Brands often boast about the numbers of 'likes', followers and tweets they achieve, but are these measures of brand advocacy too crude? Are people who simply like and follow everything they see really brand promoters? They're not the same thing, according to a joint study from Social@Ogilvy and SurveyMonkey. This article is copyright 2015 The Best Customer Guide.

As companies grapple with the meaning and impact of social media on brands, Social@Ogilvy and SurveyMonkey teamed up for a second time to study how to transform supporters into real, long-lasting advocates, who carry on the brand voice and promote it to others.

Just as the 2014 study showed that producing high quality content is critical to engaging social media users, 2015's eleven-country online survey of more than 5,000 social media users showed that, just because people are saying positive things about your brand, it doesn't mean they are real brand advocates. But, if you use the right approach and techniques, they can be.

Sharers, Followers and Retweets are crude measures of true brand advocacy. The majority of users are actively noticing and engaging with brands via social media, with the research showing that 84% of respondents across the 11 markets say they had "liked" or followed a brand, product or service. Of those that have "liked" or followed a brand, more than half (58%) have interacted directly with a brand and 79% received a response back (shout out to social media managers everywhere!).

The study found no shortage of social sharers who not only follow a brand but who proactively share their experiences: 58% of respondents have communicated either positive or negative opinions about a brand with others. These social addicts, who typically stay glued to the likes of Facebook, YouTube and Twitter on a daily basis, exhibit similar behaviors but there are still key differences and steps to transforming "sharers" into brand promoters - those respondents who self-identified as being extremely likely to recommend brands and products to friends.

While six in ten (58%) respondents are "sharers", only two in ten (19%) are true brand promoters.

Authentic brand promoters are far more rare and influential than sharers, with the global research revealing notable differences to watch out for between them when looking to identify the profile of a promoter.

So how do promoters interact via social media?

  • They are intrinsically more active followers: two-thirds (66%) follow brands on a regular basis, compared to only half of sharers (52%);
  • Promoters follow brands in order to interact directly with them. 42% of sharers do this compared to half (52%) of promoters.

And why do promoters interact with brands?

  • A prime reason they follow brands is to be associated with them which 39% do, versus only 28% of sharers;
  • Almost half (46%) also believe a brand's reputation is important, compared to only 36% of sharers;
  • They prefer to link a brand to their own personal identify, with 45% saying they feel better about themselves after using a brand; only 35% of sharers say the same.

And finally, what action do they evoke?

  • The friends of promoters talk about brands much more: 59% of promoters see their networks regularly mention brands and products, while only 47% of sharers do the same;
  • They are much more likely to respond to their friends' interaction with brands; 35% would purchase a product if it was mentioned by a friend, compared to just 24% of sharers.

Globally, these promoters share broadly similar characteristics. True promoters have similar reasons for liking or following a brand, for example: 77% want to hear about products, offers, or news, followed closely by 53% who want to give direct feedback and 52% who want to interact directly with an organisation. Promoters tend to surround themselves by like minds when it comes to their attitude toward brand interaction on social media: 91% say their friends' mentions of brands are largely positive.

Quality is paramount with virtually everyone (91%) saying this is why they would be extremely likely to recommend a particular brand or product to friends or colleagues. And, it's the main reason why 61% promoters would not recommend a brand or product.

Brands beware!
But while both sharers and promoters have posted about a great brand experience on social media, 71% of sharers and 60% of promoters have also discussed terrible brand experiences online.

Emerging economies breed a higher percentage of promoters. Countries with the highest percentage of promoters live in emerging economies, like Brazil and India, where 42% and 33% respectively, fall into this category. Japan revealed the smallest percentage by far with just 1% of promoters, followed by Germany and France (14% respectively), and UK, Indonesia and Australia (15% respectively).

However, important cultural nuances are likely to be at play. For instance, Indonesia has a low number of promoters despite 70% of respondents saying they've shared great brand experiences on social media. This could suggest that the more passive approach of advocacy via social sharing may be more popular in Asian countries. Equally, a low number of Japanese promoters could be attributed to the formal, more private culture - making them less willing to make personal recommendations online. To that effect, the majority of Japanese respondents (43%) report in-person brand or product recommendations are most trustworthy.

So what does this mean for brands?
Powerful conversations may fill the streets for revolution, but people are now moving toward more private and closed places of individual relevance.

While it is clear people are more connected than ever - demonstrated by the sheer breadth of networks available to us - the research from SurveyMonkey and Ogilvy shows that it is the depth of connections that change our lives and the world around us.

Ultimately, brands need to build relevance and trust through content and connections if they wish use social media to transform their brand, business and reputation.

The report therefore suggests these five steps for building brand relevance and trust in social media:

  1. Precision
    Move from broad demographics to using behaviour, interests and friendships.
  2. Moments of truth
    Connect naturally with the right audience, in the right place at the right time.
  3. Inspire
    Use culturally relevant storytelling that flows across platforms and markets, in real-time.
  4. Bond
    Move from community management to customer engagement.
  5. Measure
    Focus on harder business metrics, such as leads, sales, performance, loyalty.

"Companies need to move beyond collecting likes and retweets with meaningless content," explained Thomas Crampton, global managing director for Social@Ogilvy. "Through genuine interaction and content designed to connect with true advocates, companies can drive forward their brand, business and reputation in ways not possible before this era of social media."

"Social media addicts may look like your most engaged consumers, but marketers need to stop looking at their data in silos to find their true advocates," concluded Bennett Porter, SurveyMonkey's vice president of marketing communications. "By applying the Net Promoter Score methodology to social media users across the globe, we better understand the profile of a brand promoters: those who are extremely likely to recommend brands to friends and colleagues. To appeal to promoters, brands need to not only focus on quality but also reputation among friends or colleagues and that sense of worth that comes from being associated with a brand."