Street Smarts: How to Get Users to Cross the Social Road

“Why did the chicken cross the road?”

It’s a question usually reserved for infants and comedy club audiences carrying great karmic debt, but in the changing social landscape, brands are facing their own version of the poultry problem.  Social users are obviously far more evolved than chickens, but the basic metaphor helps frame a common issue facing brands these days: how can you turn natural social chatter into marketing intelligence and grow your consumer database?  On one side of the metaphorical street, you have the social networks, and on the other side, you have user databases, so how do brands get consumers to cross the road?  Simple: bring the sidewalks closer together.

Rent-to-own your audience

Recent muscle-flexing from the social networks has underlined the need for brands to convert brand chatter on Twitter and Facebook into owned user data in order to stay competitive and relevant.  Brands are recognizing that as much as the social networks allow them to get messages out to their audiences, they are amenities, not partners. Brands are renting access to their audiences on social networks but they don’t own the relationship – this is an important distinction.

Twitter and Facebook are broadcast media, useful for spreading the word, but unable (or, in some cases, unwilling) to provide the in-depth interest, activity and behavioral data necessary to glean meaningful insight and build one-to-one relationships.  Sure, you see the occasional playful repartee between a consumer and a brand, and although those one-off interactions can up your follower count, they may not lead to significant long-term consumer growth.

To really take advantage of all the work they put into social, brands need to get users to sign in to an owned platform to gain access to that rich data.  A good store of user data is part of a brand’s competitive advantage – it can help guide content creation, personalize websites and emails, and build look-alike audiences for optimized ad buys.  Many are finding it difficult to convince their users to cross the road from social to sign-in, though, and it’s not hard to see why – diving headfirst into the social wormhole has become a recognized leisure time activity.  To ask people to abandon those social hangouts, leaving behind all that excitement and frivolity, in order to not only spend time, but also sign in to an isolated branded property seems like a risky strategy.

Bring the sidewalks closer together

Even with promises of discounts or exclusive content, brands are finding it difficult to lure users across the road, and therein lies the problem.  Instead of trying to incentivize people to jump from one experience to another, brands should be focusing on turning that abrupt leap into an unnoticeable step by bringing the sidewalks so close together that users move from one side to the other without even realizing it.  But where are brands going to get all that extra metaphorical cement?  Easy: from their users.

Owned platforms that run on user-generated content (especially photo content) enable brands to bring social users to their environments in a way that feels natural.  By using these hybrid platforms, brands create a continuation of the social experience rather than a replacement.  Incorporating UGC also makes the experience feel more candid and less branded, which users appreciate, so if there’s a yawning chasm between your social chatter and your owned user database, try bridging the path to conversion with social content.

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