A Nation of Shopkeepers but a Twitterverse of Scrooges

We Brits can be a fairly cynical lot. Despite some 37.4 million UK adults using Facebook “regularly” and 15.5 million being on Twitter, we’re pretty rigid in how we want to use it.

Apparently, according to an article in The Guardian yesterday, we take the “social” part of social media seriously, more seriously than most other countries, and this means we are hardest to sell to via social media.

61% of Brits who use Facebook and Twitter described themselves as “unwilling to engage with brands” via these media. This is higher than the average in developed countries of 57% and significantly higher than Mexico and Columbia, for example, where between just 33 and 37% of users objected to engaging with brands.

Ad revenues from social networks are expected to total $5.5 billion this year, but interestingly nearly half of that will come from the US. Industry friends of mine who work in the US social media market have long reported that brand engagement is higher and more accepted there than in the UK, where we seem harder to please and sceptical of companies selling to us online. This fits with my general opinion of how we like to shop – we’re not that keen on someone shouting “buy this!” at us, the stereotype of reserved Brits means perhaps we expect salespeople to hold a little in reserve too.

As a UK based digital agency, this initially sounds a little gloomy. What’s the point in us encouraging brands to get online, use social media and PPC if the British public are just blindly ignoring it and using social media to …what… talk to their friends?!

Well, firstly, they’re not all ignoring it. 39% are happy to engage, and a fifth said that social networks are a good place for buying products. I don’t wish to make assumptions (but unfortunately The Guardian didn’t publish granular data, so I’m gonna) but this fifth is probably in the main the younger generation, which means that this percentage will continue to grow over time. Think long term, people.

Secondly, if you’re a brand getting on social media and you think it’s all “Sell sell sell” you’re doing it wrong. It’s social, and there’s a wealth of other possibilities – it’s not a replacement for other sales channels, it’s a communication tool. When I read the article, I remembered a recent incident when I had engaged with a brand– when I tweeted XFM to tell them to stop playing a particularly annoying song. They ignored me, but it teaches a lesson; (cliché alert) social networking is about listening. There’s a world of knowledge and feedback (not just about your brand) that you’re missing out on if you just avoid the conversations.

What we can take from this survey is the idea that brands and companies, when using social media in the UK, should tailor their approach accordingly. Be creative, don’t go in for the hard sell. Don’t expect to just turn up and be you and have fans flocking to “like” or “follow” you. 

Perhaps you need to abandon your traditional branding and have one person manage your media, using a Twitter feed more akin to a personal feed as people prefer to engage with a real person than a faceless company.

Perhaps you need to set up a feed which isn’t about your company or product but has some branding and offers unrelated content, or solves a different problem. For example, a feed about your charity work, or if you’re a restaurant a feed with recipes and healthy eating tips as opposed to “come to our restaurant” tweets.

Be clever, be nice, don’t be pushy. Be British.