The days of the coveted Likes and follows are over. According to a recent Gallup Poll, organizations are adjusting their social strategies around social chatter, not raw numbers, with a focus on quality over quantity.
Of the nearly 20,000 consumers polled, 62 percent said that social media had no influence on their purchasing behavior: “Company-sponsored Facebook pages and Twitter feeds have almost no persuasive power.”
The vast majority of consumers (94%) who use Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking channels do so to connect with family and friends. They are far less interested in learning about companies and/or their products, which implies that many companies have social media strategies in place that may be largely misdirected.
Many companies still treat social media as a “one-way communication vehicle and are largely focused on how they can use these sites to push their marketing agendas.”
These efforts are out of place in a channel that encourages transparency, said the report, which found that “consumers are highly adept at tuning out brand-related Facebook and Twitter content.” Brands delivering hard sells turn people off and incorrectly assume that users will make them part of their social lives.
Additionally, social media does not exist in a vacuum; it represents only a fraction of a consumer’s overall experience. Gallup says brands must align all of their channels to engage people both on and offline.
According to Gallup, companies looking to acquire new customers should engage their existing customers and inspire them to advocate on their behalf. Companies looking to be part of the conversation should adjust their strategies to focus on authenticity, responsiveness and compelling content:
Authentic: Social media sites are highly personal and conversational. And, as Gallup finds, consumers who use these sites do not want to hear sales pitches. They are more likely to listen and respond to companies that seem genuine and personable. They want to interact with a human, not a brand. Companies should back away from the hard sell and focus on creating more of an open dialogue with consumers.Responsive: The social media world is 24/7, and consumers expect timely responses — even on nights and weekends. Companies must be available to answer questions and reply to complaints and criticisms. Ignoring negative feedback can do even more damage to a brand’s reputation. Instead, companies need to actively listen to what their customers are saying and respond accordingly. If mistakes were made, they must own up to them and take responsibility.
Compelling: Content is everywhere, and consumers have the ability to pick and choose what they like. Companies have to create compelling, interesting content that appeals to busy, picky social media users. This content should be original to the company and not related to sales or marketing. Consumers need a reason to visit and interact with a company’s social media site and to keep coming back to it.
A Facebook spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal that as Facebook reach declines, brands should be adjusting their priorities. “Fans should be a means to positive business outcomes—not the end themselves,” he said.
Similarly, Twitter said the key to growing an audience is engagement and meaningful conversation. “The onus of good content is on the marketer, and we are working with brands and agencies to hone this skill,” Twitter’s director of brand strategy Ross Hoffman told the WSJ.
There are several reasons why the numbers game hasn’t paid off for brands, including changes to how Facebook manages a user’s stream by pushing content it thinks will be most relevant and interesting, and fake fans or automated accounts designed to game the system for increased numbers.
According to Socialbakers, companies on Facebook are reaching more nonfans than fans. Posts are ranked higher in the newsfeed according to what content is being shared, which makes conversation, not posting, the key metric.
But despite sharp declines in reach and adjustments to strategy, companies continue to advertise on Facebook. “First-quarter net income nearly tripled at the social network on a 72% increase in revenue,” reports the WSJ.
Gallup says the potential of social media is not directly related to sales revenues and that experimentation is still the best way for companies to understand what works best.
“Companies have an opportunity to build communities with their customers in ways they could not before,” said the report. “But to get there, they must first engage their customers through other channels. Regardless of the hype surrounding social media, consumers are still most affected by their offline experiences.”