Permission to Play: Activating Social Networks

Matthew Froggatt Matthew Froggatt
chief development officer, TNS Global

When we look at consumer behaviour, both in terms of current and emerging trends, and the level of priority being placed on social networks as a channel of connecting with consumers by brands, it is clear that the potential of social networks is far from realised.

According to a recent TNS survey of almost 50,000 mobile and PC online users across 46 markets, there are some clear lessons to be learnt, and opportunities for brands looking to increase their participation online.

The Global ‘Digital Life’ research project reveals:

Social networking grips the user and will continue to grow through new channels:
More than four fifths (86%) of online users have accessed social networks, with 46% of those doing so daily, and the average user spending 4.7 hours a week on these sites. More than a third (37%) expect their use of social networking to increase in the future, with 43% expecting their use on mobile to increase.

Social networks are about more than just messaging:
Three out of ten (31%) of social networkers have streamed media content through sites, a fifth (19%) have uploaded music and video to networks, 15% have downloaded apps and 14% have uploaded photographs. Social networks are able to satisfy more emotional needs than other platforms such as email, and so become the de facto ‘one-stop-shop’ for all digital activities.

Brands are already part of the conversation:
More than a quarter (27%) of social networkers have posted comments about brands online, while 31% have taken these comments into account when making a purchasing decision. Consumers in rapid growth markets are the most active in this space, with 48% in Poland, 47% in Malaysia and 46% in Brazil participating in conversations around brands. Put simply, brands are being talked about online, often without their knowledge or any role in the conversation.

Localising tactics against cultural attitudes will help to avoid consumer angst:
Only 9% of consumers in China find brand contact on social networks to be intrusive compared to 69% of consumers in India, and 43% in Sub-Sahara African markets. Brands need to be mindful of cultural nuances and ensure any that contact is personal and relevant, and ideally initiated by other consumers who are already engaged.

Understand the profile of your category consumers:
When buying PC, a third (34%) of online consumers will consider online reviews to help them make a purchasing decision, while only 12% of consumers will do so when looking to buy clothes. For heavily researched categories such as PC’s, brands need to ensure their social media strategy is in constant operation and linked to official brand channels. For lightly researched categories, brands should consider using social media to engage consumers by creating something they feel compelled to share.

Multi-media integration will be key to driving engagement:
Four out of ten (42%) of social networkers expect to increase their consumption of multi-media networks in the future. By contrast, only a quarter (26%) expect to do more micro-blogging. Multi-media delivers a richer social experience.

Final thoughts

The social web is now a part of business life, but it is relatively new and is continually changing in different ways and at different speeds around the world, and on different platforms.

Social media and networks present a fertile ground for brands who wish to grow their presence and engage with their publics online. However, recognizing the right way to do so is challenging. An out of date snapshot of how consumers are behaving in just one country is not enough on which to base a brand’s global digital strategy. New strategies certainly need to be determined to make smart use of these channels, to engage users and to inspire. But they need to be up to the minute and they need to be flexible. Ongoing research and monitoring is a must in this area above all.

Link to Global ‘Digital Life’ research project: www.discoverdigitallife.com

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