Social Media Research

Why I’m Competing With You. And You. And You. And You.

Social media changes the very fabric of corporate competition.

It used to be that your competitors were the people that sold similar goods and services, or operated in the same geographical area. No more.

Now, you’re competing with Coke. With McDonald’s. With Chevy. And Zappos. And Jet Blue. And every other company on the planet.

This is because consumer interactions with companies are jumbled together like a real-time gumbo. Your status update is located in-between updates from other company’s “liked” by that consumer – not to mention updates from friends and family. The same is true on Twitter, where your tweets are sandwiched between Bieber musings, Breaking News, and God knows what else.

The email inbox is also a battleground, with your special offer competing through the attention aperture (as Brian Solis calls it) with Nigerian Prince scams, Amazon recommendations, and Linkedin “don’t forget to connect with this guy” nudges.
The Social Break-Up
The reality is that the social and email behaviors, restraint, and adherence (or lack thereof) to best practices on the part of EVERY OTHER COMPANY IN THE WORLD impacts YOUR success.

This concept was brought into sharp focus for me recently by the new “Social Break-Up” research from ExactTarget and CoTweet (clients) that examined why consumer stop engaging with brands in email, Facebook, and Twitter.

Your Success Breeds My Success. And Vice-Versa

Here are the findings that really prove this point:

  • 47% of people have unsubscribed from emails because they were receiving too many emails, and needed to get off some lists. (3rd most common reason)
  • 43% of people have unliked a brand on Facebook because their wall was becoming too crowded with marketing messages and they needed to get rid of some (2nd most common reason)
  • 41% of people have unfollowed a brand on Twitter because their stream was becoming too crowded with marketing posts and they needed toget rid of some (2nd most common reason)

Wow. Regardless of platform, receiving too many messages from too many marketers is a very likely cause of subsequent break-ups, throwing dead weight over the side of the social and email ship until it floats again.

Consequently, if all the other companies that the consumer follows are seduced by the siren song of oversending and overcasting, it has a material impact on my success.

Consumers only have so much attention to spare. After all, they have jobs to do and families to raise and dinner to cook and T-ball to coach and watercolors to paint – just like us marketers.

So let’s think about whether that next email, tweet, or status update is really growing your relationship with your customer, or is just pointless and banal, clogging up the stream and chucking the rest of us under the bus.

For all of our sakes, will you give it a try?

Facebook Comments


  1. says

    One of the insights I learned in Dan and Alison Zarrella’s “The Facebook Marketing Book” is that people tend to interact more with Facebook Pages that post updates less frequently. Pages with multiple posts a day, or even one post a day, receive less interactivity than those with updates 2-3 times a week.

    Imagine if blogs were the same way, Jay.

    • says

      Yep. That’s one of the reasons I only do 3 per week. How much content
      can you stomach from one guy? But, blogs are hugely different is one
      respect in that each is going to being Google traffic. So, more is
      more on that level.

      On Thursday, February 17, 2011, Disqus

  2. says

    I understand what you’re saying Jay; however, what strategy do we turn to. I’m sure most marketers believe that they’re offering real quality via these channels and will fear missing out on potential business.

    But if we cut down on the number of approaches, are we statistically increasing our chance of success (and of others) ? So does this bring things back around full circle to the cold call or person2person networking ?

    Or does marketing have to be even more subtle than that? Say giving free quality content away in the hope that someone will make the first approach on the basis of the trust and thought leadership you’ve garnered.

    • says

      I think the strategy (hopefully) is testing and optimizing social communication, and recognizing that there’s not one-size-fits-all answer. It’s maligned, but Facebook’s Insights are actual pretty decent at figuring out which of your posts are getting seen and interacted with, based on EdgeRank formula. On Twitter, all we have is clicks, which is a blunt statistical object. Sure wish we had the Twitter equivalent of “open rate”. It would be a lot easier to fine tune this stuff.

  3. says

    Jay, I thought those findings were interesting and they resonated with me as well. Couple things:

    Yes, official updates in SM are sandwiched between personal ones. However, taking my Facebook stream as an example, I rarely see the official ones because one, I interact extremely selectively with brands on Facebook, and two, due to Facebook’s “secret sauce,” I tend to see more updates from people (and brands) that I interact with (the whole “top news” thing). On Twitter, I barely look at my “main” stream (using HootSuite for the most part), but either interact with people (and brands) who interact with me, or are in certain groups that I have set up, either by keyword, Twitter lists or hashtags.

    As far as email was concerned, I was going berserk with the marketing overload. Once I introduced filters, email has become much more manageable, though I still get too many of them (which is my problem, I need to unsubscribe from a few mailing lists).

    IMHO, marketers have to realize that when they push too much, it’s unwelcome and gets tuned out, as you say. To Jon’s question, I think it’s a mix of how we’re using the different channels and seeing what works (again – gotta focus on what we’re trying to achieve) rather than cutting back on any or all of them completely (and I know you’re not saying that).

    However, some of the most pointless and banal tweets can be fun, humanizing a brand. I agree that if they’re overdone, they’re horrid, not to mention boring. Again, I think a try-and-see-what-works approach is called for.

    To me, email is very different and should be used really carefully. With socnets, we’re pretty much flitting around, so a lot more can escape our attention. With email, we’re inviting communication from organizations into our digital living rooms, as it were, and if they turn out to be unwelcome guests, bam, into trash/spam/unsubscribe they go.

    I think what companies need to understand is that, other than competing with pretty much every other company in the world in some way or other, they are also competing with people (hence my diving into how I use FB, Twitter & email subs). The more personable ones have a better chance of holding my attention and potentially converting me to a customer.

    • says

      You bet Shonali. You’re exactly right. Companies that are trying to humanize are competing with actual humans for attention. That’s tough. I wrote a post about that a long time ago called “is your company more interesting than my wife?” because that’s what it requires. Unfortunately, most companies fail miserably and the default setting becomes banal, rather than the exception.

  4. says

    Thank you, Jay! I have been planning to purge my following list just so the boat can float again. When I look at my lists and they’re full of the same 3 -5 people over and over and over, I don’t care what they have to say. They’re just junk mail at that point. And it’s too bad because I’m sure there is something of quality in there, but when you have to wade through so much to get it, then that person has become more of a job than a pleasure. Which gets them the boot!

    I’ve recently done this with email as well. Some companies were sending an email or two a day. Seriously?! How can that be an effective technique for doing anything other than irritating your clients? When going to unsubscribe, some asked “Would you like less emails from us? Check this box and continue receiving our emails.” That means they are fully aware they’re irritating, but continue with the practice anyway.

    I think it will take a lot of trial and error before we all find the right balance.

    • says

      Absolutely Wendy. It’s trial and error. But the key is understanding that we can’t treat all customers and contacts the same. That requires nuance – and technology – to do effectively.

  5. says

    For companies, this must make timing critical. Find out when your target audience is most receptive and use those channels at those times to avoid swelling the stream to a torrent.

    It would also be interesting to know if the more respectful companies get unsubscribed along with the actual offenders in these purges?

    Interesting post Jay

  6. Valerie Strohl says

    It all comes down to content. I will keep you if you are consistently good and rid myself of you if you are not.

  7. says

    I’ve had to delete some highly relevant people I was following because they just updated way too much and emailed WAY too much. So, sure, I like what you’re saying but everything gets annoying if you say it too much. I know the company I work for is also working really hard to cut down on emails that we send out so definitely agree with the post!

  8. says

    I’ve had to delete some highly relevant people I was following because they just updated way too much and emailed WAY too much. So, sure, I like what you’re saying but everything gets annoying if you say it too much. I know the company I work for is also working really hard to cut down on emails that we send out so definitely agree with the post!

  9. says

    Great analysis as usual, Jay. Interesting side note, since publishing THE SOCIAL BREAK-UP, I’ve had no fewer than 10 people reach out to me to share how they’ve cut back on the brands they subscribe to, fan or follow. The most common comment, however, was people cutting back on “liking” brands in Facebook because of news feed clutter–a feed they want to reserve for interactions with their friends & family.

    Now, a few notes does not a trend make, but this will be an interesting trend to watch in the coming months/years.

  10. says

    I really enjoyed that study! I like your take on it. It really does come down to a careful balance of (relevant) content and frequency.

    I always tell my clients, no more that 2 “news” emails a month, and keep your tweets personal and interesting to the people you’re speaking to (not at).

    I think consumers are smart enough to get beyond the “best subject line” or “blog post name”. It boils down to them enjoying your voice on a specific content. As soon as you loose either, they’re out!

  11. says

    Agree with this. How great is Twitter when you follow a few dozen people and are able to interact? Use it for business and then it’s becomes a popularity contest, you have to have x many followers to prove you are worthy, so people follow and follow back to show how “popular” they are. But of course it means that when you log on now it just like walking in a room where everyone is shouting about themselves and nobody is listening. What if twitter DIDN’T show follower counts, do you think the behaviour would stay the same? There is so much formulaic Tweeting now, people setting up timed tweets, days in advance to their chosen guru’s ridiculous guidelines, 9am Inspirational quote, 10am Article from mashable, 11am Buy from us, 12pm Article from digg, 1pm Please buy from us. The self proclaimed Twitter experts have a lot to answer for, not least the fact that these strategies don’t work and they are making people waste huge amounts of time. And why do people take their advice in the first place? Because they have thousands of followers of course!

      • says

        I just got back from a meeting with a reasonably large company here in the UK, where I made one friend for life (the CEO) and half a dozen enemies, the “Social Media Experts”! The looks of dismissal when I walked in to a room of sharply suited execs wearing my jeans and converse boots was a picture. I immediately pulled out my cellphone, explained that 50% of all social media interaction was done via cellphone, clicked on one of the barrage of ‘buy me’ pleas from there twitter stream and passed around the resultant site in all it’s lack of cell phone unenabled glory! I shall be bolting my front door tonight.

        Businesses in general are missing the point of social media, rather than ‘listening’ and engaging they choose to pollute and ostracise themselves from the very platforms that should be enriching their customers experience of their product or service. The view I try to get accross is that social media is a platform for customer services, not sales. Keep your existing customers happy and they will do the sales stuff for you by the viral nature of the platform they are using.

        I say throw away the tweet list and the timed status updates, instead monitor the brand, give thanks for the praise you see and take quick action to resolve the criticism. Thats my social media strategy for business in one sentence, no e-book, no series of 50 easy to follow videos. The only problem is, where do I make my money out of that :)

        • says

          You can indeed make money by serving existing customers. It’s just harder to measure sometimes. I agree with you 100%, and have written about it a lot here, that I think we’ll eventually realize that social media is a loyalty and retention tool, like customer service and email.

          I LOVE your mobile point. So, so true.

          Keep up the good work!

  12. says

    I attended The People Web session (last Friday) at Social Media Week Toronto, hosted by Facebook. It was interesting that when one fellow in the audience said that he had a personal account AND a more general one (both for privacy and to avoid the spam), the speaker, Steve Irvine indicated….”Oh, we really wish you wouldn’t set up two accounts.” But if they are going to turn Facebook into a marketing machine, why are they surprised?

  13. DJkalish says

    Jay, I love this post. Your “real-time gumbo” simile (metaphor?) is deliciously apt. All of us – companies, brands, individuals, etc- are more connected and interdependent than ever before. I guess the challenge and the opportunity is to work in a way that avoids a zero-sum game. Thanks for the words of wisdom. – Debra J. Kalish @kalishdj

  14. says

    The very same reason why a company/brand shouldn’t really post “that” often. It’s annoying.
    Putting your self in your consumer’s shoes will always give you the idea of what’s the best thing to do. A brand can’t be too noisy to almost post three times in a day on Twitter, or say one message in five different ways on Facebook yet it can’t stay too silent for a week and just say “Happy Weekend”. This is business is really tricky.

  15. says

    This isn’t any different than anything else. If you make it about the customer, they won’t break up with you. But the second you begin to talk about how great your company is, you lose people in seconds. Just like you would if I were talking to you at a networking event and I kept talking about how smart I am. You’d be looking for an out as quickly as possible.

  16. says

    I agree 100% with the above statistics. I usually subscribe the brands I use (especially when I buy electronic items) and finally end up unsubscribe many of those brands because of flooding emails.

  17. says

    There’s entirely too much effort being expended on “getting noticed” rather than adding value. Lots of people (including and especially businesses/agencies/etc) are good at creating noise, very few know what it means to create real value for their constituents.

  18. says

    I completely agree – companies seem to forget that people want something from them, and more and more often these companies do not put themselves in the shoes of the consumer. They have lost that ‘whats in it for me’ factor.

  19. says

    Amen to this post. I just unsubscribed to 8 email subscriptions last night and felt oh so much lighter today. Mind you, I signed up for another just tonight :), but did so with the idea that the new one would enlighten not overburden me with marketing ‘insight’. If only people could remember to apply real world etiquette guidelines to online social situations, we’d all be the better for it. I can’t imagine that constantly talking about yourself at a party or in a business situation really gets you too far; same applies in this playground.

    Nice to finally make it over to your blog…and according to Ms. Gini Dietrich, I just won a copy of your book, The Now Revolution. woo-hoo!

  20. says

    Hey Jay,

    Dead on here! I’m very conscious of what I post to share, because I want to make sure that it’s not only bringing value to others, but at the same time I’m not just posting to post “something”. You really have to be quite strategic, because people are getting overwhelmed with the over-marketing. There has to a good balance… challenging, but doable. 😉

  21. says

    This is something we can figure out as users. Why do we need data to drive home the point? FB pages are not friends, so why should we care what happens in their lives more than we care about our friends?

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