As more companies turn to social media to learn about their customers and what they like, a new study warns they may not be getting the full picture.
Research from Vancouver-based customer intelligence software firm Vision Critical, released Tuesday, found that of a company's customers who use social media, roughly 85 per cent of all posts about the brand are generated by only about 30 per cent of the people. Of that group, an even smaller subset – the 8 per cent of users who are most active on social media – is responsible for more than half of all posts on social media.
The largest portion of a company's online audience, however, is composed of a group the report labels "lurkers," who post updates to social media once a week or even less frequently. Even though that group accounts for just 5 per cent of all social media updates, it represents the majority of the company's total audience.
The result is a major disconnect between what a company hears on social media and what its customers actually think.
"It's one thing to think about social media [as a means of] customer relations and another to think about it as [a means of] customer intelligence," said Alexandra Samuel, one of the authors of the report.
"You really can't treat social media analytics as a source of customer intelligence, except in very specific cases."
The report's findings touch upon a dilemma for both social media giants such as Twitter and the myriad companies and brands that rely on social media to interact with and learn about their customers. While billions of people use sites such as Facebook and Twitter to keep up with all manner of news and information, there's growing evidence that a minority of users actually generate that information.
"If that 30 per cent [of users who are most active] was reasonably representative of social media as a whole, it wouldn't be a problem," Ms. Samuel said. "The problem comes up because they're not representative."
The report found that the users who talk most online tend to be younger and more likely to make online purchases, based on the content they share and like on social media. The more enthusiastic group of users were also more likely to visit a big-box store to purchase an item they shared or liked online.
But the most enthusiastic users were also more likely to talk to their friends and family about purchasing decisions and preferences, making them a target group for the growing number of companies that have started investing heavily in social media marketing and analytics.
At the Canadian sports apparel and equipment retailer Sport Chek, for example, the social media team has focused on trying to get this group of users – known in the industry as influencers – to act as a kind of loudspeaker for the company's marketing campaigns.
Earlier this year, after the company realized it had begun its hockey campaign far too early in the season – when customers still had their minds on summer pursuits – Sport Chek designed a video featuring NHL star Sidney Crosby as a means to re-energize its customer base. The video was aimed primarily at Sport Chek's most vocal audience, the users who talk most often about the brand. And as a result of those users sharing the video, it became one of the most-viewed sports clips in recent months.
"Our first line is the influencers, and the only way to connect with them is through deep, emotional content," said Frederick Lecoq, senior vice-president of marketing at Canadian Tire, whose divisions include Sport Chek. "If it's not deep and emotional, it won't have reach."