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Social Media’s Impending Flood of Customer Unlikes and Unfollows

This is part two in a short series to introduce The End of Business as Usual…originally posted on Harvard Business Review (edited)

There’s an old saying that carries renewed meaning these days: Give the people what they want. Brands are furiously creating profiles in social networks such as Facebook and Twitter in the hopes of building engaging communities with customers and giving people what the brands think they want. The main activity in this effort is to spur consumers to “like” and “follow” a brand’s Facebook and Twitter streams. But are these companies developing effective campaigns to build engagement and give the people what they want? From where I sit, I’d say many are not. If businesses are unable to change course, a very real — and likely very painful — lesson lies ahead. Once-willing consumers will soon become reluctant to connect with brands or will completely sever social ties to brands once they deem the connection fruitless.

Not long ago, I attended a daylong social marketing summit at the campus of a leading national brand that also housed a number of popular sub brands. Following my presentation, I returned to my seat to take in a presentation from a sales rep for Facebook. He talked about why brands will benefit from setting up shop in Facebook — consumers are willing to engage with brands that make it worth their while. But somewhere in the middle of his presentation, however, I was jolted into a state of disbelief. The rep looked upon the audience of brand managers with genuine sincerity and in a calming voice expressed, “Don’t over-think any of this. It’s not that complicated. Do four things every week…ask a question, run a poll, share links, and engage with your fans. Oh, and have fun!”

It’s not that this advice isn’t helpful. But it is exactly the type of counsel that contributes to the phenomenon of social “stream fatigue.” More and more people in social networks will begin realizing that they hold control of their social streams and can simply unlike or unfollow brands that don’t deliver value.

It’s time for brands to rethink their approach in social media

Everything begins with providing a reason for consumers to connect with brands in social networks, not once, but now and over time, again and again. Brands must study consumer preferences in advance of social efforts and continually monitor what consumers expect and want in this channel. Effective brand engagement is directly linked to the value customers take away from the branded social experience and how closely their expectations and desires are met.

To help understand the contours of this situation, marketing firm Exact Target set out to understand what it is that customers want in social relationships. This valuable information can only help brands design experiences that meet or exceed needs and expectations. In its study appropriately titled “The Social Break-up,” (registration required to download survey) 55-percent of Facebook users reported liking a brand and then later deciding they no longer wish to see the company’s posts. Half of fans say that they really aren’t even fans as they don’t visit the page or web site after the “Like.” Seventy-one percent of consumers say that they’re now becoming more selective about the brands they like.

When asked why consumers were breaking-up with brands in Facebook and Twitter, the top reasons cited were:

• The company posts too frequently
• My wall was becoming too crowded with marketing posts
• The content was too repetitive or boring

In the previous three points, we learn what not to do. When customers were asked why they unliked brands, we get a better idea for what to do next  (interpreted):

• I only “Liked” the company to take advantage of an offer
• Brands didn’t offer enough special offers or deals over time to make it worth my while
• Their posts were too promotional without the ability to take action against them within the stream

It comes back to intention and value. Customers are yearning for a more useful or meaningful connection and for the most part, brands are missing the opportunity to truly engage. The ExactTarget data highlights the need for brands to move away from posting marketing or promotional content or repeatedly diluting streams with boring posts. These acts will only drive customers away from social engagement. Instead, by providing special offers and more useful, actionable or engaging updates, customers will find value in preserving the connection.

IBM also conducted a study that asked consumers what they expected from brand engagement in social media. As part of its research, IBM asked business leaders what they thought consumers were seeking in a social relationship. The results identified a dramatic gap between presumption and actual demand.

The top two reasons consumers gave as to why they interact with companies in social networks were:

1. Receive discounts (61%)
2. Make purchases (55%)

In contrast, businesses believe that the top two reasons consumers follow them in social networks are…

1. Learn about new products (73%)
2. To receive general information (71%)

While consumers expressed the desire to receive discounts or make purchases as the top reasons for engagement in social media, businesses view these actions as the lowest two motives for connecting in the social web.

What we learn from these two studies is that it’s not about the content, the profile, or publishing information regularly; it’s about understanding and delivering what customers want.

If you’re not sure what customers want…ask!

Ask and ye shall receive. You’ve heard it a million times, but are businesses actually practicing what they preach? To bridge the gap between consumer expectations and business perceptions, asking customers what they want can go a long way. For example, when Google’s much discussed new social network launched, two major brands were front and center hoping to deliver a unique, value add experience. Ford Motor Company was one of the first companies to build a brand page and in an notable move, asked people what they expected from the company in Google+. Ford’s Scott Monty and team took the scores of feedback to a dedicated engagement and content strategy.  Shortly thereafter, Michael Dell personally asked his circles about the roll Google Hangouts, a group chat service in Google+, can play in customer service.

“I am thinking about hangouts for business. Would you like to be able to connect with you Dell service and sale teams via video directly from”

Over 800 people responded and seemed to genuinely support the idea. Simply asking people what they want from the social media is the first step a business can take in bridging the consumer gap.

The reality is that customers can and will cut ties with brands that do not take their best interests into account. Consumers are realizing that they have the power to reduce or eliminate stream fatigue by tailoring the relationships they maintain in each network.

In order to redesign social programs to deliver value to customers and avoid getting culled from a social stream, businesses will need a better understanding of consumer wants and expectations. Asking them what they want is a good start. This can be done through surveys, customer service prompts or other creative means that may already be in place. The answers will reveal the ingredients necessary to design a relevant and valuable social media formula. In every strategy moving forward, businesses must also integrate feedback loops to learn how programs are performing and how best to improve them over time. Whether social media is a combination of discounts or special promotions, thought leadership, social commerce, or entertainment, customers should drive the elements of companies’ social media design. This is the way to better engage customers by giving them, the audience, what they want.

The End of Business as Usual will be available in the coming weeks. You can pre-order now at Amazon | Barnes and Noble | 800CEOREAD.

Part One – Digital Darwinism, Who’s Next

70 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Social Media’s Impending Flood of Customer Unlikes and Unfollows”

  1. owengreaves says:

    If well known Brands have to ask what the consumers want, that would tell me they never did pay attention to them in the first place. There should be an overwhelming amount of data collected by those brands to already to know what they want don’t you think?

    The End of Business as Usual in my books stands for , The Industrial Age Is Dead! So, if that’s true, and brands say they get it, why do they continue to use old practices in their marketing, and not seem to know what consumers want?

    I’m generalizing of course, but I think you get my drift. Brands say one thing and then continue for the most part doing what they’ve always done, the Future Of Business is more about Mindset, Mindset trumps Skillset Everytime. It’s the tag line on my Blog, because that to me is the bigger problem, the way we think about business, not how good we think we do something. It’s a Paradigm Shift Brian, but you already know that, I think we need to talk more about how to change that mindset, to something more forward thinking, and actually practising what we preach.

    Thanks for all you do, and have a Rockin Great Day!

    • PamMktgNut says:

      I agree with you Owen on many points. However, isn’t there also truth in the fact that the technology is changing so fast. I think what many consumers would have told you 6 months ago what they wanted from you on Facebook looks different than today or next year. As they connect with more brands and are bombarded with more information their priorities change. 

      I agree with you in that brands should do the work up front to understand what their audiences want and need. However, continually confirming, asking and ensuring they’re delivering to expectations is always key. I think the biggest mistake many brands make is as you reference, using old methods in a different world of biz. 

      My 2 cents 😉 

    • owengreaves says:

      Hey Pam, yes & no, but mainly yes : ) It’s still between the ears, how we think, how we see business, and how business will be done in the next 5 – 10 years. We have to find a way to not default to old industrial age thinking. Monitoring is one thing, engaging is another, but how we think, I’m just sayin.

    • PamMktgNut says:

      I agree with you 100%! Mindset is the #1 requirement for success in my book & it must come from someone empowered to ensure it succeeds! 

    • owengreaves says:

      Hmmm…now we need to disagree on something, otherwise one of us is not necassary : )

  2. Christina says:

    As always, you’ve made some excellent points. If we don’t give them a reason to continue ‘liking’ our pages, why should we expect them to come back? It’s all about how to deliver (what they) value consistently and keeping them engaged. I think it’s so important to make sure you have a well-tuned social media strategy to hold yourself/company accountable to your followers & fans – not to messages the company wants to ‘push.’

  3. Kymberlaine Banks says:

    Thanks Brian, this is so very basic but so many brands don’t get it – don’t we all still buy what we WANT to buy? why should our customers be different?

  4. Ben Watson says:

    Lots of people who Like pages never come back or suppress the updates after the first couple.  A lot of Twitter users do this as well, either with the client they use or by not reading them and not paying attention and/or just not being there when they roll on by and never scrolling down.

    If I were to ask the average user how they manage their Likes, the response would be ‘huh’.  As in any relationship someone has made a move and now it’s your turn.  The longer you wait the less relevant it is but if you do it too soon and too often it’s either creepy or it’s yelling.  And FB Insights is definitely not going to enough data to tell you what you did right or wrong, unless you are in the business of pageviews or impressions. 

    Great article.  This is very complex.  Embrace the complexity.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Social marketing and brand building will only make sense once there is an “unlike” button. It is all good and well to have 100 people that like your brand, what about the 10,000 people that don’t and why don’t they like it. I think companies can learn a lot more with “unlikes” and “unfollows” about what customers expect from them than from the few people that follow them.

  6. Brian, the simplicity of it is this: No one forms a group to be marketed to.

  7. Hank Wasiak says:

    Some great points and excellent insights. The disconnect between the C-Suites and the consumer in terms of expectations is still with us. In the “business as usual” environment of the past this gap was part of the marketing reality. In the social “end of business as usual environment” there simply is no reason to have this disconnect. Marketers have all the tools and resources they need to listen to the consumer and give them what they want and more…. “Honest Value and Values”. Welcome back to the the lost art of listening.

    Thnx Brian.

    Hank Wasiak

  8. I think it’s easy to get in to ‘marketing mode’ and forget to ask yourself, “Is this something I would want from a brand?” I’m definitely guilty of it. If we just ask ourselves the question, I think we’d have a much better grasp of what the consumers want from their online brands.

  9. Ragina Smith says:

    Great article and timely too. I was just thinking if the company I represent really understands its customer. I will definitely consider using these tactics for a better social media plan. Thanks Brian!!

  10. This reinforces the point that a long term strategy for social engagement is key before diving in. Many companies execute promotions or contests which drive customers to “like” them on Facebook without thinking through what they will do with their fans after the promotion ends. To fully capitalize on individuals opting-in to receive information from brands, companies must make it worth their while and provide something relevant or of value to them. It might also require providing different messaging and offers to different customer segments. In-market learning by gauging responses to promotions or shared information on social channels, market research or listening to related conversations online are a few methods of better understanding fans and followers and potentially turning them into advocates over time. Thanks for posting, Brian!

  11. PamMktgNut says:

    Another good post Brian. I agree with your points. I think many brands are reluctant to give consumers what they really need for fear of the truth. We met w/a couple new prospects this week and heard such. They are holding off on engaging on Twitter & providing information they KNOW their audiences need, want and are asking for fear of bringing on more trolls. 

    At some point there has to be a decision that providing the right information is survival and comes before being worried about the trolls.

    While I agree with @nicopretorius:disqus comment on the unlike button. I also worry what would happen with such a button in the hands of trolls and people looking to only bash brands.  We discussed this with one client this week and the underlying fear of trolls and negative feedback is what is keeping them on Facebook over Twitter as they believe there is more of a personal responsibility with the personal profile. I struggle with this as given their goals, objectives and audience I am confident Twitter will be an amazing platform for them. Again, it’s a revolution that requires much change.

    Social media is driving into the hearts and minds of business leaders and forcing them to think out loud and put their money where their mouth is in many values they have claimed to believe and do in past years. Social brings the skeletons out of the closet & the best thing they can do as I always tell them is to “throw em’ on the table & deal with them!”

  12. Peter Mullen says:

    Lemme guess. The Facebook rep was a young kid with limited experience across the evolution of brand or customer management through the ages.  His/her only perspective comes from the ‘Facebook era’ and only understands what Facebook brings to the table.  That is, not managing a lifecycle customer relationship through the technology waves, understanding the changing landscape and the dissolution of customer engagement through different channels.  By the way, great post and I look forward to reading your new book.

  13. Many companies still don’t get how social media works. But I don’t blame them, Its all good having thousands of followers, but do those followers actually care about the company and what is their motivation for following? A lot of companies that I work with complain that they are losing followers on Facebook and twitter and I tell them that the reason they have such a high turnover rate is because they put out rubbish content that takes up peoples news feed, some just talk too much. Its important to know what your customers want and then give it to them, but with so many expectations are companies really getting the best out of social media? Or perhaps a better question would be how can we adapt social sites to make it easier for everyone, companies and customers.

  14. Why do not people aske their customers? that is the most trustful way to get good information.

  15. Great post, and some wonderful insights.  This in particular:

    “The top two reasons consumers gave as to why they interact with companies in social networks were:1. Receive discounts (61%)
    2. Make purchases (55%)In contrast, businesses believe that the top two reasons consumers follow them in social networks are…1. Learn about new products (73%)
    2. To receive general information (71%)”Nothing like another yardstick to measure our disconnect with our customers, eh?

  16. Great post, and some wonderful insights.  This in particular:

    “The top two reasons consumers gave as to why they interact with companies in social networks were:1. Receive discounts (61%)
    2. Make purchases (55%)In contrast, businesses believe that the top two reasons consumers follow them in social networks are…1. Learn about new products (73%)
    2. To receive general information (71%)”Nothing like another yardstick to measure our disconnect with our customers, eh?

  17. Frank Medina says:

    Great post you are the best latinblood social media marketer and you are an inspiration for all uf us

  18. I personally feel like Facebook doesn’t make it easy for you to “unlike” something. Therefore, I think we can all safely conclude that unlikes are the result of REALLY dissatisfied followers. In other words, you’d have to dislike something a lot to go to the trouble of “unliking” it.

  19. Web Strategy says:

    Facebook has obviously made a lot of the recent wall and posting option controls more available to help cut down on some of this ‘like breakage’ (to borrow a term from the restaurant business)

    I agree however that businesses tend to overthink and underutilize social networks like facebook in terms of providing real value to their customers.

    Why don’t I see more customer support life chat options that integrate with facebook, I would think more actual interactive sales agents manning the ‘phones’ would dramatically improve sales, conversions, upsells and even lead generation.

    I love that buying things was on of the top consumer desires … and they said you couldn’t sell stuff on social networks … pssshhhaw!

  20. Anonymous says:

    yes really your information is correct

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