Consumers value brands being honest on social media sites, and prefer to deal with a human face rather than anonymous messages, according to a new study.
The study, from market research company Firefly Millward Brown gives global qualitative research study into consumers’ general attitudes and behaviours towards brands in social media.
Millward Brown says the research, which was conducted using the company’s purpose built private social network, will provide companies and their brands with valuable insight into how to navigate social media more effectively.
The research included in-depth discussions with organisations as well as hundreds of consumers around the world. It found that although most organisations recognise the potential and importance of social media, they are confused about the rules of engagement and lack organisational support and confidence. As a result, many stay away from social media or jump in without fully understanding the impact this can have on their brand.
“Companies are still figuring out social media,” says Rob Hernandez, global brand director, Firefly Millward Brown. “Our research highlights that many do not fully understand the rules of engagement. This is further complicated by confusion about who in the organisation should be responsible for social media, a reluctance to relinquish control and a perception that they lack relevant content to share with consumers.”
The consumer research highlighted the need for brands to earn trust. Respondents revealed their dislike of brands and companies that talk at them in social media and their desire for brands to be more relevant, more transparent and to behave more like a friend than a company.
“Consumers want a dialogue where brands listen to what they have to say rather than just push their messages out without taking into account what consumers think, feel and want,” comments Rob Hernandez. “They dislike gimmicks and want companies to be honest about their products and services, warts and all. Many of the people we interviewed commented on wanting brands to have a ‘human face’. Consumers’ biggest fear is that marketers will turn social media from a community into a marketplace.”
Separate research from Millward Brown earlier this year, the BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands ranking, supports the need for brands to develop a human face. It highlighted that many of the strongest brands in the world are built by leaders that act as a face for the brand. “It’s even more important to have a human face in social media,” adds Rob Hernandez.
Interestingly, the research revealed few global differences, indicating the truly global nature of social media. The exceptions were:
• China – people in China have been quick to embrace social media as a vehicle for self-expression but, frustrated by their inability to access sites like Facebook, feel left out of the global conversation which they see happening on Facebook. This runs counter to the freedom they believe is inherent in social media.
• India – a move from Google’s Orkut to Facebook highlights an aspiration to be seen as a developed rather than a developing nation.
Top tips: 10 rules for engaging with social media
Based on consumer research, Millward Brown recommends ten rules for engaging with social media:
1. Don’t recreate your homepage in social media– consumers want to see something new, fresh or different from brands – not a rehash of the same information they can get on the brand’s official web site.
2. Listen first, then talk – create a dialogue – by far one of the biggest issues consumers have – or anticipate – with brands is that they will simply talk at them instead of talking with them. They want a conversation where brands listen to what they have to say.
3. Build trust by being open and honest – transparency is key for brands in social media and is the most critical factor in building trust. Consumers however perceive that brands would rather hide behind policies and procedures than own up to their failings or shortcomings.
4. Give your brand a face – brands often suffer in social media because they don’t have anyone that answers to the consumer, a face for the brand. This prevents many consumers from actively engaging with companies in social media.
5. Offer something of value – consumers are more likely to respond to brands that offer them something real and tangible, preferably without wanting something return. While discounts and coupons are in vogue for brands in social media, they can create distrust. Worthwhile and exclusive content or deals or inside information on new products and services are valued by consumers.
6. Be relevant – consumers want to see content that relates to their life, their interest, their desires and their needs. Interestingly, several respondents commented on the lack of relevance for brands of ‘functional’ products like detergent, fabric softener and household cleaning products within the social media universe. In social media consumers are more critical about content that isn’t deemed relevant and feel that it’s invading their space.
7. Talk like a friend not a corporate entity – consumers want brands to communicate in simple, casual language that is conversational. They do not want technical or sales speak.
8. Give consumers some control – to operate effectively, brands must relinquish some of the control they have held for many years and be comfortable with the fact that they cannot solely dictate the message anymore. Brands that embrace consumers input and promote it will be more effective in managing the conversation.
9. Let consumers find you/come to you – another stark departure from traditional media campaigns, consumers do not want to feel that brands are ‘shouting’ messages at them. The perception is clearly that brands will use ‘intrusive’ and ‘interruptive’ advertising in social media.
10. Let consumers talk for you – brands achieve more kudos when consumers take the initiative and advocate for a brand. The recent Toyota campaign, where real people talked about their stories on Facebook and were then selected to feature in a television ad, is a great example where the brand is not trying to overtly sell but building relationships by encouraging customers to participate in conversations.
Source: Millward Brown