Are consumers’ purchasing decisions influenced by social media marketing? Or is it all a myth? I spoke to Scott Monty of Scott Monty Strategies to find out what his thoughts are and what brands ought to be doing to have real results from social media.
Tell us about “The Myth of Social Media” study?
Well, it was a headline-grabbing title, and something that obviously interested me. I was the Global Head of Social Media at Ford Motor Company for six years. So when you see someone claiming that this is a myth, it doesn’t work, etc., you’re obviously interested in delving into it.
And as I dug a little deeper, it made a lot of sense, at least from the way that I assume the question was asked. Gallup and Wall Street Journal surveyed 18,000 people and asked them where they got their influence for making purchase decisions. And as you can imagine, the vast majority of people, 92% in fact said that they get their decisions from friends and family.
And that’s typical human behaviour. I mean, if you’re going to buy something, whether it’s something as significant as a laptop computer or a smartphone, you’re going to ask people that you trust, and trust is usually engendered with those that we know well.
When it came time to getting their purchase decisions from social platforms – Twitter, Facebook, etc. – 62% of people said they did not trust those platforms. And I thought that was interesting. And it’s similar to a question that we’ve seen overall for quite a few years that people don’t trust the platforms.
Well, when you just finished asking them, “Who do they trust?” and they say, “Friends and family,” and then you ask a follow-up question, “What are you on social networks to do?” It’s to connect with friends and family. So when you parse apart this question and when you dig down a little bit deeper, what they’re saying is they don’t trust paid brand advertisements, paid brand placements on social networks. So in other words, the marketing that they’re getting from advertisers, from companies on social networks does not influence their purchase decision.
Is this specific to social or does it apply to marketing and advertising in general?
Well, I’ve seen other studies, similar studies. There was one I saw from last October, not by Gallup, but by another organisation, and they surveyed 65,000 people worldwide. And again number one was friends and family.
Number two was actually branded websites. And people knew when they go to a company’s website that it is accurate information that they’re getting, and that they can do research and gather more information, etc. So they trust branded websites.
But when it comes to more of a traditional advertising, that’s a little farther down the scale. And advertising on social is toward the bottom of that. Mobile advertising and social advertising are toward the bottom of the whole advertising pack, if you will.
Do sponsored updates have no persuasive power? Surely now we can track results and tweak campaigns?
Well, one would hope. Technologically is it feasible? Yes. But practically has it been paying off? That’s what the verdict is still out on. And I think one of the things that I’ve said for a long time is when you consider advertising as an industry, as a market, we’ve been doing it the same way since the advent of television, or radio, even earlier on. It’s interruptive, it’s billboard style advertising, let us get our message up in front of you and tell you what we think.
Now, this process was already broken when the internet came along about 20 years ago. And yet we took that advertising model, that broken model, and we simply dropped it down on top of the internet. And then about 10 years later, social came along and we took a twice broken model and plopped that down on top of social. So why do we keep doing the same thing over and over again simply because it’s what we’ve always done? Why don’t we do things that people actually respond to?
And when you see a report that social doesn’t work or the myth of social, etc., well of course, you’re going to get these kinds of results because this is exactly what we’ve gotten ourselves into. This is what we should expect based on the behaviour that we’ve exhibited as advertisers and marketers.
Is bad advertising driving users away from social, to apps like WhatsApp?
Well, I think that’s certainly part of it. The piece I wrote up on LinkedIn about this, I used an image from some e-cards. It has a couple of people strolling out in the midst of nature and one says, “Let’s ruin something with advertising.” And when you consider every single social network has, I don’t want to say had been ruined, but has been traversed by brands in such a way that some people roll their eyes and say, “How do we get away from this?”
And I think there’s a broader cultural issue at stake here, and that is particularly with younger generations, millennials to a certain extent, but that’s a broad generation, but the generation behind millennials, I guess that’s gen, is that Gen Z now? They, I think, are more interested in private intimate conversations. They’re not interested in broadcasting everything that they do to all of their friends. To them, it’s about a select circle of friends and it’s about very quick engagements, very visual engagements.
And when you think about those types of interactions, that’s not really appropriate for brands to interrupt. You can’t take that twice broken model and now insert it into messaging conversations. So I think it’s a real conundrum for brands as more movement goes to these messaging apps.
They’ve begun to monetise that to a certain degree, and they’re trying to be respectful of the community. With WhatsApp this is where it really becomes problematic. Let’s not forget that WhatsApp used to charge users a dollar a year. And if anything, that may still be a reasonable model. I think Facebook was more interested in getting those people into the ecosystem, into the Facebook family, and I think they’d be very hard pressed to take their advertising model and insert that into WhatsApp now. So there may be other alternatives for them there.
How should companies acquire new customers on social?
Well, I saw a study last year that said 71% of customers have left a brand because of a poor customer experience. Seventy-one percent, they’ve abandoned a brand. Yet at the same time, 63% of marketers say that the most important thing they can do is lead generation.
Now, you have to wonder if constantly chasing new customers and taking your eye off of your existing customers is causing those existing customers to flee. Or if marketers simply recognise that they have a customer retention issue and their only solution is to go after new ones.
But the bottom line is if you treat your existing customers well, if you give them a reason to stick around, and I’m not just talking about discounts, if you make them feel valued, if you give them an experience that they want to talk about, that they want to share, that’s how you engage your customers, and that’s how you attract new ones.
Because we always hear about get your customers to advocate for you. And it’s not as simple as going out and asking your customers, “Hey, will you tell everybody about us?” They have to be satisfied with what you’re delivering to them first, and then the conversation would or should come naturally after that. And I think if more brands spent time on the customer experience and on their existing customer base, they would see additional customers come in.
How should integrate social as a part of the overall customer experience?
Well, I think it’s got to be built into your existing processes. It’s not a matter of treating social as a standalone channel or as a unique thing. It’s about how your company embraces customer experience, customer service.
Everything that you do is marketing. Every way you present yourself, every time you touch a customer, whether it’s for bill paying, or the checkout, or how you first approach them, everything you do is marketing. And if there’s a consistency there, it doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about social or a call centre or a storefront, it should all feel the same. And if you’re doing that, then a customer will come back again and again.
How can companies become part of this authentic and real human conversation?
Well, when you look at the Gallup study that was done, they recommend behaving in what’s called, and I’ll use the acronym, ARC, A-R-C.
- A: They believe you need to be authentic, first and foremost, and that means acting as a real human being would act, and again being consistent with what you do, and not putting up corporate BS, so to speak.
- R: And then of course, the “R” in ARC is about responsiveness. In this day and age, people expect to be responded to in a timely manner. And when you don’t, they’ve got the power in the palm of their hand, with their smartphone, they can go on to another website, they can engage with another brand, they can use other mechanisms to get what it is that they want. And if you’re not doing this 24/7 because, let’s face it, people can interact with your brand whenever they want, not just when your store is open, then they’ll go elsewhere.
- C: And then the “C” in ARC is compelling. You’ve got to have compelling content. You’ve got to have a compelling reason for people to want to engage with you. It’s not just about shouting from the tree tops why you’re the best and that you’ve got a sale and all the rest. Are you doing things to improve the world? Are you giving them a chance to be the star for the day? Are you engaging them in a point of debate? Are you making them laugh? There’s a lots of different ways to be compelling and to engage people’s attention.
So I think if brands take that ARC approach, and again, it’s authenticity, responsiveness and compelling engagements, then they’ll be on the right track.
And I think there’s lots of instances of brands doing what I would call “brand smackdowns” on Twitter, for example. I think there was a fast food war a couple of weeks ago between Burger King and Wendy’s.
Wendy’s has this 4 for $4 deal, and Burger King comes out with one 5 for $4 and they say, “because 5 is better than 4.” And it was clearly a broadside at Wendy’s campaign. And Wendy’s didn’t even pick up on it. A fan did and said, “Oh, Wendy’s, what are you coming back with?” And Wendy’s simply said “edible food.”
@bguerns13 edible food
— Wendy's (@Wendys) January 22, 2016
In your experience from Ford, what social media activities worked best?
Well, I think it was showing up in unexpected places. Certainly you have to be where people expect you to be, and in this day and age, bare minimum, it’s the big four – Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook – that’s where people expect you to have a presence. But when you do things that are out of the ordinary on those platforms, when you do things that are out of the ordinary for your customers, I think that’s when they start to pay attention.
So for example, when we first started out on Twitter, when I was at Ford, I simply opened up the search capability on Twitter during American Idol and Ford was, really, it was one of the first sponsors of American Idol and you ran music videos, I think, that they made with the stars, and obviously put them in the vehicles.
And I would just monitor for mentions of Ford. “Oh, Ford, your commercials suck,” “Ford, I love your Mustang.” And then I would reply from the Ford account and people would not expect that. Because they would expect Ford to just be out there talking about itself, right?
So that kind of engagement, that kind of dialogue and back and forth was completely unexpected, and yeah, it grabbed a lot of attention and got people to talk. And some of them would be stuck in their ways, would continue to hate Ford, and that’s fine. Others would start to pay attention to the brand, and that’s all you can ask at the end of it.
And in addition to those platforms, we had our own site, our own community, and we would track people who were the most engaged and active members in the community, those that had commented the most, maybe had submitted photos or stories, or had shared our information the most. And then we would create a pool of these individuals and invite them to the media preview days of auto shows, and we would set them up with some of our top executives. And it was literally a surprise and delight program.
And it was surprising to them when we did it for the first time. They had no idea that they would be the recipients of some sort of love from the brand, they were just expressing their love of the brand. And it made people want to be engaged even more.
And I think there are some people that they continue that relationship with the brand. There’s others that branched off from the brand and wanted to act with me as an individual who worked at that brand. And that was an even deeper level of sophistication and relationship. And it was a strategic advantage that Ford had for a long time. And again, it was all about, yeah, you can humanise the brand through actions, but putting a human face to it is a step further that not a lot of brands can do.
@LanceTheDriver1 Thanks for the love, Lance! 👍 No one wants dirty hands.
— Ford Motor Company (@Ford) February 16, 2016
What brands are doing social right and busting the myth?
Well, that’s a good question. I think as far as operating their owned media, their home channel, I think Coca-Cola does an amazing job on their Journey website. They’ve basically taken a traditional, corporate-led website, and they’ve turned it into just a journalistic powerhouse that’s got 360 degrees worth of content.
It’s not all press releases turned into stories, it’s looking at collectors and fans and things that Coke is doing to make the world a better place and delving into communities. It’s just a very content-rich site that’s got a variety of perspectives and angles to it. I think from an owned media standpoint, Coca-Cola is one of the leaders.
In terms of engaging with fans out there, I’ll just have to say I’m not funnelling every brand so I don’t see everything, but I know last year, Target had made some controversial decisions with regard to gender-specific, I think it was gender-specific bedding, that they were no longer going to separate boys and girls, it was just going to be children’s bedding. And a lot of angry Americans were going to boycott Target because they were doing away with this gender separation.
And there was a guy who switched his account name, I don’t remember what the guy’s name was, but he changed his Facebook name to “Ask For,” it was his first name, and his last name was “Help,” and he switched his profile picture to the Target logo.
And then Ask For Help started replying to these idiotic rants that people had on the Target Facebook page. So it looked like it was a Target customer service account going in there, and basically telling people that they were full of crap, and Target didn’t want them anyway. Basically saying everything that a frustrated customer service representative would want to say in a situation like that. Until the account was identified and pulled.
And Target just sat back and let it happen. And then after 24 hours went by, and the account was yanked, Target posted on their own site, pictures of these little Troll dolls that used to be big in the ’70s and ’80s and they said, “Trolls are back and only at Target. Available this week.” They basically made fun of the fact that their hateful audience had been trolled by someone who beat them at their own game.
Who’s racing ahead in the automotive space?
Yeah. Well, I think, and I can say this now because I’m no longer at Ford, I think General Motors is actually doing a phenomenal job, and it’s more than just how they are on social, it’s the way they’re taking the whole business. They actually made an announcement at the Consumer Electronics Show this year in advance of the Detroit Auto Show about their new electric vehicle.
Ford has been at CES for some eight years, and of course was there again this year. And GM came from out of nowhere and beat Ford at its own game. Their whole customer experience team there, their whole commitment to connectivity in the vehicle, and partnering with Apple Play and Google for the Android interface in the cars. They’re hitting, pardon the pun, they’re hitting on all cylinders over at GM right now with their entire product approach and their customer experience.
All these things are showing that GM is more attuned to and responsive to the way that the world is going. And I know Ford is taking its own approach too but it’s a more Ford-centric approach rather than one that’s adopting other services that people are already using.
What’s the next big thing?
I think the more things get sophisticated around technology and messaging apps and all the rest, I think the more we need to retain and understand what motivates humans, and what has motivated us for some 2-3,000 years. My favorite marketing quote is
“If you wish to persuade me, you must think my thoughts, feel my feelings and speak my words.”
And that was said 2,000 years ago by the Roman orator, Cicero.
And if you think about the profound implications of that, think my thoughts, feel my feelings, speak my words, that’s all that it takes for any marketer or communicator to truly get where they need to go. They need to understand their target audience and they need to speak in the words that those people are familiar with. And by doing so, they’re going to make themselves more well respected, more liked, more trusted and ultimately have more attention.
Follow Scott on Twitter @ScottMonty.