Online trust and security have been significant issues in 2013. Mike Murray, Head of Project Consultancy at Research Now discusses the findings of their recent survey examining users’ attitudes to social networks and considers the implications for brands
Social media is all about getting closer to the people, things and events we value. But despite the fact that huge parts of our lives are now conducted across an ever increasing number of networks, many users remain anxious about security settings and the wealth of personal data contained within every ‘Like’, follow and post.
Research Now interviewed 2,502 members of its Valued Opinions Panel and e-Rewards Opinion Panels via the company’s mobile app and discovered that consumers are more cautious about trusting brands online than offline. Yet, the same study found, the level of general fulfilment that consumers derive from online interaction is actually on the rise.
“One of the things we were trying to understand with this study,” says Mike Murray, Head of Project Consultancy at Research Now, “were issues around privacy settings. That’s key for us in terms of understanding the drivers on social media. We also did some attitudinal research – how do users feel about the number of people in their social networks and so on? We found that only 10 per cent of respondents said they still wanted to extend their number of friends. There could be an argument here to say that since gaining friends on social media is on the decrease, the potential for brand ‘Likes’ is growing.”
But with 85 per cent of Research Now’s respondents saying they were more likely to trust a brand offline than online, there’s clearly work to be done. How does Murray account for the comparatively low levels of consumer trust?
“The issue here is transparency,” he says. “How people experience a brand online may not correspond to what they see offline.” He points to concerns over three key factors: security, trust and control. Peer pressure, he says, also has a role to play in the way users interact with brands, and here too the survey found a distinction between on and offline attitudes. Forty-four per cent of respondents said that when thinking about whether to ‘Like’ a brand on social media, the perception of other users was a consideration. So what steps can brands take to encourage deeper and more trusting engagement among social media users?
“More could be done in terms of learning about customer experience management (CEM) instead of just building up a high amount of ‘Likes’ for a brand,” says Murray. “Work to understand what drives loyalty within consumers. How can we retain current customers and increase visit frequency?
What I think is key for a successful brand is turning customers into advocates. Brands need to focus on consumers’ desire for a product, not just their need. There are a lot of tools brands can be using to monitor their social media in real time. It’s not hard to do and it provides such a rich stream of information.”
As an example of a company cultivating strong relationships with advocates, Murray cites Apple who, despite recent controversy over tax, remain one of the most fetishised tech brands in the world. But even for companies that aren’t able to develop such deep relationships with their consumers, Facebook enables marketers to track purchase intent, consideration and recommendation.
“In an earlier study by Forrester Research,” says Murray, “it was reported that consumers who ‘Like’ the Facebook pages of brands including BlackBerry, Walmart and Coca-Cola, have an 87 per cent probability of recommending the company to friends. This is compared with 44 per cent of consumers who don’t engage with the company through the brand’s social network. If you’ve got people who are likely to recommend you, if they’re following you on social media, you really need to think about how you can then turn them into an advocate.”
Holding brands to account
For many brands now, social media plays an important role within customer services. That means that grievances and complaints which might once have been made in private, or to a single call-centre agent, are now played out in public.
“Consumers are wise to the ways in which they can contact a brand,” notes Murray. “Our respondents say they experience higher levels of customer satisfaction when posting queries directly onto a brand’s Twitter or Facebook pages than they do when going through automated telephone systems.”
Research Now’s respondents aren’t alone in this. Murray points to a recent BBC report which described one man’s painstaking project to provide users of automated telephone systems with the most direct route to the relevant department by cutting out pre-recorded options.
“To me this begs the question ‘why haven’t brands thought of this before?’ We see through the uptake of mobile devices that being able to get your information, query or deal out in a timely manner is key. Again, I think this goes back to control and trust. Having information like this to hand really helps consumers stay in control. It builds up trust if users don’t need to go round in circles in order to have their query answered.”
More broadly, says Murray, 67 per cent of Research Now’s respondents highlighted inconsistencies between how brands’ products or services are presented online and their real-life experience of those brands. These included burgers that don’t look quite like they do in the pictures and clothing lines advertised online but unavailable in stores.
With social media so deeply woven into the fabric of users’ lives, and with the networks themselves moving towards maturity, the big issue, says Murray, may now be grounded in good old value exchange. “If users are going to ‘Like’ or follow a brand,” he says, “they need to ask ‘What are they getting out of it’?”
Article by Jon Fortgang. This feature appears in Figaro Digital Issue 18: July 2013