I came across some eMarketer data this week that initially struck me as obvious: Social media users are more likely to trust blog posts, Tweets and Facebook updates authored by friends than those posted by brands. In the “trust completely” column, friends are considered two to three TIMES more trustworthy.
Makes sense: human friendships are built around trust, and while we sometimes trust brands, brands aren’t friends or humans.
Of course brands aren’t people, but they’ve long understood that humanizing themselves (itselves?) — by hiring likable pitchmen and pitchwomen or creating cute animated characters, for example — makes us more likely to think of them as friends. When they act like humans (or tree elves or fun-loving tigers), we often forget they are corporations trying to sell us stuff. We start considering them pals and trusting them.
In social media, though, brands aren’t doing a good job of acting like our human friends. A recent report by digital agency 360i (see Forbes) shows that consumers use Twitter to converse with their online friends — @Replies, in Twitterspeak — while brands predominantly use social media to talk about themselves.
“When marketers use Twitter, 360i says that 75% of the time they are using it to disseminate news or information about the brand, as opposed to actively engaging Twitter users. Consumers are only engaged by the brand approximately 16% of the time. Putting that in perspective, consumers engaged in conversation with each other 43% of the time.”
And it turns out that behaving like a human in social media — listening and conversing rather than spouting from a soapbox — isn’t just an academic exercise or a contest to rack up follower counts. Charlene Li at the Altimeter Group recently ranked brands into a leaderboard of what she calls the Social Media Mavens, the brands that most actively engage with their followers, and cross-checked her data with financial performance of those companies. It turns out that acting more human in social media is good business.
“These Mavens on average grew 18% in revenues over the last 12 months, compared to the least engaged companies who on average saw a decline of 6% in revenue during the same period. The same holds true for two other financial metrics, gross margin and net profit.
“Note that we are not claiming a causal relationship — but there is clearly a correlation and connection. For example, a company mindset that allows a company to be broadly engage with customers on the whole probably performs better because the company is more focused on [customers] than the competition.”