social media researchAre you wondering what consumers expect from brands when it comes to social media?

A series of new reports answers this very question.

Consumers have strong expectations for how brands use social channels.

In this article, you’ll discover findings from studies to help you determine what consumers want to see from you on social media.

research on customer expectations for brands on social media

Check out new research to find out what customers want from brands on social media.

#1: You Better Be on Facebook!

Inbound marketing leader HubSpot asked 569 customers what social media presence they expect of any brand. In The Social Lifecycle: Consumer Insights to Improve Your Business, consumers report they expect brands to be active on at least three to four social channels.

hubspot data on consumer expectations

It can come as a shock that consumers expect brands to be engaged on at least three social media channels.

Specifically, 95% of Millennials expect brands to have a Facebook presence. Also, 87% of Gen X’ers (30- to 44-year-olds) and even 70% of those ages 45 to 60 think brands should, at the very least, have a Facebook page. While consumers reduced expectations by about 10% for Twitter presence, they dropped expectations even further for Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube and Google+. Only about 50% of those polled expect brands to have a presence on these social media platforms.

hubspot data on consumer expectations

Consumers take for granted that a brand will have Facebook presence.

Key Takeaways

Social channels are a sign of a company’s dedication to transparency, accountability and even customer service! Customers recognize this and expect to see a brand engaging with customers on Facebook. Even though “silent” customers may not add comments or likes (basically, VALUE) to a brand’s Facebook page, still . . . they’re watching.

Brands’ social media channels leave them open to consumer criticism. American consumers know this and therefore have more respect for companies that encourage feedback and respond in a timely and thorough manner.

What do customers want from companies on Facebook?

If customers expect a brand to be active on Facebook and possibly two or three other social channels, the next question is, what do they want from companies there?

A good way to determine this is to examine which companies have the most loyal social media following. LoudDoor’s August 2014 study, Top 20: Brands with the Most Loyal Fans on Facebook, gives us some insights on what motivates consumers to take time from their busy schedules to become brand advocates. Who are these “Top 20” brands and how did they make their fans so engaged?

top 20 brands by follower from louddoor

The top 20 brands with the most loyal Facebook followers from LoudDoor.

Posts from these brands cover:

  • Costco (1.2 million fans): Deals on items consumers need.
  • Ziploc (1.5 million fans): Holiday recipes like cakes encrusted with peppermint sticks crushed in Ziploc bags? Crafts and holiday decorations stored in . . . you guessed it . . . Ziploc containers.
  • St. Jude Children’s Hospital (1.7 million fans): Photos of children getting better.
  • Medela (247,000 fans): Baby photos and information to support breastfeeding.
  • Tide (over 4 million Facebook fans): Featuring the Scott twins, also known as the Property Brothers. Focused on clothes that can get really dirty like military, janitorial, construction and firefighting uniforms.
  • Reese’s Candy Company (12 million fans): Interesting desserts incorporating Reese’s products. Peanut information.

Most posts from these brands include something with the potential to enrich the reader’s life. As the LoudDoor study authors explain:

People respond to things that are relevant to them. Understanding the passions and interests of your advocates guides your understanding of what interests your most passionate consumers.

Key Takeaway

When brands deliver entertainment and enrichment on social media, they are rewarded with brand advocates and consumer goodwill. In this era when brands must skip direct selling and rely on brand advocates to market for them, social media channels should only tangentially touch upon a brand’s products and services; instead focusing on customers’ needs.

#2: Provide Actual Support Via Social

In their 2014 State of MultiChannel Customer Service report, researchers at Parature (a Microsoft company) asked 1,000 consumers whether they ever asked a customer service question via social media. Thirty-five percent responded that they had. Of these respondents, 51% reported that the brand’s response gave them a “somewhat more” or “much more” favorable view of the brand.

parature data on consumer use of social media

Parature found that 35% of consumers surveyed have asked a customer service question via social media.

Additionally, the HubSpot report mentioned in #1 above confirms consumer reliance on social media for communication with a company.

Of the HubSpot study’s 569 respondents, 50% reported they’d complimented a brand in the past 5 months, 35% complained about a brand and 30% requested support. Many populations, including those over age 60, are using social media to connect with companies to express their gratitude, get guidance or satisfaction.

edison data on consumer use of social media

Consumers used a brand’s social media channels to compliment, as well as complain and ask questions.

In the beginning of the social media revolution, many brands resisted establishing social media channels due to a fear of negative comments. The HubSpot study finds that consumers reached out on social media to compliment a brand more often than to criticize it (50% vs. 35%).

An Edison Research study found that not only do consumers expect companies to have social media channels, they expect them to be ready to respond quickly there. Forty-two percent expect a response in under an hour, 25% in the same day and 9% want it in 5 minutes!

hubspot data on consumer brand response expectations

Edison Research reports that consumers now assume that a customer service representative is on the other end of the social media channel, ready to respond to a question, complaint or compliment, fast.

Key Takeaway

Smart brands leverage consumers’ comments, compliments and even criticisms on social media to strengthen the brand’s image. Provide an easily accessed customer service and communication channel via social media to add to a brand’s credibility.

#3: Skip the Sales Posts

People do not go to social media to promote or be promoted to. They go to connect with friends, be entertained or enlightened and have fun. In the Social Lifecycle study from HubSpot, consumers admit that if there’s a product or service they need, the best place for businesses to reach them is through email marketing. Facebook is a distant fourth. LinkedIn and Twitter landed in fifth and seventh place with negligible numbers.

Gallup’s 2014 State of the American Consumer study echoes HubSpot’s findings. Study authors explain, “Social media sites are highly personal and conversational . . . consumers who use these sites do not want to hear sales pitches . . . This content should be original to the company and not related to sales or marketing.”

Gallup even goes so far as to state that companies betting on social media to boost sales will be disappointed.

gallup data on purchase decisions

The majority of Gallup’s 2014 State of the American Consumer respondents report that social media has no influence on purchasing decisions.

This reluctance to discuss purchases on social media even extends to consumers who bought items online. In other words, those who are comfortable buying and interacting online are still reluctant to discuss what they buy and why.

Key Takeaway

Despite the potential for connection with consumers social media seems to offer, consumers are there to interact with other people rather than brands. Social media is not an ideal channel for selling.

The Bottom Line

In 2014 customers don’t use social media to buy. That means brands must be in the entertainment business to some extent, delivering helpful and even interesting content.

It’s through this helpful and interesting social content that brands tell the story of their own identity so customers can determine whether they share values with the company.

Getting customers to develop affinity with a company turns them into the “fully engaged” customer. Gallup recommends companies shoot for this in the customer-centric economy.

Our data reveal that a customer who is fully engaged represents an average 23% premium in terms of share of wallet, profitability, revenue, and relationship growth compared with the average customer. In stark contrast, an actively disengaged customer represents a 13% discount in those same measures.

Gallup study authors further explain:

Fully engaged customers have a strong emotional attachment to a company. They act as brand ambassadors for this company, rallying on its behalf to friends, family, and coworkers, and going out of their way to purchase its products or services. Some might even say that they love that company.

Social media is an ideal place to foster and nurture emotional connections with consumers and to prove to that customer that the brand’s values are aligned with theirs.

In 2015 the most successful brands will use social media to carry their values and identity into the news feeds, hearts and minds of their social media audiences—not details of their specific products or services.

What do you think? Have you done research into your audience’s values and identity yet? Do your customers ever share about the products they buy on your social media channels? Do they expect you to answer their interactions quickly? Leave your comments or questions in the box below.

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  • luisgdelafuente

    “…brands must be in the entertainment business to some extent, delivering helpful and even interesting content.” I wonder if that´s feasible for SMBs, that is, for 99,99% of the businesses wordwide…

  • Costco is listed in the LoudDoor study as the brand with the most loyal fans, and the description of its posts is “Deals on items that consumers need.” There’s a disconnect between this and the Gallup and Social Lifecycle studies which report that consumers do not want sales and marketing information via social media.

  • “…brands must be in the entertainment business to some extent, delivering helpful and even interesting content.”

    This is a slippery slope.

    Brands need to be about convincing people that their products/services are the best choice, and given the land-grab for attention in today’s media landscape it is critical that content be entertaining, inspiring, etc. in order for people to deem it worth watching—let alone worth sharing.

    However, brands can’t lose sight of the actual goal; being entertaining or “engaging” is the means to an end, not the end itself. (But don’t tell the social media gurus I said that.)

  • Gaurav

    I kind of dont agree with the findings. Its based on a false assumption that consumers state what they want.
    1. This article treats consumers like marketing manager. Eg…I dont think any consumers will state they love watching ads on TV but still they love seeing the ones which create a story which is relevant to the consumers. I dont think asking consumers…. “do you expect brand to be on social media channel ?”…. is right in the first place.

  • SpectrumInsight

    It’s extraordinary that a company with Gallup’s reputation conducts research that asks consumers whether they are influenced by social media in purchasing decisions. Surely these guys understand that consumers’ cognitive responses have little, if any relationship to their actual behaviour, that purchasing decisions are based more on emotion than rational thought; and that none of us can tell how our emotional brain is behaving.

    Just as people believe advertising does not affect them, so people will claim that social media doesn’t influence their purchasing decisions. I’m afraid this research is pretty poor.

  • salcoombes

    It’s a tricky one because consumers DO they say they want deals, discounts, rewards… but the second a business offers such a deal, discount or reward… it goes in the “spammy sale-sy” slammer. I think it’s fair to say people don’t want promotions in their newsfeed, but they like to know the business page itself is a go-to for deals/offers/rewards. Strategy – businesses need to give their audience a REASON to come to their FB page. We need to kill the notion that it’s all about the newsfeed. Anyone with me here?

  • It’s definitely a shift back to how things were a few years ago on Social media. People don’t want to be sold so for your brand to stand out you almost HAVE to entertain to some extent. Which keeps your brand top of mind for when you do run an ad or post a link post to your site.

  • Exactly, Social media is not for buying & purchasing something. You can just build the relationship with the users & share your thoughts among there.
    Selling something in the social media is not a good idea, but, promoting user’s beneficial stuff is tend your business into success.

  • SpectrumInsight

    I’m sorry to say that any discussion about what consumers say they ‘want’ from social media is about as meaningful as consumers saying what they ‘want’ from advertising, for reasons explained earlier. The most important criterion for any communication to be effective is emotion, which traditional research methods cannot measure because they’re based on cognitive ‘answers’ to specific questions.

    It’s not actually difficult to understand and appreciate why this is the case given that the cognitive brain has only developed fairly recently over, say, the last 40,000 or 50,000 years. The emotional brain, however, developed over millions of years and continues to play the most important role in the human decision-making process for this very reason (this is why we find ourselves making an emergency stop and then realising shortly afterwards what we’ve just done while driving a car. The cognitive brain actually takes quite a long time to process information and react to it, by which time we’d have hit the person or other vehicle).

    What this does mean, however, is that engaging and entertaining people can be important, first, because it can drive emotions; and, second, because it can give the cognitive brain time to kick-in. So we can see the validity in both Luis and Hal’s points.

    The key point remains, however, that asking consumers what influences them in social media is poor research.

  • Thanks for the great post Suzanne! I found myself answer these same poll questions as I read. Happy to know that my clients and I are moving in the right direction. Happy New Year 2015!

  • SuzanneDelzio

    I agree that Costco’s content diverges from the others in that it’s mostly offering deals on items rather than lifestyle and values information. However, with most consumers making weekly or monthly trips to Costco already, the deals on items they would buy anyway does add value to their budgets. It’s a gray area.

  • SuzanneDelzio

    I agree that offering good helpful information can be balanced with Offers in the often-repeated 80/20 frequency.

  • SuzanneDelzio

    Interesting. Kind of along the lines of people SAY they hate negative political ads, but research proves they are certainly swayed by them. I stand firm that social media is a great place for companies to build emotion-provoking content that sends signals that a company values are in line with consumers’. After all, as Gallup found, some consumers will even admit they love a company. Create that bond and you have a lifetime customer.

  • SuzanneDelzio

    Thanks Steve! And Happy, goal-oriented New Year to you!

  • If consumers expect brands to have a presence on social. . . . After Facebook & Twitter the best overall market share across all age groups seems to actually be Google+. Is G+ the #3 social network to get the word out about your brand? Are we going to see more Millennials use G+. i tend to agree with @salcoombes:disqus” businesses need to give their audience a REASON to come to their Social pages”

  • SpectrumInsight

    The ‘likeability’ of an ad has been proven to correlate with its effectiveness, probably because likeability is a good proxy for the ‘happiness’ emotion, which is a strong driver of effectiveness. Interestingly, however, the opposite isn’t necessarily true, ie many people will claim they hate advertising and that advertising never affects them when their behaviour proves that it does. This is why the Gallup research is so questionable because asking people what they think is a very poor predictor of how they behave; and this typically happens without the person even being aware of it themselves.

    It’s important to say that there’s nothing remotely weird or mysterious about this. What is fascinating is that the human brain, amazing though it is, is actually very poorly suited to making decisions in today’s environment because our rational decision-making is so bad. I’ve no doubt some people reading this will disagree — ironically for the very reason that it doesn’t sound or seem rational.

    Taking political advertising as an example, the emotional pull of a candidate will be as highly influential as their policies. This is the problem that Ed Miliband has as leader of the Labour party here in the UK. Regardless of whether people agree with his policies many just “don’t see him as Prime Minister”.

    On a purely rational level this is ridiculous but at an emotional level it makes a great deal of sense when you consider that as hunter gatherers the very survival of a social group was largely down to the quality of its leaders.

    We completely agree, btw, that social media is a very powerful channel for building this emotional attachment with a brand; and it’s particularly compelling when the message comes from other consumers whom we inherently trust more than a brand itself. Again this can be explained by our primitive emotions — early humans were more likely to survive by following the example of those they knew and trusted even before language evolved, which in evolutionary terms was very recently.

    It is, indeed, very interesting. It’s also very powerful, which is why traditional research companies such as Gallup should be looking carefully at how they conduct their research!

  • I think it depends on your target market. If you target people who want to save money (as most of Costco’s customers are) then posts about deals will be perfect for them. So knowing your customers is the key as you can’t please everybody.

  • treb072410

    Thanks for sharing Suzanne.

  • Jenna Quint

    I don’t think there is any magic formula with social media. Different target demos respond to different content, and may have different expectations of a brand, depending on their perception of that brand.

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  • If customers do not want to hear sale pitches on social media, then why do they want to see brands there? What do brands do, other than to market their products to anyone who may listen?

  • That guy

    The notion that a brand should never sell on social media channels because, according to respondents, it doesn’t influence a customer’s behaviour is ludicrous. The study was flawed at it’s core, thinking that asking someone what influences their buying decisions would be accurately reflected in their ACTUAL behaviour.

    The fundamental principle stands, in the modern environment people don’t like to feel like their being ‘sold to’, but it doesn’t mean you can’t sell through social media channels in a VERY effective way.

  • abs nutrition

    We always have thought that social media is a good way to promote products but turns out is not that good way.

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  • MJ

    These are all great recommendations. But I am glad you said you must be on Facebook. Some younger brands or younger consumers may not see Facebook as relevant as some social channels to engage with friends/brands (meaning thats not the first channel they think of going to daily); however, they still highly expect it to be there. Nowadays, Facebook even acts as search engines for some consumers.

  • Lloyd Jones

    Great post Suzanne, thank you. This may sound so simple that it may be overlooked but I’d just like to add that if you understand your Brand and Brand Values in the first instance then building a successful social media presence will be much easier.

  • superseiyan

    Does some of this apply to non-profits or the public sector? It’s good but often social media advise is about “sales” and marketing products so I’m not always sure what to take from it.