TNS Digital Life: behind the headlines


TNS’s Digital Life report grabbed attention last month with headlines such as ‘UK Facebook and Twitter users reject big brands’ marketing’ (it was almost as if you could see the invisible hand of Sir Martin at work). Having cut my teeth in the world of PR, I know a good old-fashioned survey story when I see it and was keen to read more of the report to see what lay beneath these headlines:

The research, which polled more than 72,000 internet users globally about their ‘Digital Life’ claims to be the largest global study into people’s attitudes and behaviours online.

The main source of the rather alarmist headlines surrounding the report seems to be the statistic that that 57% of people in developed markets say they do not want to engage with brands via social media, rising to 60% in the US and 61% in the UK. Which, let’s face it, is an understandable response to the direct question they were asked.

Yet, when you dig deeper, the report has some very sensible things to say, starting with the caveat:

Brands need to reconsider who their audience is and how to go about building a relationship with them, on the equitable terms that consumers now demand. The power of social media in this context is dependent not only on listening properly but also on responding appropriately. Connecting with a brand online creates a potential direct channel for that brand to communicate with consumers. However, it remains important to ensure that these messages are targeted and appropriate, to avoid both alienating consumers and adding to the cacophony of noise.

Moving on to point out that social media use:

is motivated by our innate desire to socialise. Yes, this also offers opportunities for brands to ‘join the party’ of socialization enabled by digital channels – but we need to be thinking more carefully and specifically about what the brands wear to the party, what time they arrive, whom they speak with when there – and when they leave!

Once you get deeper in, despite the headlines, TNS hints at what any sensible social media marketer would have already been able to tell you:

Over half the consumers surveyed in Digital Life say that they comment about brands online in order to share content from the brand with their network. Driving advocacy and endorsement through this sharing relies on brands understanding consumer motivations and tapping into their willingness to pass content along. Content needs to be appealing enough for people to believe that they will be adding value to their networks through sharing. Over a third of people, globally, agree that the Internet helps them to pass on news and events to others and getting that content right presents a major opportunity. Brands that develop content that resonates with their target audience see their efforts amplified manifold as they tap into the consumer desire for expression and connection.

Beyond securing a ‘like’ or ‘+1’, getting a consumer to engage with a campaign, creating and sharing their own content within frameworks defined and facilitated by the brand reaps significant benefits. This theme comes through strongly in our conversations with CMOs, who understand that participatory campaigns really do provide opportunities to strengthen engagement and drive advocacy.

And that:

consumers don’t talk about brands solely to complain: 61% will make a comment about a brand in order to praise, Whilst the impact of a negative review does have a greater impact on how consumers feel about a brand, this somewhat offsets the 53% who will comment in order to complain. Maintaining these active, engaged brand communities – whether owned or earned – who feel that they derive genuine benefit from their participation, can drive advocacy. Engaged brand communities tend to dispel negativity that they consider to be unfair, in order to protect the community that they value. The benefits to a brand of creating these self-sustaining communities are clear.

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Later on the report even goes on to say:

Across most markets there is a trend for consumers to want to ‘keep up to date’ with their brands of choice. […] One thing is certain; this tide of demand for more cannot be turned. The response should be to open-up, provide more and remain the source of that information, before consumer- generated and boot-legged material takes its place.

And concludes with:

Brands need to understand the attitudes and motivations of consumers; why they choose to signal their affiliation to a brand and how to make the most of this to ensure a strong online presence. Within this “noisy” environment, it is not about volume of commentary, but securing high-quality endorsement from influential corners.

In this environment, brands need to go back-to- basics, evaluate their role and what they offer consumers, beyond their core product offering. Brands that focus on adding value by facilitating content and extending their services to increase the time a consumer spends with their brand are seeing stronger engagement.

Consumers continue to access a multitude of fragmented touchpoints during their path-to-purchase. At every stage of this journey, there is the potential for them to be ‘hijacked’ by negative commentary or reviews. To combat this, brands need to build connections earlier in the customer journey, strengthening their relationship and minimising the risk that negative buzz can present. For any marketer it is important to understand the nuances of geography, category and target audience, building campaigns appropriately.

So, perhaps the headlines were wrong after all…