Initially social media networks were meant to help users stay connected. They were for them to build and maintain relationships with their friends, to share their photos and videos with them, to stay connected and up to date on events, news and changes within their social networks.
With companies, artists, public events and community pages conquering social media networks, social media consumers have also changed their attitude towards brands online. It is crucial for corporations to understand what social media users really want from their corporate sites and online engagement in order to get the most out of communicating with them.
I admit that this post tackles the biggest question of modern marketing. I also admit that I can only provide a glance of an answer as the market is always changing, always different and my study only takes 135 opinions into account (from diverse age groups, occupations and nationalities).
Nevertheless this study is a starting point. And – from my experience – the conclusions I drew (see bottom) can be applied to other audiences and markets.
Social Media Study
What do social media users actually want?
How do they want to be contacted and communicated to? What do corporate followers and fans appreciate? What annoys them? What are they looking for? What do they expect from company sites?
For my study, which was part of my master’s thesis, I encouraged outdoor enthusiasts, consumers of outdoor clothing and gear, to participate in a specifically tailored online survey. This target group, I believe, can represent the modern, responsible, critical and green consumer who is also young and active enough to be using Facebook and Co, and thus, help make generalisations about (green) social media users and attitudes. 135 participants took the survey in August 2012.
The investigation and its findings are divided in three steps:
At first I wondered where participants would look for further information about a company, e.g. about a corporate initiative. Do they herefore actually want to make use of social media or is a website, a newsletter, an email enough?
The corporate website emerged as the clear winner. Personal contact via phone or email was the least popular option. However, engagement is demanded as newsletters, classical one-way information and announcements, are not wanted as much as Facebook fan pages and Youtube videos – channels which allow for comments and ‘likes’ as recognised feedback. Additional comments suggested that users would use search engines to find out more and particularly look for third party opinions as opposed to what the company says.
The findings show that a corporate website is a valuable tool to inform audiences but, in digital times, it can not be the only one. Online audiences are generally open to following a company’s Facebook-page, their Youtube channel and a blog that keeps them posted. This indicates that they like to participate by leaving comments and evaluating what’s provided. Mere corporate news feeds are perceived as spamming. Users seek credible information from third party sources, e.g. from NGOs.
PREFERRED FORMATS AND CONTENTS
Now that we have clarified the where, it is interesting to look at what social media users want to see, what they expect from companies’ content on websites, Facebook fan pages and corporate blogs.
Not surprising, the majority prefers to digest visualised information, e.g. videos and images, over written information. Again, third party opinions and other commentator’s thoughts are highly valued when searching for information. Over a third agreed that they would like to participate in corporate decision making, voting via polls and giving their opinion. 18-32 year olds particularly like to learn from corporate sites about how they can become involved in real life – an interesting approach, linking the virtual world to real life.
MOTIVATION – WHY CONSUMERS FOLLOW
So far so good. Now we know where consumers preferably look for information and in what format they like to receive their information. We can guess that the main motivation behind following a company might be accessing their latest information and news. But there must be more reasons as information distribution could be satisfied through websites and newsletters alone.
In fact the majority of consumers wishes to connect with the brands they use. Let’s see why:
News were a good guess but they are not the only reason. Discounts and vouchers are popular as well as issues of identification with a brand or a brand’s image, ‘feeling’, product and community. A considerable amount of participants also stated that they want to be connected to a brand so that they can visibly criticise the company if necessary and comment on their services/products and actions.
Once again, it becomes obvious that consumers today don’t just want their monthly newsletter but actively participate in and influence corporate decisions making for the better – their own or the community’s.
we may say that a good website still is important when keeping interested groups posted – but with corporate sites conquering all social media channels and consumers adopting to and embracing this conquest, it has become essential to embed social media sites in any long-term communications strategy.
FACTS TO TAKE INTO ACCOUNT FOR IMPLEMENTING SOCIAL MEDIA
- Consumers want to influence and participate in corporate decision making – publish polls and open questions
- As participation is key, classic one-way information dumping at audiences is out-dated (cf. self-praise) – be engaging and provide what is of value to your followers (not necessarily of value to you)
- Consumers actively search for third party opinions about a company/product, e.g. NGOs or other users – why not help them by providing easy access to such and partner with NGOs etc. This will make you appear transparent and credible.
- Consumers are ready to criticise publicly (keyword: shit-storm) and want to comment directly on certain issues (and they expect your response) – don’t delete their comments or turn off comment functions but respond
- Consumers prefer visualised information over text (keywords: Youtube, Flickr, Infographic) – pep up any text with images/videos wherever possible. Multi-media will help you stick out from today’s mass information
- Consumers follow companies as they identify with their image, products or community – they inevitably become your ambassadors. And this also indicates why YOU should embrace social media. Get it right and authentic and your followers will become your loyal recommenders.
Any other recommendations or additional info?