What alternatives are there to Facebook to build a community for your business?

By Jim James,

Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of the SPEAK|pr Podcast

Platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google are now so powerful that they’ve come to command both attention and money, but they’re also starting to change people’s behaviour. Social media has undoubtedly created a fundamental shift in marketing methods. It’s only been in the last decade that this has taken place, and it’s creating a challenge for anybody that wants to manage their own public relations, as they are now falling headlong into the arms of the social media giants, but they need alternative strategies and platforms. 

The Social Dilemma

There’s a film entitled The Social Dilemma, which is about a young man named Tristan Harris who is pioneering the Silicon Valley challenge on the way that social media companies are leading society. It’s a blend of investigation and narrative drama, and it talks about how the audience have become the product. It used to be that media was a platform that people could communicate through in order to get to their audiences, but now, the social media tools are driving behaviour and not always for positive means, which highlights the social impact. From a company marketing perspective, the movie implied that people really only receive information they would like to receive. Through algorithms, these platforms are all doing the same thing, sending more of what people are looking for, but it also separates them from the contrary opinion.

The Social Dilemma (Photo from Medium)

Social media is starting to create divisions, because people are getting news which is close to the news they’ve already been reading. Whereas when people used to read mainstream media, the publisher or the editor would decide on a range of topics and editorial viewpoints, and newspapers would say different things. Most people nowadays rely on news from only one platform, and it’s sending them news they were already looking for. The Social Dilemma highlights this as one of the causes behind the social tension, because people are losing the ability to communicate offline, and because they’re not reading and seeing the opinions of others, they believe that their opinion is the only one, and this leads to conflict.

This poses a challenge when it comes to public relations and marketing, because it’s hard to break into the feed of people who are unaware of a company’s service or product. Aside from that, search history has a big role in determining Google results. If you were to google the exact same thing as the person beside you, the results could still be different, because you have different search histories. That means that if we are relying on the Google search engine for SEO, if people searching for a product or service are not somehow showing an interest in the goods or services or the niche or sector, then that company may not appear in their results. It’s this idea of being served information relevant to one’s interests, and the problem with that is that is if it’s not relevant, people won’t see it. 

Another aspect of social media that The Social Dilemma talks about are the likes, comments, and photo tags and so on that are designed to be distractions to keep people on the social media platform. They’re not designed to help people get to where they want to go. This is a real problem, because when building communities, tribes, or groups of purpose, these social media platforms actually can be operating in their own interests which are led by the commercial interests of the advertisers, because that’s how they make their money, by selling access to the viewer. This is why The Social Dilemma makes a point that the viewers are now the product, not the consumer, and it’s the advertiser that wants to get to people. This is nothing new, of course. Print media has been advertising to people as well, but what’s different is the level of targeting, that people are on their devices all the time, and that they’re interactive. So, when trying to build platforms and communities, social media like Facebook or LinkedIn could well be actually one’s worst enemy. 

Alternative platforms for you & your business

One promising platform out of the UK that serves to create communities around courses and training is called Disciple Media. They talk about bringing people, memberships, and content together in one’s own fully branded and private community. They enable customers to build and sell courses, charge subscriptions, live stream, and many other aspects. The key feature is that the customers own the real estate, and they can have their own domain name. On a Facebook or LinkedIn group, you are basically a tenant. You’re renting their space and they have, at any stage, the opportunity to change the algorithm, to change ownership, to change anything. On the other hand, branding and customization, unlimited groups and topics, events, content, media library, friends and messaging, building subscription models, these features are all possible with Disciple Media. It costs £45 a month, but with their app, it becomes £299 a month. A third of that goes to Apple, so that’s where the cost comes from.

Another platform is called Mighty Networks, which was founded in 2017 by a dynamite female entrepreneur named Gina Bianchini. This is a great platform where one can have their own membership network for free. There is also a Community platform for $23 a month that comes with a personalized web domain and unlimited moderators. One can upgrade to the Business model which is $81 a month and allows online courses, chats, and Zapier integrations. It’s very powerful, because it creates a community within one’s own domain, and from there, one can build their own branded area as well.

Now, it’s possible to create a community and followers using your own platform. It’s something worth experiencing and looking at, because as seen in The Social Dilemma, it’s pretty alarming. There are sociological reasons for not choosing Facebook and LinkedIn, but also commercially, it’s a great idea to build a community using your own resources in your own space which you can brand and control. Ultimately, this community will be part of the business value, and it’s worth the investment. If you’re building one or if it is indeed your business, think about alternatives to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and the like, because those have some business interests that are aligned with their own shareholders, not yours, and it would benefit you greatly to connect with your community on a platform that you are in complete control of.

This article is based on a transcript from my Podcast SPEAK|pr, you can listen here.

Cover Photo from Search Engine Journal

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