Are we all doing the same thing?

A few months ago, Razorfish published a report called FEED. The report outlines findings from a comprehensive survey that polled 'highly connected' US internet users and asked them a variety of questions dealing with their branded online experiences. It is a fairly quick read (for a Razorfish deck) and contains some good stats for anyone in an agency to be aware of.

Here are some that have got me thinking:
  • "40% of consumers "friended" a brand on Facebook or MySpace"
  • "37% of consumers who "friended" a brand on Facebook or MySpace did so for the deals"
  • "26% of consumers have "followed" a brand on Twitter"
  • "44% of consumers who follow a brand on Twitter do so for the deals"
  • "70% have participated in a brand contest"
Deals, offers, promotions and social spaces. See the pattern here?

Let's look it another way, from the client-agency side of things:

CLIENT: "My daughter says that Twitter and Facebook are huge. We need a social strategy asap!"
AGENCY: "Got it. Facebook page and Twitter account will be up in two days."

...3 days later...

CLIENT: "Why do we only have 47 fans and 6 followers"
AGENCY: "(Sighing) It's a tough one. Let's get a promotion up there. Make people vote for stuff, upload content, create viral impressions. Then we will own Facebook and Twitter."

(high fives all around)

Of course we all know the next part of the story because we all have either been the agency or the client in this situation. I certainly have been. The contest gets run. People engage, metrics go up and the feelings about the brand are generally positive. It was a success, albeit a small one when compared to what Apple or Nike are doing, but still.

If 2010 is truly going to be the "Year of Social" than social network users are going to have to brace themselves for the 365 / 24 / 7 contest schedule that is about to happen.

And this brings me back to the Razorfish stats. A huge portion of respondents clearly stated that the reason the engage with these brands is via a promotion. But is that because they like the contests or because every brand uses a promotion as the "carrot" for the consumer to join their community?

What about adding real value vs. buying fans on an ongoing basis?

Many brands have been successful on the real value front and, guess what, they're brands that typically have strong positioning, creative and (surprise!) products. They might create cool tools, connect with you new people who share your passion for the brand or simply show you new ways to use the products that they already know you love. Sure, they throw in competitions and promotions in every once and a while but the pages are about enhancing the brand experiences, not just giving away more free stuff.

My point? In 12 months almost every major brand will have a page on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, WordPress, Foursquare and whatever else that their appointed 'social media expert' advises them on. They will go there without a real strategy or a plan but just to connect with their consumers where they are.

The problem with that approach? Consumers are busy, they're being spammed by their own friends so that they can try to win some contest and they are generally tired of seeing 'Become a fan to win' messages every time they buy something online.

Brands who use social to augment their positions and create holistic experiences will win a piece of our attention. They will break through the clutter and the "EVERYTHING MUST GO" mentality of the other 80% and meet their objectives. I don't think that many brands can achieve this type of success and most need promotional elements to drive engagement.

But I do hope that every brand thinks beyond the contests and challenges themselves (and their agencies) to create strategies and ideas that don't hinge on paying consumers to engage with them.