People use social networks to connect with friends and family, sometimes brands

I have to be honest, the headline is a bit hypocritical. I spend most of my time helping businesses embrace the opportunity to understand customer needs and engage with them in ways that they appreciate and value. Contrary to popular belief however, everyday consumers aren’t flocking to social media to build relationships with their favorite brands or local businesses. The truth is that consumers are using the likes of Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, et al. to connect with friends and family. But, that’s not all. People also follow those who help them better understand the world around them, share their interests, or introduce moments of desired distractions.

In early 2011, IBM conducted a survey of roughly 1,000 consumers for its annual CRM Study. One of the questions asked of participants sought to shed light to the subject of why consumers were active on social networks. At the top of the list with 70%, no surprise, was the aim of connecting with family and friends. In second with 49%, consumers revealed that they were looking to stay connected to relevant news and information. Just behind with 46%, consumers expressed the desire for entertainment. And, last but certainly not least, 42% wished to share reviews of company or product experiences.

So where does that leave businesses? After all, the original Social Media Manifesto celebrated the opportunity that would eventually unite organizations and customers in a new generation of oneness, co-creation and innovation. How can organizations build a relationship with people if their primary use for social networks is to connect to the people they already know or wish they knew?

The good news is that consumers do wish to connect with businesses, just not in the way we might have originally envisioned. According to the same study 23% used social networks to interact with brands. Yes, consumers are connecting with brands, but it’s not as pervasive as we assume. To improve the number of connections and also increase retention, we must learn the reasons for why consumers connect with businesses, what they expect, and how to captivate their attention now and over time.

As consumer use of social media matures, their expectations grow. Your challenge is whether or not your organization can not only meet their needs, but anticipate and exceed them. This is the time to stop looking at social media as merely media in social channels and to start getting to know customers and their priorities and designing programs and a supporting infrastructure that socializes customer and employee facing roles, departments, and functions.

In August 2011, Lab42 surveyed Twitter users about their habits driving brand engagement. Believe it or not, 11% claimed that connecting with brands was the only reason they initially used Twitter. What does that tell us? People needed resolution or attention and Twitter represented the most logical choice for immediate satisfaction. On the other hand 10.6% stated that they do not follow any brands at all. Not all is bleak however. The study does indeed bring good tidings for worthy businesses.

30.6% of consumers follow 1-5 brands
19.6% follow 6-10
17.8% follow 11-20
9.8% follow an astounding 31-50

Depending on how you view these numbers, the glass is either half full or half empty. I believe that the state of the glass is determined by the actions surrounding it. For example, are we pouring or drinking from the glass? As Twitter is still growing, I see the glass is half full. Therefore, the time to invest in a sincere social media program that meets the needs of the various roles consumers may play in your business.

Theses roles include:

- Customer
- Prospect
- Advocate
- Detractor
- Co-creator
- Employee

The studies above reflect that consumer engagement is only just beginning. Consumers are not just connecting because they can, they do so with intention and increasing expectations. No matter where you are in the social media maturity cycle, the questions you have to answer will guide your strategy and evolution. It’s never too late to integrate an intelligence system that constantly examines the 5 W’s and an H.E.:

1. Who
2. What
3. When
4. Where
5. Why
6. How
7. Extent

The answers will help guide a useful, value-driven and an evergreen strategy and engagement program that attracts and retains consumers. Without careful or relevant engagement, businesses risk running anti-social campaigns that cause social blindness or far worse, disconnection via an unfollow or unlike.

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  • Rob le Pair

    Thanks for this overview and the good review of the IBM report and the Lab42 survey.
    Just one question: why did you add to the title: ”not brands”, and reinforce it with “Breaking:”?
    When 23% of consumers interact with brands (< IBM) and "11% claimed that connecting with brands was the only reason [....]" (< Lab42), the title does not cover the content, or did I miss something? Or did you choose those title words to attract attention and show that the opposite is true?

    • http://www.briansolis.com briansolis

      Hello. It’s a play on all of the sensational headlines in social media. I wanted to remind businesses to think and rethink their role in engagement. Earning a like, a retweet, fan or follow has long term value for both parties. It is something that must b earned now and over time.

    • Rob le Pair

      Yes, at second thoughts, I think the headline is… engaging

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1837893111 Staci Davidson

    Great post Brian!  It’s imperative to have a clear why, deliver what your audience is truly interested in, and adapt along the way.

  • http://essayserve.com/ essay help

    very interesting! thanks for sharing!

  • Anonymous

    thanks for sharing – I most appreciate the concept that customers engage with intention and INCREASING expectations

  • Anonymous

    thanks for sharing – I most appreciate the concept that customers engage with intention and INCREASING expectations

  • http://twitter.com/KariOBrien Kari O’Brien ♤

    Looking at this data, I think the answer is brand reps, community managers and personalizing a brand. (Disclaimer: I am a community manager.)

    People can access news, share opinions, share media, do research and get deals from brands. Yes we like people not robots. That’s why salespeople and telemarketers are so successful. Or why Tony the Tiger sold so many cornflakes. Branding actually was created to give a company personality!

    I actually had this convo with our VP this morning who jumped in our Forums. It’s a great move, but he was using a generic username, had no profile pic (a feature I recently added to the Forum) and signed off without telling the community who he was in our organization. The community immediately threw questions back at him. I jumped in, teased the trollish Forumites, answered the questions and provided a picture for one answer. They know me, though I represent the company, I’m part of the community and they respect that.

    It’s the cliche, social media is a cocktail party. We come to be social not to be sold. A good brand though can be a great host, and everyone knows business deals are made over scotch and cocktails everyday!

  • jackandpele

    When you consider that Facebook is approximately 10x as large as Twitter and other social networks such as Google+ are not even a factor, this is not surprising.

  • http://www.riysoft.com Web Design Company

    It’s absolutely true that people use social networks to connect with friends and family not with brands. But if you say 90 % people are doing this then it’s fine. I think atleast 10% are using to connect with brands.

  • http://www.bolderimage.com Danielle B. Towner

    I love when statistics are used to make a point, thank you so much for the data back-up. 

    @Kari – great insight. I couldn’t agree more. 

  • http://twitter.com/piplzchoice Gregory Yankelovich

    I suppose 42% who want to share their customer experiences are not considered “engagement” by marketers who still understand relationship as allowing them to scream at consumers. In my opinion these 42% are providing very valuable service to their networks members and the brands if they learn how to hear what their customers say. There are insights in these reviews that can help to improve the brands offering and win loyalty of the reviewers and their followers.

  • http://twitter.com/drmarcus_brasil Marcos AgostinhoSaid

    ok perfect Solis

  • http://pr.com.mt Jon – Press Release Malta

    Having a figure on the brand engagement is very important. We have known that brand engagement is happening slowly slowly and we think that this will continue to increase further. Since people apart from connecting with family and friends use social media to read news; brands who are in the news are more likely to be able to benefit from this brand connection.

    Thus we think that brands should put more importance on being social and available especially when they make use of press calls and press releases to put themselves in the news. If the brand is social it increases the chances of success and interactivity.

  • http://www.solutionforweb.net Kunalnet123

    Thanks for sharing very useful information, Actually today’s world everyone using net and try to connect friends and family, your statistic is really good.

  • Dotcom team

    The information above is very useful for determining how your business can be less antisocial and embrace any opportunity to communicate with their customers. The problem is that people are just unwilling to follow brands as they feel they will get products and sales pitches taking over their newsfeed. This is true of some brands. If you business really wants to engage with customers knowing what they want and satisfying those needs is your top priority. Blogging can be a great way to share information, tips and advice, for smaller businesses building a community with local events, photos and conversations is one way to ensure your business doesn’t get left behind. 

  • pearlvirtualpr

    I don’t know why but I get the feeling that Twitter is becoming the next ‘it’ social platform for a brand to be on. I’ve been studying marketing and public relations for two years now and I know it is not much to assume such a deep thought but I’ve been observing this new or rather increased interest for Twitter that could eventually lead to the social media brands have to be on. I do not really appreciate Twitter as a social network itself but then when thinking in terms of PR, branding and this idea of constructing the image online it is undeniable that companies would benefit greatly from social media. I think that what makes Twitter so interesting for brands is not the fact that we, as consumers have greater expectations and want to connect online because eventually we always wanted to get the information we need and interact with brands, but that its creation led to a whole new level of “intimacy” between the company and consumer. By intimacy I mean that Twitter, or even Facebook allows brands to be closer to their customers than ever before and that is why digital media would answer to the greater expectation of the consumer.

  • http://www.totallyseo.co.uk Stephanie

    Well written article.I appreciate your writing skills.Its great.I really like the concept of this post and I feel that this is a very unique and rare information that you have managed to compile.You have done a great job by sharing this post with us.I like this post.Keep sharing with us in future too. 

ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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