Monday, 21 March 2011


Understanding what consumers truly value on social media platforms is a critical first step toward building any Social strategy.  Most companies assume consumers are seeking them out to feel connected to their brand, when in fact, consumers are far more interested in obtaining tangible value.  This suggests businesses may be confusing their own desire for increased customer intimacy with consumers’ motivations for engaging. Consumers have strong opinions about social interaction and, despite embracing social media, their willingness to engage with your brand should certainly not be assumed (or taken for granted).

Why do customers seek out a brand via social media?  Statistics reveal that:

  • Despite the astounding escalation of social media adoption, only a very small percentage of consumers engage regularly by responding to posts and creating their own content.
  • Social Media is about friends and family – not brands. More than half of consumers don’t even consider engaging with businesses via social sites. For them, social media and social networking are about personal connections with friends and family.
  • There are significant gaps between what businesses think consumers care about and what consumers say they want from their social media interactions with companies. In exchange for their time, endorsement and personal data, consumers expect something tangible. But businesses typically rank getting discounts and purchasing as the least likely reasons consumers interact with them.
  • While many businesses believe social media will increase advocacy, only a small percent of consumers agree, and the majority believe passion for a business or brand is a prerequisite for their social media engagement. Companies therefore need to find creative ways to leverage peer advocacy and tap the power of the trusted social community.

Businesses need to stay focused on extending value.  Social media is ultimately about interacting with others with an expectation of getting something in return. Even if that “something” is intangible, such as a feeling of connectedness or affection, participants are actively, purposefully seeking value. For businesses, the challenge is unlocking what their customers care about and creating social media experiences that deliver that value.

Consumers are willing to interact with businesses if/when they believe it is to their benefit, feel they can trust the company and decide social media is the right channel to use to get the value they seek. That value could be in the form of a coupon or specific information. Engaging with a company via social media may result in a feeling of connectedness for consumers – an emotional, intangible gain – but the wish for intimacy is not what drives most of them.

Organizations need to be aware that less than half their customer base is likely to interact with them in a social media environment. This can fluctuate, of course, depending on the targeted market for a particular industry or type of business. However, regardless of the customer profile, as businesses build their social media strategies, it is important they ask a fundamental question: “Why would people choose to follow us in social media instead of reaching out via traditional channels?”  The answer may be as simple as: “Because our customers congregate on social sites, and it’s how they want to communicate.” 

For a small segment of your constituents, this may be enough of a reason. However, the real opportunity lies in an organization’s ability to attract others who aren’t so inclined to participate. Companies need to make a concerted effort to communicate openly and authentically with these customers, learn what they value and offer benefits that entice them to act.

Businesses should view this as an opportunity to reach out to both new and existing customers. However, it will likely take a targeted, multichannel campaign that rewards customers for using a social option with further incentives to motivate them to actually interact.  

The fact that customers desire to use social sites to transact with businesses should come as welcome news to companies that want to monetize social media.  Consumers are increasingly using social media to gain recommendations, reviews and opinions from friends, family, experts and the collective social community. Once they access this content, the impulse to purchase immediately can be strong and having to switch channels to transact will increasingly feel like an inconvenience.  

Many consumers ask friends for advice before purchasing, and more than a third turn to external sources – either fellow consumers or independent experts – to get information about a product.  Only a small percentage of consumers rely on retailers and manufacturers alone, therefore the power of the social community’s endorsement and influence can be felt each time someone “likes” a company on Facebook or re-tweets a company’s message on Twitter.  Companies can take advantage of this dynamic by designing social media programs with the explicit goal of touching customers emotionally and motivating them to share their experiences with others.

Organizations need to carefully consider how they can create a social media experience that is unique to their brand, offers customer value, and exploits the power of the social community.

To design a framework for a successful social media program that will help reinvent customer relationships, companies need to accept that social media changes the rules, if for no other reason then because it participatory.  Moving forwards Social Media will become the gateway, if not the primary, communications channel to connect with customers.  

Therefore, as companies design their social media programs, they will therefore need to think of their customers holistically and consider their social media interactions in the context of other customer touch points with the company.  Social Media is about enabling engagement with the customer for the mutual benefit of the customer and the business. The traditional model of managing the customer relationship needs to adapt to the reality that the customer is now in control.

The customer experience also needs to be seamless – across social media and all channels.  A Social Media solution should therefore not be devised as an isolated standalone effort, rather it needs to be thoughtfully integrated with other customer-facing initiatives.  Ultimately, companies need to start thinking like a customer.  Instead of asking why your company should engage in social media, ask why a customer would choose to interact with your company in a social platform. Recast social interaction strategies to focus on giving customers the value they seek and the customer intimacy will come. 
If you aren’t sure what customer’s value, ask them - dialogue and participation is what social media is all about. Devise creative ways to capture the customer insight you need with polls, idea jams and challenges. Let customers participate by voting on their favorite ideas or innovations. In fact, getting customers invested in the outcome will help build the advocacy and brand affinity you seek.

Make it quick and easy for customers to transact directly within a social media experience. Businesses, eager to get closer to customers, are building pages on social networking sites, posting videos and mircoblogging; however, if they don’t focus on what the majority of their customers value in social media, they may be missing the boat. In fact, offering tangible value to consumers may be the strongest incentive to attract the 75 percent of Casual Participants who need a good reason to interact.

A “build it and they will come” approach to social media just doesn’t work.  Much more needs to be done if companies want to attract more than the most devoted brand advocates.  Therefore, companies need to develop social commerce campaigns that target a specific customer need with time-sensitive offers or discounts that motivate customers to act. For people to engage and keep coming back, content should be fresh and relevant. Provide incentives for people to share content with friends to capitalize on the viral benefits a community platform offers. With so much to gain, companies need to invest the effort to understand how to break through the noise and offer current and potential customers a reason to reach out to them via social media.

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