Social Network Ads Should Be For Brand Linkage

According to a new study conducted by The Incyte Group, consumers want deeper connections with brands – but open social networks are not where they want to build these connections. Instead, marketers need to invite their “friends” into a branded customer community that converts them into buyers, advocates, and long-term customers, says the report.

U.S. marketers last year spent $3.08 billion on Facebook brand pages and social media advertisements, according to estimates from eMarketer — and the investment return has been dismal. Companies have invested billions of dollars in two key areas:

  • Creating a strong digital presence in social networks, for example, via Facebook brand pages, Twitter handles, Pinboards, and Foursquare locations, and leveraging social marketing applications like Buddy Media.
  • Deploying technologies such as Hootsuite and Radian to facilitate responding to consumers in open social networks.

Dale Sakai, partner at Incyte, says “Open social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, are where consumers expect to interact with individuals, their friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and professional networks. Any benefits they receive from ‘friending’ companies in social networks are considered ancillary.” At the same time, the study showed that consumers want direct connections with companies and other customers in what are best described as “branded customer communities.” 

Most shocking, they do not expect, or even want, these communities to be part of an existing social network like Facebook or LinkedIn. Instead, their preference is for customer communities that are:

  • Run separately from open social networks, but have strong linkages to them so they can easily share information with like-minded friends
  • Proactively managed by companies
  • Tightly integrated with the company’s website

According to Sakai, “... customers indicated that they want these branded customer communities to provide access to relevant, trusted information at every stage in their buying cycle. The context of the buying cycle isn’t happening in traditional social networks. Instead, it’s happening on the broader Internet, primarily on manufacturer and retailer websites and through organic search.”

Social networks are not the first place people go to research products and services. Google and brand websites are. The study confirmed that the vast majority of U.S. adult Internet users are currently using open social networks:

  • 83% frequented Facebook.
  • 52% used YouTube
  • 34% leveraged LinkedIn
  • Twitter and Google+ closed out the top five

But Facebook, Twitter, and other open social networks are not necessarily where consumers go to build relationship with companies or learn about and evaluate products and services. They primarily want to use these sites to connect with friends and family and pursue personal interests; only 12.8% use them to research brands and product details.

Primary Reasons Consumers Use Social Networks

Reason to Use

% of Respondents

Social Networking


Hobby / Interest


Education / Training


Sports / Entertainment


Vocation / Work


Personal Causes


Company / Brand / Product


Source: Incyte/Get Satisfaction, July 2012

Company Websites are still the primary destinations for information to support a purchase decision. When asked to name their primary destinations for researching products or seeking customer service via the Internet, participants top choices were:

  • Visit company Website to make a purchase decision — 89.3%
  • Visit company Website for service/support questions — 68.8%
  • Contact the company via e-mail — 43.5%
  • Use an Internet community dedicated to the product/service — 27.3%
  • Use a social network — 21.2%

When people are introduced to a new product, service, or brand through a social network and want to learn more about it, Only 19% would look at its Facebook page.

What Consumers Do to Learn More About a Product or Service

To Learn More

% of Respondents

Look at Its Website


Go to a Store


Look at Its Facebook Page


Research It on Mobile Phone


Source: Incyte/Get Satisfaction, July 2012

When asked how they assess the quality of content provided on company Websites when making a purchase decision, 49.8% of participants clearly show a preference for content that has been vetted as high-quality by other consumers, and 34.7% preferred content that has been provided by a consumer with a good reputation for providing strong content. Content vetted solely by the company was not preferred.

Consumers don’t want brand relationships to be a part of their open social networks; instead, they want company Websites to be more like their experiences with open social networks. This way, they get the best of both worlds when researching new products and services, specifically, detailed product information from the company and real-life answers and opinions from other customers. They do not want their social networks to become corporate experiences.

When consumers who had interacted with customer communities were asked how they discovered those communities, the most frequently mentioned discovery methods and their corresponding conversion rates are summarized here:

How Consumers Prefer to Be Introduced to Branded Customer Communities and the Impact




Facebook: Friend’s Post



Internet Search



Company: Website Link



Traditional Advertisement



Facebook: Social Ad



Source: Incyte/Get Satisfaction, July 2012

Branded customer communities that focus on providing social content were of most interest to consumers. When researchers probed further to find out why, the most common responses included the following:

  • Get information more quickly – 32.1%
  • Get answers from consumers like me – 21.3%
  • Get the most accurate information – 18.0%

What attracts them to customer communities is the relevancy of the content to their needs presale, at the point of sale, and post-sale. When asked which of the following activities they would most likely participate in on these sites, results showed the following trends:

  • Read content — 27.3%
  • Follow posts — 18.8%
  • Share with social network — 18.2%
  • “Liking” — 8.9%
  • Posting replies and answers — 8.3%
  • Chatting — 5.9%

The research suggests that the most effective invitation to a branded customer community is a referral from a friend, concludes the report. The imperative for marketers, then, is to identify and nurture the best brand advocates inside the community and encourage (or even incentivize) them to share their passion for the customer community and the brand with their own networks. While consumers are willing to passively engage (with “likes” or “follows”) with brands on open social networks, a customer community is where companies can explicitly address their needs as consumers. Facebook and Twitter are merely a way for them to learn about the communities they might be interested in joining.

To learn more about this study from Get Satisfaction, please visit here, or from the Incyte Group, go here.


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