Why are brands turning off young consumers

Nothing has been more exciting to us communications professionals in the last few years than the world of social media, a fresh and exciting method of audience building. The ability to engage directly with your consumers, to be nimble, frivolous and playful with content, to hear what people think in real time, to watch how audiences ‘Like’ and ‘Comment’ on what we do by the second. Yes, we’ve all been seduced by the opportunities offered by social media.

But are our consumers equally seduced by our presence, as we’d like to imagine? If not, where are we going wrong and how can we improve our use of social media? To answer these questions research by One Poll was commissioned by agency Splendid Communications. There was also a panel discussion with three social media and digital practitioners: Samantha Grey from bank Barclays, David Harling from comparison website MoneySuperMarket and Neil Knowles from bakery chain Greggs.

The aim was to deconstruct the relationship between brand and consumer in social media. Clearly the internet plays a huge role in the lives of young people, but the fact that children spend an average of six and a half hours a day in front of a screen is still rather astonishing. How do these young people really feel about brands entering the space in which they spend so much of their time? Good news guys: 65% of 16-34 year olds say that they like the fact that they can follow brands on social media and this figure grows to just under 80% for 16-20 year olds. Promising statistics coming from a generation who can’t remember life without the internet.

The real problem, however, comes when looking at the behaviour of brands within those social channels. 69% of 16-34 year olds say that the content of brands on social media has no relevance to their lives. This feels worryingly similar to the shouty and intrusive style of much mainstream advertising where relevance does not seem to be a consideration. The big difference here is that advertising must work from the outside looking in, trying to interrupt and gain attention. By its very nature, social media should be about working from the inside out. To live in their space, their world, their friends, their “social”, brands should always be totally relevant to their audience yet our research finds that only 30% of branded content is judged to be relevant; an abject failure.

The impact of this “irrelevance” should not be underestimated, with over 50% of 16-34 year olds saying that they have actually thought less of brands because of the way they have engaged with them in social media. So this new medium we were so excited about is actually beginning to destroy relationships between brands and consumers. Hang on, this wasn’t the point! After all, we’re supposed to be getting closer not further away from our target audience. Well over half (61%) of 16-34 year olds think brands should have a genuine reason for having a presence in social media and nearly one in two think brands should stop trying to be their friend with too familiar an approach. Social media is an exciting opportunity and it is important that brands earn the respect of their target audience through careful consideration of their content. They should approach social media with the strategic planning that it requires, leaving their audience wanting more rather than outstaying their welcome.

This survey was completed online by 2,000 members of One Poll’s extensive participant database. All surveys commissioned for One Poll comply with the MRS Code of Conduct.

Written by Andy Bellass, partner and CSO at agency Splendid Communications