Where were you during the six hour outage of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp on Monday? Here in Australia, most of us were getting a workout in, wrestling post-long weekend hangovers, or wrangling kids for the vast majority of it. And yet, still, we felt the pinch, made the memes and scrambled to work out contingency plans.
When you consider that it was just this year that a few big Aussie brands got caught in the crossfire of Facebook’s news shutdown, it’s not surprising that those six hours felt long. Twice in one year we were faced with the harsh reality that all those followers we had spent years building could one day prove to be nothing more than a rent-a-crowd—and for the majority of brands, that reality is a scary prospect.
Don’t get me wrong, the rent-a-crowd has value. Consistently sharing content on Facebook or Instagram is crucial, especially as the platforms become mini shopfronts that can turn rented crowds into loyal customers.
But in a time where consumers are demanding brands share their values, be authentic, and communicate their ethos and mission, relying on one company’s platforms to share your brand’s story is simply not enough. Every modern brand needs to ask itself: If Facebook shut down, where would we create and distribute content to the consumers who are demanding it? And how many of our followers would really go out of their way to find us if we weren’t popping up in their feed?
If that line of questioning raises your heart rate, it’s time to adopt the diversification mantra that publishers have had for years. Start a blog, a podcast, or a newsletter. Distribute whitepapers. Host a live event. Get on TikTok. Or YouTube. Or Pinterest. Create a playlist on Spotify. Think like an editor or find someone who can. As Digiday pointed out last year, there’s every chance a CMO is already doing the job of an editor-in-chief, even if they don’t realise it yet.
Interestingly, this past week we watched the diversification strategy in action when Emily Mariko—whose salmon rice took over TikTok's Fyp (For You Page) and then the internet—promptly started a Substack. In doing so, she was able to shift a portion of her newfound following into an ecosystem that she has a little more control over. Her Substack is now home to her Amazon favourites, plus it’s a way for her to get those who found her on TikTok over to her YouTube channel. If TikTok shuts down tomorrow, brand Emily Meriko lives on.
This savvy move seems almost intuitive for the TikTok generation who were forced to reckon with the prospect of the app’s closure very early on in their careers, and witnessed the shutdown of Vine and Music.ly before that. Addison Rae started a podcast even before she got into movies and music, Josh Richards partnered with Barstool Sports on a podcast called BFFs which has almost taken on a life of its own. These creators know that the best thing they can do for their growing brand’s longevity is diversify, diversify, diversify.
Building a content universe of your own does require a fair investment of time and expertise. But it pays off in spades. Yes, it ensures that you can still talk to your audience if the great Facebook shut down were ever to eventuate. It also brings with it an unbeatable wealth of data that turns into products and can even open up new revenue models.
We’ve seen this story play out time and time again—from Goop to Into the Gloss/Glossier, mindbodygreen to Clique Media's Versed—publisher’s content insights create products that are sold to the very audience who unknowingly (or in some cases, knowingly) helped create them. Brands can reverse engineer this model by diversifying their content strategies, and will benefit from that same wealth of data.
Yes, Facebook’s platforms are hungry beasts and they need constant feeding. But a great content marketing strategy will find ways to feed that beast while building the base to ensure that the next time Facebook takes a mini break, the meaningful portion of your rent-a-crowd is already subscribed to your podcast, reading your blog, or getting your newsletter. Now that’s a ‘following’.
Chloe Schneider is head of content at Australian agency Bohemia Group, part of the M&C Saatchi Group.