Teach your Facebook community to fish

A few weeks back a friend of mine posed a question on Facebook:

Do you think Facebook is losing its appeal to brands/companies?

As someone who works in the industry he had a lot of smart friends offering a variety of responses, from “did it ever?” to “(if) your brand has got the cojones and the affection…I’d say yes..Others…less so” to “too often people ‘like’ on Facebook because they have to in order to win XYZ, not because they have any interest in the brand”.

I thought a while about my own stance and this was my response:

I like the idea of brands being active in fan-driven presences, but not trying to own them. Teach them to fish rather than throw fish at them.

What if rather than the usual route of establishing a brand page, getting the creative assets, bio and URLs in line and then building engagement with a solid content strategy, you (as brand manager) took a more passive role in your Facebook community?

What if you :

  • Found a community of people already engaging in some way with your product and service and started there?
  • Weren’t an admin on your brand page?
  • Had no direct control over its content?
  • Only got involved when the community asked you to?
  • Chose empowerment rather than control as a strategy?

I can see two clear benefits in this approach:

  1. Purpose: Unobtrusive brands that speak when spoken to and respond with tools rather than messages will build a more authentic community and avoid the stress or mundanity of squeezing content hooks out of seasonal events and/or tenuous partnerships.
  2. Future-proofing: As Graph Search (search driven by friends) becomes the norm for users and Facebook make bigger steps into mobile (despite poor figures), it’s clear Zuckerberg has listened to criticism that he was building an advertising engine and now seems to be re-focussing on individuals and the relationships they have with other individuals. It’s still unclear how brands will fare in the new Facebook ecosystem, but I predict it will become tougher to buy attention and so only the brands that act in an authentic fashion will survive in any meaningful way.

It’s not easy to teach a community to fish (long-term strategy), as giving them fish (short-term strategy) will always be attractive for a variety of reasons:

  • It’s short-term and so fits performance review cycles for internal stakeholders and agencies alike.
  • It’s measurable; spend £X, get Y number of fans etc.
  • It’s not scary; being honest about what your brand is about isn’t the norm. Large brands are complex structures of messaging, precaution and spin – giving straight answers or simply listening is often tougher than it sounds.

Despite the above, I strongly advise anyone reading this to try equipping rather than giving. For those willing to be bold and not strive for ownership, I think Facebook will be a far more rewarding space.

Image used under Creative Commons courtesy of Flickr user bweiterman