With social media, question everything

In Featured on App, Loyalty & CRM by Oliver Arscott

1000heads, loyalty, social media, customer engagement

This is a guest post written by Molly Flatt, Social Business Director at 1000heads who is set to present a session at Loyalty World. To register for your complimentary pass to attend the exhibition and on-floor seminar simply register here.

The man sitting before me was impressive, articulate and intelligent, in a discreet Armani coat. He made films, and after years working in the industry, he knew his audience inside out; his very business lay in understanding their emotions and drives, in working out what would make them tick.

Yet here he was spouting a stream of nonsense. "They'll love that… they don't use that… I can't reach them there… they're always sharing this…"

What is it about social media that makes otherwise sane, nay sharp, business folk reluctant to examine their assumptions, let alone employ a dash of common sense? When discussing social media with brands, I come across three particularly intransigent beliefs again and again, so what I'm about to say might come as something of a surprise.

Firstly, word of mouth does not distinguish between online and offline. Studies from US word of mouth researchers Keller Fay consistently tell us, in the age-old manner of research, what we already know: that 90% of brand conversations still occur face to face. In 2009, The Harris Poll discovered that 43% of people still gather their information about a brand face to face, and that most post-experience communication takes place offline; last March, BIGresearch revealed that face to face communication still influences the majority of both social media users (41.4%) and average adults (36.1%) when it comes to which brands and products we search for online.

Yes, stats are stats, but these trends chime with what we know as human beings: emotional experiences in real life make us want to share, and social media is just one place we do. So if you're focusing on Facebook rather than seeing your social strategy as something which must integrate all your real and virtual customer touchpoints, from retail to HR, you've got blinkers on.

The second false assumption is that social media is the preserve of tech-obsessed teens. In fact, a ‘social media user' is much more likely to be your mum checking Amazon recommendations than your gregarious son.

Earlier this year, a 101-year-old woman from Menlo Park was named the oldest user on Facebook, although according to ABC News, an OAP from New Mexico should now usurp her crown. Maria Colunia Segura-Metzgar turned 105 earlier this week and uses Facebook to keep in touch with her children and grandchildren, although her age shows as 102 on the platform because it refused to accept her real birthdate. According to a recent study by Pew Internet, 50% of adults aged 50-64 report being active on a social networking site, and those aged 65 and older are showing an even bigger increase in uptake of sites like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. But very few brands, seduced by the assumption that they're ‘reaching out to the kids,' are strategizing to secure the loyalty of these powerful communities.

In short, your audience aren't necessarily where you think they are.

Thirdly, an ‘influencer' is only influential if they're going to actually do something to shift the dial on retention, reputation or sales. They may be Like-happy social whores with thousands of friends or followers, but that doesn't mean they're going to lift a finger to change the bottom line for your brand.

I personally find this very difficult to admit, but Mitt Romney did at least one thing right over the past few months. With a recent study suggesting that Facebook sharing can quadruple the power of political messages, Team Romney created the "Commit to Mitt" app, using information about the geography and behavioural history of users to identify who would be most influential in shifting the dial at the polling booth. Harnessing Facebook's open graph data to unearth which friends live in influential states, and which have a public history of interacting with Romney's Facebook page, Romney's digital team were able to better segment and target their audience. Those most likely to shift others' behaviour were sent time-intensive personalised direct messages, whilst broadcast-style wall posts were reserved for less committed users who might provide a more generalised visibility boost.

This isn't rocket science. But brands have a dangerous tendency to see social platforms as audiences rather than places – meaning they fail to examine who makes up those communities, what they love, what they want, and what they are likely to do. Instead of understanding and harnessing behaviour, they try and hit as many of their friends as possible with one big Facebook stick.

Hype and headlines are rife in this space. Arm yourself with a basic sense of the subtleties and surprises around how, why and where we talk, and you'll be able to root your engagement in common sense, not surmise.

Follow @MollyFlatt and @1000heads on Twitter for more insights.

To learn more about building value with digital register here for your free pass to attend the Loyalty World exhibition and seminar.