facebook-failIt’s pretty rare now to find an organisation that isn’t spending a decent amount on social media, whether this is hiring personnel to manage their social presence or investing in social advertising, monitoring and so on.

What’s more, this trend is growing, with organisations devoting an increasing proportion of their resources to social media.  A new report suggests though that most of this work is falling on decidedly deaf ears.

The 2013 Optus Future of Business Report reveals that whilst many companies are investing heavily in social media, most customers simply aren’t engaging.  They found that just 4% of consumers are using social media to connect with companies.

That isn’t to say that people aren’t going online to engage with companies, just that they’re not doing it via social media.  Some 42% of consumers reported that they regularly use the web to engage with companies, with that rising to 56% over the next few years.

2/3 of consumers revealed that they regarded talking to an actual person as important when engaging with a company, with 44% saying they received better customer service via this route.

The researchers suggested that a major reason behind this ambivalence to social was that too many companies are using social media simply to pump marketing messages at consumers.

“Consumers may still see social media as a relatively private communication tool for peers, friends, family. Not something they expect to use as an interface to connect with businesses.” the researchers said.

“People go to these networks to communicate, rather than to be marketed to by brands. In terms of marketing, enterprises need to have highly integrated campaigns, large-scale interactive campaigns which interest consumers,” they continue.

Online communities

As with much in the social world, you can learn a lot from past experiences.  Online communities have existed for years across various platforms, and there is much they can teach ‘marketers’ that are flocking to social networks.

Forums have always been fantastic places for gathering people together around a common interest, and that is still very much the case today.  Savvy companies have tapped into this and have built communities for their customers and other stakeholders to get involved.  Some use them to provide customer support, some to gain input into new product design or to improve processes.

For those things, communities are great.  Most community managers will tell you however that advertising to communities generally doesn’t work.  Indeed, most managers will quickly brand members that try to advertise as spammers and remove them from the community.  It should be no different when the spammer in question is the owner of the community.

Brands, and social media professionals, would do well to remember that social media is about the customer, not about the company.  Only if that disparity is corrected will we see customers turning to social communities for help rather than going to more mainstream channels.