There’s no contesting the value and insight derived from direct consumer relationships in social media. Most brands are fully committed to developing and nurturing these connections by now, even though many have stutter-stepped their way into these “relationships.”
The “like” counts for any formidable brand on Facebook often range from hundreds of thousands to several million consumers. While social media and the social graph are alive and well, these numbers can be deceiving when the consumer commitment that liking a brand represents is the fraction of a second it takes to click a button.
The challenge that has since been rearing its ugly head is that only a small percentage of consumers are subsequently engaging. This is partly because brands do not provide a compelling enough experience, and partly because consumers just don’t care to engage with most brands -- even brands they actually do care about.
Last week TNS released the 2011 Digital Life study, which underscores this point. Of note, only 9% of U.S. social network users are more open to brand relationships than resistant to them, and 60% explicitly do not want to engage with brands online. This is not to say that the sky is falling, but to drive home the point that each and every potential consumer relationship is incredibly valuable. However, there is a difference between a node on the social graph and an actual relationship.
What’s in a Number?
We all know that the number of “likes” or followers is irrelevant -- at least, I hope we all know that by now. All things being equal (which of course they are not), there is usually an inversely proportional relationship between the number of likes/followers and the percentage of engaged consumers, albeit a directly proportional relationship to the absolute number of consumers engaged and reached. It’s the classic funnel: the more that goes in, the more that comes out, even if percentage-wise we are sometimes talking about fractions of 1%. It seems like over time all marketing behaviors generally result in fractions of 1%.
Facebook’s Edge Rank algorithm dictates that the longer an individual consumer does not engage with a brand’s posts, the less likely these posts will appear in the individual’s newsfeed in the future. The ramifications of this fact are significant, as consumers rarely visit a brand’s page proactively, but rather discover brand content through their newsfeeds. Thus a re-engagement strategy within the channel itself is somewhat fruitless. The spiral of unengagement is unavoidable. I predict that 12 to 18 months from now, most brand and social media managers will be faced with having to explain to their leadership that the majority of social relationships, which were justified on the basis of nurturing the future value of these consumers, are in fact unengaged, and the aggregate value is far less than what was expected. This fact does not diminish the importance of social media and direct consumer relationships, but does preface the inflated expectations and reality check that lie ahead of us.
A Call to Arms
I believe that we can do better. Social media efforts can’t be half pregnant, so to speak. A commitment to these direct consumer relationships is a commitment to being interesting and engaging -- a commitment to content development and curation, and a commitment to humility.
Marketers’ abilities to predict consumer behavior and reactions have been successful to the extent that until recently, consumers have never truly had a voice to publicly react – or, as the case may be, not react. Today, the resounding silence that occurs from a brands’ inability to engage consumers speaks as loudly as the 1% or less that actually engage in the proverbial conversation.
Engaging consumers is not easy. But it’s an uphill battle worth fighting. However, most importantly, brands must be committed to measuring or modeling the business impact of this engagement over time.
The [Insert Budget Here]-Dollar Question
It is only a matter of time before every brand will be forced to answer the question “how does an increase in engagement fulfill components of our business objectives?” Conceptually the value of direct consumer relationships is unquestionable. Yet practically, the question indeed is “how much are these consumer relationships worth?” The smartest marketers are already working on trying to figure this out. Are you?
How are you dealing with the profusion of unengaged social media relationships? Respond in the comments or hit me on Twitter @jasonheller.