When it comes to marketing through social media, there are new rules of engagement, according to a consumer survey from Webtrends, which found that consumers want conversations rather than sales pitches and to develop positive relationships with brands.
The 'Rules of Engagement' survey found that most consumers (85%) under the age of 35 said they welcome brands on web sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube.
More than half of those who use Twitter every day expect brands to use social media to better understand consumers, to provide better service, to involve users in the design of future products and services, to discuss market issues, and to draw attention to new products and initiatives.
In fact, while nearly three out of four web users say that social media can help brands to understand their audiences, it should be remembered that 'understanding' involves a two way conversation. Businesses that bombard social networkers with sales offers are warned that too much advertising - and blatant commercialisation of social media sites - is a big concern for consumers, with 39% already complaining that there is too much advertising on these web sites, and half of those surveyed saying they would leave a social networking site if it became too commercial.
According to Christian Howes, digital solutions architect for Webtrends, "Social media provides a massive opportunity, but the problem for most brands is that they're not agile enough to set up and maintain a useful presence, so they miss out on many of the benefits. When I looked at airlines recently, one international airline had something like 10,000 followers on Twitter but a US-based no-frills carrier had more than a million. The international airline was posting messages that were relatively corporate in tone, while the other was involved in a genuine dialogue and was using that as an extension of its customer service initiative."
It is mainly early adopters and progressive brands that have reached out to social media users, and the feedback so far is it can reap rewards if done well. Half of Twitter users said that a brand has successfully interacted with them through social media, compared to only 31% of Facebook users. Of those who have interacted in some way with a brand using social media, three out of four said they nowthink more highly of the brand.
But, more importantly, although 19% of social media users feel they would think more highly of a brand they interacted with through a social media site, among those who actually do interact with brands, the approval rating rises to 74%. This suggests that users show more favour toward brands that reach out to them through social media than they initially thought they would.
"To get the most out of social media, businesses must be agile and they should listen to and serve their customers well. Simply pumping out self-serving or 'preachy' announcements doesn't work, no matter how big the brand is. Consumers are open to conversations with brands they like, but it has to be a two-way conversation," said Howes.