Studying the impact of innovation on business and society

I think we need some time apart, it’s not me, it’s you

Part 5 in a series introducing my new book, The End of Business as Usualthis is not content from the book, this series serves as its prequel.

What do people want? If you don’t know, why not ask them?

Seems like a common sense question to ask. However, when it comes to customer engagement and relations, common sense appears to be an uncommon virtue. The good news is that asking customers what they need is now easier than ever before. Learning about what they prefer or what they’re missing based on their actions and words is prevalent within social media. Asking them directly is also a powerful form of engagement. At the very least the act expresses intent to learn and perhaps adapt.

Too many research projects or studies these days focus on what brands are doing in social media rather than what they should be doing. And at the same time, most are conducted from the perspective of the business and not from the perspective of the people affected by the actions or missteps of brands.

In February 2011 ExactTarget and CoTweet released a revealing study “The Social Breakup,” that provided a glimpse into the oft missed customer point of view. While many reports highlight why people Like and follow brands, this study divulged why consumers “break up” with brands in social networks.

Like any interpersonal relationship, the consumer-brand relationship has a distinct and fascinating life cycle. The relationship begins with the initial “spark”—the decision by the consumer to become a SUBSCRIBER, FAN, or FOLLOWER—followed by a blissful honeymoon period in which the consumer gets to know the company better through communications and social interactions. As the relationship progresses, the frequency and quality of interactions shapes the consumer’s desire to take the relationship to the next level.

If the company fails any of these relationship tests, a “social break-up”—i.e., an “unsubscribe,” “unfan,” “unlike,” or “unfollow”—is all but inevitable. When the consumer is no longer happy in the relationship, they will actively break off contact with the company…or just ignore their communications in the hopes the company will get the message that it’s over.

According to the study, 55% of Facebook users have liked a brand and then later decided they no longer wish to see the company’s posts. 51% of fans say that they really aren’t fans as they don’t visit the page or web site after the “Like.” 71% of consumers say that they’re now becoming more selective.

When asked why the honeymoon is over, the top reasons for unliking a brand in Facebook are:

1. The company posts too frequently
2. My wall was becoming too crowded with marketing posts
3. The content was too repetitive or boring

The reasons, regardless of percentage are equally revealing…

I only “Liked” the company to take advantage of an offer.

They didn’t offer enough deals. (note: if you combine these two details, “deals” would become the one of the top reasons people connected and disconnected from brands)

Their posts were too promotional

The content wasn’t relevant.

The company’s posts were too chitty-chatty without adding value

Twitter is a much different network than Facebook. However, that doesn’t stop brands from attempting to connect with customers. And, it doesn’t stop customers from experimenting with brand engagement. However, 41% of Twitter users followed a brand only to unfollow them shortly thereafter.

Again, when you ask the customer why they decided to unfollow their favorite brands, the answers are as difficult to hear as they are enlightening.

1. The content was too repetitive or boring
2. My stream was too crowded with marketing posts
3. The company posted too frequently

The remainder of responses are identical to the reasons shared earlier in reference to Facebook.

Not enough deals.

Too conversational.


Mind the (Customer) Gap

It comes down to something that’s repeated so often throughout our lives that we may have become immune to the importance of its message, “Mind the gap.” This cautionary expression is designed to protect us from our own potential missteps. But in business, we must mind many important gaps, one of which represents a dangerous pitfall in the evolving landscape of business.

The customer gap represents the distance between what we think customers want and what they actually want. The definition of this gap is different for every business and it is something that we must overcome.

Today we see so many brands flocking to Twitter and attempting to befriend new customers without realizing that they’re willfully stepping directly into an abyss of irrelevance.

It starts with answering some very basic, but vital questions.

What do customers value?

What do customers value in social networks with regard to the culture of each?

Why are customers seeking or reacting to brands in these networks?

What turns them off?

Why do they unlike or unfollow brands?

How can we introduce value to induce a sense of appreciation and ultimately loyalty or advocacy?

The answers to these questions exist. It just starts with asking the questions. More importantly, it requires that you do something with the answers…that’s the hard part.

When Perception isn’t Reality

IBM recently set out to measure the gap between customers and the corresponding awareness of businesses and their ability to meet the needs of consumers in social networks. Authored by Carolyn Heller Baird, Global CRM Research Leader with the IBM Institute for Business Value, IBM Global Services and Gautam Parasnis, Partner and Vice President for IBM Global Business Services, the study, “From Social Media to Social CRM,” teaches us about the emerging social consumer. Coincidentally, we learn more about their preferences than many social media best practices reveal to date.

The report begins with a level-setting that is refreshing and also challenging…

Understanding what customers value, especially when they are in the unique environment of a social platform, is a critical first step toward building a Social CRM strategy. What triggers a customer to seek out a company or brand via social media? What would make a customer reluctant to interact? And does social engagement influence customers’ feelings of loyalty toward a company as businesses hope it does?

The answer lies in one of the reports greatest insights and also one of its most obvious, “Obtaining tangible value is the top reason most consumers seek out businesses via social sites.”

While it’s easy to blame it on the youth, the reality is that the DNA of social customers is indiscriminant of age or any other demographic for that matter. This is more about psychographics, the linkage of people through common interests (note: interest graph) than it is demographics or the social graph.

As discussed earlier in this series, consumers are investing time in social networks to connect with friends and family. According to the IBM study, the total number of users in social networks doing so accounts for 70% of all social consumers. The subsequent reasons individuals interact in social networks is to access news and entertainment at 49%and 46% respectively. 42% desire to share their opinions and another 30% seek to access reviews. But what of those seeking to engage in conversations or relationships with brands? They number at a mere 23%.

IBM mapped the chasm between brands and consumers highlighting the separation that divides intention and actuality. 65% of businesses view social media as a new source for revenue. At the same time however, consumers claim that it is they who expect to realize value from businesses in social media. Nevertheless, the discrepancy between what customers want and what businesses think they want reside at opposite ends of the stream.

The perception gap is reminiscent of couples therapy where each individual sees the world so entirely differently that they require mediation to meet one another in the middle.

If you ask consumers why they interact with companies in social networks, they’ll tell you it’s to receive a discount (61%) or to make a purchase (55%). If you ask a business why they think consumers follow them in social networks their response is likely to mirror IBM’s results. 73% believe that consumers wish to learn about new products and an additional 71% connect to receive general information.

Perhaps most telling is the severity of misperceptions between consumers and brands. While consumers expressed the desire to receive discounts or make purchases as the top reasons for engagement in social media, businesses view these actions as the lowest two motives for connecting in the social web.

To “bridge’” these gaps requires a social CRM strategy and infrastructure to foster collaborative experiences through engagement that customers value. Social CRM tends to focus on technology and systems to provide stakeholders with access to information and processes to support informed engagement. sCRM can also greatly benefit by adapting to the 5th P in order to inspire updated methodologies for engagement that today’s customer can appreciate. It is as much a function of infrastructure as it is a matter of adapting to human nature.

Next Steps

Brands must face the tough reality that social media is in direct conflict with the mode of business as usual. Businesses must first with understanding the wants and corresponding behaviors of the social consumer to effectively adapt.

Introduce mutually beneficial engagement strategies and programs that are unique to the expectations of each community. Technology is an enabler, but customer service works best when it’s designed to serve.

Think like a customer. Or better said, take the insights that are gleaned from gathering intelligence to become the customer you’re trying to reach.

Social consumers are not looking for information, recreations of your Website or links to existing, probably outdated web pages. Recognize that the social consumer is quite content operating without your interference. If you’re unsure what they want, ask them. Then build experiences that deliver value and also build experiences that are shareable. K.I.S.S Keep it Simple and Shareable or Keep It Significant and Shareable.

Elvis once famously sang, we need “A little less conversation and a little more action…”

The End of Business as Usual will be available in the coming weeks. You can order now at Amazon | Barnes and Noble | 800CEOREAD.

Part 1 – Digital Darwinism, Who’s Next
Part 2 – Social Media’s Impending Flood of Customer Unlikes and Unfollows
Part 3 – Social Media Customer Service is a Failure!
Part 4 – We are the 5th P: People

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29 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “I think we need some time apart, it’s not me, it’s you”

  1. Szoder says:

    Just recently discovered this blog and like it a lot (and not just because it uses IBM content;-) because it nicely links with my assertions on how companies need to provide a simple channel through existing or new internal or leveraging existing channels, like Facebook, to directly get intelligence in real-time of what a particular customer needs.  I have spent years engaging large corporations around enterprise software and I am surprised that they rely nearly 100% on sifting through purchase, usage and click-stream data via simple and increasingly advanced BI tools (incl. predictive analytics) to ascertain customer motivations.  These are very costly in terms of acquisition, roll-out and maintenance.  While they are useful for bigger, strategic answers, I always asked myself companies never ask a customer straight up.   The closest they get to this type of direct intelligence is by doing surveys but even here we are looking at an aggregated view.  I guess (see my blog on Customer Motivation Management at I am looking at a combination of Facebook, Angie’s List, CRM/MDM and a reverse auction technology like Craigslist to enable this environment.

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