// what do you think?


Should Brands Build Their Own Social Networks?

The short answer is yes. Brands should build their own social networks, especially when you think of it in the non-digital sense. But should brands build their own social networking site? That’s a more complicated question. This is a question I used to get multiple times a week… 3 or 4 years ago. I don’t get this question anymore. At least not very often. But I think it’s one brands should still ask themselves.

But most of you are probably wondering why? Facebook and Twitter have won and who wants to join a social network hosted by a company? Let’s address these very good questions.

Dear Brands, Facebook and Twitter are NOT Your Friends.

Facebook, Twitter and every other social network out there want need your marketing dollars in order to survive. Case in point: MySpace. Facebook and Twitter have built a valuable platform that allows people to interact and form individual social networks. Marketers then join these sites in order to also connect. But most people don’t want to talk to your brand all day long so marketers pay to advertise on these networks in order to raise their awareness. For the most part it’s a mutually beneficial system.

The downside is that you don’t control the platform so you are at the mercy of Facebook and Twitter (you never control the community BTW).

The upside is that you don’t have to worry about all the problems that come from hosting your own community. Financially there are big benefits from a fixed cost perspective (IT & infrastructure) but you pay for it in variable costs (Marketing & PR budgets).

So When Should Brands Build and When Should Brands Buy?

There are probably very few times when brands should build (build your own) rather than buy (just leverage Facebook, Twitter or something else). The main reason is because most brands are incapable of building a community that is not about them. But once you’ve defined a community and what they are passionate about (and it’s not your brand or product or service), here are my two key questions you should always ask yourself:

  • Does a social network for this community exist today? If there is already a strong existing community there is no reason to try and replicate it. Instead try and support the existing community and make it better. If your first answer was no, are you absolutely sure?
  • If there is no existing social network then are you willing to build and support a community that you can’t control and that is only kind of related to your brand or product? Very few companies are really ready to do this.

Sneakerpedia - Why Doesn’t This Already Exist?

Today Foot Locker of all companies launched Sneakerpedia. My first thought was that this was a wiki dedicated to sneaker enthusiasts. I bet that would actually work really well. Sneaker enthusiasts are completely insane when it comes to collecting shoes. They (usually men but not always) are passionate about their shoes as much as any woman with a shoe addiction. I know this because I used to run a skateboard shop in Vegas and I can tell you from experience most of the money from a skate shop is made off shoes.

Sneakerpedia has a blog and a Twitter account @Sneakerpedia and a Facebook page. But this is a perfect example of where a community like this wouldn’t have worked just on Facebook or Twitter. And Foot Locker is taking a smart approach by keeping their branding to a minimum.

My second thought was that I couldn’t believe that a community like this didn’t exist. I haven’t done any research but if anyone knows the answer please leave me a comment.

Foot Locker has all the pieces  for a successful social network: A passionate community. A need/opportunity in the market (assuming one doesn’t already exist). A social network that’s not about them. Now assuming they’re willing to keep this up and not interfere to much or overly market to them it could be a huge success.

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About Tac

Social media anthropologist. Communications strategist. Business model junkie. Chief blogger here at New Comm Biz.

  • http://twitter.com/Glennengler Glenn Engler

     Thank you for emphasizing the difference between building your brand, and building Facebook’s brand!  Really important message for organizations to think about how to use social media as part of their marketing mix, vs. simply highlighting a Facebook page.
    I wrote a similar post recently within Digiday’s Hypebusters column, found here, in case you’re interested

  • http://www.jasonfpeck.com JasonPeck

    I definitely agree that in some cases, it makes a lot of sense for brands to create their own social networks. This gives them full control of things they can offer to their audience and full control of the data so they can see what community members are truly worth compared to non-members. Facebook and Twitter are great, but an owned community makes a great home base for everything. 

  • http://blog.gannettlocal.com/2011/07/05/if-you-build-it-will-they-will-come/ If you build it, will they will come? | GannettLocal Blog

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