Summary:

Companies blitzing consumers with messages on Facebook and Twitter in a frantic attempt at engagement are about to learn a tough lesson: It’…

Social Media
photo: Corbis / Oliver Burston

Companies blitzing consumers with messages on Facebook and Twitter in a frantic attempt at engagement are about to learn a tough lesson: It’s a lot easier to get people to Like and Follow you the first time than to win them back after they’ve un-Liked and un-Followed you.

The mystique of Twitter and Facebook is causing a momentary lapse of reason, with businesses acting first and addressing “the why” at a later point in time, if at all. Without careful consideration and strategy, a great wave of stream fatigue — or far worse, customer unlikes and unfollows — will befall unsuspecting businesses in social media.

While many brands are designing editorial and engagement programs to encourage consumers to “Like” and follow profiles, view videos, submit user generated content, consumers are simultaneously struggling to find signal against the noise, grappling with stream fatigue and sometimes an overwhelming sense of over connectedness.

The more discerning consumers are learning that tuning out is merely temporary relief for misdiagnosed symptoms and not a fix to their bigger problems. Once they realize that streams are programmable, they’ll find that the only cure rests in unLikes and unFollows. This constant modification sets the stage for an important shift in the balance of power between brands and consumers. In social media, it’s less about caveat emptor and now about caveat venditor, let the seller beware.

This is more true than ever before, especially in light of Facebook’s chatty OpenGraph development platform. Mark Zuckerberg refers to the new movement as Frictionless Sharing. Others worry that it will spark frictionless frustration. As brands and developers experiment with sending automatic updates into the stream, friends and friends of friends will be subjected to a relentless series of action verbs in their timelines…

“Sarah Perez listened to Foster the People on Spotify”

“Robert Scoble read Whoops I didn’t mean for you to read this on Washtington Post Social Reader.”

People are genuinely worried that they’re going to either spam or be spammed and, of course, the temporary debate about privacy emerges once again.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a bold move by Facebook and executed properly, it will increase interaction around common interests and ignite peer-to-peer commerce simply by sharing or reacting to activities. But the first update to many of these Frictionless Sharing apps will be that of a mute button until developers and consumers can find the balance of what’s worthy of sharing and consuming.

Even before the OpenGraph, stream fatigue was already endemic among friends and also their favorite businesses. A friend of mine conducted an interesting social experiment earlier in the year. What Andrew Blakeley wound up uncovering were signs that brands are, in fact, not considering consumer experiences outside of direct brand engagement. Blakeley assumed the role of a consumer and set out to Like every brand that presented an opportunity to connect on Facebook. Ranging from email requests and web sties to TV and print advertising and real world shopping, Blakeley Liked a total of 46 brands in one week.

Out of the gate, Blakeley observed that only 10 out of the 46 brands offered a reason why consumers should Like them. Once liked, the experience only degraded. Aside from an occasional contest, he felt largely unrewarded. Most notably, he learned that the online experience for consumers was undefined or uncharted, leaving consumers to fend for themselves to find relevance within the engagement without any reinforcement to brand value or story.

Andrew summed up his experience quite humbly, “My week as a social consumer left me tired and confused. It left my Facebook newsfeed so crammed with nonsense to the point that I could scroll entire pages without seeing my friends.”

As the old adage goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. In social media, you don’t get a second chance to re-earn a Like or Follow once it’s gone.

In a study published by Exact Target in June 2011, the meanings of Fan and Like in Facebook were scrutinized. The company found that while businesses believed that consumers who Like brand pages were truly fans of the company, only 42 percent of consumers agreed that marketers could interpret a Like as such. In fact, 33 percent are indecisive and 25 percent disagree that Likes mean that they are fans or advocates of the brand.

Every business will eventually realize that the hype driving today’s social media is only momentary. It’s not a miracle drug that cures the ails of faceless broadcast marketing. Customers are already demanding a more useful and beneficial approach to engagement. The question is, can you deliver it in and around your strategic campaigns?

Brian Solis is a principal at Altimeter Group, a research-based advisory firm in San Mateo, Calif. , His new book, The End of Business as Usual, examines the emergence of a new generation of consumers, why businesses are missing the mark, and how to adapt to survive digital Darwinism. Follow him on Twitter @briansolis and YouTube.

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