Businesses might not benefit from social media

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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Graham Jones
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+
Graham Jones

@grahamjones

Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist, professional speaker and author of 32 books who helps businesses understand the online behaviour of their customers
This is interesting and worth of a quick read. Is Your Content Strategy Heading in the Right Direction? Four-Steps… https://t.co/7c016ORfYq - 9 hours ago
Graham Jones

3 thoughts on “Businesses might not benefit from social media

  1. Hi Graham

    I hope you're well.

    For a long time I've felt many people were missing the obvious fraudulence in much of social media… take for instance my relationship with Tesco – I'm their customer; they know it; I know it… now, if they try to 'friend', 'follow' or 'like' me I'm going to call them out as an obvious fraud.

    No sane person needs friends or followers who are only interested in their money so why do otherwise sane business people think they can achieve positive results by doing it online via social media?

  2. It seems to me that there is a big difference between massive national brands, to which people may have some affinity but whom they still consider "corporate" (such as the example of Tesco as cited by the commenter above) and the many smaller, independent businesses across the country where the relationship between the business and the customer is more personal. I think it is always a mistake to talk of "business" as if it is a homogenous thing and this is especially the case with social media – local businesses are very different from the big chains, and their approach is rightly different.

    If you have a look around the net, where customers do feel a genuine affinity, even some sort of relationship with a business like a local restaurant or clothing shop or handyman, I get the impression they are much more keen to engage via social media than if it is a bland corporate brand who have a whole host of call centre-type staff who deal with customers on social media.

    So I think the real question is whether social media becomes a threat to big business, to be managed, and an opportunity for small businesses?

  3. Large corporations have trouble with social media because of their very nature – they're large corporates. The difficulty is how to bring themselves down to the same level of their customers without losing face or undermining their authority or status. Small businesses don't have that trouble because they are already 'down at that level' and can communicate much more readily with their target market – in fact they can observe and research much more easily into what their customers do, say and think than a much larger company.

    Then there is the element of conversation. Educating and demonstrating to a large corporate that they need to communicate with their customers at a more basic level takes a change in mindset. Skirting around the complexities of compliance and other legal issues may bring up barriers, but eventually over time, and with the right processes in place, these can be overcome. The giant can be brought down to his knees so he can see, smell and hear his followers and learn what they have to say.

    Only then will using social media become a benefit rather than something that shouldn't require them to be 'left behind'. Another digital marketing strategy that could have proper and longer lasting benefits rather than just a waste of resources just to 'keep up with the jones's'.

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