November 10, 2015

MarketingSherpa Marketing Practices Survey: How marketers entice customers to follow brands' social accounts

SUMMARY: People are less likely to follow brands' social media accounts and interact with brands socially than they are to interact with other people. MarketingSherpa asked 455 marketers how they approach the challenge of attracting customers to follow their brands' social accounts. Read on to learn from other marketers' experiences how to encourage customers to interact with your brand on social media.
by Dr. Liva LaMontagne , Editorial Research Manager

At its best, social media provides an opportunity for brands to build and maintain meaningful relationships with their customers. As Susan Fiske wrote in her 2013 book with Chris Malone, The Human Brand, a consistent focus on building personal relationships with customers will be essential for success in the decades to come:

"The companies that are succeeding these days … are the companies that present themselves as human. They are responding to our natural desires for honest and direct relationships, reflecting the character of all commercial relationships prior to industrialization."

However, customers don't trust organizations as much as they trust other humans and therefore building a meaningful brand-to-customer relationship can be a challenge.

FT Magazine's Ian Leslie is even more skeptical, stating that social "engagement" between brands and customers is largely pointless because even the people who do join brand pages on Facebook hardly ever click on them:

People might watch ads on Facebook or YouTube, but that’s about all the interaction they want (Facebook itself recently conceded this point). A senior marketer at the drinks company Diageo ... [said] "After 10 or 15 years of [messing] around with digital we’ve [realized] that people don’t want to 'engage' with brands, because they don’t care about them."

How do marketers approach the challenge of attracting customers to follow their social media accounts? MarketingSherpa set out to answer this among other questions in its Marketing Practices survey.


Through September 15-28, 2015, MarketingSherpa conducted an online survey with 455 marketers from its subscriber list. Marketers surveyed represent mostly North America (80%), but include also Europe (11%), Australia (4%), Asia (3%), South America (2%) and Africa (0.7%, or three marketers).

Participants represent an almost even split between B2C (34%) and B2B (32%) companies across various industries, including:
  • Retail and ecommerce

  • Marketing agency and consultancy

  • Software and SaaS

  • Manufacturing and packaged goods

  • Professional and financial services

  • Nonprofit and education

  • Media and publishing

  • Travel and hospitality

  • Healthcare/government and military

We asked marketers, "How do you attract customers to follow, like, connect, etc. with your brand's social media account(s)? Please select all that apply."

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The overwhelming majority of marketers surveyed (78%) said they create useful content like how-to articles, reviews and tip sheets. More than half (61%) said they also prominently display social media icons in their marketing communications like emails, print ads and websites. The least popular approach was trying to create viral campaigns (13%).

Email seems to be a popular intermediary step to invite customers to engage with brands on social media. The "Other/Write-In" category that 4% of marketers chose included responses like "emails where they customize the content" and "emailed weekly updates," but also organizing online communities, inviting customers to submit articles to their online journal and writing blog posts.

Other methods included offline events: trade shows, relevant events, special events at conferences, yearly customer events and networking.

We also asked marketers: "What have you learned about getting customers to engage with your brand?" Some of them allowed us to quote them with their names and titles, but others will be unattributed.

The following answer themes emerged:

A new challenge

"We are just starting with that. Stay true and don't fake it." (Marcel Haan, Founder and Owner, CarArtSpot)

"Still a work in progress. Whatever it is, it has to be funny, sexy [or] fear-based." (Melissa Carbajal, Owner and CEO, de Blakeland Consulting, and CMO, Botoa)

Being customer-centric

"Regularity is NOT the benchmark, but relevant thought is. People don't need emails on a regular schedule like they don't need their friends to send them regular emails to remember them. What people want is that when we hit the inbox it is worth their time. Every time." (Alfred Blasko, Founder, Saxest Media)

"[You] have to take the customer mindset — 'what's in it for them?'"

"Customers engage with our brand when we are offering something truly beneficial to them."

Offering helpful information

"Useful content — including infographics — that people can use and easily share are great tools. It's a conversation, and you can't always just be 'selling' or pushing product." (Larry Baird, Vice President of Marketing, Tiger Pistol)

"[You] can't flood them. Needs to be personalized, specific and helpful."

"The best way to drive engagement is by offering real value (usually information). This positions us as subject-matter experts and the go-to guys for questions on related topics."

Analytics and its challenges

"Metrics. Knowing what type of content customers are interested in by viewing behavioral data on where on website they click, which type of blog post content they're interested in. Then, we take this data and create topical e-books, white papers, etc. to further engage and retain our clients." (Joanna Eliopoulos, Digital Marketing Manager, Clickback)

"It is really difficult to see a holistic view of what and how the customer wants to engage with us … without having a marketing data mart. Tying our various executions, online and offline data is extremely manual without this data mart to do the stitching for us."


"Email works best." (Melissa Smith, Manager of Ecommerce and Retail Sales, Montana Silversmiths)

"Email is great and cost-effective, but easy for customers to tune us out."

Multi-channel interaction

"Multi-channel marketing is what builds brand credibility. We use email, website, social, ecommerce, print and personal contact to get our customers to engage with us," (Jill Henry, Email Marketing Manager, DENTSPLY)

"Inbound marketing via dedicated blog, social media posts, landing pages and email notifications appears to work well for lead nurturing." (Cat Topp, Marketing Manager, Cohort Global)

"Depending on the audience, you need to use different tactics. For low involvement categories, one touch may be enough to inspire engagement and for high involvement categories, a number of tactics combined in harmony works best. Test and learn and optimize to determine [the] most efficient way to drive engagement."

Giving Customers Choice

"The more options you give, the more confusing it gets. Offering a bundle of how to engage is huge and then allowing them to self-tailor if they have the desire or time has been hugely successful." (Zachary Zeiler, CEO, IDM, LLC.)

"Choice, transparency in what you plan to do with their permissions."


"You need a good 'ethical bribe.'"

"They don't seem likely to do it, unless we give them an incentive of some sort. We tried to get people to take photos of our products in use and tag us, but it rarely happens. My guess is that if we tied it to a giveaway, we might get more engagement around it."


The popularity of producing useful content is not surprising. Neither is providing clear calls-to-action.

"You don't get what you don't ask for. So, if you have weak sauce for calls-to-action ... guess what? You're not going to get boo for engagement," said one of our respondents.

As Jay Baer writes in his 2013 book Youtility, today's customers are faced with an "invitation avalanche" from companies "asking for likes, follows, clicks and attention."

In this environment Baer says there are only two ways for a company to breakthrough — be amazing or be useful.

Being amazing is difficult to do, which probably explains why trying to create viral campaigns was one of the least popular approaches among marketers we surveyed. However, according to Baer, providing useful information is a simple way to create long-term trust and kinship between your company and customers.

Nevertheless, just because creating viral campaigns is difficult doesn't mean it doesn't pay off. We have repeatedly reported success stories of companies creating viral emails, and achieving viral social sharing of events by being human with their audiences.

To sum up, attracting customers to follow brands' accounts on social media can be a challenging task, and most marketers are approaching it by creating and providing customers useful content, and prominently displaying asks to follow them on social media.

Now that we've examined marketers' perspective, let's see what actually motivates customers to follow brands on social media. We will be discussing the MarketingSherpa customer survey results in next week's Chart of the Week.

Related Resources

Subscribe to MarketingSherpa Chart of the Week — Get data and discoveries delivered to your inbox

Youtility, by Jay Baer

The Human Brand, by Susan Fiske and Chris Malone

How the Mad Men lost the plot (by Ian Leslie, FT Magazine)

Social Media: Mellow Mushroom's tips for engaging Facebook followers (From the MarketingSherpa blog)

Social Media Marketing: How Lilly Pulitzer, Kahlua and Neiman Marcus use brand influencers (From the MarketingSherpa blog)

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