As consumers have embraced social media, brands have tried to get in on the action … especially if Millennials are an important audience for the brand. Consequently, many marketers are increasing their social media budget to the point that some studies say nearly 18% of marketing budgets will be devoted to social media within the next five years. But why?
A recent study by the Australian think tank Ehrenberg-Bass Institute showed that while brands are racking up “likes,” only about 0.45% are actually engaging in conversation with the brand. To find out why, Project Butterfly, a qualitative study using a diverse range of research methods from ethnographies to social experiments, sought to better understand what makes people truly sociable and how understanding that behavior can provide key lessons for marketers in building and adopting sociable behavior.
It found that people who are truly sociable have distinct characteristics that are very different from what we often think of as highly social behavior. Typically, we think that highly social people have high Klout scores, thousands of Facebook friends, post multiple times per day and are always checking in at cool places. But these people really aren’t truly sociable. They are hyper-connectors. They are all about self-promotion, influencing others, getting attention and seeking validation. They are excellent at initiating contact but they lack the requisite skill to maintain the connection. Their connections are very one-way and, consequently, their friends lose interest even though they are constantly being prodded. When you think about typical brand behavior in the social space, this begins to look all too familiar. A recent quote from the head of the CMO Report described the “like” button as a tool that “packs more acquisition punch than other demand-generating activities.” Imagine if you went to a party with the pure goal of signing up friends: “Do you like me? Friend acquired!” It wouldn’t work.
In contrast, truly sociable people (or sociable butterflies) are people who are very good at initiating, facilitating AND maintaining social behavior. For them every relationship matters and they designate roles for each of the characters in their social network to maximize the desired impact and potential energy of their connections. Most importantly, sociable butterflies are BOTH interested and interesting. Being interesting attracts others to engage and interact. Being interested in what others have to say encourages them to stay involved and make their own contributions. Sociable butterflies are all about feedback. They are outstanding at obtaining and incorporating feedback from their environment. In other words, they contribute with others, not at them.
Thinking about brands again, how often are they interesting? Or more importantly, interested? Too often, we see brands post questions in social media without responding to any of the responses from their “friends.” Expedia recently posted, “What is your favorite souvenir from your travels?” Over 200 people commented. But Expedia didn’t acknowledge any of the answers. Imagine asking the same question in person and then turning away before anyone answered. Imagine the power of a brand really being interested. Millennials seek authentic connections where they personally matter. Asking questions and responding to what people say on your wall posts is just one way to demonstrate that you are both interesting AND interested.
Tory Burch does a great job of being interesting by sharing her experiences and influences to build a more personal connection with those that buy – or aspire to buy – her clothes. But being interesting might be the easier part; being interested takes effort. Ikea UK used its YouTube channel to offer a fully interactive experience via Facebook Connect. It used everything that had been displayed on a person’s wall and created a digital room. It even uploaded actual photos from a person’s Facebook page into picture frames on the wall in the digital room it created for you. Target’s Bull’s-eye Gives is another way of demonstrating it’s interested. It put $3 million in the hands of its community – asking members which of 10 charities should receive the greatest proportion of the money and then actually distributed the money according to its share of votes.
To be truly sociable, brands need to think and act more like sociable people. They need to push beyond the ROI of gaining a fan to understand that social media isn’t just a channel, it’s a call to marketers to change their brand behavior. They have the opportunity to be both interesting and interested, to focus on emotion over promotion and to make every relationship count. That doesn’t mean they have to treat everyone the same. People can play different roles within their social circle but brands have an opportunity to incorporate feedback and learn to contribute with their Millennial friends rather than at them.