Businesses that use Facebook as a marketing tool are continuing to have a difficult time getting their posts seen. Between increased competition in the News Feed, onerous changes to Facebook's algorithm, and Facebook's recent ban on like-gating, it's been a frustrating year for brands that have come to rely on "the" social network for engagement.
During the last few months I've seen more and more companies looking for ways to wrangle more control over their content and get it seen by more of their fans and followers. Even my company, which was attached at the hip to Facebook for the first three years of our existence, is distancing itself.
Given that only two percent of a brand's fans ever see the brand's posts after they (the fans) have liked the page, everyone is looking for ways to get more engagement, collect more valuable data, and convert more sales.
So once you come to terms with the fact that Facebook isn't necessarily going to connect you with existing or new customers, what are you supposed to do? First, diversify. Spread your content among other, small networks--especially Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter. Next, look for opportunities to build out your website and blog--properties you "own"--with landing pages and microsites where you host the kinds of campaigns that you previously hosted on Facebook. Then focus on promoting those campaigns everywhere.
I recently saw a great example of this strategy from Zipcar UK. The car-sharing service built a really successful Web-hosted campaign in part because they saw their organic Facebook reach was dwindling, even before Facebook had announced it would no longer allow brands to like-gate their content.
Here's what any brand can learn from Zipcar UK about the benefits of hosting contests, promotions and other campaigns on unique URLs. (Full disclosure: Zipcar UK uses our software.)
More People Can Participate In Campaigns
One of Zipcar UK's biggest issues with Facebook-hosted campaigns was that a significant percentage of their customers couldn't enter Zipcar UK's promotions because they didn't have Facebook profiles.
"Since we pulled our campaigns off Facebook, any time we run [a campaign] we see an uptick in our website visits," said Tom Hillman, a Social Specialist for Zipcar UK. "It's also a lot easier to track visits," he said. Zipcar UK tracks visits to their campaigns using Google Analytics, keeping tabs on how many people are clicking through to enter their promotions.
Here's just one example of how traffic has changed for Zipcar UK. In June 2014, Zipcar UK ran a Facebook-hosted promotion for which they were looking for members and non-members of Zipcar UK to test drive cars in a new city. When they ran the same promotion in September on their website, Zipcar UK saw a 717 percent increase in entries into their competition the second time around.
"The biggest takeaway is that people were way more willing to enter the competition when it was on our website rather than on a Facebook app that they may not trust," said Hillman.
SEO Improves When You Host Your Own Campaigns
For several years, Zipcar UK was focused on driving traffic to their Facebook page instead of to their website, but the company is now focused on directing traffic to its own properties again. In fact, during one recent campaign they saw a 203 percent increase in page visits.
"We've seen an increase in website clicks, because once people enter our promotion they're more likely to click somewhere else on our website," said Hillman. "We've also seen a drop in bounce rate and an increase in non-members entering our campaigns."
The User Experience is Better
Facebook's mobile experience has never been great, even though a majority of users access the platform via mobile devices. This has been a frustration for businesses hosting Facebook apps/campaigns. As Zipcar UK discovered, hosting a campaign on their mobile-friendly website resulted in a better user experience because the experience was not affected by the devices people used.
Having a mobile-ready campaign meant Zipcar UK could promote their campaign to the masses. Since they didn't need to worry about whether visitors had Facebook profiles or whether they were browsing from an Android or Apple device, Zipcar UK was able to replicate their campaigns for users in several countries, and use paid media and retargeting ads to drive members and non-members to their website. They also printed paper flyers that they placed in their cars to track those visits as direct traffic, not as traffic redirected through Facebook.
While Facebook is still an important platform, more businesses are realizing they have more control over their marketing efforts if they keep them closer to home. Have you seen any examples of companies hosting promotions on their websites rather than on Facebook? I'd love to see other examples, so please leave a comment with links.