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Think BR: Leveraging the social media paradox

When trying to understand social media we need to think critically and be aware of contrary viewpoints, writes Phil Shaw, director, Ipsos ASI.

Motivations for using Facebook are around sharing enjoyment with friends & others around you

Motivations for using Facebook are around sharing enjoyment with friends & others around you

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Sometimes it pays to think in a contrarian way. During the Second World War, the US Air Force employed Abraham Wald, a statistician, to help it determine where to place reinforcing armour on its bomber craft to help save airmen and planes. 

The bombers were big and heavy aircraft so additional armour could only be used selectively and it was Wald’s job to identify the most vulnerable spots. He analysed damage on planes after every bombing raid and identified the most frequently hit areas. Then he recommended armour be placed everywhere else.   

Why? He surmised that because anti-aircraft guns weren’t very accurate weapons, then the distribution of hits ought to be random. 

So given that the planes he was looking at were the ones that made it back, then they could withstand being hit in the areas that he saw were damaged.  The ones that were hit elsewhere were the ones that didn’t make it back.

It’s essential we maintain critical thinking and consider contrary viewpoints whenever we use statistics and data and especially when we use it to understand social media.

Numerous studies have tried to identify the value of a Facebook fan or the ROI that campaigns generate from social media, but most often these studies look at fans and non-fans and measure ROI as the difference in consumption of the brand between the two. 

Thinking in a more contrary way, we should consider that the more someone consumes a brand in the first place, the more likely they are to become a fan. Correlation doesn’t imply causation (otherwise we might conclude that taking cocaine makes you rich, given that the income of a cocaine user is 25% higher than the national average).

The IPA’s landmark study New Models of Advertising Effectiveness concluded through a meta-analysis of 254 campaigns that "participation-led campaigns are good at market share defence but little else". 

Participation-led campaigns were defined as those "where the goal is to create a common dialogue, co-creation experience or ‘conversation’ between brand and audience". 

They hypothesised that "the more a campaign demands of its audience, the more effective it is at preaching to the converted, and the less effective it is at acquisition".

Intuitively this makes sense, we know with TV and other media that users of a brand are more likely to notice and engage and that participation and interaction with marketing initiatives is greatest among those who are closest to the brand.

Which gives us a social media paradox, as spelled out by Martin Weigel, head of planning, W+K Amsterdam: "The people least likely to engage deeply... are the most important for growth."

So is social media an ineffective marketing tool? Not at all, there are numerous examples of campaigns that have used social to deliver powerful brand effects and sales. 

The key is to acknowledge that your most enthusiastic fans are also most likely to engage with your brand, and use that knowledge to develop strategies that harness their evangelism and advocacy to others.

How? At Ipsos ASI Digital, our research has identified three ways:

  1. Play to the strengths of each platform - they’re not the same.
  2. Deliver content people want to engage wit.
  3. Be relevant and add value.

Play to the strengths of each platform

Our Social Media U&A study interviewed 600 UK social media users in July 2012 and showed that their motivations for using each platform were quite distinct:

  • Motivations for using Facebook are around sharing enjoyment with friends & others around you.
  • Twitter is more about discovery and connection with like-minded people.
  • Linkedin is similar to Twitter but with greater motivation for building relationships, and for recognition of status and achievements.
  • YouTube is about entertainment, discovery and relaxation... much more like TV.

This implies that brands need to behave in different ways on different platforms:

  • Facebook: do things that bring friends together.
  • Twitter: facilitate discovery and share information between like-minded people.
  • Linkedin: bring together experts and help them help each other.
  • YouTube: entertain & inform.

Deliver content people want to engage with

The content people seek from brands also varies by platform. On Facebook, the most popular reasons cited for connecting with brands were transactional (promos/vouchers/offers and competitions), compared to Twitter where the primary motivation was news. On Linkedin users are much more oriented towards seeking service and support and learning from experts.

Be relevant and add value

Forty five percent of people who’ve liked a brand on Facebook have subsequently unliked a brand. The main reasons for unliking are due to content that’s boring (35%), posts being too frequent (31%), irrelevant content (30%), repetitive content (28%) and because the brand was only liked to access a one-time offer (26%).

Innocent is a great example of a brand that avoids these pitfalls. Its Facebook activity perfectly reflects its values and adheres to its policy that anything it posts should be foooey - funny, useful, humorous or interesting. It gets tremendous levels of engagement including 1000s of fans who send it knitted hats (that innocent places on bottles in-store) and publish photos of them in their timeline.

Turn the paradox to your advantage


Pete Blackshaw, global head of digital and social media at Nestlé, recommends that brands: "Favour those with influencing power and all others equal… identify influentials online and derive advocacy."

So by developing strategies that harness the evangelism of their fans, brands can encourage re-transmission and word-of-mouth advocacy of their messages to connect with those who are less committed.

Communications and campaigns that achieve this are the ones that will go beyond market share defence and help brands grow and acquire new customers.

Phil Shaw, director, Ipsos ASI

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