Why Consumers Follow Brands on Social: Understanding Motivations & Perceptions

By Beverly Wright, PhD in Analytics & Information on May 7th, 2015

We sat down with our VP Analytics Director Dr. Beverly Wright to discuss her findings from a recent study on consumer motivations for interacting with brands on social media. Here are her top 4 takeaways and learnings for brands to apply to their social media strategies with advanced analytics.

Advanced Analytics Data and Social Media

I was recently scouring the academic literature in my quest to satisfy my curiosity about why consumers follow their favorite retailers on various social media outlets. A few articles surfaced about “Corporate Social Media”, which is defined as any brand or corporate entity using social networks to reach customers, and the importance of creative elements, great content, and compelling offers, but I was hoping to learn about the barriers and motivations for why consumers follow brands on social, and what makes them tick. Not a single academic article found gave this sort of view, so I took on the task myself and decided to collect this information, analyze the data to get the insights, and illustrate the results for a conference.

WHY DO USERS FOLLOW (OR NOT FOLLOW) BRANDS?

With the help of a few colleagues, I started with two focus groups to get some exploratory findings and better understand the questions to quantify and issues surrounding this subject. The participants were highly engaged in the process. They brought forth more information than we anticipated, describing how relationships with brands are formed and how communication happens, with both unidirectional and symmetrical relationships, and for all kinds of reasons. They also talked about reasons for not following brands on social, and how these barriers presented themselves for each group.

IS YOUR SOCIAL CONTENT TOO INSTRUSIVE?

One point that stood out was the perception that businesses were almost an intrusion on their personal interactions with friends and family. They shared what kinds of updates were in their newsfeeds, and mentioned pictures of baby nieces, scores of hilarious cats from neighbors and friends, and plenty of selfies; however, certain consumers let their favorite businesses in for quick moments. Even though they felt the social space was clearly personal, they didn’t necessarily see it as private.

INSIGHTS TO OUR QUESTIONS

We decided to quantify these perceptions, and ultimately discover which explanations would emerge, so we created and distributed an online survey to graduate and undergraduate students from six universities to gather and quantify feedback.

Our analytics provided intriguing insights into how consumers viewed brands’ presences on social media, why they followed or didn’t follow, and the relative influence of communication with brands via social. Below are our key takeaways:

1. SOCIAL IS SEEN AS A SELF-EXPRESSION TOOL

The term ‘social media’ was seen as synonymous with the particular social platform they used most. For some consumers, this means Twitter, and for others, it means Instagram. Interestingly, consumers didn’t seem to see ‘social media’ as the umbrella term representing a suite of many individual networks the way one might expect. Additionally, social media was largely perceived to be used primarily as a vehicle for portrayal of the self. This outward focus that seems to scream ‘look at me’ came out of the focus group findings as well. The receipt and inward look at others did not seem nearly as important to consumers.

2. SOCIAL IS ABOUT PERSONAL CONNECTIONS

As far as other overarching perceptions, probably the most important definitional concept was that social media, while digital, is still a highly personal means of making connections. These connections were seen as mostly social, with only about 5% even mentioning that social media can also include connections with businesses as well as professional  contacts.

3. USERS FOLLOW BRANDS FOR DEALS, BRAND AFFINITY AND FOR PRODUCT RECOMMENDATIONS

Consumers reported to follow brands on social for three primary reasons: 1) to receive special offers, 2) to show support, and 3) to inform and suggest products to others. Some of the comments about ‘following’ were interesting to note. For example, one consumer commented on the notion of following with this statement: “[Like] buttons are sheep buttons. By pressing the button, you assert that you are a follower and are happy to do so.” Others saw following as another means for connecting socially: “Since I like it, I want to spread it to everyone. If any of my friends goes to the restaurant, we can share the feelings. We can have more things in common.”   

We also heard a number of comments about the match between a brand’s personality and the individual’s personality. Consumers with a sense of similarity between their values and character with those of certain brands had fewer reservations about following that business on social media. The top reasons for not following brands included a fear of unwanted communication, unappealing content, and a fear of businesses selling personal contact information without permission.

4. SOCIAL’S INFLUENCE ON PURCHASE DECISIONS

We were fascinated with the fairly high stated levels of influence of brands’ social media on purchase decisions. Over half of the respondents claimed that they are likely or very likely to make a purchase as a direct result of a company’s social media presence. While influence from brands’ social media programs still does not compare to the influence from in person word of mouth, it trumps other forms of influence such as celebrity sponsorships, and is comparably close to television commercials.

Consumers’ responses and interactions with retailers and companies through social media are morphing all the time, and the development and execution of great social media content may serve as a source of tremendous growth and competitive advantage.

ARE YOU TAKING FULL ADVANTAGE OF YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS?

How are you motivating your customers to follow you on social? Are you offering engaging content, aligning your brand personality to your target audiences’, incorporating special offers or exclusive sneak-peaks? Let us help you develop an analytics plan to better understand how to grow your social media community and drive engagement with your current and potential customers.

Grow loyal social followers with advanced analytics.

CONTACT OUR ANALYTICS AND SOCIAL MEDIA EXPERTS TODAY!