Friday, November 21, 2008

It's Time for Big Brands to Engage!

Up until this point, it's understandable why many brands have chosen to avoid social media. Quite frankly, there haven't been many meausurable success stories beyond those of the usual suspects like eBay, Best Buy's internal Blue Shirt Nation community and Procter & Gamble. For the most part, it's because many companies social initiatives have lacked a strategy, key performance indicators and overall community management. However, it's hard to ignore some of the consumer driven data coming out of Cone Research's latest 2008 Cone Business in Social Media Study (requires free signup to download).

For starters, Cone's report tells us that almost 60% of Americans interact with companies on a social media Web site, and one in four interact more than once per week. More importantly, the study shows that 93% of Americans believe a company should have a presence in social media, while 85% believe a company should not only be present, but should also interact with its consumers via social media.

If that's not enough to whet big brand's appetites:

  • 56% of American consumers feel both a stronger connection with, and better served by, companies when they can interact with them in a social media environment.

  • 43% say that companies should use social networks to solve my problems

  • 41% want companies to solicit feedback on their products and services

  • 37% feel that companies should develop new ways for consumers to interact with their brand

  • 33% of men and 17% of women interact frequently (one or more times per week) with companies via social media

I don't know about you but if I'm the CMO of a big brand, I'm looking at these numbers and shaking my head. What? You mean my customers actually want to talk to me using social media? Yup, they do. And they are already doing it with some of the other big brands they know and love like Starbucks, HP, Saturn and Sony.

So guess what Ms. or Mr. CMO, you have two choices at this point. You can continue to ignore social media and hope that smart people like Cone Research are wrong (hint: if Cone is wrong, so are the same smart folks at Forrester Research, Gartner, Sirius Decisions and Deloitte) OR they can embrace the "Groundswell" and start to think about a social media strategy and implementation plan in 2009.

Thanks to the folks at Cone for continuing to provide great research in this space. For more information on the Cone Research study, please visit their site.

This post was cross-posted on



  1. Aaron, thanks for bringing this interesting data to our attention. The case seems pretty clear. As you may recall, recently @researchguy and I surveyed 240 Twitterers and we found very similar results. Most users (89%) agree that brands should engage their customers on Twitter. The majority also have a better impression of brands that use Twitter for customer service (81%). So, two recent surveys say consumers want to interact with brands in social media. So big brand CMO's, what's it gonna be?

  2. I used some of these Cone statistics Thursday night when I echoed your Hiring 2.0 shtick to the North Shore Web Geeks. And when I went through the initial statistics (I didn't drill down), eyebrows began raising.

    But here's the nub, Aaron: Those numbers I feel best represent "big business," and not necessarily the community mom and pop stores and restaurants that lack any web presence yet thrive on word of mouth. Still, these mom and pop places are precisely what I, as a community member, would want to see online.

    And hence there is a dilemna. How, in this economy, can a small store focus on reaching out to customers online when most of their business are walk-ins?

  3. @Warrenss That's cool that your survey bore out the same results as the Cone research, especially since the folks you were talking to were more predisposed to using social media. Did you include your findings in a post on (I'm behind on my Google Reader activity)?

    @Ariherzog, great question. One person that I know, @Beckymccray is a small business owner (and social media thought leader) is having some great conversations on her blog about how "mom & pop" shops like hers can tap into social media/online community to keep up with the big boys (and girls).

    As always, thanks for stopping by to share your thoughts!

  4. Aaron, you can find the survey at and Dave Evans integrated the survey with his real life experience in his recent ClickZ column, All of these surveys and experiences point to one's time.

  5. Aaron, nice writeup, but note that Cone has clarified its original press release to indicate their numbers were overhyped. The percentages are not of ALL Americans, but just those who engage in social media (making the percentage of the overall population far lower).

    Moreover, the data comes from an online survey, so despite best efforts may not be truly representative of the overall public.

    None of this is to say that companies shouldn't engage, just that these numbers aren't what they initially appeared to be.

  6. Chip - great information. Thank you for the update on the Cone Research data. I have to admit, as big of a social marketing enthusiast as I am, these numbers did sound a bit on the high side. Either way, I think your point is a good one and that is that while there may not be as many people actively demanding that companies engage in social media - the ones that are engaged are actively asking for businesses to join the conversation!