Last week, J.D. Power and Associates published new research on the ways consumers interact with brands in social channels and how this engagement affects behaviors such as satisfaction and purchase intent. I had the chance to probe the findings with J.D. Power’s Director of Social Media and Text Analytics, Jacqueline Anderson. Her study furnishes still more evidence of the rising expectations consumers have of brands in social media, as well as the importance for brands to get social right, both for service and marketing.
One of the findings of the study is that consumers are engaging with both marketing and servicing in social channels, but this varies with age. In the 18-to-29-year-old demographic, 23% interacted with brands (on the brand’s owned social site) in a marketing context and 43% for servicing purposes. For those older than 50, the ratios are reversed, with 38% engaging with companies in a social marketing context but just 18% turning to social for servicing.
Interestingly, while consumers’ social marketing and social servicing experiences may vary by age, the impact to the brand does not. Anderson notes that, "While there are vast differences among age groups in the frequency of servicing and marketing engagements, there is a consistency in the impact on brand perception and purchase intent through both types of engagement. A one-pronged approach to social is no longer an option."
Another important conclusion of the study should surprise no one—making people happy in social channels is good for business. Among highly satisfied consumers, 87% indicate that the online social interaction "positively impacted" their likelihood to purchase from that company. Meanwhile, one in ten of those who are less satisfied indicate that the interaction "negatively impacted" their likelihood to purchase from the company. This relationship between consumer satisfaction and purchase intent is consistent across all age groups. “Younger and older consumers alike who are satisfied with their social marketing experiences are more likely to purchase,” says Anderson.
As she evaluated the data, verbatims and conversations observed in the community, Anderson found that consumers make little distinction between a brand’s social experiences and the overall brand experience. “There’s no social bubble anymore. Everything a company is doing—whether it’s in a store, on the website, in an email, on the phone or in social—impacts the consumer’s opinion of the brand. Companies need to make sure that experience is cohesive.”
One of the primary conclusions from this study is that brands have to get serious about social customer service. Says Anderson, “So many companies jump to the marketing piece, but consumers are looking more and more to social channels for support. Some companies feel threatened by this but it’s actually an amazing opportunity.” The J.D Power survey found that 67% of consumers have used a company's social media site for servicing, compared with 33% for social marketing.
Servicing and marketing are part of the same circular brand funnel, notes Anderson. “It is critically important that consumers are able to find you in social—that’s the marketing—so they can talk to you when they need to—that’s the servicing. Then, of course, you want to keep those consumers engaged with your brand, so you circle back to the marketing again.” This synergy between social marketing and social service is “especially important for elusive younger consumers. If you can nail that service experience, you have the opportunity to make a strong connection and engage them on an ongoing basis.”
Anderson points out that the trends among Millenials is unmistakable and demand that brands “set the ground rules for their approach to social servicing now, before it’s too late. Millennials are infamous for wanting things done quickly. As this group ages and starts having families and more time constraints, they’re going to turn more frequently to the fast-paced world of social to interact with brands and get their issues resolved.”
The J.D. Power study also looked at what turns off consumers about brands’ social media engagement. Unsurprisingly, consumers hate when brands focus too much on themselves. A participant from an initial online research community described the problem using an interesting analogy, recounts Anderson. “She compared ‘liking’ a company on Facebook to dating. You take the first step and agree to go out—‘the like.’ You look forward to learning about them and sharing information about yourself, but then it becomes clear the other person is only interested in talking about themselves; it’s always, ‘me, me, me,’ so you have to break up.”
While purchase intent may be the brass ring for brands, Anderson notes that satisfying social experiences provide other benefits, as well. “We found that positive servicing experiences raise the likelihood to use social servicing again, as well increases consumers’ likelihood to recommend social servicing to friends and family. In addition, we found that social marketing satisfaction has a positive impact on overall brand perception.”
If any brands have any doubt about social's importance, the J.D. Power study should put them to rest. Says Anderson, “There is a very strong storyline here that finally supports the case that social engagement truly is important to brands.”
Amen to that!