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.

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Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Luc Legay