Tucked inside a new study from Cone, a strategy and communication company, communication professionals will find some very worthwhile information if they read between the lines. And I do mean read between the lines.
The raw data never tells the whole story. You need a seasoned analyst to help you put the pieces together. And, this newest study demonstrates how important that can be.
An inexperienced communicator would look at this study and deduce customers like frequent engagement, plenty of coupons, interaction on more than one network, and are interested in everything the brand has to share on any given day. But we see the study differently, especially when we put the numbers from various parts to consider very different findings.
1. Incentive Offers Can Cost You Customers.
Finding. 77 percent of consumers say a free product, free service, coupon or discount will attract them to follow or like a new brand. However, in another section of the study, 58 percent of those consumers say that if a brand over communicates or starts to spam them (over saturating content or offers), then they are likely to stop following the brand.
Analysis. Everybody likes a promotion or contest from a brand they support. However, blasting daily discounts eventually erodes the offering, literally driving more people away than those offers might attract. Brands have to balance their tactical approach, keeping incentives in line with relevant content.
2. Consumers Can't Tell The Difference Between Blogs And Websites.
Finding. According to the study, 63 percent of Americans say that they interact with companies via their Websites and only 13 percent interact with or read a company blog, which scored lower than email, social networks, mobile devices, or message boards.
Analysis. The vast majority of links shared on social networks (content that consumers value) direct consumers to new information, articles, or posts. Whatever you call this content, almost all of it is delivered as a blog. In fact, more companies are beginning to replace their Websites with blogs to capitalize on a continuous stream of new content because there is very little reason to visit a static Website.
3. Social Networking Is A High Risk/Reward Medium.
Finding. 46 percent of consumers say that they expect companies to be able to solve their problems and provide customer support via social networks and/or other online engagement tools. 58 percent also say that when brands act irresponsibly toward "me" or other customers, they will stop following it.
Analysis. While many online interactions "feel" like customer service issues, brands must never lose sight of the fact that every interaction, especially with a customer having a problem, is a potential crisis communication situation. Where social media differs from customer service is two-fold. First, consumers are calling in on their own; they bring a percentage of their friends along for the ride. Second, the problem or concern is being addressed in public; the company must always remember it might as well be answering customer questions on a broadcast channel.
4. Engagement Is In The Eye Of The Beholder.
Finding. 28 percent of customers following a brand want the company to develop new ways to engage them online and 36 percent expect communication. However, 53 percent will drop the brand if the information they share isn't relevant enough and 36 percent will drop a brand that doesn't respond or refresh its content.
Analysis. People are different and, generally, behave online much like they do in real life. Think of it like your average high school classroom. Some students want to raise their hands and answer every question. Some students never want to be called on, even if they know the answer. Some leave the class and share information with friends. Some love the lessons, but share them with no one. And so on and so forth. Brands that build in adaptability to their engagement models will be best suited to hit the middle mark.
5. Real-Time Measurements Can Be Misleading.
Finding. Customers vary the number of times that they actively connect with brands. 33 percent visit once or twice a week (not daily), but the greater balance of the visitors only visit between a few times a year or a few times a month. 14 percent never visit again, even if they keep the connection open.
Analysis. The perspectives of a content creator and the consumer is significantly different. Content creators are engaged with their project on a daily basis. Most consumers are not, which changes the experience. For example, consumers are not likely to see each new item on a return visit but three or four or more new items, each time they return. So that post that didn't "seem" to have significant traction on the day it was posted could become your most popular a month from now.
Another quick tip related to experience: Online representatives must always remember that even if they have answered one question 100 times, the consumer is still asking that question for the first time. And no, they aren't searching your stream to see if you answered it already.
Social media seems like a simple communication tactic and many of my colleagues (myself included) tend to speak about it in simple terms. However, the reality is that social media is exceedingly complex because the people you hope to reach are complex. Sure, some experts will always make the case that there is a herd-like sociology pattern to be found, but don't count on it.
You can find the five-page 2010 Consumer New Media Study on Cone's Website. There is a data form to fill out, but you can limit the contact information to a name and email.