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The Great Social Paywall

We as marketers have evolved significantly in the past decade. In this short amount of time we’ve collectively transformed from batch-and-blast broadcasters to having laser-beam focus on engagement with individual customers. We’ve learned that doing so has the power to create meaningful relationships between our businesses and each of our customers – significantly increasing customer loyalty and the ability to grow brand equity across each individual.

With shift of focus to the individual, and the growth of social as a bona fide communication platform it’s easy to see why social conversation has been elevated to a first-class priority for marketing teams. We’ve been taught that in order to serve individual customers we need to be actively involved in the channels where they’re talking about what-it-is-that-our-business-does. And this is certainly true — it’s important for your brand to be a part of these conversations for visibility.

But social isn’t a channel to build personal relationships.

Huh? Isn’t that the point of social? Personally, yes — social is THE tool to create and maintain relationships between you, your family and friends. But, when you have your marketer hat on, social is good for three things:

Broadcasting, listening for trends, and coming to the aid of those who hate you.

We broadcast self-serving content to drive actions that benefit us. We listen to what people are talking about so our brand voice can fit-in. And, really, the only time we get personal with someone is when they are screaming about how much we suck.

More importantly though, social isn’t an owned channel. Facebook, Twitter, et al each sit in-between you and your customer, making it increasingly difficult to manage that personal relationship we strive for.

Strategies that focus on building social audiences only serve to benefit the networks themselves, locking you and your brand behind The Great Social Paywall.

Their end-game is to sell your own audience back to you.

To understand, let’s unpack some of the majors:

Facebook

A 2014 report by Ogilvy measured that only 2% of your fans on Facebook will actually see your organic posts, and Forrester posited that just 0.73% interact with them*. Therefore, it’s impossible to treat Facebook as a customer channel — there’s no way to serve each individual in a meaningful way. Even from a batch perspective, to expand your reach you must by ads and pay for engagement:

Twitter

Although there’s no direct filtering on Twitter’s feed that might prevent your tweets from being seen by a follower, tweets aren’t personal or direct in scope, plus there is an incredible amount of noise that yields similar reach to that of Facebook. I personally follow just over 500 people and brands on Twitter and my feed sees over 1,250 tweets a day.

New aggregation features such as Moments draw attention away from individuals and towards the topics that people are talking about in the world. Unless our brand is featured in a moment we likely won’t be a part of these conversations, and even then, it doesn’t really serve our customers at all, merely self promotion.

Still, lot’s of marketing budget is spent on centralized team-based inboxing platforms so that brands can interact with people on Twitter at scale — however, these are most commonly used to mitigate the most likely reason your customer is tweeting at you — they’re pissed off. Brands have adopted technology to manage the loudest support cases and to blast self promotions, but not for true relationship building.

Twitter’s business focus, like Facebook’s, seems to be on mass engagement, not individual customer relationships.

Email

Email is still a powerhouse in terms of direct customer communication. In general, it’s still an owned, mostly direct channel. When you send an email it’s given the same democratic treatment as the others received, although it’s never guaranteed to be delivered — Spam filtering and soft-bounces happen regularly. Inbox messages are traditionally sorted by timestamp, although Gmail has promotional, update and social sorting to help sift through what has become a messaging nightmare for the human race — most inboxes are incredibly NOISY. So noisy, in fact, that many email marketing platforms have developed Send-Time Optimizers that try to calculate when the best time to send to an individual so they might actually open it. Talk about a great relationship with your customer!

And, when your customer opens your email it’s really a one-sided conversation, albeit personalized. You’re telling them something specific to them, but not really interested in what they have to say about it.

We think mobile apps will become THE true customer channel

People say mobile apps are the future, and we think that’s true, but more generally we think TWO-WAY CUSTOMER ENGAGEMENT IS THE FUTURE — the notion that regardless of channel preference, you and your customer can engage in real dialog as if you were standing in front of each other.

We think that mobile apps hold the most promise in this regard because it’s the only environment where other players can’t butt into the conversation or stand between you and your customer. As you grow the base of customers that adopt your app(s), you’re building equity in a completely owned, future-proof channel that could be used to provide real utility to your customers in dramatic ways. Your only limitation is your imagination.

We’ve built Waysay with this in mind. Our platform can turn any app into a true customer channel by enabling 1-to-1 and two-way promotional in-app messages with 100% deliverability and zero algorithms hiding messages from your customers. Your mobile app will be the most important channel in your marketing stack, and we can help get you there.

Bob Ullery was a Principal Sales Engineer @ExactTarget and @Salesforce and is currently co-founder and CTO of Waysay, a SaaS platform focused on helping brands create more personalized mobile apps. Follow Waysay and Bob on Twitter.

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