You can’t move for advice – some of it on this website – about using social media in your business. But two new pieces of research published co-incidentally suggest that many businesses need to revisit the mad rush for being social. The first study is about mobile advertising. It was conducted by Yahoo! and found that people only really notice adverts on mobile phones when they are actually shopping. When people are engaging socially using their mobiles, most of them are unaware of any business advertising that takes place.

Social media does not ruleAnother study by the customer communication consultancy Thunderhead shows that many businesses are failing to communicate with people in the way they prefer. For instance, in the inusrance sector the study found that only 11% of customers wanted to be contacted via social networks. Way out in front as the preferred method of communication for insurance customers was email.

Yet, almost everywhere you look online, there is advice that email is dead and the social is the way ahead for business. But here we are with two studies – one showing that when people are social they largely ignore advertising and besides they don’t want companies to contact them socially anyway. Are we all barking up the wrong tree?

Actually what’s happening is a classic “business sheep” activity. A new technology arrives and business leaders grab it for fear that by not doing so their competitors will steal a march on them. “Everyone is doing it,” say chief executives, “we are being left behind – let’s go for it.” Yet often the desire, in this instance, to go social, is simply produced out of knowing that “everyone else is doing it”. Not much of an analysis really, when you think about it.

Here’s the truth: social IS essential for businesses – BUT only in the right circumstances. In other words customer communication requires thought at the outset: what is the most appropriate way for our business to communicate this specific piece of information to our customers in their particular circumstances? So, if you want to take advantage of social media, the research suggests that far from being business-like and advertising, you actually need to be social because your adverts will be ignored. The mobile phone study confirms that people do respond to adverts when their head is in shopping mode. But when they are in social mode they only respond to social messages, not advertising ones.

Similarly, if their head is in “receiving business information” mode they may well prefer that as email, rather than as a social media message. In other words, communication with your customers needs to use the right medium, in the appropriate way for the specific circumstances. Social is only part of the communication mix.

What these studies actually confirm is that social media can be beneficial – IF you use it socially within your business. Try to use it for business communication and you are going to miss out. At the moment, far too many companies are seeing social media as a general communications and promotional tool – and that means it will be of no benefit at all as it does not suit the specific situation your customers are in.

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