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Survey shows people follow brands on social media to stay informed about new products and services

Contrary to conventional wisdom, 68% of people follow brands on social media to stay informed but they do it quietly and want it without all the  buzzwords; 51% say the most memorable brands on social media do one simple thing: Respond

A new report by Sprout Social offers further evidence of how social media is evolving.

While some mistakenly say social media is dying, a survey of 1,800 consumers and 900 marketers across the US and UK demonstrates the reasons people follow brands on social media has changed.

The survey isn’t segmented by B2B respondents but there were three findings that stood out. I’ve listed those below along with some commentary.

1. People follow brands on social media to stay informed about products or services

The survey asked respondents why they follow brands on social media. The top answer (68%) was “to stay informed about new products or services.” The next closest answer was 20 percentage points behind.

Here’s how the reasons people follow brands on social media stacked up:

  • 68% want to stay informed about new products or services;
  • 46% want access to exclusive deals or promotions;
  • 45% say the content they [brands] post is enjoyable or entertaining;
  • 28% want to engage with the community or customers; and
  • 21% follow because their values or missions align with mine.

Commentary: Two things stand out about these findings.

First, this flies in the face of traditional advice which says to be sparing about plugging products or services. However, social media has clearly changed, or more accurately, there people using social media are changing. There’s a generational shift and so it’s logical that their preferences for content from the brand they follow will change too.

Second, marketing often prioritizes engagement – it’s the top metric later in this report – yet engagement is fourth on the list. Less than a third say they follow brands on social media for engagement. If that’s your metric, you are set up for failure.

We’ve known for 10 years now that people lurk quietly on social media. My advice is that a better measurement framework strives to tie social media efforts to outcomes. Track things further downstream – clicks, conversions and anecdotes from the field.

(click any image for higher resolution)

2. People want non-promotional content from brands on social media

The survey found people that who follow brands on social media generally want these five things from business – in order of precedence:

  • Authentic, non-promotional content;
  • Transparency about business practices and values;
  • Information about how products are made or sourced;
  • Educational content related to the brand’s industry; and
  • User-generated content or customer testimonials.

Commentary: This might seem confusing – how can we promote new products and services on social media without being promotional? It’s all in the tone and approach. Just say it as you would in a normal conversation – in plain language – and without all the confusing (if not self-aggrandizing) buzzwords, adjectives and adverbs.

There’s an old saying in sales that says, “Don’t sell past the close,” which is instructive. People are already following you because they are interested in your products. You don’t have to convince them anymore – you already have it. Keep it simple and keep it real.

3. Responsiveness on social media is imperative

The most “memorable brands” do one thing on social media that other brands don’t: they respond.

The survey asked, “What makes a brand memorable on social media?”

Here are the answers:

  • 51% said respond to customers;
  • 38% said prioritize original content over following trending topics;
  • 37% said prioritize engaging the audience over publishing lots of content;
  • 33% said publish timely, on-trend content;
  • 28% said highlight the stories of their audiences over their own products;
  • 26% said take risks with their content;
  • 25% said collaborate with content creators and influencers; and
  • 25% said they speak out about causes and issues that align with their brand.

The report sums it up this way:

“The most memorable thing a brand can do across all age groups is respond to customers, proving that responsiveness leaves an impression on everyone. These one-on-one connections are even more important to younger consumers, who prioritize engagement over publishing volume and on-trend content.”

Commentary: People want to be acknowledged and brands miss this all the time. Even the simple act of “liking” a comment you are tagged in is enough. Silence is often perceived as arrogance, or worse, as apathy.

What about competitors? Be candid and polite. Research shows complimenting a competitor can tip a buying decision in your favor.

What about negative comments? Take the high road and address the problem. Research shows how you respond to negative reviews can have as much impact as the review itself.

It’s such a simple thing to do – and it’s good for your brand. Most social media algorithms reward engaged posts with greater distribution.

* * *

The full report – the 19th Sprout Social Index – offers a lot more and can be freely downloaded with registration. I first read about it in Social Media Today.

Need an extra pair of hands?

Hire a B2B marketing and PR consultant who can think strategically and execute effectively. Contact me at frank-at-swordandthescript-dot-com for an introductory call.  Here are some useful links: about | services

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Image: DALLE

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