Allow me to elaborate.
I’m a HUGE fan of a particular consumer brand’s content marketing. It produces exceptional content that is entertaining and continually resonates with the audience – I find it captivating, even mesmerising at times.
It also does a great job of sourcing content from its community and incorporating it within its efforts, and invests a great deal in getting out and about on the road with its consumers.
So, why would I press the unfollow button?
In the years that I’ve followed, mentioned, tweeted and blogged about the brand, I’ve not received one reply. In fact, the only reply I received was from a local store that stocks the brand after I posted about it (an excellent piece of real-time marketing and communication – hat tip David Meerman Scott).
I don’t know if I’m being over-sensitive or expecting too much of the brand here, but after all the mentions and shout-outs, it makes me wonder how much they care.
As Laurel Papworth discussed in this great post, online communities have their own unique relationship to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (check out the great table comparing needs of online and offline communities in Laurel’s post).
In this case, my contributions would relate directly to ‘social’ and ‘self-esteem’ needs. That is, belonging to a community and being recognized accordingly for those contributions.
The strange thing is, even if I do unfollow the brand on Twitter, I can’t bring myself to unlike it on facebook; such is the quality of its content and posts in this space. Even if the posting is more representative of a straight broadcast model of content distribution without replies or discussion, I find myself unable to turn away.
Does that make me a social media hypocrite? Can I continue to advocate for community but still like a brand that hasn’t responded to my calls for engagement and fulfilled my hierarchy of needs?
More importantly, what does that say about the relationship between content and community?
In an ideal scenario, I believe in the power of content and community to work together to achieve business and communication objectives. With regard to social tools, these can range from driving sales to servicing and supporting clients with questions and issues that may arise before, during and after the purchase process or product development.
Now I’m not privy to this particular brand’s marketing plan and KPIs, but it may just be that broadcasting posts across facebook, email and including strong calls to action in both is driving more traffic and sales than it planned for, and that its in-person events are a spectacular success.
However I can’t help but see this as a missed opportunity for the brand (and others who employ the same strategy) – an opportunity to build an organic community of connected bloggers, evangelists and consumers willing to help spark that next rave about the brand, and to support it through the good times and the bad.
An opportunity to connect even deeper with the people behind the brand and extend the experience more than before, and to grow product use, knowledge and sales further.
The problem is, while tools exist to monitor and evaluate leads, calls to action and sales for this marketing content, it’s harder to measure the value of missed opportunities.
Then again, when it has fans like me willing to subscribe to its feed and purchase its products despite the lack of response and community engagement (yes, I’ve tried a purchase boycott but failed dismally), perhaps it doesn’t factor into the strategy and resources.
Only time will tell whether this is a sustainable strategy for the brand.
Should I press the unfollow button?
What do you think?
Is content alone a sustainable marketing and communication strategy for ongoing growth without community?
Am I being a social media hypocrite by championing community but supporting and subscribing to a brand that doesn’t actively respond to or acknowledge me?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
This is an awesome comment Grant - thanks so much for taking the time to read and share your thoughts.
I particularly love your points about value, and agree that there's perhaps a little over-sensitivity here on my behalf. Also - the protest was pretty lame .. I just purchased another product from them after one of their mail-outs earlier this week. Why? Great design showcased through great content. I'm sure the brand tracked that process from email to video to online check-out through its enterprise social platform. What can I say?... I'm hooked!
Has a lack of response stopped me sharing the content? No. Would it stop others? I'm sure it varies for each individual.
While I don't write about brands for a digital hat-tip, I think a simple 'thanks' sometimes helps to solidify the connection between brand/consumer and the wider consumer experience, and perhaps there are some individuals who would switch off or disconnect without some form of acknowledgement or effort on the brand's behalf to engage.
Whether we think that the move to unfollow based on a lack of response/acknowledgement is an ego-centric move on the behalf of the consumers or not, these fans can have an impact on the bottom line. Case in point - I first discovered this brand through content a friend of mine shared via Facebook, and have since spent over $1,000 with the brand in 18 months. Another friend of mine saw my products, heard my testimonials and thoughts on the brand and has since spent even more with them (he also loves to share the same content with his social circles who have similar hobbies and recreational interests). Now, when you're a predominantly online business (which this business is), that's a powerful cycle of content and commerce. Sure, I'm still purchasing from and engaging with the brand, but if you have fans that consistently share the message and drive leads and purchases who switch off it might be a very different story.
Of course, not all fans will engage, share and purchase in the same fashion. Lucky for brands and communicators, enterprise social solutions and analytics services (Google etc) are now beginning to offer reports that track behaviour from social platforms through to pages and purchase. The result? We can now begin to not only identify the influencers and evangelists, but discover the transactions and financial value they deliver to the business, and scale brand investment and engagement accordingly.
Yes, not all brands have the resources to execute 'full engagement,' but understanding and analysing the value of this engagement presents the opportunity for agency and in-house communicators alike to scale and manage their efforts in line with wider strategies tied (hopefully) to business objectives of the client/organisation.
If the resulting resources give communicators and community managers the opportunity to listen to and give out a few digital hat tips to their fans as the community (ideally) engages with and delivers value to one another, then I think that can only be a good thing.
Thanks again and look forward to catching up in Melbourne.
I think you're asking a great question from the perspective of exploring the theory of the social web, particularly when considering how individuals employed by a brand (or its agencies) will react to inevitable switch-offs from some of their fans/followers. From a humanist perspective though...surely you're over-thinking it? I say that purely because I don't believe you're actually either offended or put out, but rather analysing the situation from a rational perspective :)
Case in point: I love The Family Guy. If I'm near a TV and it's on, I'll probably watch it, but I won't run home to meet with scheduled programming. That would be a) impractical and b) an indictment on me as a sentient human. But I don't protest against it by switching channels just because it's on at an inconvenient time for me.
Brands that use social channels as a broadcast platform will annoy people, sure. But outside of the mouth-foaming rabid marketing/online wonkery elite, who actually cares? Switch off, fine, but if you're still buying their stuff then it's a pretty lame protest. If you stop buying their stuff because they don't reply to your tweets...well, that seems a little overly sensitive since their primary specialism should be making stuff you want to buy (conversely, just because someone's nice to you on the internet is no reason to buy their stuff if it's no good or no use to you).
And if you're absorbing their content, loving their content, and sharing their content, but not actually buying their stuff, then what's your actual value to them? Do they have an online sales facility that your sharing directs people to? Do your analytics tell you how many of your own readers are clicking through to that sales facility? If the answer to either of those questions is "no", then you're not adding value to the brand merely by sharing content it produces, any more than if I told you a joke and you repeated it to your mates down the pub next Friday. I wouldn't thank you for that - why should a company? Just because they can see you doing it on the internet? It just means you're a nice bloke, not a valuable asset.
It could be argued that followers who engage with a brand with the intention of securing recognition from the brand are actually not operating at the level of Maslow's Hierarchy that you mentioned. The emotional need for connection with that random stranger/company isn't ego-centric or self-actualisation; it's a much more fundamental need for socialisation and acceptance amongst a community group. Relationships are created on the basis of shared value. If the parties in a relationship feel the value is inequitable, the relationship fractures and ends. It's the nature of human interaction, and it's why the precocious four-year-old who must be the centre of attention is adorable, why the class clown is hilarious, and why the office joker is a pain in the arse. As we grow we ameliorate the need for the social acceptance of strangers through more secure, established relationships. The internet shouldn't be a proxy for that, and I'd argue it's not the responsibility of corporations (or anyone else online short of a professional counsellor) to fill the gap. Fans and followers should make grown up decisions about what's right for them, and brands should make decisions about what's right for their own interests. Full engagement is labour and resource intensive, and if you have thousands of people tuning in and only a fraction of them demanding attention in return, it may not be a sensible business decision to invest in the resources to do that. Conversely, if being a social business is fundamental to your commercial success, then it probably makes sense to spend the time.