Social Media Question Of The Day: Should I Build Or Buy?
The one thing that comes up 99% of the time in the social media application space is whether a client should build their own brand destination or partner with an existing platform? Since this has always been an important and lively conversation, I decided to put some of these thoughts on paper.
Historically online advertising has been about one thing -- display banners for people to view and click and then link to a branded Web site or direct response landing page. I believe that model worked well 3-5 years ago when a Web site was the best way for you to engage a consumer online and you had to find a way to get them to your message. However, times have changed and now there is more fragmentation, more content, more noise and companies, including Facebook and other social networks have built incredible platforms to do all of your interactive communicating and consumption.
In addition to consumers spending countless hours on Facebook to communicate and socialize, they now use applications-- literally tens of thousands of them-to engage around their interests like movies, music, families, travel and babies. Yes, even babies! Companies are helping brands navigate these flourishing communities and engage consumers offering the ad inventory and contextually-relevant integration opportunities on the biggest social media application communities on platforms, like Facebook, MySpace and increasingly, on the iPhone.
Often times when communicating with brands and advertisers, we find clarity when we refer to applications as Web sites around your favorite interests that live on social platforms and are owned and operated by developers and publishers. Just a few of these applications, include Social Calendar (organization) Flixster (movies), MesmoTV (television), NBC News' iCue (trivia) and Circle of Moms (parenting). These properties are social communities with established user bases, third-party metrics, and premium advertising programs.
I believe marketers need to view social media through a different lens when they consider tackling this emerging space. The model described above, "banner, click to destination" isn't necessary when working in social media because you can communicate a message, foster activity and build branding, all with and within the same community. Additionally, it's important to realize that what works on traditional Web site publishers' sites doesn't necessarily translate to social media. That means everything from ad unit sizes, CPMs, creative and answering that age old question to build or not to build needs to be considered.
Understanding that social media applications present a tremendous opportunity for advertisers, many brands have attempted to build applications. Unfortunately, many of these attempts have been less than successful. Some of the reasons these applications have not met expectations include not having a socially-specific strategy, lack of media support after the build, not having content or utility to provide the consumer, short flight dates that don't allow the application to succeed and, most importantly, not having anything of substance to offer the consumer base.
Now that's not to say you should never consider building social media applications, but I would not rush out of the gate without a carefully crafted game plan addressing each of the reasons above. There have been a number of custom built branded applications that have done very well because there was a mapped out the strategy and ensured all of the necessary elements were in place. Again, you have to understand social media, not treat it like another banner, click and Web site experience.
Looking back at these existing social application communities, we have seen success over and over again, integrating advertising programs because building was not the best solution for them. The strategy evolved into locating exciting and robust communities where they can send a message, engage the consumer and create activity. For example, a movie studio trying to get butts in seats Friday-Sunday or a shoe company trying to sell shoes or a retail company wanting to offer value around weddings, it makes a heck of a lot more sense to sponsor an existing, installed consumer base of movie goers, sneaker heads or women about to get married? These communities, through social media applications, again, tens of thousands of them, exist today and there is tremendous opportunity to contextually connect and relevantly join a conversation already taking place. Now, the strategy as an advertiser is to show up, pull up a strategically thought-out seat and join the conversation relevantly, as opposed to reinventing the wheel. There have been dozens of social media application campaigns, partnering with existing applications that already reach millions of people. There-in lies the key, already reaching millions of people. The challenge becomes how can you make these millions move, love you and adopt your message? Is it easier to connect with fewer people through your custom application?
So, we say that building applications and leveraging existing ones are both viable options. And the question will become not should I build or partner, but rather, what makes the most sense for me and my brand?