It’s Official: Companies Don’t Understand Why Consumers Use Social Media

I was fascinated to see this chart in Jacob Morgan’s review of IBM’s recent report From Social Media to Social CRM. On the left you’ve got the answers...

Misperceptions about Social Media

I was fascinated to see this chart in Jacob Morgan’s review of IBM’s recent report From Social Media to Social CRM. On the left you’ve got the answers from consumers (aka “people”) listing the reasons they interact with companies via social media, and on the right you’ve got the reasons that companies think we interact with them.

According to companies, the primary reason we interact with them on Facebook, Twitter and forums etc. is to “learn about new products” and to  get “general information”. It turns out, however (and this may not come as a shock to anyone who’s been active in Facebook marketing in recent years) that the real reason we interact with companies because we want a “discount” or we want to “purchase” something.

When asked whether they felt people wanted discounts or to buy things, companies apparently ranked these as the very last reasons people would connect with them via social media. Granted, the percentage points are small, but that’s amazing! The scale of misconception is quite staggering.

What’s going on here?

It seems to me that businesses are applying internal logic to social media. They see the primary benefits of social media being (a) a new platform for sharing information and (b) an opportunity to gather feedback – so these are listed as the reasons they think people will interact with them. Most consumers, however, aren’t fussed about using social media for what it was intended or what it’s best at. In relation to businesses we see it as just another means of getting offers, buying stuff and grabbing freebies.

Equally telling, perhaps, is the finding that people don’t want to “feel part of a community” or “feel connected” when they interact with a brand. I know there are wonderful niche communities of brand advocates out there, but even they tend to rely on gaming (i.e. rewards) to incentivise their members into action. Again, most of us don’t want or expect brands to provide community: we just want their coupons. Or am I being overly cynical?

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  1. Mrlewcock Reply

    You could be right you could be wrong… Mark

  2. Anonymous Reply

    Hey Luke,

    I saw this graphic on Mitch Lieberman’s blog as well – it’s interesting. I don’t think you’re too cynical – I for one have very little interest in joining a community built around the toothpaste I use, or even the car I drive – that’s a bit shallow for my taste (and I don’t imagine the ’98 Camry has a strong community anyway 😉 ). I’m probably less of a consumer than many in the US or Europe, but still, even if you live to shop, how much can you possibly gain (beyond discounts) from a group that just buys the same trivial item(s) or shop at the same place that you do?

    I think the effective Social CRM strategy involves understanding where and how your customers want to engage with your company or appreciate being engaged by your company, and then implement those engagement models. I noted an example from KLM in a blog post here – – this one is especially cool, in my opinion, because of its use of location-aware services. The great thing is the fact that it goes outside of the box – it doesn’t involve the old “follow us on Facebook or Twitter” approach.

    People use social media primarily to interact with other people – the key for most companies (except those with the strongest brands) is to be a part of those interactions already going on between friends and associates, understanding the company’s tangential role to the interaction, rather than trying to assume a central role. They should seek to enrich the existing interaction, not seek to create a new interaction themselves. Only tacit approaches to sharing information and gathering feedback are going to be truly effective there.

    1. Luke Brynley-Jones Reply

      I have to say I find the KLM story a little creepy – but it is certainly out of (some distance beyond, in fact!) the proverbial box. Terrific post by the way.

      1. Anonymous Reply

        Thanks Luke! Glad you liked it. Yea, the KLM thing got some mixed reviews. I think the cameras made it a bit inauthentic, and even those people that they finally chose to show on the film were noticeably feeling a bit awkward. I really liked it because of its originality, but I’m honestly not sure I would have been tickled to be approached with that camera crew either.

  3. Ingrid Koehler Reply

    There are brands I wish to connect with – SunDrop soda for one. I love SunDrop on Twitter. I WANT to buy their product, but there’s no chance. I can’t get it in the UK. Until recently it was only available in small markets in the South of the US (mainly). I was already part of a community of SunDrop consumers – it meant something! And I love to see how people like me also love SunDrop as fanatically as I do.

    But certainly, I think there are many products which I might want to buy, but would never want to love. Companies need to remember that very few products inspire loyalty really and as for love? a tiny handful. -And hardly anyone will love it as much as the people who make it. Just help people buy their product, share info about the product to other people who might want to buy it.

    1. Luke Brynley-Jones Reply

      That idea of motivating the few people who genuinely love your products/services is important. If they are knowledgeable about it and passionate – finding ways to harness and amplify that community can be great. But yes, most of us just want a free meal.

  4. Mauno Ahlgren Reply

    This is VERY interesting information. I am actually fairly surprised that the discounts and purchases are that much higher than other things. I would have honestly thought that the product reviews are among the top (probably because of my own preferences though..:))

    However, I think you might be a little too cynical about this since even though the coupons and discounts are ranked low, they are still fairly close to the top if you simply look at the percentages. The companies even overestimate the percentage of people looking for discounts, so can we really say that they were wrong?

    Feeling connected and being part of a community on the other hand surprise me much more. The only explanation for the discrepancy I can come up with is that the companies put an emphasis on these customers, because they are the preferred customers. I am sure that the people who are so attached to the companies that they want to feel connected, they also bring in the most amount of money per capita. So I would guess that the companies are being somewhat naive thinking that most people use social media for the connection.

    1. Luke Brynley-Jones Reply

      Yes, the dedicated customers are the ones you want to spend your $ keeping happy, so that emphasis does make some sense.

  5. StevenGroves Reply

    Working with marketer globally and a new Closed-Loop Marketing system for merchants and restauranteurs I am not at all surprised by businesses perspective and just how skewed it is. I hear it in the conversations of soooo many businesses owners and they keep believing the media part of social media vs. the social part of social media.

  6. Bilal Jaffery Reply

    Very b2c statement, although discounts help close a deal in any space.

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