Part 7 in a series introducing my new book, The End of Business as Usual...this is not content from the book, this series serves as its prequel.
You like me, you really like me!
Not so fast.
Businesses are using social media to earn Likes and Follows, engage with customers, and the more progressive brands, are extracting insights from social and interest graphs to improve and personalize experiences and products. The quest for a larger install base of social consumers is admirable and quite honestly, necessary in a new era of empowered consumerism. It is the intentions of businesses that I question as I believe that their vision and interpretation of acts of Liking and Following are clouded.
The importance of the 3F's (friends, fans, and followers) does not lie in the initial conversion from consumer to connected consumer. Counting numbers as a metric here isn't helpful or usefull. In fact, it's misleading and potentially distracts any business from long-term success. The value in the connection is in understanding not only why a conversion took place, but learning about expectations and also studying behavior and preferences to deliver against them in social networks and in the real world.
Begin the Beguine: What does fan really mean?
Let's begin the beguine. While the Beguine was a popular dance in the 1930s, it is derived from the French word béguin, which means infatuation. Certainly, infatuation is one way to describe the love affair between brand marketers and social media. And since we're on the subject of definitions, part of the challenge that faces brands moving forward is how they conveniently define the words friends, fans and followers. In my work, I've long observed that sometimes businesses take those words quite literally.
In June 2011, ExactTarget published a revealing study that shed light on the discrepancy between how brands and consumers interpret the act of liking. For example, when you hear the word fan, connotations of loyalty, advocacy, and passion come to mind. But, for many consumers, clicking Like isn't a profession of affinity as much as it is a reflection of support. In some cases, the gesture is merely a move to take advantage of an offer, contest or promotion.
According to ExactTarget, only 42% of active Facebook users view the act of a "Like" as a declaration of their devotion or support. On the other side of the coin however, 33% disagree with a Like equating to fandom. The other 25% aren't quite sure what to think. Finding the meaning of Like is not unattainable though. Understanding what it means to different customers can only improve programming, service and engagement strategies. The reality is that people are actively Liking brands and many know exactly what they expect from the connection. Other consumers who do not know why they do so or what they expect will soon learn once they feel stream fatigue from the lack of focus in the content that flows through their timelines.
Of those polled, 45% have Liked a company on Facebook and 44% have Liked something posted by a company. It is when they were asked why that the study took on an entirely new level of relevance. The meaning of Like comes down to context and currency. First, context represents the situation, conditions, incentives, and intentions of how, when, and where the consumer is faced with the prospect of Liking. Second, Like is a form of social currency as it says to the recipient as well as to those to whom we're connected, "I formally approve, support, or endorse this..." Call it Likenomics if you will, but until we understand why Likes take place in and around our brand and competitors, it's impossible to understand its economic impact beyond superficial numbers.
ExactTarget also found that age is a factor when defining the meaning of Like. Younger consumers, those aged 15-24, reported that they did so as a form of self-expression and public endorsement of a brand. There was also a desire to obtain coupons or deals as a result of the connection.
Consumers 25 and up expect something of value in exchange for their Like. They are not interested in general conversations and are not afraid to unlike brands that fail to deliver discounts, relevant product information, or exclusive offers. Interestingly, when consumers Like something outside of Facebook, in many cases, it simply serves as a bookmark to review something later, perhaps to also share with friends. However, consumers are quick to note here, that this action is not indicative of any form of consent for marketing.
When we examine the demographic make-up of Likenomics, we can gain greater clarity into the activity behind the numbers. The majority of those aged 15-17, 55-64, and 65 and older do not Like brands with 46%, 55% and 69% respectively not following any business in social networks. There are other age groups however, where following brands is just a way of digital life.
Consumers who Like 1-10 brands:
15-17 = 39%
18-24 = 51%
25-34 = 46%
35-44 = 53%
45-54 = 51%
55-64 = 41%
65+ = 27%
Consumers who Like 11 or more:
15-17 = 16%
18-24 = 23%
25-34 = 30%
35-44 = 21%
45-54 = 11%
55-64 = 3%
65+ = 4%
To earn a coveted spot within the social graph of your customer is indeed precious. To be one of 10 among the majority of users seems almost like winning the lottery. However, it's not so much a game of chance as it is a reward for consistently delivering value. For those brands that earn a Like and engage beyond conversations, marketing, and elementary discounts, consumers are willing to follow you, even if the number of brands they follow soars above 11.
Those who Like 11 or more brands expect a reward in exchange for their endorsement. ExactTarget learned that they are driven by tangible value including exclusive content, sales, and events as well as the possibility of discounts or promotions. In return, frequent Likers will display the company's name in their profile, sharing brand information with friends, in addition to interacting with the brand.
"I expect to be given advance notice of upcoming deals, or an 'insiders' deal on products or services that the normal public will not receive." - Leif (Male, age 23)
Of those consumers who Like at least one brand, 58% also expect to gain access to exclusive content, events or sales. Another 58% expect to receive discounts or promotions through Facebook. 47% expect to receive updates about the company, person, or organization in the News Feed. Consumers are opting in, but what they're expecting to receive is most likely different than the editorial calendar or engagement program that you have planned through the end of the year. It's time to realign marketing with the rest of the organization to introduce value into the brand stream unlike how information is broadcast through traditional channels today.
Permission Not Granted
What's clear is that a Like doesn't equate to permission-based marketing if communication doesn't deliver the value expected. In fact, 39% of Facebook users that Like at least one brand stated that brands should never interpret the Like as permission to post marketing messages that would appear in the News Feed. However, to the benefit of brands, the majority feel that it's sometimes OK to post marketing messages. Scratching your head? That's what you should be doing just about now. If you're not thinking about it, then your social marketing efforts are unfortunately an extension of a confused approach. Remember one thing here, your definition of Like and how consumers regard the act of Liking are contrasting.
"'Liking' a brand is too casual an action for marketers to assume that I have enough interest to justify accessing my personal information. If they want that information, they should ask for it another way." -Jason (Male, age 25)
Outside of posting irrelevant content that may appear in the News Feed of a consumer, mining data without permission is the quickest way to not only lose a customer, but also lose their trust. Yet, when consumers Like a brand page, brands may misinterpret this action as permission to extract personal information about friends and friends of friends to personalize marketing. Overall, 56% of survey respondents indicated that marketers should not access public profile information even after a Like. For those businesses that seek deeper insights into consumer preferences and behavior, consider developing an app. Before you do however, consider the value that you will offer in exchange for priceless information that consumers connections will offer through a trusting act of opting-in.
The things that are often difficult or elusive to hear are the very pearls of wisdom that help us learn how to learn and grow. Without seeking information, we build an important strategy upon a house of cards. When asked why they do not Like brands on Facebook, 54% of consumers did not want to be bombarded with messages or advertisements. 45% wished to keep their profile information away from marketers. 31% opted not to become an accessory to spam, choosing not to feed irrelevant content into the News Feeds of their friends.
How does this affect your strategy as it's designed today?
Before we walk away with an interpretation of these stats and ideas for developing a new engagement strategy, take a moment to heed the advice of your customers.
"Give me information about sales and events that are not broadcast to the general public. It makes me feel special and endears me to the brand." -Sue (Female, age 26)
"I 'Like' a lot of different brands, and if they're all constantly posting then it's overwhelming." -Aaron, 23, Houston, TX
Here's what to do next:
1) Assume that there are great elements to your strategy and also that you're missing opportunities.
2) Learn what it is your customers expect or prefer from engagement within social networks and deliver against expectations and aspirations.
3) Don't confuse a Like with a traditional opt-in or for permission to market at them.
4) Don't over step your bounds. Create a two-way street.
5) Don't create content for the sake of maintaining an active pipeline or for staying top of mind. Communicate based on opportunities, need, or to improve experiences...nothing less, nothing more.
6) Reward your brand graph for loyalty, participation and advocacy.
7) Don't host contests or campaigns just to boost numbers. In fact, don't focus on growing the install base of your brand page. Deliver value and grow based on value.
8 ) When in doubt, ask!
Order The End of Business as Usual today...
Part 1 - Digital Darwinism, Who's Next
Part 2 - Social Media's Impending Flood of Customer Unlikes and Unfollows
Part 3 - Social Media Customer Service is a Failure!
Part 4 - I think we need some time apart, it's not me, it's you
Part 5 - We are the 5th P: People
Part 6 - The State of Social Media 2011: Social is the new normal
Image Source: DissociatedPress