How to Make Corporate Social Media Posts Usable

Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox offers the results of user research related to corporate postings on social networks.  Nielsen finds that users like the simplicity of messages that pass into oblivion over time, but were frequently frustrated by unscannable writing, overly frequent postings, and their inability to locate companies on social networks.

Te study looked at only business use of social networks and RSS. Some interesting findings for business communicators:

  • Businesses that post too often crowd out the user’s real friends and become unpopular (and thus risk being unfollowed). Users listed too-frequent postings as their top annoyance with following companies and organizations on social networks.
  • Users prefer a more casual style for business messages on social networks than what’s appropriate for most corporate communications.
  • Users expect RSS feeds to be more business-like and to cut the chit-chat.
  • RSS updates were viewed as more trustworthy and as more “official” sources than social messages.
  • Users were more likely to check RSS feeds at work, whereas they mainly accessed social networks from home.
  • Once a message drops off a user’s main page, it might as well not exist. Users who continue browsing messages on the second page are almost unheard of. This makes stream-based media less powerful than email newsletters in terms of maintaining a customer relationship.
  • Most users visited Facebook and Twitter at least daily, and MySpace and LinkedIn less frequently.
  • The three great motivators are fear, greed, and exclusivity, and social network postings can address the latter two. Users were particularly interested in getting deals (greed). Yet, while users recognize that corporate postings are commercial — rather than friendship-driven — they do resist overly aggressive selling. Finding the proper balance is crucial.
  • Users want postings to be current.
  • Companies that established a presence that they didn’t bother to update gave users a very negative impression when they were looking into companies’ social features. Even more irksome were cases in which friend requests weren’t promptly answered.
  • It’s rare for users to actively seek out companies and organizations on social networking sites. Typically, the impetus to follow a company came via a prompt of some sort — such as a recommendation from a friend, an email (newsletter or confirmation) from the company, or a link from the company’s website.
  • The messages that received the highest scores had three things in common: they contained something of substance, were timely, and provided the kind of information that users expected from the source company or organization.