Universal McCann’s latest “Wave” global report – which they claim is the longest running and largest study dedicated to social media – provides an essential statistical benchmark on the evolution of social media. The key findings this year are no surprise: the survey of thousands of global internet users confirms that social media remains an explosive, dynamic phenomenon that is changing how we interact, think, feel and behave. This particular study focuses on how brands are engaging with consumers in social media.

The big takeaway from this study is that data suggests there is huge demand for a more social, interactive relationship with brands online. Almost half of active internet users – who collectively visit social networks 1.5 billion times every day – are joining brand communities. This is occurring despite a steady decline of users visiting “official” company websites and the prominence of peer-to-peer brand recommendations. In short, consumers increasingly want to engage with brands in social media, but on the right terms. The key, according to the report authors, is to identify the kind of relationship users want with brands, and to create corresponding social media programs. Put another way, companies must understand the needs and motivations of consumers as a critical first step in their social media planning. The catch is that these needs differ widely by country, topic (or category) and audience – so brands should seek granular information on their target consumers to detail their habits and preferences. This approach means selecting the platform or network comes last, not first. And that doesn’t mean returning to the hard sell, which still remains anathema to many internet consumers.

Here are other highlights of the survey:

  • Social networks have become more embedded in our everyday lives as the range of online activities and frequency of usage continues to increase;
  • Social media use varies widely depending on geography and user demographics;
  • Users have a wide range of motives for accessing web platforms, and select different platforms for different purposes. (Again these motives vary widely by geography.)
  • Though penetration among 16-24 year olds remains highest, the 25-34 age bracket has seen the biggest jump in usage (from 52% to 70% in 3 years);
  • Social networks have become the main forum for social interaction, even bypassing face-to-face contact;
  • Content sharing continues to be popular, though it’s now occurring on a wider range of platforms;
  • Personal blogs and forums are losing some traction, but are also becoming more specialized and targeted. Micro-blogging, on the other hand, has quickly grown into a mass market activity;
  • There’s been a significant shift to accessing social media through mobile devices and applications;
  • On the brand front, primary reasons for joining brand communities (usually on social networks) include learning about the brand/product, getting advance news on products, and gaining access to free content.
The data in this study provides helpful context, and suggests there is great opportunity for brands to engage with consumers online. But the study also confirms the importance of doing your homework to understand the needs and habits of your target consumer, or audience. That’s not necessarily a new approach, but it appears to be more relevant than ever in the changing web environment.
Advertisements