By Colby Vogt and Ephraim Cohen
There has been a lot of energy expended on the question of whether consumers like or dislike, trust or mistrust, or even read or don’t read sponsored content. After almost a year of thinking branded content was even better than sliced bread, the collective wisdom (whoever that is) now seems to think we all got it wrong and there are lots of problems there. We’re not even sure social media is living up to the original hype of changing the communications and marketing worlds as we know them — all because of a few studies that seemed to be looking more for headlines than providing useful information. [Please read Cohen’s and Vogt’s Talking Point on whether recent research by Contently and Gallup was more hype than insight]
Here’s some more research, hopefully aimed at ascertaining more useful, if less sensationalistic, feedback, in which we asked consumers what they like to see from companies. We got back answers that seem to indicate that consumers actually have certain expectations about what they want from brands, including whether the delivery of that content via earned, owned or paid makes a difference.
What this research seems to make a little clearer and a good takeaway for companies is that there is a hierarchy of information consumers are looking for. But as with everything — from books to films, from journalism to cartoons, from art to advertising — consumers seem much less concerned with how they receive it than with whether the content itself is well conceived, well executed, useful and honest.
Below is a recent online study FleishmanHillard conducted using instant.ly. For the research, 511 adults, aged 18 and older, were questioned on July 14 and 15.
- Question: Please rank how much you value the following types of content that brands might provide you over social media or online websites with 5 being the highest and most desirable and 1 being the lowest.
The big takeaway here seems to be that while coupons (76%) and promotions (59%) still rank highly in the hierarchy of information a company can provide, consumers also value other forms of communications, including information on product recalls (68%) and product updates (55%) and suggestions on ways various products can be used (55 percent). Based on respondents ranking these 4 or 5 in terms of value
- Question: If a company has PAID for a sponsored post on a social channel (e.g. Facebook or Twitter) to share information with you about a product or service in which you are interested, does it change the value of the information?
According to these consumers anyway, whether a post is paid for doesn’t matter — at least not to 80 percent of them — who rated sponsored content as either more valuable or no more or less valuable than content that isn’t paid for.
- Question: How much does the SOURCE of content or information affect your willingness to take action (e.g., watch a video, share it with your network, visit a website, explore more about the topic)? Please use a 5-point scale where 5 means you are very motivated to take action and 1 means you are not motivated at all.
The big takeaway here not shockingly is that people trust people and organizations they like, with brands they like coming in third, ahead of media source’s social feeds and public figures or celebrities.
- Question: On average, how many times do you have to see a piece of content or information before taking an action (e.g., watch a video, share it with your network, visit a website, or explore more about the topic)?
Nearly four out of five people (79%) say they need to see something more than once before they’ll take action. On average, it takes 3.1 viewings to convince people to take action. Thus, some degree of repetition and even a steady drum beat of activity should be a given in any communications program on social media.
- Question: Do you value companies or brands that comment on current events and topics that are being actively discussed, whether or not it directly relates to their business?
In what may be the most surprising takeaway — if only because of the higher percentages — nearly half of consumers value companies that comment on current events and topics, whether or not it directly relates to their business. Only 21 percent don’t value this practice. Sixty-five percent of young adults (18-34) value this practice, while only 33 percent of older adults (45+) value this practice.
- Question: When thinking about the tone you want a company/brand to use when communicating with you on social media, do you prefer that the tone be: funny/humorous; informational; a mixture of both?
A majority of consumers prefer that a brand maintain a mix of information and humor in their social media posts, with informational valued by more than humor alone. Younger audiences (18-24) value humor more than older audiences. Older audiences (45+) significantly prefer informational over humorous tones.