A recent study by Oglivy suggests that social media users aren’t showing advocacy or passion for most of the brands that they follow.
What I want to do in this post is take a look at the research behind that assertion and posit an alternative explanation for the chasm between brand advocacy expression on social media and its expression in real life.
This study looked at between 6 and 7 million social media mentions of 22 major brands and eight feature films in four countries (United States, China, Brazil, and the United Kingdom). They assessed five product categories: coffee, hotels, fashion retail, movies, and skincare.
Social media posts were analyzed for sentiment based upon a predetermined list of keywords. From this analysis, messages were assessed for “advocacy,” “passion,” and for advocacy “drivers” (ads, benefits, cost, features, customer service).
Key findings from the study include:
- most “advocates” mentioned product features and not emotion
- China showed the largest degree of brand advocacy
- few brands (9%) had greater than 50% advocacy in social media
- “advocacy” posts constituted 15% of social mentions
- advocacy was evident agnostic of product category
This study has a distinct point of view. It is trying to make the case that social media drives sales if done properly at scale. Properly is defined as promoting “advocacy” (as defined by Oglivy). Peppering a study with over-the-top assertions makes this clear (consider this one where it is intimated that stock value is significantly influenced by social media):
“Brands that do not generate substantial advocacy will need to pay more for reach and consequently have costs substantially higher than those brands that drive advocacy… this advantage could make the difference between a company with outstanding shareholder returns and one that fails to perform.”
The average number of brand mentions for each brand studied was 233,333. When the study asserts that 233,333 advocacy mentions is a mere 15% of customers, they are saying that of 1.55 million customers of brand X, only 233K bothered to sing their praises (which almost sounds like a good problem to have). This is a scale that most companies will never see, and as such identifies problems that most businesses will never have.
Which leads to my point about diminished social advocacy. Imagine an alternative universe where everyone ties their Foursquare accounts to the Facebook accounts. And they check in everywhere. In a scenario like this, businesses could probably see advocacy that was more reflective of customer satisfaction surveys, but who would read the content? Not me, because I would have muted all of the Foursquare posts. I don’t particularly care what people Like, I care what they do. And although the threshold between expression and over-expression is oftentimes crossed on social networks (I do this regularly with pictures of my kids on Facebook), it’s pretty rare for people to over-express their appreciation for brands. It’s not why people use social platforms.
When the study asserts that the “vast majority of people satisfied with their experience aren’t advocating online,” I’m not convinced that it is a brand failing as it is a cultural norm.
Consider this example from the study. A social media user in China is posting about coffee and writes:
“A cup of Nescafe in the morning, wakes me up and stay sharp all day.”
I would argue that despite brandishing a keyword or two, this post would stick out like a sore thumb on Facebook. “Advocacy” like this is contrary to community norms, so for most businesses this probably isn’t as ideal as it is purported to be. That said, there are ways to increase advocacy but is that the best use of marketing resources?
In the bigger picture, businesses need to decide whether insights on this scale are applicable to them. I might argue that for smaller businesses (those getting decidedly less than 230K social mentions a year), email addresses, check-ins, or online reviews would be more valuable than social media posts with positive keywords.
I’m curious to know your thoughts on this. Is online advocacy as important as this study intimates? Is insight from such large brands applicable to smaller businesses? What are your takeaways?