Well-intentioned marketers are at risk of inadvertently converting potential customers into 'brand blockers' as a result of irritating online behaviour, according to recent global research into the effectiveness of social media marketing, commissioned by data analytics and communications software firm Pitney Bowes Software.
The study compared social media marketing trends among marketing directors with consumer attitudes to marketing via social media across Australia, France, Germany, the UK and the USA. It was found that, when it comes to external communications, nearly 70% of marketing directors are placing a greater emphasis on social media now than ever before, claiming that one quarter of their marketing budgets will be allocated to social media activity in 2013.
However, marketers' enthusiasm for using social media is not matched by consumers' views of social media marketing. Only a quarter use social media to follow and keep up-to-date with certain companies or brands (26%), while most are mainly on social media to keep in touch with friends and family (78%).
In this context, 'followed' brands fare relatively well. Nearly half of social media users (48%) are positive toward receiving their marketing messages. The reverse is true of communications from companies people don't follow, which 40% say they would be annoyed to receive. What is more, consumers rate unsolicited marketing ('spam') and pop-up advertisements as their worst experiences of social media marketing.
Perhaps most worryingly, 65% of consumers surveyed say that they would stop using a brand that upset or irritated them as a result of their social media behaviour. In contrast, recommendations from online friends hold more sway: 68% said that they investigated these or even made a purchase (15%).
When it comes to interacting with brands, the research showed that consumers are most interested in discount or money-saving vouchers, new products and services, and upcoming sales and events. Yet these are bottom of the list for marketers, mentioned by fewer than one in ten of those surveyed. Instead, marketing decision-makers highly rate the effectiveness of newsletters, information about the organisation's social responsibility and customer satisfaction surveys, all of which were least interesting to consumers.
While consumers and marketers were aligned in their emphasis on Facebook as the most popular and trusted social media site, they disagreed about the importance of other social media outlets. Beyond Facebook, marketers devote most of their remaining spend on Twitter (57%) and Google+ (51%). By contrast, consumers prefer YouTube - rated only fifth by marketers - over Twitter and Google+.
"This study reveals a clear disconnect between the effort marketers are putting into social media and the desire among consumers to engage," said Gary Roberts, executive vice president EMEA for Pitney Bowes Software. "Even well-intentioned marketers that persist with old-school 'broadcast' marketing models risk inadvertently turning potential brand ambassadors off, or at worst, triggering them to disengage completely and ultimately become a 'brand blocker'."
Among the study's other key findings:
- UK companies will devote the highest proportion of marketing spend on social media next year, allocating close to half of marketing budgets (47%) to social media in 2013;
- There are marked gaps in marketers' ability to quantify the impact of their social media initiatives. Two-thirds (66%) see their campaigns as effective but only one-third (33%) are confident that they can establish a link between social media spend and profitability. The UK is the most confident market, with as many as 80% saying their campaigns are effective and 62% claiming that they can establish an impact on profitability.
- At 78%, the UK was among the most confident regions surveyed in their view that consumers are positive toward social media marketing, only exceeded by France (92%).
- However, the UK also has the biggest disconnect in terms of social media tactics: UK marketers have the greatest confidence in customer satisfaction surveys (70%), matched by the lowest consumer interest in such communications (10%) globally.
- While globally, only one-third (33%) overall are confident that they can establish a link between social media spend and profitability, 62% in the UK say they are very well informed of the impact social media activity has on profitability.