Doing Social Media Wrong

Your Business Is Probably Doing Social Media Wrong

News flash for businesses trying to connect with their consumers via social media: They don’t want to be your friend. It’s not that they don’t like you. They think you’re great and everything. They just don’t want to be your friend.

An article released in the Wall Street Journal today, entitled “More Than Half of US Consumers Don’t Want to Friend a Brand Online” is a must-read for any business / brand looking to reach their typical consumers through social media.

The article highlights the following results from 9000 interviews with Internet users above age 15:

  • 55% of U.S.-based users see no point in friending a brand
  • Consumers want to engage with a brand if they’ll get something out of it (Think incentives: coupons, support, advice, etc.)

“For example, the majority of shoppers in the study said they are open to receiving an ad or promotion from a brand on their mobile device that’s tied to their location.”

  • More than 50% want to interact with brands for service issues
  • About 50% wanted to hear what other people’s experiences were like (Think reputation: testimonials, reviews, etc.). In fact, about 25% check product reviews on social media from their phones.
  • 37% want brands to respond to their feedback and comments—positive or negative
  • 42% want brands to help them make better purchasing choices
  • 40% want brands to let the consumer decide how to communicate with them (more on this here)

The keenest insight is summed up by Cesar Montes, one of Geometry’s chief strategy officers:

“The rejection [of brands using social channels] is about brands using social as if they were my friends in the typical way that Facebook users would use [social].”

In other words, stop trying to use social media to be your consumers’ friends—instead, show them where you can add value to their lives.

You see this all the time, actually, with social media pages for hobby- and interest-related entities—for example, those geared toward fitness, music, food and wine, anything that people enjoy in their leisure time.

Social media pages like these work well because the fans are passionate about the topic. Any interaction with the page owners and other fans who are just as enthusiastic builds loyalty and excitement around the brand and the topic.

The value for these consumers is in the interaction: Seeing pictures of a band in their off time on the road; tips about how to pair wine with food for your next dinner party; photos from the last charity bike race… It’s the enthusiasm, the humor, the personality that keeps the consumer engaged.

The underlying too-cool-to-even-mention-we-don’t-even-need-to-talk-about-it message is:

We’re already friends because we both like this, so let’s just hang out. I mean, whatever…

Many brands maintain an aloof exterior, keeping a Corporate Distance between Us and Them. But rather than coming across as cool and hip, they’re telling the same story in a different medium. Now a stream of anemic models and gadgetry is interwoven with endless photos of people you went to high school with (who couldn’t possibly be that happy all the damn timec’mon), Grumpy Cat memes, and—if you’re lucky—something relevant to your actual life on a level higher than mere voyeurism.

But today, there is a reverse Them vs. Us going on from a consumer culture that is fed up with Corporate America, that mistrusts business in general, and yet that fully comprehends that what a business gets from their consumers’ fandom is ultimately more valuable to the business (as in Big-Cash-Reward-Trip-to-the-Caymans-in-a-Private-Yacht valuable) than it is to them.

Phew. That was almost a diatribe—social media and the counter-culture it has spawned makes me a bit … nuts. The fact that it’s become a necessary evil for many types of brands cannot be denied, however.

If you’re seeing a decline or even a plateau in your social media interaction, figure out where your consumers feel you add value to their lives, and sing it loud and proud. If you want to be their friend, that’s innocent enough—just be sure to convey that the friendship isn’t one-sided.

Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc

22-year veteran of strategy: brand, business, organizational, communications. Certified in project management and regulatory compliance. Fan of dark tea, thick books, peace, and unity.

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