Companies Need to Make Better Friends

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When it comes to online marketing strategy, less often is more.

More than 90 percent of consumers have “broken up” with at least one brand on Facebook, email, or Twitter, according to a study by ExactTarget and CoTweet.

The reason? Too frequent, irrelevant, and boring messages.

“These channels are not just for throwing up an ad,” says Jeff Rohrs, principal of ExactTarget’s Marketing Research and Education Group. “It comes through loud and clear that consumers understand that they are in charge of these channels, and they are not the channels that marketers own.”

Rohrs led the study that identified the top motivations for unfanning, unfollowing, and unsubscribing from marketing campaigns on Facebook, Twitter, and email. Researchers asked more than 1,500 consumers questions in focus groups about how they engage and disengage with brands. The study was featured in “The Social Break-Up,” the eighth research brief in ExactTarget and CoTweet’s Subscribers, Fans, and Followers series that provides insight into how consumers interact with brands online.

The results show that consumers have become increasingly cautious over the past year about what they endorse and subscribe to online. Rohrs believes the main cause is that consumers feel inundated with information, something that marketers must take into consideration when devising successful online advertising campaigns. “It’s not an aversion to the channels, but it is recognition that there is only so much they can consume in a given day and only so many brands they want to engage with,” Rohrs says.

According to Trendline Interactive’s cofounder and CEO, Morgan Stewart, who worked closely with Rohrs during the study, overexcitement about social marketing’s capabilities has led to marketers’ abuse of the channels that deliver a surplus of irrelevant information to consumers. “They just feel like it’s all too much. It’s almost to the level of harassment,” he says.

A social break-up does not necessarily mean consumers are abandoning their allegiance to particular brands. Rohrs says marketers need to re-evaluate their online strategies while prioritizing consumers’ expectations and needs. For example, if consumers are unsubscribing from email, less frequent messages, such as monthly updates, may be better suited for the audience. Rohrs also suggests directing consumers from one online channel to another. “Perhaps you use email to direct a consumer to friending you on Facebook or following you on Twitter,” he says.

Consumers’ expectations also vary across the channels. The study showed 81 percent of consumers have either unliked or removed a company’s post from their Facebook news feeds and 71 percent of consumers report being more selective this year compared with last year about liking a company on Facebook. Rohrs points out that consumers expect Facebook to provide everyday enjoyment and give them opportunities to express themselves, but a common complaint is that some pages are “self-promotional.”

Consumer patience is lowest with email subscriptions. According to the study, 91 percent of consumers have unsubscribed from permission-based marketing email and 77 percent of consumers report being more cautious this year than they were last year about providing their email address to companies.

Consumers desire less frequent and more meaningful messages, such as discounts, promotions, information about upcoming sales, and news. Flooding email inboxes with repetitive advertisements quickly turns away consumers. “The motivations for why people engage in email revolve around the notion of value, whether that’s monetary or based on information,” Stewart says.

Twitter is mainly used as a tool for gathering insight and giving consumers the impression “they are the first to know directly from the mouth of the brand.” This is the single instance where consumers also expect higher frequency of information. In fact, infrequent tweets often signal low engagement. “Some folks said ‘if you aren’t tweeting at least once a week, there really isn’t any reason for me to be following you,’” Rohrs recalls.

Regardless of the channel, building and nurturing an audience is vital to maintaining long-term competitive advantage. With online marketing on the rise, consumers serve as many brands’ mass media.

“You can build and own them to a degree,” Rohrs suggests. “Brands that ultimately grow these relationships and avoid the missteps that cause these social break-ups will have larger audiences at their disposal to activate” as they wish.

Associate/Web Editor Brittany Farb can be reached at bfarb@destinationCRM.com.

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