Social Media: Is the Romance Over?

Social Break UpIf you think of a consumer’s online interaction with your company as a treasured relationship (as any good marketer should!) then the next logical step is to explore the termination of that relationship.  Most romances come to an end at some point, and—whether conducted through Email, Facebook, or Twitter—online consumer-brand romances are no exception. Regardless of channel, research by Exact Target’s new study “The Social Break-Up”  shows that one thing consistently drives consumers away; communications that, in some way, demonstrate that the company doesn’t care.

Similar to the customer buying process, the consumer-brand relationship has a distinct and fascinating life cycle. The relationship begins with the initial “spark”—the decision by the consumer to become a subscriber, fan or follower—followed by a blissful honeymoon period during which the consumer gets to know the company better through communications and social interactions.

Just like with most relationships, as the consumer-brand relationship progresses, the frequency and quality of interactions shapes the consumer’s desire to take the relationship to the next level—which may be a purchase, a recommendation, or even brand advocacy. Consumers want to know that companies are committed to their relationship—and that they care. Companies express their commitment to the relationship through engaging communications, delivered at appropriate intervals. But you must realize that the definitions of “engaging” and “appropriate” vary by channel. Communication practices that convey warmth and respect for the prospect through one channel can just as easily convey indifference—or desperation—through another.

So how do you let your prospects know that you care? Or, more to the point, is it possible that your Email, Facebook, and Twitter communications are inadvertently telling them you don’t care? Take a long, hard look in the mirror and make sure you’re not making any of these classic mistakes:

  • No 2nd Date.
    There is nothing more frustrating than starting a new relationship that you are all excited about and then he/she never calls you for a 2nd date. Similarly, a lack of follow-through sends a clear message that you don’t care. With email—encouraging registration, but not delivering emails in a timely manner. On Facebook—creating a profile page, but never updating it. On Twitter—creating a Twitter handle, but never Tweeting. If you don’t care enough to keep up with the basics, why should consumers bother to interact with your brand?
  • It’s All About Me.
    Just like in personal relationships, no one wants to hear all about you.  Being too self-promotional can be a relationship killer. Consumers expect and want brands to promote their products and services, but these messages must be balanced with information that benefits the consumer. Hard-sell tactics can work in person, but they fail online because you lack the personal interaction to counter the hard-sell message. No matter how personal they are, Email, Facebook, and Twitter don’t allow you to replicate a face-to-face conversation.  You need to make sure you are providing them with valuable content that helps solves their problems.
  • Remove the Mystery.
    At the start of any relationship, a sense of mystery can be very exciting but as the relationship progress you really want to get to know that person, especially if it may become serious.  Similarly, consumers want to learn as much as possible about a product or service before they buy. If product information is unclear, incomplete, or difficult to find, the brand may be seen as careless, irresponsible, or untrustworthy.
  • Play by the Rules
    Just like how you should not be checking out a woman while on a first date with another, online relationships have their own social etiquette. Every channel has its own rules, and consumers expect companies to know the rules and follow them. Failure to respect the social etiquette in each channel is a clear signal that your brand doesn’t care. 
    • Email: Consumers want companies to send them relevant content that is tailored to their personal interests. They expect marketers to honor permissions, and show restraint when it comes to email frequency. They measure your emails not against the best in your industry, but against the best senders in their inbox.
    • Facebook: Consumers view Facebook as a great way to engage with companies they already know and trust. They expect marketers to keep their Facebook pages fresh and interesting, and to limit their posts to avoid drowning out social interactions.
    • Twitter: Consumers who actively use Twitter expect frequent, focused Tweets from brands, but they don’t want to be overwhelmed. They expect to receive prompt answers when they ask questions via Twitter.

If the company fails any of these relationship tests, the romance is over (i.e. an “unsubscribe,” “unfan,” “unlike,” or “unfollow”). When the consumer is no longer happy in the relationship, they will actively break off contact with the company…or just ignore their communications in the hopes the company will get the message that it’s over. One thing is certain—the consumer-brand relationship will continue to grow and develop in the years to come. It’s your job to make that relationship work.