Why will customers listen to or pay for us in 2013?
It is crucial for brands to understand the relation between customers' real and virtual lives so that they can personalise their messages. Without this human touch, agencies and brands will be stuck spamming their customers with robotic posts and tweets that no one wants to engage with.
Don't worry. We won't baffle you with complex anthropological studies but instead, we'll present answers to burning questions to help you understand your customers better. The more you see where they're coming from, the more your marketing efforts can pay off.
Here are ten things that customers are looking for the most from online social media interaction in 2013:
1 - Support, empathy and guidance:
Man was not built to thrive as an individual in a vacuum. We're inherently social animals and we like to garner support for our ideas, gain empathy in times of sorrow, share our fears and happiness and seek guidance.
However, it is shocking to observe that only 42% of brands on Facebook currently solicit customer feedback although nearly half of online customers expect all businesses to. 56% of customer tweets to businesses are ignored (Source: MarketMeSuite and Placeter). As a brand, you need to look at social media as a platform for providing real-time support to your customers and sharing ideas with them.
2 - Stories worth sharing:
We love gossip, don't we? Professor Robin Dunbar of the ICEA explains that there is a reason why we listen to gossip, and why biographies and fiction stories sell like hot cakes. As social men, we like to "keep the wheels oiled" - to use his words - and stay in touch with how other people are spending their lives and what we can learn from them.
In 2013, brands need to tell stories. Constantly. But we understand that it is easier said than done. Sharing stories constantly means creating lots and lots of content! This is why we believe that companies should become content creators. This requires you to radically rethink your organisational structure, enable your employees and customers and create a process for automation. Michael Brito has written an excellent post on his blog about how you can operationalise brand storytelling. He has also included a chart that should help you get started with becoming a media company.
3 - Connecting "stranded" individuals:
Consider a batch of university graduates who all go in separate directions as they seek jobs. After developing friendships and relationships for three or more years, they're now faced by a gap in their interactions. This is where online social media lends a helping hand.
In a broader sense, we should look at social media as a tool that connects people and brings communities closer. LinkedIn, for example, is helping job seekers meet employers. Behance is helping designers meet people who share their passion for art. As a business, you should understand this purpose and help build 'communities' of people around your brand where people who associate with your values can interact with each other and feel part of something bigger.
4 - Initiating conversations, sparking ideas:
The social network isn't a place to sit back and watch. It is a place to voice your opinions, start dialogue and thrust your hand out for a handshake.
After listening to what your customers are talking to, don't be afraid to offer your opinions on the matter and take a stance. Although you should avoid political or religious controversies, feel brave enough to have your own thoughts. If you're all diplomatic and politically correct, people will soon get bored of your messages. The average number of connections per user on Facebook is 141.5 and for a Tweeple, it's 208 (Source: Go-Gulf). Since the noise is increasing everyday, you need to connect with your original self to make sure you're heard.
5 - To plan or to talk:
As all kinds of age groups, ethnicities, races and nationalities start joining the social media parade, you need to be able to understand your target audience. An interesting study by the ICEA has shown that males like to use social media to plan things to do while females develop relationships and build trust through conversations.
Facebook and Google+ are great for photos, videos and text; use Twitter to share article links and photos; LinkedIn for resourceful content; and of course channels like Pinterest and YouTube are dedicatedly for photos and videos respectively.
6 - Committed interactions:
It's easy to let the digital wash over us and forget the basics. Keep comparing your online communication to face-to-face talks. When you pick up your phone and give a friend a call, that is your way of saying, "I'm talking to you right now rather than anyone else". Is your conversation on social media reflecting the same kind of commitment?
Sadly, companies are now just bombarding their customers with posts. Instead, keep the CARE rule in mind.
- Convenient: Your customers are using multiple devices. Make it convenient for them to access your information from a smartphone, tablet or desktop computer.
- Attractive: The web is becoming visual. Pinterest, with more than 10M users, has become the fastest growing site ever. It's bringing aesthetics into play.
- Relevant: Show relevant content to your customers whether they're browsing on the web, using geo-local features on their smartphones or joining conversations on social media.
- Emotional: Connect with your consumers feelings. You don't always have to post cute kitten pictures ("cat" accounts for 30,400,000 Google searches per month) but you can sure learn from the Grumpy Cat.
7 - Layers of relationships:
People mostly connect with their friends online, whom they already know offline. Their inner most circle would be the same trustworthy group of family or friends. However, social media does add layers to their circles such as categories of acquaintances, colleagues, professionals, celebrities and fan followers.
By understanding this, brands should try and build their presence both online and offline so that their customers can relate to them more readily and increase their interactions with the brand on social media.
8 - Improved communications:
So far, social media conversations cannot substitute face-to-face communication. The richness of non-verbal language, facial expressions and gestures is lost in the digital world. More than ever, you should try to portray the human side of your business to compensate for this gap. Post photos of your employees, conduct webinars or arrange Hangouts on Google+ and share photos and videos of your customers using your products.
9 - E-commerce:
People are learning the value of paid content as content creators slow down on the freebies. They're learning that piracy doesn't deliver quality and quality costs more (Pandora, Hulu Plus). They're willing to make purchases (iTunes, Netflix) and are training themselves to pay through microsites.
This means that brands should take a step forward and facilitate those customers wishing to buy. You can create e-commerce apps or landing tabs on your Facebook page.
10 - Added value or concept to associate with:
Flash mobs and memes are a strange phenomenon. They've shown to us that human beings are the only species that are capable of grouping together for a concept, not just personal allegiances. Become a brand that inspires, that advocates a value which your customers cherish. Then allow them to group together under your flag and associate themselves with your brand.
Companies like Google, Apple and Disney don't just sell products or services. They propagate ideas and values that people can feel proud to relate with.
Take a look back at why it all began and you'll begin to understand how you can reach your customers. Provide support, connect like-minded people, create conversations, understand the commitment it takes and most importantly, inspire. Which brands are your favourites on social media? Let us know in the comments below. We love to hear about the greats of social media!