Behaviour and habits are difficult to change. Lodestar UM’s annual study WAVE however indicates that changing habits may not be as difficult for consumers active on social media. The six years that Lodestar UM has tracked social media through our global study WAVE have indicated that every year the way users create, share and interact with social media has changed considerably.
The journey towards the ‘business of social’
Social media has moved from living up to the hype and text-based medium of bloggers and posters to an audio visual space, full of content creators and sharers. By 2008, it had democratised influence and was driving greater means and opportunity for consumers to influence their peers. The year 2009 saw the realisation of power to the people. The interaction and opinions flowed freely. ‘WAVE 5: The Socialisation of Brands’ indicated that there was huge demand for social interaction with brands. People wanted vastly differing social relationships with brands. But only brands that created the right experience benefited by driving brand loyalty, endorsement and sales.
‘WAVE 6: The Business of Social’ explores what social relationships can deliver for brands. Do they make people want to spend more time with the brand, do they make them feel valued as customers, or do they encourage people to recommend the brand to others? We have researched more than 136,000 Active Internet Users in 62 countries across 20 categories. In fact, WAVE is the largest and longest running dedicated social media study in the world.
There are six key social media movements that the study has tracked in India.
1. Social media is no longer growing in India. Nor is blogging. But as profile creation begins to plateau, active management, time spent and number of contacts has continued to grow. With networking sites such as Facebook going in for an IPO, investors will expect a return on their investment and the growth of the platform will be a key performance indicator. Facebook will need to find ways to get consumers to spend more time with them and further commercialise their services. While micro blogging in India is still a subset of social media in countries like China it is larger than social media sites micro blogging is leading the way with a penetration of 71.5 per cent.
2. Will privacy concerns impact the growth of social? Concern rises but so does attachment to social networks. WAVE 6 shows that concern about sharing personal data online is real and building. This concern goes hand-in-hand with the growing importance that social networks are now playing in user’s lives. People are sharing as much data as ever before, be it photos, videos or simply updating their profile or status. It is clear that users are aware they are sharing data and while this is a concern, the perceived benefits are too strong or outweigh the risks. Currently, one of the most valuable commodities that a social business can own is data. Social networking sites are commercialising their platforms by delivering targeted advertising based on a user’s data and preferences.
3. Brand websites: Dinosaurs or Elephants: One casualty of this battle is the brand website, which is often a considerable investment for brands. Since 2008, WAVE has observed a continued decrease in the number of people saying they visited an official brand website. And this drop is not confined to any one group or demographic. While we are seeing this happening equally amongst men and women and across age groups, it is most significant amongst the youngest audiences. The question then is what role does the brand website play in a socially dominated web? The social web is a diverse and multi-dimensional environment allowing people to meet various human needs. As we saw from ‘WAVE 5: The Socialisation of Brands’, people use different platforms to meet different needs. In comparison, the brand website meets very few. Its primary role is confined to information and commerce. This suggests that the brand website is not the right location for creating an interactive social experience.
4. A personal response to issues and complaints better than just rewards. Brands and companies no longer find themselves in complete control of either the conversation or the content that is being shared about them. While many brands see this as an opportunity, using paid and owned brand assets to drive earned media, many don’t. Natural fears of amplifying issues around the brand are a legitimate concern. One negative comment can quickly grow to become a real threat to a brand’s reputation. WAVE 6 has shown us this is possibly the biggest opportunity that brands have to connect with consumers. If you want to make customers feel valued, don’t give them rewards but simply respond to their issues and complaints. Responding to a customer’s problem is a natural behaviour for a truly social brand and consumers clearly respect and respond to this.
5. Customise digital experiences for access devices. People now have many ways to connect with the internet. While PC/laptops yet lead the pack, mobile phones including smartphones are not far behind. Different devices have started getting segmented and are seen better at doing specific things. When we compare smartphones and tablet devices we see that they offer different environments for communication. A smartphone such as iPhone or Blackberry is about fun and function. Helping you manage your life and fill in down time. A tablet device like the iPad or Samsung Galaxy is very good at allowing leisurely experiences such as creativity and learning. The tablet is seen as a better environment for making a purchase. This shows us that when we consider the experience we want to create we must understand which screen is more suited to deliver it.
6. To get the most from social platforms, we need to know what they do best. The same experiences can deliver very different outcomes by category. Consumers want varying degrees of social relationship with brands. This can range from very superficial relationships, such as wanting discount vouchers or access to entertaining content, to very deep ones such as helping with product development or being part of a brand community. Giving people access to news about a computer software brand, drives awareness and education but very little else. Again discount vouchers stimulate transaction and trial but do very little for a computer software brand elsewhere. However, a deeper relationship, such as cooperating in new product development, drives commitment and prompts people to find out more.
Our research shows that social experiences can be very powerful, creating strong connections with the consumer. However, it also shows that knowing this is not enough. We also need to know the value that these bring. These experiences need not be complicated. The consumer is often the most powerful advocate and ally of a brand. ‘WAVE 6: The Business of Social’ demonstrates that even simply responding to a customer’s problems creates more loyalty and advocacy than any reward programme could. So it is no good spending time and investment on a social experience that you don’t know the value of or doesn’t meet your brand’s challenges. It’s necessary to look at both the consumer’s needs and your own objectives if you are to build something that not only connects to the consumer but also helps build value for your brand.
The author, Nandini Dias, is the Chief Operating Officer of Lodestar UM