Is business missing the point?

This week’s reading covers a topic many of us are keenly interested in, and one which I don’t believe business or academic researchers really have a grasp on, largely because of its continually evolving nature. M.A. Hodis, R. Sriramachandramurthy and H.C. Sashittal’s article Interact with me on my terms: a four segment Facebook engagement framework for marketers looks at a sample of Facebook users and segments them based not on their demographics, as Facebook advertisements do, but on the way that they use the medium and what psychological benefit they gain from it, as illustrated in the figure below:

Hodis et al

This is an interesting approach to segmentation and I agree with their assertion that “The four-segment approach is not about choosing a segment and targeting it better, but rather about understanding that all four segments are present in the brand’s existing audience and need to be engaged with, and that each segment has very different preferences and motivations for engaging with the brand.”

However, I would caution setting these segments in stone as they are based on a relatively small number of responses from US business school students – two focus groups with a total of 25 students aged 19-23 and a qualitative survey of 65 students aged 19-27 – whereas as we learned in The Beginner’s Guide to Social Media 65% of Facebook users are over 35 and the average age of a Facebook user is 41. Therefore, some of the traits exhibited (particularly by the Attention Seekers and Connection Seekers) may be more closely linked to a younger person’s need for peer approval and support for their self-esteem than their status as a Facebook user.

The best insight I found in this article has very little to do with effectively targeting consumers, but in reconsidering ‘why’ your brand is on Facebook. Hodis et al conclude that, “Given our findings and the fact that Facebook advertisement costs have more than doubled in recent years , marketing communication efforts in Facebook would be better served by staying away from advertising and focusing on actively developing strategies for a permanent Facebook presence and a more interactive Facebook brand experience.”

We must remember that Facebook has not always had ads, in fact it started out with the holistic goal of connecting users, making them happy, and perhaps attracting some ads ‘in the future’ to offset the cost of servers. However fast forward 12 years, and Facebook’s revenue has climbed to nearly US$18 million in 2015.

facebook revenue

This historical context is relevant as it underlies Facebook users’ resentment of advertisements, particularly of targeted advertisements which they describe as ‘creepy.’ Facebook users consider the site to be ‘their’ network, which exists primarily for enabling social interaction and in which advertisements are an unwelcome intrusion.

Therefore, business needs to let go of their obsession with finding new ways to segment, target and sell to Facebook users and measuring their success in sales figures – they need to understand that the value of their presence on Facebook in more intangible than that. It is in building a community where they can interact with their customers informally, to allow them to feel that they ‘know’ the brand. Yes, most Facebook users who follow a brand’s page want to be the first to know about product launches, promotions or giveaways… but they also want to gain a broader understanding of the brand values, they want to hear the brand’s ‘voice’ and have their appreciation of the brand reinforced by other followers on the site. The end goal should be increasing positive feelings toward the brand and fostering brand advocates, and if this leads to increased sales in the long term then that is a bonus.


10 thoughts on “Is business missing the point?

  1. I enjoyed reading your article Kelly and I totally agree that organisations nowadays have missed a trick in utilizing Facebook as a means of ‘pulling’ customers in. You’ve addressed this missing link well through the reading and I really like your comparison with The Beginner’s Guide to Social Media. One argument I’d like to propose is that I feel that not everyone who follows a brand on Facebook would want to actually know about promotions, launches and what not. There may be a segment of Facebook users who merely like a brand’s page for absolutely no reason. I feel that it is the users who are actively following (liking posts, commenting, sharing, etc.) are the particular group of users who would want to as you rightfully mentioned understand brand values and hear the brand’s ‘voice’. Saying that I most definitely agree with the notion that Facebook is much more than sales figures, it is more intangible and it is the development of a customer focused brand community within this space that would keep customers interested in not only following a brand but eventually become brand loyalists.
    Hope my feedback makes sense. Great work overall!

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    1. Hi @mindofsteffan,
      Thank you for reading and commenting on my blog this week, much appreciated! You’re right, it is probably too general to say that everyone who follows a brand on Facebook would want to know about promotions, launches etc – some users do follow for merely symbolic benefits, to feel as though they are aligning themselves with a community of like-minded consumers. I assume they would be interested in developments from the brand but prefixing this with ‘most’ consumers would definitely cover all bases 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for your interesting findings on Facebook users profile (the two focus groups). I was quite surprised to the fact that average age of Facebook users is 41. It’s totally different to my home country where the average FB age is below 25. We have seen a new movement of the older segment, who is over 40, but it’s still too slow to influence the whole picture.

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    1. Hi Rachael,
      Yes, the average age of 41 certainly stuck in my mind from the Sensis Report as it was so much older than I expected. If I was going to guess I would probably have said 30 – I would have thought there were a lot of younger users and a few older users stretching the average age up. It would be interesting to compare how different age groups use Facebook, this would certainly be more relevant to businesses hoping to engage a specific age group.

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  3. What a great post Kelly and I couldn’t agree more. I have always likened Facebook to a party at someone’s house that you got invited to. There are a whole heap of different conversations happening in unison, some will interest some people, some will interest others. In one corner you have a family discussing an up coming wedding, in another there is a group of friends trying to decide where to go clubbing on Saturday another group and talking about Game of Thrones whilst half the group cover their ears and scream “spoil alert”. To burst in to the middle yelling TOYOTA HAVE GREAT CARS GO BUY ONE” is not going to endear you to anyone, even if they do want a new car. You don’t just turn up and take over the room loudly by announcing why you are awesome. If you want to get some attention you just need to join the conversation and contribute something relevant otherwise you just end up being that annoying person sitting in the corner by themselves whilst everyone wonders who the dickhead was that invited them in.

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    1. Haha, love the party analogy Keith! There’s no-one more annoying at a party than the guest who views every social gathering as an opportunity to get a sale… although I can’t say I’d have much time for Hodis et al’s Attention Seekers or Connection Seekers either!

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  4. You’re so right about how consumers are interested in getting a feel for the brand and that an online presence is an opportunity to bridge the communication gap and add to the brands personality rather than incessantly sending ads flying around. I, for one, hide all ads possible and when Facebook bought Instagram and introduced ads early on, every sponsored ad that popped up in what used to be my private little feed genuinely brought about a sense of anger towards the featured brand. No, I don’t want Macca’s at 9am and no, I don’t care about the latest release of Nike shoes!

    In terms of sample size, great point highlighting the fact that the segments may not necessarily be encompassing the truly relevant age groups of users. It would be interesting to see if Hodis et al. would have segmented differently if their sample size was different. Attention seekers may be much less prominent, leaving room for an entirely different category altogether.

    Facebook has come a long way from its Harvard “hot or not” female rating site, but we shouldn’t forget it began with a bit of exploitation and will probably not stop taking money for ads as long as there are businesses silly enough to oblige!

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  5. Great pick up on the small sample size Kelly. As I was reading the article my thoughts were that it’s a rigid framework of categorising consumers, for example I feel like I’m in between 2 categories rather than strictly one or the other.
    Additionally from personal experience I find that Connection Seekers (those who write long posts) are actually Attention Seekers in that they like to turn the spot light on themselves and their (often rambling) thoughts. I think if the sample size was bigger more light might be shed on these issues.

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    1. Hi Anh,
      Thanks for taking the time to read my blog & comment 🙂
      Yes, I thought that when I was reading too – to me the Attention Seekers and Connection Seekers sounded like Positive Attention Seekers and Negative Attention Seekers

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