, videos, member profiles, and other tools that allow members to interact with and support each other. Importantly, the community is not part of the growing network of open communities that proliferate on sites like LinkedIn and Facebook.

Howard is not alone in his predictions. Max Kalehoff, marketing VP for NY-based social marketing company Syncapse notes that while owning connections with the right consumers is critical for marketers, social media has created a shift from owning to renting these connections. The attraction of these social media sites, of course, is that they provide the ability to quickly scale up connections through their broad reach. The downfall, of course, is the loss of control that results. While Kalehoff doesn't predict a total shift away from these public sites, he does anticipate that marketers will settle upon some combination of owned and rented databases that are linked across their marketing operations.

Keith Trivitt, director of marketing and communications for MediaWhiz, an online marketing agency, based in Ft. Lauderdale, agrees with this balanced approach. "While there are several issues associated with having a brand presence on Facebook-such as access to data and concerns over a brand's ownership of its profile-the fact remains that most enterprises and brands need to have at least a minimal presence on Facebook."

A mixed strategy that allows for flexibility through sharing content on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, for instance, can be combined with ownership by dually hosting the data on brand-owned sites, Trivitt says. Still, he cautions content providers to develop a strategy for 2013 that allows them to take control of their social networking data - particularly on Facebook. "Brands can do this by ensuring that whatever data and content they place on Facebook is backed up on an internal server, or better yet, is duplicated and housed somewhere on a brand-owned site," he says. Doing this, he adds, not only ensures that the enterprise retains ownership of its data, but also helps to boost content marketing and SEO by keeping the data on enterprise-owned sites where it has a better chance of ranking well in the search engines.