Today’s guest post is by Mark Nicholson.

While engaging through social media is essential, few things measure up to creating a dialogue on your own website that create referrals, repeat visitors, and even a sense of community.

The value this can provide is a huge win for your brand, although difficult to achieve.

In some markets, it might not be feasible to attain a level of regular interaction on your own site for the long haul (and social media channels may have to suffice).

While considerations such as the industry and the brand itself can determine the likelihood of being able to accomplish such a feat, often it’s the approach that determines success.

Take Starbucks for example, what might be perceived as a low engagement entity.

After all, it is simply coffee.

It’s Never Just Coffee

Offline, they might be considered the poster child of experiential marketing, and their online efforts with creating digital experiences are almost as impressive. By using a platform to interact with their most loyal customers, they’ve taken conversations as a feedback mechanism – like Facebook or Twitter – to a more organized form of communications.

Combined with their Ideas in Action blog which informs customers what’s happening with their ideas, it shows they care what their fan base has to say. McDonald’s in Canada launched Your Questions in an effort to be more transparent.

And not long ago Pepsi created a campaign using their budget originally earmarked for Super Bowl advertising. They created Refresh Everything, an initiative to award grants to businesses, individuals, and non-profits that provide the best ideas for a positive affect on their community. Pepsi Pulse was launched this year on, an  interactive dashboard for pop culture related curated content and repackaged information.

Missed Opportunities

Some might argue there isn’t a need to try migrating customers to their own property, and remain content monitoring how their brand is discussed through social channels and only participating when necessary, but there might be missed opportunities to consider.

Drawing an audience to your own site exposes them to more of your product or services, and your content. That equates to building brand equity in an incremental way that contributes to the building blocks of top of mind awareness. Companies such as Intuit software have grown communities around their product offering, along with tools and resources to support customers as well.

The opportunity to have a relationship with your customer is nurtured through social channels, but taking it to the next level might just be through your own community, where you can share stories, become a resource, or both, while allowing you to scale in ways that might not be possible when tied to the technology of others.

Another reason to look at building your own community are the SEO benefits – you’re generating additional value for your own website rather than links to social networks. Obviously a challenge to attract and retain that traffic, but if you focus on being a resource for solid content rather than marketing messages, it can pay off immensely and is a strong long term strategy.

Content Strategy

The increasing talk in investing in a content strategy suggests a change is already happening. Publishers such as Forbes, Yahoo, and many newspapers have been curating content for a while. Perhaps they know something about attracting readers that we can learn from.

Creating on your own platform allows for complete control, access to analytics of user interactions, flexibility, the ability to create more engaging experiences rather than being tied to someone else’s criteria, faster production, better asset management, and in the case of some social channels like Facebook you won’t have competing or conflicting ads displaying alongside your business or community page.

A step in the right direction is humanizing your brand and online presence through being authentic, sharing stories, and creating for consumers instead of corporate. Disseminating between the two will help with timing when you should be marketing, and when you should be contributing value for your visitors.

It wasn’t long ago brands tried to draw consumers to their own site, creating flash games and other short lived hives of entertainment. The best examples that come to mind with any real success over the years might be Nike and Coke. Then social networking came along, and as masses flocked to sign up, marketers looked to join the conversation and be where their customers were.

Is there a new shift coming, where marketers will invest exponentially towards content strategies? Would this be something that’s developed alongside use of social channels? This isn’t to say that social media networks are no longer viable, as they’re clearly a channel to cast a net towards a wider audience, but inbound marketing to your best customers with custom and curated content on your brand’s site is something we might see more of in the future.

Mark Nicholson is the lead strategist with, a digital consultancy for online marketing strategies and Vancouver SEO services provider. Reactorr creates innovative inbound marketing, online branding, and reputation management solutions to meet the varying needs of its clients.