Want to attract a big social media following? What’s in it for them?

Ryan Beene is a Los Angeles-based reporter for Automotive News.

A refrain I’ve repeatedly heard from social media “experts” is that consumers don’t use Facebook for commerce, and companies shouldn’t use Facebook and other social networks as sales pitch platforms.

But an IBM study released in March suggests the opposite may be true -- and that companies don’t understand the real reasons why consumers connect with brands over social media.

First of all, only 45 percent of consumers surveyed who are active on social media said they’d interact with a brand or company for any reason. So, at least according to this study, more than half of the people on social networks like Facebook want nothing to do with your brand or company. That’s just the way it is, the study says.

For consumers that do, receiving discounts or coupons or making purchases were cited as the top two reasons why they interact with brands or businesses over social media.

Executives got that part wrong. They ranked receiving discounts and making purchases as the most unlikely reasons consumers would be interested in their brands.

The study also found that businesses were three times more likely than consumers to think that being part of the brand’s social “community” pushed consumers to connect with brands.

Once again: Wrong!

Being in a brand’s “community” was ranked dead last by consumers. It was the least interesting reason to interact with brands over social media, according to the study.

“Businesses hoping to foster closer customer connections through social media conversations may be mistakenly projecting their own desires for intimacy onto customers’ motivations for interacting,” the study says. “Most consumers are not motivated brand advocates who connect with a company primarily to feel associated with a brand community.”

These findings are just a few snippets from IBM’s broad study, which surveyed more than 1,000 consumers and more than 300 businesses.

But they highlight a canyon-sized perception gap between companies and consumers when it comes to assessing why people interact with social media.

So for all of you trying to figure out how to use social media to enhance your business, be sure you know why your customers connect with you.

What’s in it for them? After all, the customer is always right.

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