By Daniel Hunter
International research conducted by global communication experts Pitney Bowes, has explored the changing attitudes towards social media over the past two years.
The survey revealed that 60 per cent of consumers in the UK would abandon the likes of Facebook if mass marketing were to bombard their personal wall. It seems that the relationship between social media, brands and users is a delicate one which needs to be managed sensitively. Pitney Bowes stresses the implications of these research findings for SMEs and the value in differentiating between a targeted, personalised strategy and mass marketing.
This sentiment was echoed within European neighbours, France and Germany, with as many as 80 per cent of consumers in France claiming they would leave Facebook if brands began to dominate their online experience. Over three quarters of Germans felt the same way, demonstrating the international resistance to a proliferation of marketing and advertising across social networks. Furthermore, it is apparent that not only has consumer behaviour towards marketing on social media shifted, but social media platforms themselves have evolved. Pitney Bowes advises brands, and in particular the SME market, to manage this communication medium carefully in order to avoid any detrimental effects on consumer retention and uptake. If applied in a targeted manner however, there are huge benefits to be had; namely brand awareness and customer relationship management.
Colin Forrest, Head of Marketing for UK and Republic of Ireland at Pitney Bowes, said: “Our research also revealed that 40 per cent of consumers in the UK have doubled their usage of social media over the past two years. This illustrates how social media is an increasingly powerful communication tool, which must be utilized carefully by businesses in order to engage consumers.
“It is important that brands are savvy when it comes to social media and that they avoid overstepping the mark. Social media plays a hugely important role in the whole communications mix, so brands must ensure they step up and embrace the multitude of opportunities it offers them. In essence, getting the best out of traditional and social channels as a means to meet clients’ needs should be the key drivers when choosing the appropriate channel.
“In addition, there is no doubt that the explosion of smart phone usage created a fantastic digital communications channel for SMEs, with one important caveat; it must function as an integral part of business strategy, both as a means of drawing in new customers and also as a way of obtaining first-hand details of existing clients’ experiences to help them promote their business and their brand.”
Pitney Bowes’ latest international research should by no means disincentivise businesses from integrating social media into their communication strategy. Rather, it is important that businesses apply a targeted approach that appears personalised to their customer. This approach is particular valuable for SMEs, as it provides a mouthpiece for corporate opinions and creates the appropriate environment for a dialogue with customers. With increasing customer autonomy and competition in the marketplace, it is just as important for SMEs as it is for big businesses to accept that communication is no longer a one way street. Once these foundations are established, the potential benefits sought from social media are limitless.
In light of this research revealing that consumers in Europe would be turned off by excessive brand messaging, Pitney Bowes advises businesses to be cautious. Social media platforms face the risk of alienating existing users due to the invasion of commercial advertising and mass marketing. Although commercial advertising can generate short term capital, the long term future of social platforms relies heavily upon the ‘online community’. Therefore, a targeted and sensitive approach should be applied where necessary.
The growth of mobile devices create ease for the digital communications channel to work very well for SMEs — but they must place this as part of the strategy they have for their business and use it to draw new customers and ask existing customers to speak about their experiences to help them promote their business and brand.