When more than a quarter of a country’s total population is active on social networks, platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube seem like obvious avenues for businesses to reach the customer.
There’s one flaw in the model, however: the customers still belong to the network. Facebook will always have more data, more insight and more history on the individual than any company that extracts mere contact details or financial information.
As a result, many businesses face the frustration that, even when they want to communicate with their own customers, social communities might be more effective than their own newsletters or mass-mailings.
But there is a solution, and that is to take a leaf out of the social networks own virtual playbook. For some years, it’s been possible to use generic corporate networks like Yammer and SocialCast within a specific organisation. However, that doesn’t solve the customer challenge.
Now a company called Basebone, with headquarters in the United Kingdom but with South Africa as a core market, has gone one better. It has created white-label social community solution that content-oriented companies like media houses, publishers, radio, and general entertainment operations can adapt to the interests of their customers or potential customers.
This, in turn, enables these companies to build up the same depth of insight into the customers as the big social networks.
It can then communicate, market or even sell to those customers based on its own relevant insights rather than those provided by social networks on a generic level. It goes one step further: the community can then become an advertising platform in its own right, allowing other companies to advertise to users based on the specific interests being addressed by the network.
“Having a social network, but around the service offering, allows users of the service to share content and experiences, and connect with other like-minded parties,” says James McNab, Basebone’s managing director for Africa and group chief liaison officer.
Music and education are two of the main special interests addressed so far, by client companies in South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya.
“The community allows the company to promote content to a targeted audience, for example, users that interact within the music area of a portal can be targeted by upcoming acts. They could be used as a focus group, or as a marketing tool to build enthusiasm for the forthcoming release.
“For now, our clients promote these portals in order to generate sales of content, and the platform is used as a mechanism to enhance the user experience. However, the technical structure of the offering allows it to be more business-oriented as well.”
These proprietary communities are not competing with the majors, which means they can link up with the social networks, and users can share content across other platforms.
“The portals we provide can aggregate content across many other platforms, while retaining a unique element of its audience base,” says McNab. “Our approach and offerings are based on client needs and requirements, as they cater for a specific audience, and will ensure that the content offered within the portals they are promoting is specific to that audience’s needs.”
The significance of this model is that it sidesteps the dominance of the likes of Facebook and YouTube. As such platforms become all things to all people, the demand for niche social communities will evolve from a specialised offering into the marketing mainstream.