As the drum continues to beat and Web 2.0 technology marches along, an new study on social media finds that consumers are demanding -- not asking -- the companies they interact with to join them in the parade.
Boston-based Cone LLC, a strategy and communications agency -- and part of the Omnicom Group, a global advertising, marketing, and communications company -- reports in its "2008 Cone Business in Social Media Study" that approximately 60 percent of Americans interact with companies on a social media Web site, with 25 percent of them doing so more than once per week.
Mike Hollywood, director of new media for Cone, explains that rampant consumer adoption of Web 2.0 technologies was the impetus for the study. "We thought it was important to understand how consumers feel about social media and the role it plays with companies," he says. "What are the things they're looking for? Where is the boundary between something being helpful or annoying?"
The most important takeaway, according to Hollywood, is that nearly all of consumers surveyed -- 93 percent -- believe that companies should have a presence in social media. (For the purposes of this study, Cone defined social media as "technology-facilitated dialogue among individuals or groups, such as blogs/microblogs, forums, wikis, content sharing, social networking, social bookmarking, and social gaming." The survey itself was conducted online over two days in September by Opinion Research, involving 1,092 adults (525 men and 567 women) at least 18 years old.
Exactly which Web 2.0 technologies should be incorporated, though, is still up in the air, and Hollywood says this will be examined moving forward. "We left the definition of how they're engaging with specific channels of social media to the respondents," he explains. "Each individual's definition can vary. You may have folks who are thinking of it as just social networks, and may not even be aware that they read blogs on a regular basis."
Despite the ambivalence, the study certainly underscores the increasing importance and expanding influence of social networks. According to the study:
- 43 percent say companies should use social networks to solve customer service issues;
- 41 percent want businesses to ask for customer feedback on products and services; and
- 37 percent believe organizations should develop new ways for customers to interact with a brand via applications and widgets.
Just because consumers are eager to see the companies they do business with get with the Web 2.0 times, it does not give marketers an automatic pass to repeatedly interact with them. Fifty-one percent of respondents said companies should have a presence in social media but only interact as needed or by request. Hollywood says consumers are making the social threshold very clear: " '[Essentially], if you're going to help me, listen to my customer service complaints, and allow me to contribute to make your product better, then you can market to me,' " he says. "People expect the level of interaction...to basically deepen the relationship beyond the fact that they bought the product from [a business]."
For companies dragging their feet in heeding the social media call, Hollywood believes they are missing a golden opportunity to engage their current -- and even prospective -- customers on an entirely new level. "A majority of [organizations] are resistant because they see it as a potential loss of control," he points out. "In actuality, [with social media tools] you can better [manage] relationships with customers."
Hollywood stresses that the first step companies take to incorporate social media is the most important. "You need to really listen," he says. "Go out and engage with the consumers talking about your brand by trying to understand what they're saying. There are so many opportunities for companies to insert themselves, basically raise their hand and say, ‘Yes, we are listening and your feedback is important to us.' "
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