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“Most Consumers Don’t Want to Be Your Friend”: Six Axioms of Social Media.

Posted by Doug Garnett November - 11 - 2010 - Thursday

We’ve been sold the grand myth of social media marketing based on some rather flakey ideas. In particular, the ad biz has somehow convinced itself that the vast majority of consumers have a driving desire to be a company’s friend. Now a study by the Harvard Business Review and the Corporate Executive Board suggests there are significant limits to a company’s potential intimacy with its consumers.

This study started by looking at consumer relationships with qualified counter help – like the people at an airline counter. In studying physical behavior and shopping behavior they concluded that people very often avoid idle counter help and opt for automated systems (like ticket kiosks or supermarket self-checkout). Building from this work, they researched other consumer relationships with companies – including social media. In the end, they conclude that the majority of consumers really don’t want to be close to most companies.

I couldn’t agree more. Consider my own situation. We have a lot of brands in the house. But if I remove commodity brands, there are only 200 to 250 brands where a significant connection is even a consideration.

But you know what? I don’t want to be friends with any of them.

Why would a social media connection with Dial Soap benefit me? Or Cascade Detergent? Or Sony for my TV & my DVD? Or Levi’s for jeans? Or Ethan Allen, Sherwin Williams, Dania, Ikea, Nintendo, Lego, or… It simply isn’t worth the social media and email clutter. (No, I do not want most of your brand emails.)

But there’s an even bigger shocker: I’m pretty passionately connected with my Apple products yet don’t even want to “friend” Apple. Why? When other people write about Apple it’s fascinating. But, their corporate communication is brochure copy (like it needs to be) and so it’s really not very meaningful in a relationship. Besides, I will go get information when I need it (it’s right there on the web).

And this leads to a set of key axioms about people interacting socially with companies. My reading of the current research points clearly to these axioms. But research into social media has been conducted primarily with wide-eyed awe and avoided the tough questions. So I know some of these are based on intuitive jumps more than steely-eyed review of hard numbers.

The six (6) axioms:

1. Most consumers don’t want to be your friend. They may like you. They may even love you. But that doesn’t mean they want to be connected with you online.

2. Consumers who will be your friend on Facebook or any social media outlet are a very small segment of your target market.

3. Consumers who will be your “friend” are usually not those customers who generate the most money for you.

4. The influence of active social media consumers is overstated. There is no reason to believe that consumers who will be your “friend” are important influencers – nor your best influencers. (This conclusion comes from some excellent research on the “Million Follower Myth” that I’ve written about in another blog post.)

5. The vast majority of consumers have at most a handful of companies or brands where they will build social connections.

6. The most powerful social media connections are through narrow social media – like your company’s social media site. It’s always been true in marketing that focus delivers higher returns. Somehow, we need to re-build that understanding in social media.

What does all this mean?

Social media is exciting. And it’s here to stay. As companies evolve their marketing, it’s very smart to plan a social media strategy. But social media agencies are using classic “FUD” salesmanship – casting fear, uncertainty, and doubt on your future “unless” you spend a lot of money with them.

In fact, there is a big danger of social media work taking both energy and budget away from more highly profitable investment opportunities. This danger is made higher by the consuming nature of social media work. I find that staff who work on social media become quickly hypnotized by their new toy and lose their sense of perspective.

So after all this, the first and most critical step I recommend for your company’s social media work is choosing where and how you will limit investment until social media is proven to return commensurate sales.

Copyright 2010 – Doug Garnett


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Doug Garnett, DRTV and Technology Industry Expert

Doug Garnett is founder and CEO of DRTV agency Atomic Direct and a leading expert on innovative uses of DRTV, infomercials and other in-depth TV and non-TV messages to build brand and drive sales.

Doug has been working in and around the technology field for 27 years. After starting in aerospace, he spent 5 years selling and marketing supercomputers. Since shifting to advertising, his clients have included AT&T, IBM, Apple, Disney Mobile, Ugobe, Presto, and Netpliance.

Doug sits on the editorial board of Response Magazine, is an adjunct professor of general advertising at Portland State University, and is a member of the Jordan-Whitney Greensheet Panel.

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