A friend recently complained to me that the targeted ads that persistently stud her social media feeds are not only disruptive but also frequently irrelevant. She uses social media primarily to keep track of friends and to follow artists and crafters that could offer her inspiration or technical knowledge.
As she vented her frustration, I wondered why the ads she saw were still so consistently missing the mark despite the great leaps in ad targeting technology. Surely there must be a better way for brands to reach audiences through social media.
Surprisingly, though almost two-thirds of social media users are irritated by the number of promotions that clutter their feeds, and 26 percent actively ignore marketing content, a whopping 62 percent follow at least one brand on social media.
According to the Global Web Index, 42 percent of social media users are there to “stay in touch” with their friends, while over a third are also interested in following current events, finding entertaining content or killing time. Though 27 percent of users find or research products on social media, most usage is skewed toward building relationships. As such, it’s clear why many social media users are annoyed by ads they find intrusive, irrelevant or boring.
While this data helps us understand why users may find ads abrasive, it also gives us a glimpse into why they are so open to following brands on social media. Today’s hypercompetitive ethos is not limited to brands or ads. Consumers want to know about the latest trends in fashion and technology, and they want to know first. By following brands, users can keep tabs on the latest and greatest.
Following also allows consumers to interact with brands more directly and to voice their dissatisfaction when brands misstep. A full 46 percent of users have “called out” brands on social media, and four out of five believe that this has had a positive impact on brand accountability. The good news for brands is that when they respond well, 45 percent of users will post about the interaction, and over a third will share the experience with their friends.
Brands should note that 60 percent of callouts are in response to perceived dishonesty, which should lend some context to the fact that 30 percent will unfollow a brand that uses slang or jargon inconsistent with the brand’s image. This can be a costly mistake, as 76 percent of users aged 13 to 25 stopped buying from brands after unfollowing.
The news may seem bleak, but the truth is that these facts draw a clear path for brands that want to tap into the unprecedented consumer access offered by the social media revolution. Here are some tips to keep in mind.
1. Be authentic
Above all, brands need to strive for authenticity. Consumers have shown that they are not only open to branded social media content, they welcome it, provided the content is useful and relevant rather than disruptive to their experience.
From social media usage statistics, we see that users are most interested in staying connected and entertained. Brands that share news of upcoming trends or offer content that stands on its own merit can add value to users’ social media experience while reaching out to a more receptive audience.
2. Be useful
Understanding how individuals utilize their social media presence can help brands leverage their marketing dollars. Users may not want to see a soft-drink ad while scrolling through pictures of a friend’s trip, but an airline ad might hit home.
Instructional videos can be a particularly effective way of reaching an audience in a useful manner. Like many others, my friend would be far more welcoming of how-to videos from a yarn supplier than of the seemingly arbitrary clothing ads that pepper her crafting-heavy social media feeds.
3. Be contextual
As always, context is key. Not all social media interactions are alike. Users may look to one branch of their network for entertainment or news and to another for technical knowledge or inspiration.
While the current targeting approach estimates user proclivities based on the activity and interests of their network as a whole, determining how users relate to specific nodes in the network will enable brands to reach out to users when and where they will be most receptive to the marketing content in question.
4. Be credible
Differentiation is also critical in establishing credibility. An American Press Institute study showed that users place greater weight on who shares content than on where it came from originally. Social media users, especially those in the 13-to-24 age bracket, will actively share and discuss content they find engaging.
Brands can make use of this phenomenon to proliferate their content, but only if those who share it are perceived to be trustworthy by members of their network. How connections respond to a user’s posts or shares can be more important than how much the user shares.
5. Be accessible
Brands need to build an audience of active and reliable followers who will help spread branded content to loyal followers of their own. Beyond publishing content that is engaging and true to their image, brands can accomplish this by making themselves more accessible to consumers.
Instant messaging can be a powerful tool for answering consumer questions, responding to complaints and building more intimate relationships with followers. By responding in a more immediate and personal way to users, brands can empower users to take the initiative in building a stronger relationship with them.
6. Be persistent
The most important factor that determines a brand’s success in the world of social media is perseverance. In part, this means being responsive to user feedback and actively working to improve their social media presence.
At the same time, brands need to stick to their guns. A majority (some 60 percent) of users need to interact with content between two and four times before taking action, according to a Sprout Social survey. A steady production of quality content will keep users tuned in, translating user engagement with content into tangible results.
7. Be testy
Brands too often fail to invest in testing to understand the effectiveness of their social media advertising. It’s easy to make excuses for not doing so: “the per ad investment is too small,” “I get metrics from the platform,” or “we don’t have time” are the most frequently heard.
This is a mistake. Without independent validation that the ads achieve their objectives (both attitudinal and behavioral), a brand can’t be sure it’s made it through the gauntlet of challenges outlined above.
8. Use your listening skills
Brands that listen actively to social media users and respond earnestly to their needs and interests stand to gain a foothold in the new marketing frontier. Over 75 percent of users in the Sprout survey report purchasing a product after interacting with marketing content on a social media platform. Furthermore, just as many users discovered a new brand through social media as in-store or via a conventional ad.
While many brands are struggling to reach consumers on social media (and not for lack of trying), they can overcome the resistance they are experiencing by opening their ears — before their pocketbooks.