The social stance of a brand – is just listening enough?
Brands and business are facing a variety of challenges in entering the world of social media – an industry designed for the consumer. So how can the consumer be sympathetic toward their difficulties, when all they see are companies such as Coca Cola asking them to ‘Like’ or ‘Retweet’ their latest viral of a man banging a drum produced by Calvin Harris? What’s the relevance of this and why do consumers need to interact on their level?
It’s simple to ascertain that brands are trying to create awareness within sub cultures so they can appeal to the masses. This is what they know and how they are used to engaging the mass consumer audiences.
However, the social media industry is still feeling like uncharted territory to the majority of brands that have watched from the sidelines as the social world has grown and developed far quicker than any other proposition, with platforms like Facebook being valued above many established businesses worldwide.
It’s also fair to confirm that it’s no fad either. The importance of social media is vast, it has allowed consumers to communicate and follow regular updates of lost and distant friends, make new ones and express themselves for the greater good (or bad!) and all for free.
So why do consumers want the brands connecting and socialising with them in their domain? Well the argument is – they don’t. Certainly not within the realms that brands are used to operating in, holding consumers to ransom by sending them untargeted adverts and messages. Brands do of course recognise this, which is why we have social listening mechanics.
But what do consumers expect to see from this? Is the ‘cloak and dagger’ approach really what they want or need from their relationships with brands? On one hand there was irrelevant and somewhat annoying campaigns and posts that did not seem to help or engage with most users, but now there are brands collecting data from what friends say to friends in the social sphere. This information is then used to refine campaigns to loosely suit what consumers say and do. It could be described as virtual blackmail: “Well you and 500 others said X a while ago so you must want Y”!
It is difficult to understand the requirements of users on this level because it’s created in a new industry that few understand, and what’s trending today, will almost certainly not be tomorrow. Social listening is big business but I believe we are on the tipping point of change. As consumers become more open to two way communication it is important that brands utilise the virtual conversation and act in a manner that is 100 % relevant to their consumer.
For example, the Global Web Index researches social activity in order to understand the general behavior patterns of users within social platforms. Their statistics have shown that social conversation is the most successful route to inspire and gain trust from a user. Stats like these have inspired brands to start listening to consumers. Brands look for keywords that are relevant to their brand and collate data to instigate reports. On a customer service level this is quite important and sincere. If problems arise and complaints are aired these are seen on social platforms and they are noted. But they are not necessarily acted upon until such time that the figures reach a critical level. For example, if you have a power cut at home and you post your annoyance through your Facebook page or twitter account. Your energy supplier sees this, they understand your frustration but they just collate the complaint – they do not act upon it!
What use is this to the consumer? They have not been directly made aware of the brand’s stance on the issue and nor will they be made aware of when this problem may be rectified and they will almost certainly not be reimbursed for their inconvenience.
So the user has not gained anything from posting their annoyance. The supplier has simply collated the user’s information and used it as a statistic. The consumer is now a number in a complaint log which may never be acted upon – that is unless 499 other peers state the same issue. And remember, the consumer will never directly be made aware of this process or when they may rectify any issue.
So why should consumers tolerate this on a platform that was designed for them, created for them and used by them? Is there really a sincere place for brands to sit within the social industry?
I think there is! The social industry is built upon one thing… conversation. If conversation is the bones of how this industry operates, then why are brands not focused on creating conversation directly with their users? If they are able to listen, why are their voices silent? There are two possible reasons for this: Firstly, the resources needed to communicate to the consumer. If a brand responds to one issue then surely they must respond to all and this would mean employing hundreds of staff to sit in a room waiting and listening to posts that may trigger a response. The other is a relevant response, but how do you talk back to your consumers without interrupting conversations between friends, and how do they respond without damaging brand reputation.
The two issues stated are easily tackled by way of some thought and structure. After all if the user has stated an issue or a need, would it not be beneficial to get a reply asking their opinions or offering solutions, instantly without them feeling lost and unrecognised with no brand involvement. Would they not want to know the best solution for them in any given area or time of day? I think this is where brands are falling flat, by not taking a stance alongside us as social users on our level.
The energy supplier scenario should respond with; “We’re really sorry to hear you are having problems, it is in fact a grid issue, please reply with your location and we will respond with an estimated fix time.” A sincere response showing that the user has interacted with the brand in question, after all conversation is a two-way thing.
Social listening is here to stay, so should brands deliver campaigns through live and relevant social conversation? Should they be looking to break the ice and communicate with those that are talking about them?
They should and I think that a solution is just around the corner.
Ian Irving, The Tailor of Shoreditch.