Companies worldwide are focused on how to influence and manage online communities to grow their company brands. This is all well and good — so long as those companies respect the rights and expectations of their community members. But as our New Symbiosis of Professional Networks research findings show, many companies do not respect the needs of the very individuals they are trying to influence.
As a member of a number of professional networks, I am visible online. However, marketers who do not respect my rights and expectations for professional networking do me a great disservice, and reduce my incentive to use social media to connect with them. Professionals engage with each other online to collaborate, learn about innovations and experiences, get fresh ideas and deepen relationships — not to be targets of direct selling or overt marketing efforts. Just as I regularly invoke my do-not-call right with telemarketers, I should have the same right to avoid badgering by online marketers who target me because I am active in social media.
In our recent research fellowship with the Society for New Communications Research, Don Bulmer and I were excited to learn that this sentiment is widely shared among professionals who use social media for business. Our survey results and follow-up interviews indicate there is a profound mismatch between what professionals want online and what marketers want to give them.
Our research data strongly suggest that professionals use social media tools with the express desire of connecting and collaborating with others. Their goals include gaining access to information they cannot easily find elsewhere and efficiency when working with peers across geographical and time boundaries.
This list of activity drivers can help guide any organization’s efforts when developing social media programs that will be used by decision-makers.
The incentives for professionals’ use of social media for business and decision-support are clear, but those incentives are often ignored by the businesses actually using social media. These companies focus on using social media as a marketing channel instead of a key component of a customer engagement strategy. Too often, a social media marketing push simply re-packages web page content into social media tools.
As the data show, social media programs dedicated to innovation or customer relationship building rank far lower on this list of future investments than perhaps they should – if a company were paying attention to the decision-maker’s needs.
Professional networks for business are still evolving, and many corporate social media initiatives have not determined where they fall on the marketing and customer care spectrum. These findings suggest companies would be well-served by designing their social media programs to align more closely with the goals they are trying to achieve, such as educating the buyers, helping them find information they can’t find elsewhere and building customer intimacy in support of client retention and engagement. Not to mention offering a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
The methodology for this study involved a mixed methods approach supported by quantitative data gathered via online survey of 356 professionals to understand their perceptions and experiences with social media in support of their decision-making. Select interviews of 12 professionals were also conducted using a semi-structured interview guide as part of the second phase of the study. Key demographics of the research include:
- Close to a quarter (23%) of respondents identified themselves as CEO of their organization; nearly 50% as “Director” (24%) or “Manager” (24%)
- Company size ranged from less than 100 to over 50,000 full-time employees
- Age was well distributed, with the greatest proportion in the 36-45 range
- 25 countries were represented, with 58% of respondents living in the US
- All respondents were either the decision makers or influenced the decision process within their company or business unit