Home > Social Business, Social CRM, Social Media > The Perception Gap in Social

The Perception Gap in Social

Customers do not want a relationship with your business, they want the benefits a relationship can offer to them. I have been stating this for a couple years, as many people I know have also stated and written about. You may or may not agree with this, as it has seemed like a bit of a political debate, without some really solid data to back-up either perspective. IBM recently published the result of 2010 study, which revealed some interesting data points. I will be cautious, as data can be interpreted differently from person to person, but this study is grounded in primary research, published by the IBM Institute for Business Value and my analysis of the report suggests that it is worth considering.
Consumers were asked what they do when then interact with businesses or brands via social media. I am not sure which is more surprising to me, that being part of a community and feeling connected are near the bottom, or that purchase and discount are at the top. To back up a little bit, results also published in the same report found that only 23% of consumers, who go to social media sites, go to interact with brands. They go to interact with family and friends (70%). Another interesting point is that while 23% are interested in interacting with brands 22% actually go to write a blog, that is a finding which I am going to need to think on for a bit. Finally,

“just over half of consumers surveyed say they do not engage with brands via social media at all (55 percent).”

The Business Side Gap

The business perspective is more interesting, and frankly more valuable to anyone who happens across this post.  The simple reason is that a business needs to care about what the customers are saying and doing, not what they ‘think’ is right or worse, portrayed by someone else who told them the ‘right’ thing to do. OK businesses, take a look at the listing your peers gave when asked the why they thought customers were following their companies on social sites. The data clearly states that businesses believe much more strongly that consumers interact with them to feel part of the community – guess what, they really don’t. The consumer wants something more.

“Businesses hoping to foster closer customer connections through social media conversations may be mistakenly projecting their own desires for intimacy onto customers’ motivations for interacting. Interactions with businesses are not the same as interactions with friends.”

The gap is pretty wide, almost as wide as the current NFL players versus owners. But, in this case it is not a matter of compromise and working to get both sides to see the other perspective. The only real opinion that matters is what your customers think, correct?

What about Advocacy?

I am not sure about you, but I have seen a lot of Senior Executives talk about “getting closer” to their customers, partners, ecosystem, prospects  (IBM 2010 Global CEO Study – 88% want to get closer to the customer). In order to answer the war cry from the C-suite, marketers and executives (from this survey) believe the answer is social media engagement. However, the data from the consumer side suggests otherwise – or best it is inconclusive.  The issue seems to be that you (company) are already close to your advocates; 64% of  stated that passion for a brand needs to exists prior to interacting with that brand.

“In other words, consumers who engage already have an affinity for that brand or company, and mere participation via social media may not necessarily result in increased loyalty or spending. But a recommendation from a friend or family member could make a difference.”

The answer to the riddle seems to be to encourage consumers to share their experiences with friends and family. Make that easy and you now have a better chance of encouraging those at the tipping point to become advocates for your brand. I am not going to go retro and start defining Social CRM, been there, done that! I am going to suggest that you need to start thinking like a customer, outside-in, not inside out. It is not about control of the conversation, it is about mutually beneficial value. A fair exchange. Social media is part of something we call the customer engagement continuum, aka consistency of interactions and touch points independent of the channel used. A friend shared a term with me early this week which seems to fit “Reverse Logistics” – to me, it fits here because the perspective that matters is the customers.

Mea Culpa (March 24th, 2011 – Update)

There are great comments on multiple locations on this topic. I am most appreciative for all the comments. If you would like to see what others are saying, elsewhere, here are few links:

  • There is an interesting discussion in a google group Social CRM Pioneers
  • TheSocialCustomer syndicated from this post has some great comments from Peter Friedman, Chairman & CEO, LiveWorld
  • CustomerThink, also syndicated from this post has some comments from Bob Thompson and Scott Monty
  1. March 20, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    Those loveless, self-interested humans continue to confuse the business brains then Mitch?

    Agree with your mutual value point and when you start making simple guesses of “what’s in it for the customer?” i think the lists above would balance more evenly…

    “I want to learn about new products )

    “I need some general information )

    The spread (or lack of) on the business ranking side (73%-60%) suggests quite a lot of guessing or tuning in to rhetoric as well eh?

  2. Mitch Lieberman
    March 20, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    That pretty much says it – though, I as we always say, ‘hope is not a strategy’. I am not sure if the business brains are confused, or guessing. If you hone in on the points you made – product information and general information – which I agree with – then there is nothing ‘Social’ about it. Just another way for people to get information.

    Providing another channel is of course important, but it does not solve the ‘Let’s get closer to the customer’ problem. At least not yet… Musings for a Sunday afternoon.

    Thanks for the

    • March 20, 2011 at 3:46 pm

      My comment post lost some content that was in chevrons – maybe it looked a bit HTMLy??

      I meant to illustrate the link:

      I want to learn about new products: So that I can get discounts, or so that I can look informed to my friends, or so that I can avoid a bad purchase decision.


      I need some general information: So that I can avoid your horrible call center, or so that I can actually buy some of your stuff….

      (See if it works this time – sorry to break your blog Mitch)

      • Mitch Lieberman
        March 20, 2011 at 4:35 pm

        Yes, it worked, great point. Chevrons probably have the effect you suspect 🙂

  3. March 20, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    Interesting information Mitch. Sounds to me like businesses are still working on assumption and hype rather than actually listening to their customers. Certainly with the smaller businesses I deal with there is a massive opportunity to simply enter into a new, listening focussed dialogue with customers. A simple “thank you for your business” and “how can we better serve you” conversation, if handled properly, recorded and fed back into the business can be invaluable.

    • Mitch Lieberman
      March 20, 2011 at 4:38 pm


      Thanks for stopping by – yes, I agree that many business are operating at a level where their customers are not quite ready. I do still believe there is an opportunity here. Simply, do not put the cart before the horse. I think businesses are listening to the more vocal customers, and might even be chastised for not being on certain channels. The dose of reality is, however, required.

      Where they are not listening to their customers, in a different way, is on the standard channels, like phone and email. Meaning, too much energy spent on social, maybe not enough on traditional.

      Cheers – Mitch

  4. March 20, 2011 at 5:16 pm

    Thanks Mitch My point exactly. One of the issues however, I believe, is that this type of work is a bit of an orphan. There are typically plenty of “hunters” in businesses looking for leads, prospects etc. However, when it comes to “farming” for what I like to call actionable insight then I’m not sure that we often have those resources available. Maybe this gap is driven by short termism but I believe businesses are missing a massive opportunity to differentiate based on better customer dialogue. This is the thrust of my clienteer concept, some new skills, different KPI’s and a separation (which the customers love) between a sales contact (still necessary of course) and a clienteer contact.

  5. loriaustex
    March 20, 2011 at 8:08 pm

    Mitch, thanks much for sharing something that’s been on my mind — nice data to boot! Here’s my $0.02.

    I wonder if the data reflects something else entirely (I’m curious about how we’d measure my hypothesis) – that people feel connected to people, not brands.

    In other words, if I have a one-to-one exchange with a tech support person via Twitter and the experience is positive, I feel connected to that person, and it’s *that* exchange that may lead me to rave about the brand, resulting in a mistaken assumption that the buyer’s become part of the brand community. The buyer may simply have become part of the Jill-the-Tech-Support-Gal-Rocks community.

    By extension, the more anonymous or mediated-through-corporate-speak the exchange is, the more non-social (and thus irrelevant) it is. The engagement then is all about a fast link to a special.

    IMO, community really is about the *social* – not the media, not the marketing – and successful social media marketing practices will have roots in social psych and anthropology moreso than branding.

  6. Mitch Lieberman
    March 21, 2011 at 9:20 am


    I get what you are saying, directly from the data – people connect with people, not brands. I think you nailed it. The question is how can a large business scale to that. That is the really hard part, individual relationships do not scale for big businesses – this is where SMB has an advantage.

    Thanks! Mitch

  7. Keane Angle
    March 22, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    I would argue that this data is displayed incorrectly and is telling an inaccurate story. I took the data points and laid them out side by side, and it is clear where marketers defer from consumers with regards to their opinion, but also paints a different story – marketers just think consumers care WAY more than they do about social.

    Check it: http://i.imgur.com/5Hy2T.png

    • Keane Angle
      March 22, 2011 at 12:54 pm

      Edit: The conclusion is that marketers prioritize all activities on about the same field – their perception of how much each thing is worth to a consumer is way off. Consumers on the other hand have a clear differentiation between activities.

    • Mitch Lieberman
      March 22, 2011 at 1:18 pm


      Thanks for the comment, really it is not as clear as I would like it either. As I noted in the post “I will be cautious, as data can be interpreted differently from person to person”. As others have said to me, the gap, while supported with numbers feels more qualitative than quantitative.

      The questions might not be perfect, but the clear message to me is that businesses rank the discount and purchase far lower than than 8 other metrics. The consumers view this slightly differently, putting these measures first. So, from a pure percentage percentage I can see your point. However, I do not think it is telling an inaccurate story.


  8. October 6, 2011 at 1:53 am

    Companies need to realize that social media culture has allowed consumers to become more intelligent (or at least more entitled). Companies tend to have this false notion that loyal consumers exist that want to learn and be part of there brands. This is not the case. While sometimes consumers on social media will “like” something because it is “cool” they generally are interacting in hopes of getting something like a discount or to simply purchase the product offered as shown in the study you mentioned. Those who are interacting with brands on social media networks are away that by interacting they are supplying this companies with cost free advertisements. They understand that when they interact all of there friends and followers are now aware of there actions and potentially the companies products and services therefore by giving this advertising boost to the company they expect something in return for their work. Once businesses understand this and embrace is social media branding will be able to evolve, until then it will start looking more like spam and unfortunately begin to devalue the social networks themselves.


  1. March 20, 2011 at 9:28 pm
  2. March 23, 2011 at 9:19 am
  3. March 23, 2011 at 12:31 pm
  4. March 23, 2011 at 12:37 pm
  5. March 31, 2011 at 6:15 am
  6. June 29, 2011 at 5:44 pm
  7. September 26, 2011 at 5:03 am
  8. October 21, 2011 at 2:12 am
  9. October 23, 2011 at 7:45 pm
  10. January 22, 2012 at 11:02 am

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