How to Get the Most Out of Social Networks and Not Annoy Users

Amid Constant Deluge of Requests, Marketers Must Work Harder to Persuade People to Join Their Pages

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LONDON ( -- Welcome to social-media message overload.

The constant barrage of invites to sign up for this group or download that app are starting to wear on social-network users, presenting big challenges for the brands and marketers who are looking to use these sites to aggregate fans and cultivate relationships with customers.

LOVE IT OR HATE IT: The strong opinions of Marmite provide fora fun discussion space.
LOVE IT OR HATE IT: The strong opinions of Marmite provide fora fun discussion space.
Nearly a third of social networkers say they are fed up with the constant requests to join groups and try new applications, according to research by the Internet Advertising Bureau in the U.K. That means marketers will need to work harder and keep innovating if they want to harness the consumer power of social networks and persuade people to join their sponsored sites or pages.

When asked "What do you dislike about social networks?" by far the highest response, at 31%, was that there are too many invites to install applications, followed by 16% who said "when advertising isn't relevant to me." Slightly more than 5% complained about messages from brands and another 5% actually lamented the addictiveness of social networks. About 12% said they had no complaints. The research showed that 7% of respondents sign up to find out about brands.

"From a marketer's perspective, social networks look brilliant on paper," said Alistair Beattie, head of strategic planning at AKQA, London. "It's a switched-on crowd with a huge amount of time who hold brands close to them. The difficulty is that they regard this as their space. We have all become our own source of entertainment. ... But there is a resistance to being advertised at in our own spaces."

Keeping spam down
Amy Kean, IAB senior marketing manager, said, "Despite [social networking's] popularity, this study shows that respect for the user is just as important in social media. Users will not respond to spam or irrelevant advertising." And controlling those intrusions will have to become a higher priority for social networks, said Union Square Venture's Fred Wilson at Ad Age's recent digital conference.

"One of [social networks'] biggest costs is 'environmental mediation,' or keeping the bad people at bay," Mr. Wilson said.

AKQA had success with a Marmite group on Facebook. The savory spread's advertising message is "Love it or hate it," so the group works well as a discussion topic for social networkers. Fans post recipes, discuss weird and wonderful ways to enjoy the sticky black spread, tell tales of conversion to the taste and share frustrations about not being able to purchase it outside the U.K.

Too often, Mr. Beattie said, advertising on social networks is "still a traditional interruptive approach where brands are piggybacking on content that people value."

The IAB research found that exclusive content, which appeals to 28% of social networkers, and a genuine interest in the message, which attracts 37%, are the keys to a positive response from consumers on social networks. And because only 5% say that they actively dislike messages from brands, there are big opportunities for marketers who can hit the right notes.

"To be popular, brands need to have a personality and be someone that people want to be friends with," Mr. Beattie said. "The guiding principle is to offer things that are not available elsewhere, things that give social kudos or bragging rights. Brands are part of the fabric of people's lives and ultimately most are happy to be identified as friends of a brand."

The IAB study of nearly 2,000 internet users also showed that social networks are taking on extra relevance in the current economic climate. Forty-one percent of members say they now place even more value on ratings and reviews from family and friends on a social network. Mobile social-networking is also on the increase. Updating social-network sites via mobile handsets is increasing, with 25% of all respondents logging on to check or update their pages.

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