Is Social Media Holding Your Community Hostage?

smhostageIt’s a commonly held belief that the cost of acquiring new customers is much higher than retaining existing ones. While the exact ratio and cost is often debated, it does ring fundamentally true. Attracting referral customers through delighted existing customers or converting an existing community of followers, attracted by your expertise, also costs less than cold-starting a brand new business relationship

That’s why content marketing is so popular (and effective). Its premise is that you share valuable content for free with the (not unrealistic) hope that some of the people enjoying the complimentary content will eventually see enough value to pay for the whole enchilada – you, your service or product.

A company’s best source for reaching current and potential future customers is an opt-in community. This has a few core components:

  • Engaging, consistent and useful high-quality content;
  • A platform that makes accessing the content convenient;
  • A viral aspect that enhances sharing and discoverability; and
  • Participants that have “opted in” as wiling members because they enjoy the content and community related to a common topic.

Some communities are primarily subscriber focused: you share content and the community receives it. The best thrive with bi-directional conversations between you and the community, as well as freely within the group.

Given their massive reach, ubiquity and easy of use, social media networks understandably became very appealing as accessible tool for building a business community. On Facebook, Twitter and others, it was possible to grow one’s following through hard and clever work; those with less finesse (or staff) could simply pay a reasonable amount to attract more followers. Most did both. The ROI came because once a following was established, you could communicate with them freely. You were able to execute content marketing rather than being forced into one-shot hard sells. Sounds great, right?

Fast-forward to 2014, and the picture looks quite unappealingly different. The harsh reality is that when you “rent” rather than establish your own community (or even just the platform to host it), your “customers” aren’t really yours!

A few years ago, Facebook began to interject and prioritize content viewable in your newsfeed, including paid “promoted” content, rather than only from your friends and businesses you had chosen to follow. Pursuing a post-IPO need to massively enhance advertising revenue, Facebook quickly demolished organic reach. It now hovers somewhere around 4-5 percent with a rumored goal as low as 1-2 percent.

If you’ve spent time (and money) to attract 1 million Facebook followers, as an example, you now organically reach roughly 3,000. That is unless you pay each time you want to reach them. Great for Facebook’s shareholders, not so great for you.

Not to miss out on the ad gold rush, Twitter, apparently confident that it knows better than us as to what we should read and whom we should follow, announced this week it will begin interjecting content from Twitter accounts we don’t follow into our Timelines, alongside already appearing promoted posts.

Cause for concern? Personally, I think so!

Let’s say you’ve painstakingly built a sizable Twitter following. They enjoy your carefully curated content and you provide them with valuable information, demonstrating your subject matter expertise in the process. It’s the first step of effective content marketing. Your organic reach is 100% and it only costs you a few hours a day finding, creating and sharing high quality content.

What happens when Twitter determines that the content from many other accounts that your followers aren’t following should be in their Twitter feed as well? Or that only some of yours shouldn’t appear to your followers at all? That’s right, your organic reach takes a nose dive. Perhaps I’m just being paranoid, but I’m seeing a slippery slope of declining ability to organically reach your own hard-won followers. That erodes the business value of investing in building up a following in the first place, unless you enjoy perpetually paying to reach it.

So where does this leave us? I see a few choices:

  1. Work much harder for less reach. You’ll need to increase your frequency of content while also maintaing the high quality, hoping not to get drowned out. Hopefully another algorithm or policy change won’t further lower your organic reach.
  2. Opt for quantity over quality. Perhaps you’ll lower your standards and share more often, potentially annoying (and losing) some of your hard-earned followers as you share less relevant material, trying to drown out and compete with the increasing content noise.
  3. Pay the ransom. If you have the budget, you can pay the social media networks and use promoted posts to try and approach your original organic reach. Perhaps you’ll even get discovered by new followers in the process – just don’t forget, you’ll pay every time you want to reach them.
  4. Refocus your effort and build your own community. Yes, it’s hard work, even if you’ve only “borrowed” the infrastructure from social media thus far. But, if you are clever and leverage your declining organic reach (perhaps with a necessary evil of selective paid promoted posts), you can redirect your existing social media followers to your own website or blog. And, just imagine, you won’t be stuck speaking to them in only 140 characters at a time!

What do you think? How are you tackling lessening organic reach? Have you found an effective way to still “rent” vs. build your community while retaining it as truly your own?


About Mario Kroll

Mario is an entertainment industry veteran with extensive executive, managerial, entrepreneurial and hands-on success in marketing, advertising, public relations, social media, customer acquisition, business development, sales management, retail and digital distribution, publishing, general management and operations. Prior to joining the entertainment industry, he was a successful technology and business process improvement consultant for a number of leading financial, technology and consulting firms.

  • Tinu

    I agree with this. I see social media sites as more of a place to meet but not stay, or to solidify existing one on one relationships. For an effective group dynamic, after the meeting has happened, I like to get in touch with people outside those communities.

    Facebook, Google+, and Twitter may be there for decades or someone could come along in a year that surpasses them. If there’s no effort made to make contact outside those areas, you have a leased connection at best.

    • Ramon Ray

      Thanks Tinu!

  • Scott Barnett

    Mario/Ramon – this is an outstanding article. You are right that it is so critical for small business owners to “own” the relationship with their customers and not just “rent”. It’s equally important that small businesses have an “engagement” strategy to keep current customers in the loop to complement their “acquisition” strategy.

    My shameless plug is we’re working on such an engagement platform at – we are pretty new but already have some small business owners working with us and we’re focused on providing all the tools so a small business can “own” their current customers and still “rent” time/space on other sites/social networks so they maximize their exposure and get great word-of-mouth online marketing.

    Mario – would love to get your thoughts/feedback on what we’re up to. We also blog about a lot of the same issues on our site….

    • Ramon Ray

      Hey Scott – thanks man! Bizzyhood looks intresting

      • Scott Barnett

        Thanks Ramon! Your newsletters are great, I enjoy and learn a lot from them. Speaking of which, you got any discount codes left for your Small Biz Tech conference in NYC?

        • Ramon Ray

          Hi Scott – indeed – I know two of many organizations who have discounts include Adrian’s Network and Manhattan Chamber – please do come

          • Scott Barnett

            Done! Registered. See you there