Brands Face Stream Fatigue as Consumers Look Beyond Gimmicks in Social Networks

Brands Face Stream Fatigue as Consumers Look Beyond Gimmicks in Social Networks:

Part of an unpublished appendix for The End of Business as Usual

The mystique of Twitter, Facebook and Google+ causes a momentary lapse of reason where businesses are surprisingly acting first and addressing “the why” at a later point in time, if at all. Without careful consideration and strategy, a great wave of stream fatigue, social blindness or far worse, customer unlikes and unfollows in will befall unsuspecting businesses en masse in social media. It will come down to a vital, but fixable disconnect. Businesses are interacting with consumers to socialize rather than learn about customer expectations to in turn, deliver tangible value, improve product experiences, and invest in long-term relationships.

While many brands are designing editorial and engagement programs to encourage consumers to “Like” and follow profiles, view videos, submit user generated content, consumers are simultaneously struggling to find signal against the noise, grappling with stream fatigue and sometimes an overwhelming sense of over connectedness.

The more discerning consumers are learning that tuning out is merely temporary relief for misdiagnosed symptoms and not a fix to their bigger problems. Once they realize that streams are programmable, that social content and relationships require thoughtful curation, and more importantly, recognize when inbound streams no longer offer usefulness, they’ll find that the only cure rests in unLikes and unFollows.

Consumers, like businesses, are learning how to navigate social streams as they go. As experience matures however, building relationships within social networks will become a quiet, but important art of curation. People will select and fine-tune the relationships they deem worthy to improve the content that flows through their streams. People, brands, products, and apps will come and go. This constant modification sets the stage for an important shift in the balance of power between brands and consumers. In social media, it’s less about caveat emptor and now about caveat venditor, let the seller beware.

This is more true than ever before, especially in light of Facebook’s chatty OpenGraph development platform. Mark Zuckerberg refers to the new movement as Frictionless Sharing. Others worry that it will spark frictionless frustration. As brands and developers experiment with sending automatic updates into the stream, friends and friends of friends will be subjected to a relentless series of action verbs in their News Feeds…

“Sarah Perez listened to Foster the People on Spotify”

“Robert Scoble read Whoops I didn’t mean for you to read this on Washtington Post Social Reader.”

The first reaction on the business side is unfortunately that of excitement. Strategists are huddling right now devising ways to send updates to trigger the social effect to expand adoption, reach, and Likes!

The first reaction on the consumer side is a mixture of concern and annoyance. People are genuinely worried that they’re going to either spam or be spammed and of course the temporary debate about privacy emerges once again.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a bold move by Facebook and executed properly, it will increase interaction around common interests and ignite peer-to-peer commerce simply by sharing or reacting to activities. The first update to many of these Frictionless Sharing apps will be that of a mute button until developers and consumers can find the balance of what’s worthy of sharing and consuming.

Even before the OpenGraph, stream fatigue was already endemic among friends and also their favorite businesses. A friend of mine conducted an interesting social experiment earlier in the year. What Andrew Blakeley wound up uncovering were signs that brands are in fact not considering consumer experiences outside of direct brand engagement. Blakeley assumed the role of a consumer and set out to Like every brand that presented an opportunity to connect on Facebook. Ranging from email requests and web sties to TV and print advertising and real world shopping, Blakeley Liked a total of 46 brands in one week.

Out of the gate, Blakeley observed that only 10 out of the 46 brands offered a reason why consumers should Like them. Once liked, the experience only degraded. Aside from an occasional contest, he felt largely unrewarded. Most notably, he learned that the online experience for consumers was undefined or uncharted, leaving consumers to fend for themselves to find relevance within the engagement without any reinforcement to brand value or story.

Andrew summed up his experience quite humbly, “My week as a social consumer left me tired and confused. It left my Facebook newsfeed so crammed with nonsense to the point that I could scroll entire pages without seeing my friends.”

Andrew experienced stream fatigue first hand and the inability to keep up with the information that populates one’s social stream.

While brands are learning in public, it’s important to realize that earning a Like is far simpler than re-earning a Like once it’s lost. Similar to traditional online advertising, consumers can ignore marketing messages once in the stream. They can merely become immune to updates or worse, they will resort to unLiking and unfriending anyone who is taking away from the social experience.

In a study published by Exact Target in June 2011, the meanings of Fan and Like in Facebook were scrutinized. The company found that while businesses believed that consumers Like brand pages were truly fans of the company, only 42% of consumers agreed that marketers could interpret a Like as such. In fact, 33% are indecisive and 25% disagree that Likes mean that they are fans or advocates of the brand.

May I Have Your Intention Please?

With each day that passes, the social-savvy consumer will start asking brands for their intentions as requests for their allegiance escalates. Accordingly brands will have to give reasons upfront for why consumers should Like or follow them into social frontiers. Customers will want to know what’s in it for them before they open up their stream beyond family and friends. For brands, engagement comes down to understanding how to best deliver value to consumers in social networks.

The reality is that customers can and will cut ties with brands that do not take their best interests into account. Consumers are realizing that they have the power to reduce or eliminate stream fatigue by tailoring the relationships they maintain in each network. This is a new kind of power because in the past, they couldn’t manage/curate these brand relationships in the media they consumed.

Every business will eventually realize that the hype driving today’s social media is only momentary. It’s not a miracle drug that cures the ails of faceless broadcast marketing. Customers are already demanding a more useful and beneficial approach to engagement. The question is, can you deliver it in and around of your strategic campaigns?


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