At a glance – huge opportunity for conversations, not just pitches
· Three in four (85% of under 35s) are open to brands being on social media
· One in five believe brand favourability would rise through social media interaction
· BUT… when it happens… three in four say they think more highly of the brand
· Half of Twitter users and a third of Facebook users have interacted with a brand
· So, there is a huge opportunity to converse with customers and prospects
· BUT… consumers want a conversation, they don’t want to be pitched constantly
· In fact, half of social media users would leave a site if it were too commercial
The scope of the opportunity – an introduction
In the first wave of marketing on the internet companies published information about themselves and promoted their sites through advertising and search.
Today, this still holds true but, in addition, the web is changing fundamentally in to a two way medium where consumers converse with one another and brands. Businesses which do not get to grips with the opportunities and challenges social media offers run the risk of missing out on the huge potential. Web 2.0 offers for brands to engage with their online audience to influence prospects, win clients over from rivals as well as retain their existing customer base.
To get a grip on the scope of the opportunity and how it can best be used, WebTrends has carried out research which asked consumers the questions businesses really want answered – what do they think of brands in social media and what type of interaction works best for them.
The results make for very interesting reading. Ultimately there is a huge opportunity to reach out to a vast, engaged audience. However, brands social media users reveal, need to listen and learn and participate in a two-way conversation.
The key is to converse and communicate, not to simply market.
Steve Berry, Digital Publicity Manager, Channel 4 comments:
“There are many examples of brands demonstrating the ‘epic fail’ in social media but what they all have in common is an ill thought-out strategy for engagement. All too often brands are devoting inadequate resource, or entrusting to the likes of interns, their activities on these platforms.
Social networks are more-or-less perceived as meritocracies where ‘social capital’ has to be earned and where the individual enters with an equivalent standing to any other. Personality, activity, impact and individuality all contribute to this status (see emerging digital footprint and social currency tools such as QDOS and Whuffie). As does popularity, which allows brands to trade upon their offline status and enter into the conversation at an advantage.
Yet when a brand surfaces, there is a tendency to adopt a corporate rather than an individual identity, which can be off-putting to the consumer. To appear monolithic and faceless (on Facebook?) or to hide behind a representative logo is a huge missed opportunity. Contrary to a lack of resource, applying the full force of a homogenous communications team to networks that function at a social level can have a similarly negative effect.”
THE ART OF CONVERSATION
Social media faux-pas
Habitat certainly found this out when it debuted on Twitter with countless offers scattered around the service through inappropriate use of hashtags (such as #iranelection) which meant the messages were seen by many but also widely deplored. The brand was forced to rethink its strategy and apologise.
Other brands have failed too. Ryan Air’s rudeness to a blogger, who was basically told to go and get a life and leave the airline alone, got the no-frills airline a heap of bad publicity. Primark staff comments about ‘pikey’ customers led to similar outrage and another major retailer has been accused of posing as customers as they blog about the brand in glowing terms.
At the same time, though, many more brands are making positive steps and getting early success in set up a two way dialogue with consumers
For the recent launch of the Insight, a hybrid electric car, Honda decided to engage the social media community for the first time. They found the most influential people who were talking online about cars and the environment. Honda invited them for test drives – ‘experience’ days to which they’d usually only invite journalists – they ended up with good content online, with bloggers taking their own pictures and video footage. Engaging with Social media adds to the pressure to keep messaging consistent across a growing number of channels. But Honda established more contact with a wider audience in the UK, the US and Japan.
The Research – the answers social media users gave us
Q Are Brands Welcome?
A Three in four (and 85% of under 35s) say YES to brands
It is the sixty four million dollar questions brands are shying away from asking consumers directly, so WebTrends has done it for them. The result? A resounding ‘yes’ for three in four web users.
This in encouraging in itself, but perhaps more interestingly, the figure is skewed by the over 55 age group of whom only around half believe social media is an appropriate channel for brands. Looking at age groups below the silver surfers and there is almost uniform agreement that brands should be engaging and learning more about consumers through social media – a view supported by 88% of 18-24 year olds and 85% within the 25-34 year old bracket.
Q What should brands be doing?
A Listen, learn, service and influence. Don’t preach
The research not only established overwhelming acceptance of brands in social media, it also asked the crucial question of how businesses should be utilising, rather than alienating, this support?
Specifically the research shows that the more immersed in social media a web user is, the more they expect brands to be engaging with web users through the channel.
More than half the people who use Twitter every day expect brands to be using social media to understand the customers, better service those customers, involve users in the design for future goods and services, discuss market issues and bring attention to new products and initiatives.
The latter point is crucial, as part of a conversation with a brand, bringing attention to new launches and initiatives is accepted but, in the main, consumers were clear they want brands to listen, learn and service rather than simply bombard them with sales messages.
Q How do users feel about brand contact?
A Three in four consumers rate brands more favourably
It is mainly early adopters and progressive brands that have reached out to social media users and the early feedback is it can work really well.
Half of Twitter users reveal a brand has successful interacted with them through social media, compared to 31% of Facebook users.
Of those who have interacted in some way with a brand over social media, three in four reveal they think more highly of the brand.
Perhaps the most important figure is that although one in five social media users (19%) predict they would think more highly of a brand they interact with on a social media site, for those who do interact with brands the approval rating rises to three in four (74%).
So clearly users are more favourable towards brands that reach out to them on social media than they themselves initially thought they would be.
Q Does this mean social media will take over other channels? Can I get pitching now?
A Actually, email is still the preferred contact method for marketing messages
Despite all the findings which support that social network users are open to interacting with brands, striking up a conversation cold online should not be taken for granted. In fact, only 8% of users chose the channel as their preferred point of contact for marketing communications – this rose to 24% for 18-24 year olds and 11% for 25-34 year olds.
Instead, as one may imagine, email is still far and away the consumer’s preferred method of receiving marketing communications, progressing steadily through the age groups from 55% for 18-24 year olds to 64% for 45-54 year olds.
Of course, because people prefer an email it does not mean they are against social media interaction but rather that relationships need to be worked on first. Also, social media conversations have to be two-way and so are very different in nature from traditional ‘push’ marketing email efforts, hence it would appear web users prefer to be conversed with in social media and pitched to via email (a channel they have long become accustomed to receiving offers and promotions on).
It is likely this distinction will be eroded as new services, such as Google Chrome, being to amalgamate social media messages, IM, Skype and email within a single screen.
Q Is there a potential downside?
A Social media users appear wary of brands being too ‘salesy’.
While nearly three in four web users say social media can help brands understand their audiences it should be remembered that ‘understanding’ is a two way conversation.
Businesses which just pump out sales offers will need to be aware that too much advertising and blatant commercialisation of social media sites is a concern for users – 39% complain there is too much advertising on such sites and half of those surveyed revealed they would leave a social networking site if it became too commercial.
Q What is the size of the opportunity?
A Vast, more than three quarters of your likely target audience
Social networking has moved beyond the initial early adopter stage and passed the test of whether it is little more than a fad. More than two thirds of web users of all ages use Facebook ‘sometimes’, with 80% of 18-24 and 76% 25-34 year olds using the site every week.
Interestingly, the site is not just the preserve of the young, more than a quarter of silver surfers use the site weekly and nearly half (48%) use it sometimes. Among the social network sites, it is arguably the service with the widest appeal among all age groups.
On the other hand, Twitter has massive popular appeal, with growth of more than 1000% each month recorded this Spring, it is a more recent service than Facebook and so is still catching up in terms of overall subscribers and regular users.
While around a third of web users will log on to Facebook daily, only 3% will check out Twitter every day. The micro blogging site is also more geared towards younger web users. Nearly a quarter of 25-34 year olds (23%) log on once a week, while just under half of 25-34 and 35-44 year olds (44% and 43% respectively) will log on ‘sometimes’, compared to 21% of over 55s.
If Facebook has the most widespread following and Twitter appeals mostly to 25 to 44 year olds, YouTube is the most popular destination for the youth, although use of the video service is sporadic. 96% of 18-24 year olds use the site but only a quarter do so every day. Of all net users 74% will sometimes use YouTube but only 9% every day.
Comment: What does this mean for you?
Brands needs to become more ‘agile’
Christian Howes, Digital Solutions Architect at WebTrends
“Social media provides a massive opportunity, the problem with most brands is they’re not agile enough to set up and maintain a useful social media presence so they miss out on much of the benefits.
“It’s something the big brands are really suffering with and they’re going to lose out to nimbler, quicker rivals. When I looked at the airlines recently BA had something like 10,000 followers on Twitter but Jet Blue, the American no-frills carrier, had more than a million. BA were pumping out corporate messages while Jet Blue was actually getting involved in a dialogue and using it as an extension of their customer service.
“To get the most out of social media you need to be agile, and you have to listen and serve customers, you can’t just keep pumping out announcements about yourself. You can’t be ‘preachy’, it just doesn’t work, no matter how big your brand is.
“People want to get involved in conversations with brands they like – I know I get a huge buzz out of a brand I favour following me on Twitter –but it’s got to be a conversation, it can’t be one way.”
Fear could be holding brands back
Amber Naslund, Director of Community, Radian 6
“Companies are often fearful that opening up the lines of dialogue means they’re increasing their risk for criticism or negativity. Truth is, social media didn’t invent criticism, it’s just that people now have more and faster tools with which to share their opinions. The businesses that look at this as an opportunity to improve, instead of a reason to hide, are garnering increased trust and appreciation of their customers.
Expectations are changing for companies. We want to interact with businesses as easily as we do our friends or family or colleagues online. We’re asking companies to talk to us like people, and to give their communities and customers mechanisms to talk back.
Businesses that put themselves inside and among the communities they serve are better able to capture and keep fleeting attentions. And we as customers like feeling that, no matter the size of the business, they care enough to have real conversations with us.”