Younger Canadians ‘like’ to follow brands via social media

The good news for SMBs trying to get their message out online?  Younger Canadians really “like” following brands recommended to them on social media like Facebook and Twitter.

The bad news? They’re also the most fickle when it comes to following those brands over the long term, according to a study by Ipsos Loyalty.

Of all the Canadian social media users polled, 49 per cent said they are influenced by such online endorsements of brands, companies or products. But a striking trend stands out when it comes to age: while only 40 per cent in the over-55 age group are swayed by “like” suggestions, a more prominent 56 per cent of those aged 18 to 34 say they are influenced by such recommendations.

Younger Canadians are also likely to follow more brands — an average of five — on social media than older Canadians, who follow an average of just one brand online, the study found.

It’s no surprise that younger Canadians are more influenced by such branding because younger people are simply bigger users of social media overall, says Rob Manne, vice-president of digital and creative strategy at the Toronto branch of global public relations firm Edelman.

“This (age) group grows up with social media being part of their lives and also interacting more with brands on social media,” says Manne.

The flip side is that Canadians 18 to 34 are also less loyal to brands on social media, with 41 per cent admitting they have “unliked” a brand, versus just 15 per cent of their older counterparts.

“Because (youth) are more likely to get involved (in social media) they’re more likely to be fickle. If you’re following a lot of brands and you don’t use them, you might think ‘Why don’t I check out some others?’” Manne says.

Is all of this brand flipping among youngsters due to ineffective marketing aimed at them on social media?

“I wouldn’t call into question (whether) the marketing isn’t conveying the message,” says Dave Pierzchala, Vancouver-based vice-president at Ipsos Loyalty. “I think it’s more the fickle nature of people who are younger and they’ve just grown up with this choice. It’s all something that for (older generations) was like being able to change the channel with a remote.”

To maintain any audience you attract on social media, “you have to give someone a reason not to flip the channel,” Pierzchala says.

The top reason cited by all study respondents for “unliking” a brand online was that they “lost interest” in it. Here are some tips for SMBs on how to grab – and keep – eyeballs of all ages focused on their brand.

Make it interactive: Some users are turned off if a company’s only presence on social media consists of obvious marketing messages or press releases, so make it more interactive instead of one-way, Manne suggests.

“(You) should be looking at social media as an always-on conversational approach as opposed to a marketing tool, treating it as if you’re having daily conversations relevant to your brand, but also relevant to your audience,” he says.

Some simple ways to be interactive include contests, giveaways, trivia and polls.

Be personal: Having a smaller corporate war chest of staff and resources doesn’t mean SMBs can’t build a social media relationship with customers that is interactive, responsive and personal, Manne says.

“There are some limitations with head count of people to actually do this at SMBs. But those businesses are also in a unique position in that they can be much more nimble,” Manne says. “If they have an idea or want to do something creative, they can just turn on a dime and do something fun.”

He cites the quick action taken by FreshBooks, a Toronto firm that makes online billing and invoicing software. After a Boston client posted on Twitter that she’d been stood up by her date, FreshBooks sent her a message saying “We would never stand you up.” The company even followed up by sending her flowers the next day. The move not only cemented the client’s loyalty to FreshBooks, it also got the company a mention on her blog and lots of free publicity.

Track your followers: Many consumers can’t stand being bombarded with a constant stream of social media content from a company. Others feel ignored, receiving so little interaction with a brand that they forget about it. The key is to measure the online habits of your social media followers, then tailor the volume and flow of your social media output to fit their preferences.

“Your interaction should be regular (but) that depends on your audience base,” Manne says. “And that really comes from listening. A lot of companies are starting to invest in listening tools and figuring out ways they can benefit from what they’re seeing online.”

Various companies provide such tools to track social media usage, including Trackur, U.K.-based Sentiment Metrics, and Radian6, a Frederiction, NB software firm now owned by Salesforce.com.

Don’t panic: At the end of the day, social media is just another marketing opportunity, and your SMB just has to learn the best way to harness it for the needs of your business and your clients, Pierzchala says.

“It’s tricky for SMBs. But it’s not that different from creating an advertising campaign that’s sticky.”

Is it really for you?: “(SMBs) don’t have the large presence and larger employee base to do this, so they have to see whether this has an important return (on investment) for them,” Manne says. “For some (companies) the best thing they should do is monitor (social media) so they’re aware of the situation. For others, they really have an engaged customer base using social media regularly. So if they don’t use it, their competitors will be.”

Christine Wong is a Staff Writer at ITBusiness.ca.

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