5 Common Misperceptions of Social Customers

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Black Friday 2015 has come and gone, and one trend dominated all others: more and more people are purchasing online rather than shopping at brink-and-mortar retailers. This trend isn’t particularly surprising, but it gives the Friday after Thanksgiving a bit of an identity crisis.

It also presents businesses a conundrum: the need to reach and convert online consumers has accelerated, yet much belief about digital and social customers is counter-intuitive.

In their book, “Think Like a Freak,” Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt describe an group of marketers who assert that video advertising is four times as effective as their print advertising. This is based upon comparative sales data between 49 annual print ads and three annual TV ads that run on Black Friday, Christmas and Father’s Day. In other words, TV ads only ran when people were most apt to buy stuff.

What I want to do in this “Cyber Monday” piece is to look at five common misunderstandings about communicating with and converting digital and social customers. My hope is that it may offer some perspective to keep you from coming to the wrong conclusions about the applications of digital and social media to communications and marketing.

1. There is not an all-encompassing “social media”


Black Friday 2015 was the most social Black Friday on record. You may take me at my word or accept the headline as written, but what does it mean? The actual data presented describes that year-over-year Twitter users are participating in more Black Friday promotions than in years past.

So let’s consider the applicability of this “social media” statistic by looking at Pew Internet’s latest estimates of Twitter and Facebook demographics:

Twitter Demographics

Facebook Demographics

“Social media” is an all-encompassing term for a group of platforms with some similarities, but how people use them is quite different. LinkedIn demonstrated this last month when they revealed that only one of four LinkedIn users is an active user.

The takeaway for communications and marketing professionals is that “social media” broadly applied has little practical value to the effectiveness of a particular platform (even data from Pew Internet is occasionally broad).

2. Customers want more than deals and discounts


Most days I might be thrilled to hear that businesses are giving customers deals and discounts on digital and social channels. Despite anthropomorphized brand automatons, inspirational quotes and 50 shades of “useful” articles, customers oftentimes want social and digital deals and discounts from brands that they opt-in to subscribe, fan or follow.

A great example of this can be seen at Kohl’s Twitter site, where giveaways and discounts receive 10-70 times the amount of re-circulation of other content.

This success may obfuscate another key reason that people choose to interact with brands, particularly on social media: customer care.

Take a look at Kohl’s Twitter replies and Facebook replies, and you’ll see that many customers use social media to resolve their issues with the brand. That’s because in late November and early December (as with Dubner and Levitt’s marketers), we tend to attribute unusually high purchase intent as proof of success.

Social care (customer service) continues to be one of the top reasons that people initiate social media interactions with brands. Facebook and Twitter understand this and have added features that enhance the capabilities for brands to perform social care with their platforms.

The takeaway for communication and marketing professionals is that social monitoring and care remains an important aspect of your digital footprint, and of your messaging.

3. Offline word of mouth is more powerful than digital word of mouth, but possibly correlative.


In his book, “Contagious: Why Things Catch On,” Wharton professor Jonah Berger describes that word-of-mouth has more of a causal effect on buying behavior than advertising. And he asserts (with pretty compelling research) that the most effective and frequent way that people recommend things by word-of-mouth is offline.

Which is not to say that something that generates strong offline word of mouth isn’t correlative to digital – quite the opposite. Berger describes six attributes that most “viral” word-of-mouth brands and products share:

  • Social Currency
  • Triggers
  • Emotion
  • Public
  • Practical Value
  • Stories

The takeaway for communications and marketing professionals is that digital isn’t an end-all. Marketing and communication plans should consider off-line components as well as online.

Want to learn how to include word-of-mouth marketing in your PR strategy? Get our free white paper!

4. Organic social media is an insufficient content delivery mechanism


How come you often see headlines like “How to increase your organic reach on Facebook” and not “How to reliably communicate to 3% of your social fans on Facebook?” The content in either article would be more or less the same.

The reason for this is that Facebook generates revenue by granting you access to your fans, and to targeted non-fans. Twitter probably would do something similar, but because people spend so little time on Twitter and because tweets are time-sensitive they can’t meter reach much lower than it already is (for more on this read here).

Because access generates profit for many social networks (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn as immediate examples), communication and marketing professionals should always consider allocation resource to paid advertising/reach.

In addition, email should be an important component of digital outreach as well. While the acquisition costs are generally higher than social, delivery rate, open rate and click-through rate for email is usually far superior to any social platform.

5. Social conversion isn’t especially common


If you read many online proselytizations, you might have the impression that social conversion is available to all who follow the right formula. Most data-based analyses dispute this, but social mythology tends to intimate that social customers are both free and available to purchase from you with the properly applied voodoo.

For most businesses, social media serves its highest utility as a customer service vehicle. Although there are notable exceptions, social conversion is difficult for most businesses to achieve. Most businesses construct sales funnels with social at the top, and still many have unreasonable expectations for social’s utility and (especially) its measurement (for more on rectifying that read here).

It should probably go without saying, but businesses should have reasonable, pragmatic expectations for social media. Social users (oftentimes) aren’t irrational actors, so it’s important to make sure that your social goals are congruent with your customer’s incentives.


As Cyber Monday concludes and we enjoy consumer analysis of the rest of the holiday season, hopefully this post is a reminder that digital tactics don’t cause seasonal consumerism. As Dubner and Levitt conclude: not enough people admit that they don’t have the answers.

PR and marketing professionals need to be pragmatic about their digital tools and tactics, and need to regularly measure their effectiveness.

As for the common misconceptions about digital social media, as William Shakespeare writes in “The Merchant of Venice”:

“All that glitters is not gold; Often have you heard that told.”


Tags : social media

About Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty is a featured contributor to the Cision Blog and his own blog, leaderswest. His areas of interest include statistics, technology, and content marketing. When not writing, he is likely reading, running, playing guitar or being a dad. PRSA member. Find him on Twitter @jimdougherty.

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