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Marketers and Social Media: Cutting Through the Noise

Marketers of all kinds have been lured by the promise of social networking, and the ease with which they can set up Facebook pages and Twitter accounts for their companies and even their individual brands. But does any of that have a tangible effect on what they are trying to accomplish? According to a new report from Forrester Research, it often does not, primarily because Generation Y users are overwhelmed with Facebook friends, Twitter and MySpace accounts already, and it’s hard for marketing messages to cut through the clutter. Forrester’s advice? Make your content more interesting.

The research firm says its surveys show that the average Facebook user has 135 friends on the network, 107 friends on MySpace, and follows about 77 people on Twitter — but the younger Generation Y demographic that many marketers want to reach is even more overloaded: the average younger user has 220 friends on Facebook, 147 friends on MySpace and follows 86 people on Twitter (interestingly enough, Generation X users tend to follow more people on Twitter than Generation Y users, according to Forrester’s research). On an anecdotal note, I have spoken to several friends in the Gen Y category who have well over 500 friends on Facebook.

Sociologist Robin Dunbar has theorized that most people can only maintain meaningful social connections with 150 friends, although there are those who believe that social-media tools can boost that number substantially. Regardless of whether such users can actually follow or stay in touch with 200 or even 500 people through Facebook and Twitter and other social media, the reality is that there is a lot of noise in social networks. According to Forrester, only 18 percent of those surveyed have become fans or friends with a brand, only 6 percent have read a blog by a company or brand, and just 5 percent have followed a brand on Twitter; not a great indicator of success for Twitter’s new Promoted Accounts feature.

So how can marketers make themselves stand out? Try to come up with something interesting, says Forrester, like the recent Old Spice campaign:

It’s hard to find a marketer who doesn’t think his content is relevant. Sadly, most users disagree. Unless you’re blessed with genuinely unique content (like the first trailer for a hotly anticipated new movie) or a breakthrough creative idea (like Procter & Gamble’s “Old Spice Guy” campaign), you’re unlikely to successfully cut through the wave of social clutter.

The research firm says marketers need to target influential users who can help spread their message through social networks. “While users don’t always pay attention to marketers on social platforms, they do pay attention to each other,” says Forrester analyst Nate Elliott. “Twice as many people say they trust what they see on their friends’ social network profiles than trust what they see on marketers’ profiles.” Marketers also have to try to find the “sweet spots” in their target audience, where users have adopted social networking but aren’t completely overwhelmed by it. In some cases, Elliott says, using email or other traditional methods might even be better than using social networks.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Luc Legay

10 Responses to “Marketers and Social Media: Cutting Through the Noise”

  1. damos tverskyman

    so… essentially… it’s a media channel. and users treat “conversation” from brands as “advertising.” because it is. and they know it. and marketers don’t.

    where does this cognitive dissonance come from? arrogance? stupidity? ego? naivete?

  2. Increased communication may not lead to an increase in real conversation or even the amount of information being exchanged. It could be that the Intenet is causing us to reveal less as we realise how much can be shared.

  3. I think what’s tough these days for social media marketers is how to convert all those friends/fans/followers into buying customers. Many admit that engaging their community is a challenge like no other and with all these automation tools around, nothing beats real human interaction. I guess, it’s hard to know who’s genuine when you’ve got thousands to millions to reach.

  4. We did some research as part of a conference called Pivot which is a deep dive into the world of the young, gen Y consumer. While marketers plan to spend more money and resources on social media – their plans span beyond Facebook, Twitter and MySpace to emerging areas such as mobile marketing and location-based services.

  5. Nice article. Thanks for sharing.

    It’s true that social media is way over-hyped right now.

    But if you understand that social media is just ONE tool in the marketer’s toolbox, then you can get past the hype and generate real revenue.

    There are two keys to setting up, launching and running an effective social media campaign:

    1) You can’t “set it and forget it.” A good social media campaign requires consistent ongoing effort. Don’t delegate it to a summer intern.

    2) You have to track and measure the success of your campaign on an ROI basis. Only 16% of the Fortune 500 track their social media campaigns. Don’t be part of that 16%.

    All this (and more) is covered in my new book called “HOW TO MAKE MONEY WITH SOCIAL MEDIA.”

    It’s available at Barnes & Noble, Borders and on Amazon.

    Jamie Turner
    Author of “How to Make Money with Social Media”

  6. The key takeaway from this article should be that the numbers are the way they are because most companies have yet to figure out how to effectively utilize the power of social media.

    BBC News’ articledescribes in detail why this is so:

    “Web ventures like Klout and Peerindex…claim to be able to measure the influence Twitter users have on specific subjects.”

    That means finding tweeps that broadcast information to large audiences, regardless of the number of followers they have. Also, fear of sending the wrong message or spending money on campaigns without knowing exactly how to engage followers is the current hill to climb for businesses used to traditional marketing techniques.