The Perception Gap in Social


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Customers do not want a relationship with your business, they want the benefits a relationship can offer to them. I have been stating this for a couple years, as many people I know have also stated and written about. You may or may not agree with this, as it has seemed like a bit of a political debate, without some really solid data to back-up either perspective. IBM recently published the result of 2010 study, which revealed some interesting data points. I will be cautious, as data can be interpreted differently from person to person, but this study is grounded in primary research, published by the IBM Institute for Business Value and my analysis of the report suggests that it is worth considering.
Consumers were asked what they do when then interact with businesses or brands via social media. I am not sure which is more surprising to me, that being part of a community and feeling connected are near the bottom, or that purchase and discount are at the top. To back up a little bit, results also published in the same report found that only 23% of consumers, who go to social media sites, go to interact with brands. They go to interact with family and friends (70%). Another interesting point is that while 23% are interested in interacting with brands 22% actually go to write a blog, that is a finding which I am going to need to think on for a bit. Finally,

“just over half of consumers surveyed say they do not engage with brands via social media at all (55 percent).”

The Business Side Gap

The business perspective is more interesting, and frankly more valuable to anyone who happens across this post. The simple reason is that a business needs to care about what the customers are saying and doing, not what they ‘think’ is right or worse, portrayed by someone else who told them the ‘right’ thing to do. OK businesses, take a look at the listing your peers gave when asked the why they thought customers were following their companies on social sites. The data clearly states that businesses believe much more strongly that consumers interact with them to feel part of the community – guess what, they really don’t. The consumer wants something more.

“Businesses hoping to foster closer customer connections through social media conversations may be mistakenly projecting their own desires for intimacy onto customers’ motivations for interacting. Interactions with businesses are not the same as interactions with friends.”

The gap is pretty wide, almost as wide as the current NFL players versus owners. But, in this case it is not a matter of compromise and working to get both sides to see the other perspective. The only real opinion that matters is what your customers think, correct?

What about Advocacy?

I am not sure about you, but I have seen a lot of Senior Executives talk about “getting closer” to their customers, partners, ecosystem, prospects (IBM 2010 Global CEO Study – 88% want to get closer to the customer). In order to answer the war cry from the C-suite, marketers and executives (from this survey) believe the answer is social media engagement. However, the data from the consumer side suggests otherwise – or best it is inconclusive. The issue seems to be that you (company) are already close to your advocates; 64% of stated that passion for a brand needs to exists prior to interacting with that brand.

“In other words, consumers who engage already have an affinity for that brand or company, and mere participation via social media may not necessarily result in increased loyalty or spending. But a recommendation from a friend or family member could make a difference.”

The answer to the riddle seems to be to encourage consumers to share their experiences with friends and family. Make that easy and you now have a better chance of encouraging those at the tipping point to become advocates for your brand. I am not going to go retro and start defining Social CRM, been there, done that! I am going to suggest that you need to start thinking like a customer, outside-in, not inside out. It is not about control of the conversation, it is about mutually beneficial value. A fair exchange. Social media is part of something we call the customer engagement continuum, aka consistency of interactions and touch points independent of the channel used. A friend shared a term with me early this week which seems to fit “Reverse Logistics” – to me, it fits here because the perspective that matters is the customers.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mitch Lieberman
Finding patterns and connecting the dots across the enterprise. Holding a strong belief that success is achieved by creating tight alignment between business strategy, stakeholder goals, and customer needs. systems need to be intelligent and course through enterprise systems. Moving forward, I will be turning my analytical sights on Conversational Systems and Conversational Intelligence. My Goal is to help enterprise executives fine-tune Customer Experiences


  1. Mitch, thanks for sharing this. Nice to see some real data to show that businesses are not in synch with their customers vis-À-vis social business.

    My survey last year found a similar disconnect in social business priorities. US consumers valued customer service first, while business managers placed marketing at the top of their list.

    My view is that social media can enhance a relationship, but (with rare exceptions) it can’t create one. I’m speaking of brand-customer relationships, not personal ones of course.

    For example, Ford has gotten some good press — and deservedly so — for the work of Scott Monty in social media. But the real source of Ford’s comeback is building better cars, which is something their new CEO Alan Mulally started working on 8 years ago (pre social mania).

    Here’s a good article with video to tell that story:

    Social media advocates might want to ask themselves, just how successful would Monty have been with social media if Ford had continued to build crappy cars?

    Loyalty is driven by customer-perceived value. If they perceive being “social” with a brand as valuable, fine. But odds are there are more fundamental issues involving products, service, experiences and price that truly make a difference.

    Said another way, social media is the sizzle, not the steak.

  2. Bob, you’re absolutely right that it’s the product that matters. I’ve always said that companies need to fix their product and then fix their marketing. One of the reasons I joined Ford is because I saw the leadership and the product cadence, along with the rise of social media, and I predicted that there’d be a great convergence by 2010. (BTW, Alan arrived in September of 2006; your timeline is a little off).

    But it’s only because we have the proof to back up our claims that we’re able to capitalize on the passion of our fans. And by listening to them, we discover what’s needed to keep producing cars that they want and value; by incorporating that back into the development cycle, we’re able to sustain the process.

    Scott Monty
    Global Digital Communications
    Ford Motor Company

  3. Scott, thanks for the reply, and correction on the timeline.

    Five years seems to me like a remarkably short time to turn around a company of Ford’s size. And part of this period, let’s not forget, includes the Great Recession.

    I’m impressed that you took time to reply to this post. It’s a good example that companies need tools to “listen” to commentary on the Social Web. I’m sure you’re using one or more social media monitoring tools –Care to share which one?

    But more important, your reply shows that the Social Web works best when it’s about people taking time to engage personally. It wouldn’t have been so impressive to get a post from Ford’s PR people, for example.

    So, thanks again for the engagement here. But tell your colleagues to keep building better cars!

  4. At the risk of having to say “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” my tool was nothing more than good old Google Alerts.

    Thanks again for your comment!

  5. Bob,

    This is a point I also have been trying to make, as well as lots of others. I think that is what the data shows, if your customers are not already passionate, then social will not do anything more to entice.

    You cannot start a fire without a spark…


  6. Scott,

    Thanks for stopping by, much appreciated. I do think what has been discussed is accurate, but cars represent value in use and the length of the relationship spans years. Of course, there are exceptions, but for the most part an investment in a car is huge, to the point that people will go to lengths to protect that investment. The passion can be either good or bad, but passion none-the-less.

    Car owners will join communities for many reasons – you know better than I do – but there is an opportunity to turn negative into positive as the total customer experience is the life of the car, not a flight, or meal or hotel stay. With other, short term types of relationships, the customers have a choice more often. This is something I do need to think about.



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