How Companies are Tuning into Consumers Through Social Media


In this research, we focused on large consumer companies (as against business-to-business firms) and their use of public social networking sites (not their use of social networking tools for internal collaboration). What’s more, we explored how these companies were using social media as far more than a marketing tool.

There had already been significant research by other firms about how consumer companies were using social media to market their offerings and improve their brand reputations. But we wanted to go beyond that – to know how many companies were using public social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn for such purposes as:

  • Improving their current products and services
  • Generating and testing ideas for new products and services
  • Bolstering customer service
  • Identifying production and distribution flaws
  • Making other vital changes to their products and the processes that supported them

In other words, we wanted to investigate how large consumer companies were (or were not) using public social media in just about every aspect of their business that affects consumers: marketing, sales, customer service, R&D/product development, production, logistics, finance and more. More specifically, we wanted to understand five core issues:

  1. How cross-functional companies’ social media initiatives were: Did each function (or just one function) use social media in isolation, or did multiple functions share social media data and insights about consumers?
  2. Who controlled these companies’ social media activities? Was it marketing? Sales? Service? No one function? A social media group? Another entity?
  3. What kinds of benefits were companies generating from being able to listen and respond to consumers via social media? How did their initiatives help them market more effectively, sell more, improve current offerings, identify the need for new offerings, and improve processes, policies and practices?
  4. What led to larger benefits from social media? Was it the way social media activities were organized (e.g., centralized vs. decentralized)? How much was invested in terms of money and people? Since what year had the company been engaged in social media? What social media platforms did they use (e.g., corporate blogs or pages on public social network sites)? Was their corporate culture different? Did they have backing from the top? Were senior executives using social media themselves? Something else?
  5. What were the biggest barriers to gaining benefits from social media? And how did the companies with the biggest benefits overcome them?

In all, we surveyed 655 respondents from mostly $1 billion+ consumer companies in June
and July 2013.The average revenue of our respondents was $15.6 billion (median of $4.9
billion). (See Exhibit I-3) They came from 11 global industries (see Exhibit I-4):

  • Banking/financial services
  • Consumer packaged goods (food and beverage, health and beauty, etc.)
  • Heavy manufacturing (automotive, appliances, etc.)
  • Retail
  • High tech (consumer software and hardware)
  • Media and entertainment companies (including consumer Internet companies)
  • Insurance (life, health, auto, home)
  • Hospitality, airlines and other travel services
  • Telecommunications services (mobile, wireline and devices)
  • Healthcare products and services
  • Utilities (gas, electric, water, etc.)

Exhibit I-3: Survey Respondents by Average Annual Revenue

Exhibit I-3: Survey Respondents by Average Annual Revenue

Exhibit I-4: Percentage of Survey Respondents in 11 Global Consumer Industries

Exhibit I-4: Percentage of Survey Respondents in 11 Global Consumer Industries

We also interviewed executives in 13 companies, whose participation was based on remaining anonymous:

  • Two large insurance companies
  • Four major financial services firms
  • Four large media and entertainment companies
  • A midsized (less than $1 billion) apparel company
  • One major consumer electronics company
  • One large food company

Further, we spent significant time finding and reviewing the public speaking presentations and press articles on several dozen other major companies (including 3M, Nestle, and Ford Motor Co.). Their public discussions provide numerous insights into how they view and use social media initiatives.

This study explores how 11 global consumer industries and large companies in the world’s four largest economic regions, North America, Europe, Asia Pacific and Latin America, are using social media. This report provides the results of our research. It also compares where large companies are with social media as compared to their adoption of Big Data/analytics and mobile devices. This report is the fourth we’ve published since 2011, the most recent of which was on Big Data. Thus, we can compare the results of this study to those of our other studies.


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