There were two stories in the press about Facebook last Thursday that caught my eye. The first was the story of Facebook's first earnings report since going public. Investor expectations were not met and the stock tumbled. The same day, a new research study was released and reported with this headline: "Customers Still Prefer Company Websites to Facebook Pages."
While the earnings story was widely discussed and has clear relevance to the investment community, the second story has important implications for the marketing community. It helps to explain some of the challenges that Facebook faces when it comes to brand marketers, and is a timely and helpful reminder to that in a rush to engage socially with consumers, it is a mistake to focus efforts on online social networks at the expense of other digital— as well as non digital—assets.
· When people log onto social networks such as Facebook, 70% of them do so for social networking with friends or family, but only 13% say they visit social media to interact with brands.
· When customers want information to make purchase decisions, they are more than four times as likely to go to the company's website (89%) as they are to use a social network (21%). Similarly, customers who want to learn more about a product are also more likely to visit the company's website (81%) than the Facebook brand page (20%).
· When people are introduced to a new product, service or brand though a social network and want to learn more about it, they are far more likely to visit the company website (81%) than go to the brand's Facebook page (26%).
Get Satisfaction and Incyte Group concluded that users on Facebook don't want brand relationships to be a part of their social media experience, but rather to have the companies' websites behave more like social networks. This way, users can get information, as well as reviews and comments.
Get Satisfaction CEO Wendy Lea summed up the findings by saying: "It's clear that companies aren't getting the results they need from investing in social media. Consumers don't just want to be broadcasted to. They want to engage with each other and companies about products and services they care about. This study validates that social media strategy needs to include authentic customer engagement driven by a branded customer community, and not be viewed and used as yet another digital advertising channel. Getting results from social media is about relevant interactions throughout the customer life cycle."
These results are highly consistent with research my firm has conducted which finds that when it comes to the digital tools marketers can use to drive word of mouth. As Brad Fay and I write in our new book, The Face-to-Face Book: Why Real Relationships Rule in a Digital Marketplace, "It will come as a shock to many marketers that social media provide content to the smallest share of word-of-mouth conversations [among all forms of internet contact points]." Our research finds that brand websites are talked about more during brand-related conversations than any other type of internet content, and twice as often as social media. Paid internet advertising is also far more dominant than social media as a source of online content that ends up being discussed in conversations. "These marketing channels should not be abandoned or ignored."
There is clear lesson here for marketers: Don't ignore your website as you develop your social media presence; it's too valuable to let it languish. As you invest in digital assets to drive social influence make certain that company's website remains your first digital investment priority; think of social media —whether it be on Facebook, or Google+, or elsewhere—as a complement but not a substitute. As the Get Satisfaction study concludes, "The community can have an entry point on your Facebook brand page, but your customers want to interact with you in your branded customer community, not their open social networks." Don't trade the opportunity for a deep and meaningful exchange of information with your prospective customers on your branded website for what is often a short-term "like."
Ed Keller, CEO of the Keller Fay Group, has been called "one of the most recognized names in word of mouth." His new book, The Face-to-Face Book: Why Real Relationships Rule in a Digital Marketplace, was recently published by Free Press/Simon & Schuster. You can follow Ed Keller on Twitter, Facebook and Google+, or contact him directly at email@example.com.
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