It’s all about audience, right?

Whether you’re a newsmedia company, a business, or an association like INMA, the focus is on growing total audience and customer base.

Earl Wilkinson, executive director and CEO of INMA, recently reported to board members that there “are more eyeballs on INMA than at any moment in our 82-year history.” INMA’s online audience ( is up 30%. On the social media front, Twitter is up more than 200% and Facebook more than 150%. The numbers look good, so why aren’t we satisfied?

We want more. We want to engage our audience — get them to respond, click on a link, or like us. Just like our members — and other businesses — we want to take advantage of social media to engage our audience and achieve the “customer intimacy” that results in brand loyalty, advocacy, and increased customer lifetime value.

A new white paper from the IBM Institute for Business Value, “From Social Media to Social CRM,” suggests our expectations for social media might never be met, as our desire for customer intimacy is clouding our perception of what customers really want and expect from their use of social sites.

IBM conducted social media research with 1,000 consumers and 350 business executives in 2010, with some surprising results. The research revealed that while most executives believed consumers were motivated to engage with brands on social media to feel connected or part of a community, most consumers indicated they were motivated by the opportunity to obtain tangible value.

In fact, the study found the No. 1 reason for consumers interacting with businesses via social sites was to obtain a discount or coupon. “Feeling connected” or “being a part of a community” were at the bottom of the list of reasons for interacting with businesses or brands via social media.

The traditional approach to customer relationship management, i.e. managing customer relationships, doesn’t work well with social media or the digital world where consumers call the shots. The IBM white paper suggests that instead of managing customers, the role of the business (in social media) should be to “facilitate collaborative experiences and dialogue that customers value.”

In a nutshell, with social media it’s all about friends and family, not businesses or brands. We’ve learned that here at INMA. Our members are more interested (based on measurable results) to interact with a post from Earl Wilkinson on our Facebook page or via Twitter than a general post from INMA. With social media, people are more likely to follow people (personal brands) rather than companies, products, or service brands.

The IBM research study revealed only 5% of consumers using social media respond or author a post, 75% occasionally respond or post, and 20% never respond or post. To put this in perspective, the white paper goes on to state that “less than half of a business’ customers are likely to interact with them via social media.” Not exactly encouraging news for those of us focused on using social media to engage customers.

So what’s a newsmedia company — or an association — to do with social media to increase customer engagement?

  1. Focus on providing customers with value. That includes discounts and coupons, the opportunity to purchase products/services, product information, contests/promotions. Recognise that consumers expect something in return for investing their time and attention and/or sharing their information.

  2. Personify your brand. A great example is the use of social sites for columnists. Remember, people follow people on social sites, not companies or brands.

  3. Establish realistic expectations — and match investment to potential ROI — when using social media to increase customer engagement.