I remember four years ago that during my conversations with different businesses about customer loyalty and their efforts to build relationships with their customers, one topic almost always seemed to come up, and that is how many people can we get to like their Facebook page or even some of them went as far to claim that they have thousands of fans on Facebook so they saw no need for a customer loyalty program.
It is interesting how in the past 4 years things have evolved for businesses from something touching on hysteria about how many “fans” can a business get on Facebook (to the extent that companies were born to simply sell or generate Facebook fans for businesses) to almost no mention of Facebook at all nowadays when we talk to those businesses about their customers.
So what changed? Facebook did not go the path of MySpace (if you even remember MySpace), on the contrary it is still growing and still the juggernaut of social media with a billion people using it. So why are businesses, especially local ones, moving away from Facebook and why did the business Facebook page devolved from being “The” business online presence to just another online page?
The promise that Facebook sold to businesses was that if they win fans then they will be able to reach out to those fans through their Facebook business page. That looked very attractive to a business where they could have a cheap and easy way to have a customer base that they could then reach out to. It was natural for businesses then to go over and beyond to acquire “fans” whether organically or through paying for other companies to generate that fan base for them. However, that promise was quickly lost as Facebook changed the rules on who can see what to the extent that in 2012 if a business posted something on their Facebook page, that post reached a meek 16% of their fan base. So if a business paid money to get 5,000 (and this was considered very low in 2012 standards) fans then Facebook was allowing them to only reach 800 fans, which meant that businesses have paid to get 4,200 fans that they cannot reach.
That was in 2012! Jump to 2014 and things get worse where a Forester research study showed that top brands on Facebook were reaching only 2% of their fans and only 0.07% of their followers actually interacted with each post. You find this hard to believe? Just visit Coca-Cola Facebook page, which claims more than 96 Million fans and look at the engagement numbers to their posts.
To seal the deal, Facebook announced in 2015 that brands that post promotional content “will see a significant decrease in distribution.”
One might quickly think that they would simply pay to boost their posts to reach out to their fan base. Then the question that businesses need to ask themselves is, if I am going to pay anyway to reach out and build a relationship with customers, wouldn’t I rather own and dictate the terms of that relationship and not Facebook?
Think about it that way, if your emails to your customers get delivered 90% of the time while your posts would be delivered 2% of the time (that was in 2014), even with the meager low open rate of 20% it would still be a much higher rate than the 2% of Facebook, then which one should you be focusing more on? And guess what, with emails of SMS there is no one telling you what you can write and what you cannot say, you are in control.
So there is a shift that we are seeing now where businesses are going back to their own web sites and communication channels to connect “directly” with their customers. What I believe will happen as a next step in this shift is for businesses to start creating their own social “microsites”.
Another Forrester survey shows that US online adults who want to stay in touch with your brand are almost three times as likely to visit your site as to engage with you on Facebook so it makes sense for businesses to start focusing on engaging their customers through their own channels and offering a rich experience there.
The good news is that we have started to see that here in the MENA region where a lot of businesses that we work with are now revamping their web sites to offer a way for their customers to start the engagement, which is the right first step in the right direction of putting customer loyalty at the center of their customer facing channels. This ties directly to a customer engagement system that enables them to communicate directly to those customers in a personal and efficient manner.
Companies like Starbucks and Panera Bread in the US were able to build customer databases of millions of customers using their rewards program. Those are just two great examples that businesses can build their own customer database through an attractive rewards program, so they can keep engaging their customers after they leave the store and then reach them with channels like personalized notifications, email, and SMS at the right time with the right message. This will produce the type of engagement that any business crave and haven’t been able to get with social media, and will result in more return visits and more profits for businesses everywhere.