Study demonstrates that social media users are pretty insightful

A lot of recent studies have published CEO, CMO and marketing manager insights and opinions of social media.  While many offer interesting tidbits, oftentimes there appears to be a disconnect between C-suite perception of social networks from what many of us experience.

I also have had a couple of recent conversations with people who were trying to determine the next big social media platform based primarily on the platform’s marketing tools.  Of course this ignores the obvious: that you can’t market on a platform that no one is using.

At some point, the line between reality and punditry gets crossed.  The cohesive element that may be able to reconcile these is relevant consumer insight.  Market research company Firefly Millward Brown released some recent findings that  reinforce the value of sensing social users, and may offer some important insights for companies trying to gain their social bearings.

Findings from their study

Many of FMB’s insights echo conventional wisdom for social media usage, but a couple don’t.  For instance, brand personalization seems to be something users want (an insight that I forever associate with Robert Caruso of Bundle Post), but they also don’t want to feel disrupted by social media (a tough insight to action given the difficulty re-engaging fans on Facebook).

Another really interesting insight that they discovered was that social media proclivities were nearly indistinguishable regardless of what country a user is from.  Depending upon the nature of a business, this could be a really significant finding.  For instance, a business could spend more budget on production for multiple countries rather than creating campaigns for each market.

Here are the ten big takeaways from FMBs research:

10 rules for engaging with social media (from Firefly Millward Brown):

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. However, consumers perceive that brands would rather hide behind policies and procedures than admit 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 in 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 interests, 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 consumer 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 them. 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 is building relationships by encouraging customers to participate in conversations.

Not the entire story

I mention this study not because it says anything clearly actionable, but because it seems sometimes people speak at such a high level about social media that they ignore the people that are using these platforms.  Their proclivities and opinions are what drives trends and opportunities at a higher level.

It should be stated that there are clear limitations with this study.  First off, the exact methodology of this research is unclear.  It was a study of a few hundred people, which isn’t a great representation especially for a study of international users.  It’s also important to understand that this study and its presentation are intended for larger businesses (i.e. prospective clients).

The other aspect of this study that should be noted is that it is a study of consumers.  Users don’t participate on social platforms to be advertised to, so when they say they’d like to be the party to initiate conversations with brands it presents a dissonance.  Of course hearing what your customers have to say doesn’t mean that you have to do everything they want.

This isn’t perfect research, but it seems to me that they’re asking relevant questions to an important audience.

What do you think?  Are these recommendations a reasonable framework for brands to follow on social media?  Do brands do a good enough job listening to their customers?

Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty

Writer and chief of miscellany at
I'm the guy that wrote the article you just read. Sorry for the typos.
  • Jenny Xie

    Brands have become smarter about not “marketing” to their users and followers on social media and instead starting discussions that are peripherally related to (but not centered on) the product. That’s fantastic. Social media is more than that, however. After building a relationship with your fans, you should reward them as the entity you are – a brand, business, organization, what have you. After all, that’s what made fans engage in the first place. This means special offers, inside information, flash sales on Facebook, Twitter contests – that’s where the real potential for engagement lies.

    • jimdougherty

      Great insight Jenny, and one that I think a lot of brands would do well to listen to. When I read your description of how customers want to be engaged I think about Dell Outlet and wonder why very few brands can muster up the creativity to create unique, useful content in their campaigns. Thanks so much for reading and commenting! Great points!

      • Jenny Xie

        Right, Dell Outlet is a great example. It seems like many brands can’t muster up the courage to introduce coupon codes, or mention flash sales lest they seem too “salesy.” I say, a good portion of customers will unlike a Page if all they see on their News Feed are photo caption contests (though a few of them thrown in the mix is good for engagement).

  • ContentMarketing4All

    Nice! Time to share!