By Vanessa Richardson
Social networks have gained genuine power as a marketing tool for businesses looking to increase their reach, traffic and leads. But there’s no guarantee that the places where most social networking happens now will be the same places hosting it in the future.
More companies are realizing that sending their valued customers to Facebook and Twitter, then “buying them back” by spending money on ads on those sites, is not a great marketing strategy. So instead of “renting” social interaction, these companies are owning more of their social experiences – by creating their own customized channels.
Here are the reasons why you should create a “vertical” social network for your brand:
Create a more personalized social experience.
By creating your own social channel, your company has greater say and control over its brand image. You can create a more personal social experience, and totally customize it at any time for the tastes and wants of consumers – who are now one step closer to purchasing your products or services.
Use social media technology to your brand’s advantage.
Technological advancements now let businesses of all sizes build social media capabilities into their own websites, from commenting and contests to photo sharing and video uploading. You’re no longer a slave to the whims of social media’s algorithms, or the rise and fall of “hot” websites or apps that may be “over” by year’s end.
Better spot customers’ needs.
If someone types a question about your company into a search engine or a social media site, you often don’t know if they received the correct response — or any result at all. But if your company has its own social channels, you benefit from knowing exactly what is being said about your company at any point in time. This can help you spot trends more quickly and see search indicators you hadn’t considered before, allowing your brand to react with more agility and better adjust to your users’ needs.
Receive a treasure trove of data about your customers.
Social networks typically hold on to the consumer data generated on their sites. By activating your own social platform, you can reclaim that data, and turn those consumer insights into the foundation of your marketing and product development efforts.
Who’s Doing It Right.
Nike’s vertical network, Nike + , lets customers join a “training club” on its website so athletes can set personal goals, challenge friends and share their successes with the vertical network’s community. The Nike + platform has been widely credited with a big increase in Nike’s athletic shoe sales.
Other companies focus their vertical networks on connecting customers with each other. Cisco has boosted its brand loyalty via its Cisco Learning Network , which offers certifications for engineers, an online place for them to study for the tests, and a social platform that lets engineers interact with each other about on-the-job issues.
American Express’s OPEN Forum provides articles and forum boards to help its small business cardholders connect and help each other with business issues. Cardholders who use the OPEN forum are more likely to recommend the Amex credit card to others.
Vertical networks can get even more niche in target audiences – like CEOs, for example. The .CEO registry provides its members with an online identity that shows their business history, accomplishments and interests, and helps them stand out to other members seeking their peers. The network provides open networking opportunities, but you can narrow your searches to connect with female CEOs (Women.CEO), or find top-level executives in cities such as San Francisco (SanFrancisco.CEO), New York (NewYork.CEO) or London (London.CEO).
Most companies don’t have the time or knowledge to develop something like Facebook, but they can flesh out a vertical network on their new domain and connect on other social media. PeopleBrowsr creates social infrastructure for top-level domains, and better integrates companies with their customers by connecting their names together (think along the lines of JohnSmith.Apple). People can easily join a company’s network, personalize their own page and connect and interact with other people in that community, whether that means selling their secondhand bike or crowdfunding their next business idea. The open-platform software allows a company to quickly build its own platform and create specific social experiences tailored to its brand and what its consumers want.
Creating your own vertical network doesn’t mean giving up your Facebook page or Twitter feed. But for brands that want to move to the next level and stand out from the .com crowd, a vertical network can navigate your customers into your own digital world, and congregate them in a single place that you can control.
A version of this article first appeared on PeopleBrowsr.