Personal Connection #3: A Company’s Greed for Followers

Adi Gaskell, a writer for Social Media Today, posed a propelling topic yesterday that intrigued me instantly. How much are Twitter followers worth to a company? If we proposed that question to most of the followers we, ourselves have on Twitter, my bet is that the answer would be close to nothing. In Adi Gaskell’s article, How Much Is an Engaged Social Customer Worth?, he sheds light on a debacle between a company and a former employee.  He opens by stating the following: “Last year an employee was sued for taking the Twitter followers he’d amassed with him when he left his company. The case focused attention on just how much a Twitter follower was worth” (Gaskell). Okay, initially that seems a bit dry, but it made me want to read on; especially because I wondered if that was legal.

The obvious answer to my curiosity: yes, it’s legal. Obviously if it went to court and was successful, there is some sort of truth there. Maybe there was a clause in the employee’s contract with the company that he overlooked or neglected to read? Who knows. Personally, I don’t see it fair to go to the extreme lengths of “suing” him for that, (unless it is a written no-no), but I also see why the company wasn’t fond of the idea. He’s potentially taking some of their business away, which means a decrease in money. What company would want that? Considering the place our economy is in, everyone can take whatever they can get. That is exactly what this company intended on seeing through.

As I read on, I started noticing that each follower holds a different value; they’re not all equal. Most followers are fake, or just along for the free ride: it doesn’t cost anything to follow a person or company, so why not? Can’t almost every twitter member relate to this? I find myself constantly scrolling through my twitter feed and realizing that only two out of the past 50 tweets were of interest to me. (Cue clean-up time!) Twitter members should aim to engage others, while being engaged by them as well.

New research was curious to find out the worth of these followers, so they delved into the profitability of social media users. According to Gaskell, “Research found that engaged social media customers spend significantly more (as in 5.6% more) than those customer that aren’t engaged” (Gaskell). Observing a company is the best way to get these answers, so they started conducting a study on a large wine retailer in the North-East of America. The wine company started their relationship with social media back in 2009; since then, they consistently supply their followers with promotions, local information, and wine advice. The team of researchers analyzed the companies customer database, nearly 400, over the course of three years. They picked a group that had similar demographics and spending habits, analyzing their participation before and after the company initiated a social media relationship. What they found was interesting.

Before social media played a role in this company, the entire group visited the stores and spent money equally. After social media gained a role, it was easy for the researchers to weed out the part of the group that wasn’t engaged. What caused this? I mean, wouldn’t one assume that social media would only help your chances of engaged customers? Clearly by this scenario, that isn’t the case at all. We only assume that because social media has had such a break through, especially with technology, so it’s stereotyped as only positive. What companies should learn from this is that not all customers care about it. Yes, it’s the world we live in now, but part of being a good company is recognizing the demographics of your customers, and tailoring to all of their needs. That’s how you keep them happy, without losing any along the way.

There are three great points provided by Fraser P. Seitel, author of The Practice of Public Relations, that companies should keep in mind when aiming for overall organizational effectiveness that I think apply to this scenario; outputs, outtakes, and outcomes. Did the company gain the coverage desired, does their target audience see and believe their message, and did that change their behavior or relationship (which can affect sales)? If this wine company evaluated this themselves, or hired a PR to do it for them, they might have been able to avoid losing the “once engaged” portion of the group that disappeared.

Gaskell, Adi. “How Much Is an Engaged Social Customer Worth?.” Social Media Today. N.p., 20 May 2013. Web. 21 May 2013. <http://socialmediatoday.com/adi-gaskell/1478911/how-much-engaged-social-customer-worth?utm_source=hootsuite&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=hootsuite_tweets&gt;.

Seitel, Fraser. The Practice of Public Relations. 11th edition. New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc., 2010. Print.

(Click images to view website they’re credited to.)

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