Wednesday, 26 September 2012

The biggest piece of empirical research ever conducted on consumers’

The biggest piece of empirical research ever conducted on consumers’ digital behaviour and their attitudes to social media from the world’s biggest market research company, you would have thought, would create quite a lot of buzz. After all, 72,000 consumers interviewed across 60 countries is quite a sample. Yet coverage of the report and its key findings was almost non-existent. Blink and you missed it.

One look inside the Digital Life report, however, explains the lack of attention. Unlike the overly optimistic and wildly out of touch proclamations of the social media industry and those that cover it, the TNS study was based on empirical data. And as a result, it presented a much more even-handed and objective view of the digital landscape than most marketers are comfortable accepting or forwarding to their peers.

For example, the report concludes that the majority of consumers in developed markets do not want to engage with brands via social media. In the UK, that proportion was at its highest with 61% of consumers stating they do not see social media as a place they want to interact with brands. That’s a bummer for every brand manager who spouts the usual crap about "having a conversation with the consumer", because almost two-thirds of their consumers aren’t interested in talking to them.

But these facts were probably not communicated to you because they do not fit the ideology that the marketing industry is attempting to propagate when it comes to social media. - the hegemonic forces of marketing prefer to tell a story of new apps and bold Facebook strategies rather than a more fair approach. But what also emerged from the data was clear evidence of the lack of credibility or engagement that most brands can expect from their forays into social media. A spokesman for TNS said "Many brands have recognised the vast potential audiences available to them on social networks; however, they are failing to understand that these spaces belong to the consumer and brand presence needs to be proportionate and justified."

Wise is the marketer who uses data to assess the situation. In all the hullabaloo, has anyone considered that the term social media has no place for brands within its definition? ’Social media’ literally means the communication channels that exist between people. Not between brands.

But like every medium before it, brands try to invade that space anyway. And social media, like every other medium before it, is already suffering from clutter as a result. As more brands attempt to grab attention and start social media conversations with disinterested consumers, more of them will switch off.

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