Brands Still Sitting On The Social Media Fence

With unique users of 73.5 million on Twitter and 400 million on Facebook, it doesn't seem feasible that in 2010 organizations would not be utilizing social media as their primary branding tool . Yet a good number of firms and regions around the world are still sitting on the proverbial fence. Why?

For those that have a hard time believing that social media improves the positioning of a brand, you might be interested to learn that consumers engaged in social networks are more likely to purchase a product or service than those who have not been exposed. New research attests to the fact that over 60% of Facebook fans and Twitter followers are more likely to become consumers of a brand once engaged with these networks.

In a study recently conducted by Chadwick Martin Bailey, a market research and consulting firm, over 1500 consumers were surveyed to determine the likelihood of purchasing and recommending brands after joining these two social networks. The results determined that 60% of Facebook fans and 79% of Twitter followers would recommend, while 51% of Facebook fans and 67% of Twitter followers will actually buy the product or service.

If this be the case and after the world has witnessed some of the effects of social media over the course of the last 6 years, why do some brands continue to resist utilizing the power of Web 2.0?

Biotech & Pharmaceuticals

While biotech companies and pharmaceutical giants have a presence, they shy away from aggressive engagement due to heavy regulations, risk-adversity and industry restrictions attached to their products. "How can you provide a disclaimer for a drug in 140 characters or less," has been a hurdle many of these companies haven't been able to overcome. Living in a litigious society, Pharma companies are fearful of allowing their employees entree' into a world where public conversations with customers might be used against them, at a later date.

Asian Companies

Burson-Marsteller, a company that conducts social media usage studies, found that Asian companies have chosen not to use Twitter or Facebook, and instead have favored the local platforms that have established themselves in their country or region. An example of this is evident with Google in China. While the Big G owns about 31 per cent of the Chinese search engine market, homegrown Baidu controls 64 per cent.

The study also found that Asian companies were more concerned about the time, money and measurement of their social media involvement thus making their use of social networks much more conservative.

Censorship-Controlled Countries

If we were to expand the definition of brand to include countries, censorship overseas in authoritarian regimes such as China, Iran and Saudi Arabia would come into play. Google's recent clash with the Chinese government, which may lead to it shutting down its search engine in that country is just the latest example of foreign companies meeting strong resistance from foreign officials. China and Iran presently still oppose the free flow of information via social media channels. It also signals that Silicon Valley companies like Twitter and Facebook that provide real-time news in these countries are in for tough times ahead.


Last fall, Citibank Small Business determined that three-quarter of small to mid-size businesses say they have not found sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn helpful for generating business leads or expanding business with fewer than 100 employees. Also, 86 percent said they have not used social networking sites for information or business advice. Ten percent said they have sought business advice and information on expert blogs. "We were very surprised we did not see more use of some of the social media outlets, even if just for advice," she Maria Veltre, executive vice president of Citi's Small Business segment.

"The low number of small businesses using such sites for business purposes was unexpected, particularly as social media use has grown overall," said Veltre.

So while the majority of brands have saddled their horses up to the social media watering hole, I don't think it will be long before some of the hold-outs mentioned here will join ranks. There is already activity from some Pharma firms like Astra Zeneca and Johnson & Johnson (see "Top Ten Drug Companies in Social Media"), and a good number of small business start-ups have embraced social media as their primary marketing and promotional tool (see "Sweet Social Networking Personalizes Chocolate For Twitter & Facebook Users"). Asian firms and censorship-controlled countries like China will take longer as cultural differences present major hurdles that will take a lot more time and energy to work through.

Other companies still resistant struggle in justifying throwing resources at social media if it doesn’t necessarily result in a tangible ROI. However, if one was to view social media as the 21st Century version of public relations, I don't think ROI is the correct measurement to analyze effectiveness. While social media is not the most immediate cause and effect between product and sale, it is the necessary brand reinforcement that builds trust and loyalty. Brands in this arena need to focus more on ROE or return on engagement than a return on investment dollars.

Time To Get Social produced this video last month which reinforces a lot of the reasons why the brands 'still on the fence' can't afford not to engage in social media.


In a Wired Magazine article titled, "The Wired Presidency: Can Obama Really Reboot the White House," perhaps social media engagement can best be described as follows: 
  • “A presidential Twitter feed, Flickr photos, or video Q&A sessions may not vastly increase transparency or deeply inform policy, but they create a valuable intimacy with citizens.  People who think they are being listened to tend to respect more the person talking.”
That statement applies to brands as well - and the 'johnny-come-latelies' best jump on the band wagon while there's still time, less they lose their own constituencies of customers.

Mar 22, 2010
by Anonymous

Then there are the companies

Whose products and/or services are not meant for the mind numbed self absorbed d-nozzles on the CB radio craze of the early part of this century known as "social media"...