Marketers at risk of turning consumers into brand blockers

New research looks at whether marketers are spending wisely on social media, writes Kieran Kilmartin, marketing director EMEA & India, Pitney Bowes Software.

Just a quarter of consumers use social media to follow or keep-up-to date with companies
Just a quarter of consumers use social media to follow or keep-up-to date with companies

Social media is everywhere and marketers are planning to take full advantage by pledging more budget than ever to the plethora of new communication channels available. Billions of dollars are expected to be invested across the globe in 2013 as the explosion in social shows little signs of slowing.

But the question that needs to be asked: is all this money being spent wisely? Not so according to new research.

New research commissioned by Pitney Bowes Software looks at the behaviours and attitudes towards social media from both a marketer’s perspective and a consumer perspective, and has highlighted some alarming gaps between the two viewpoints.

Comparing findings across Australia, France, Germany, the UK and the USA, it revealed that nearly seven in ten consumers would stop using a brand or product if they were irritated by that company’s social media behaviour - an alarming revelation because the research suggests that many are guilty of doing just that.

The survey, carried out in August and September, has lent further weight to Gartner predictions that social media revenue is expected to more than double over the next three years, surpassing US$34 billion by 2016.

It showed that 70% of marketing directors are more focussed than ever on social media, with a quarter of marketing budgets on average expected to be spent on new media activities next year - the UK being the most bullish of all allocating close to half (47%) of budget totals.

Two-thirds (66%) of those questioned claim they are doing the right thing and their campaign investment tactics are effective.

Yet, at a time when chief marketing officers are under increasing pressure to justify ROIs, there is little tangible evidence to support this claim: only one-third (33%) of all those marketers questioned are confident that they can establish a link between social media spend and profitability.

The findings suggest many marketers are in danger of being drawn in by a blind compulsion similar to the ’’ boom-bust investment era of the late 90s/early noughties.

For a number of years marketers have been saying I’ve got to get on that social media train, I don’t know why, but if I don’t I’m going to miss it. It raises a big question mark over how seriously marketers are actually treating social media in terms of applying the same proper strategy input and planning as with any other marketing channel.

Perhaps the most worrying finding of the research is the clear disconnect between the efforts marketers are putting into social media and the desire among consumers to engage.

It showed only a quarter of consumers use social media to follow or keep-up-to date with companies or brands (26%); instead most use it as a means to keep in touch with friends and family (78%).

When a brand has earned the respect of consumers and are ‘followed’, 48% are positive to receiving messages from that brand. The single most powerful call to action as far as consumers are concerned however is via peer-to-peer recommendations: 68% said they investigated online recommendations from friends or even made a purchase as a result (15%).

By contrast, 40% of consumers say they would be annoyed to receive unsolicited messages from brands they don’t follow, and 65% said they would stop using a brand altogether as a result of irritating social media messages.

So what are the right messages? The research shows consumers are most interested in discount or money-saving vouchers, new products and services, and upcoming sales and events. However, these are bottom of the list for marketers.

Instead, marketing leaders believe that what consumers most want to receive is details about the organisation’s social responsibility and customer satisfaction surveys. Yet these were rated the least interesting items by consumers.

The one thing marketers and consumers do see eye-to-eye on is the power of Facebook. It is the undisputed king, seen by both parties as the most popular and trusted of social media sites.

But that is where the parity ends and more missed opportunities manifest themselves. Marketers ranked Twitter (57%) and Google+ (51%) as the next most important channels for communications.

By contrast, after Facebook, consumers spend most of their time on YouTube - rated only fifth in the pecking order by marketers.

What the research has shown is that even well-intentioned marketers that persist with old-school ‘broadcast’ marketing models risk inadvertently turning potential brand ambassadors off, or at worst, triggering them to disengage completely and ultimately become a ‘brand blocker’.

It’s about making sure it’s relevant, it’s about personalisation, it’s about creating a dialogue, and it’s about measurement.

The message here for marketers is to start doing some of the work they’ve been doing with their segmentation strategy and with their other marketing channels, and apply those to social media channels.

Our mantra at Pitney Bowes Software has always been to do less communication, instead do smarter communication, and that applies to social media too.

Kieran Kilmartin, marketing director EMEA & India, Pitney Bowes Software