January 9, 2013 8:54 PM

Maybe Nobody Knows Nothing

Consumers are fundamentally ahead of brands when it comes to technology and social media.

You may have heard this line before. I use this line in my presentations, in articles and in past blog posts. It is the battlecry by which us marketers hope to shake and wake brands up to the realities of our new world. Consumers are both connected (to the Internet and one another) and untethered (thank you, smartphones and tablets). Brands are still grappling with basic social media chops, better conversion on e-commerce sites and nearly nowhere to be found when it comes to providing value through a mobile device.

Maybe consumers are not as sophisticated as we would like to believe.

Before you laugh, slam your keyboard in disbelief or start ranting at me in the comments section below, please stop and think about it. How great are people at truly understanding the difference between a blog and a website? What about setting up and properly using channels like Facebook, Twitter, tumblr and beyond? Do consumers know which of their content is public and which parts are private (or by invitation only)? How many consumers do you think fully understand the process of downloading, using and managing their apps? According to a MediaPost news item published today titled, Study: Consumers Don't Fully Understand Social Media, Search, consumers may not be as great at this stuff as you might think.

Is it bad?

According to the news item: "Some 70% of adults online know how to post to a Facebook wall, but only 54% understand how Facebook generates revenue... Men demonstrate a higher understanding of Facebook's monetization strategies at 57%, versus women at 51%, according to findings from The Search Agency and Harris Interactive's study '2012 Online User Behavior and Engagement,' which analyzes consumer behavior and knowledge around social networks and search engines.... When asked how search engines make money, nearly 29% of survey respondents believe brands pay annual dues for use, while 20% believe that users pay for premium search features. More than one-third of U.S. online adults believe search engines sell users' personal data to marketers."

Lucy, you got some 'splaining to do...

Granted, this is a sampling of about 2000 people and I'm sure this is the type of research that people like Tom Webster (more on him here: SPOS #336 - Stats, Lies And Data With Tom Webster) can turn into Swiss cheese, but it's an interesting thought (regardless of how accurate the actual data is): are consumers that sophisticated and knowledgeable about how these social media channels work, how they make money and what their full (and true) capabilities are? Or, is this a non-starter for you? If we have millions upon millions of connected people using everything from the Internet to mobile devices as a way to stay connected (to friends, family, brands or whatever), but the majority (or a large minority) really don't know how to leverage that, does it make you change your brand strategy, engagement and more?

Playing to the one percent.

Maybe there's something beyond the financial one percent and we're living in the area of the digital one percent. Maybe, it's actually a small fraction of people (like you and I) who truly understand what they're doing, how what they publish makes them a media channel and just how empowered the individual now is? This research report reminds me of the constant strains I hear from executives about their marketing efforts: namely that they feel like they are behind and not adept at this brave new world. Perhaps the brands are not alone. Perhaps there is a vast majority of the population that feels the exact same way as these brands do.

It's something to think about. Seriously.