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Align Your Social Media Marketing
with Customer Time Priorities

By Adrian Ott
Author of The 24-Hour Customer: New Rules for Winning in a Time-Starved, Always-Connected Economy

Many marketing professionals approach social media with a one-size-fits-all technique. Their mantra for success is to "have a conversation with the customer." But what if the customer doesn't want a conversation with them?

Every day, the average American is exposed to more than 1,600 advertising impressions. With constant demands on our time, including work and family obligations, most consumers are able to pay attention to only a handful of products or services. According to a recent study, a majority of Facebook users follow or "like" five or fewer brands. Another 21 percent (totaling 86 percent surveyed) follow 10 or fewer brands.

Consider the brands from which we already purchase. Our bank, our telephone, the insurance company—there are simply not enough hours in the day to consistently interact with all the brands from which we buy. Although they are important, most of us would prefer to minimize interaction and limit conversation to devote precious attention to our family, hobbies, or job.

So if only a handful of brands will get the attention and ongoing conversations that many marketing professionals desire, how should you best deploy social media? I've identified four key ways to optimize social media for success. These efforts involve aligning your social media initiatives with customer time priorities.

I believe that customers triage their time and attention according to the Timeographics Framework (Figure 1):

Figure 1: Timeographics Framework reprinted with permission from the book, The 24-Hour Customer by Adrian Ott

Mapping your product or service to one of four quadrants of customer priorities helps define an optimal social media strategy:

  • Time Magnets (Customers Devote High Time, High Attention): These are activities and brands that are addictive. Examples include Disney, Facebook, Zynga (social games), and LinkedIn (B2B). This quadrant is where customers are willing to engage and have social conversations with your brand. Time Magnets tap into motivational triggers, such as status, friends, and personal achievement to lure users into lingering longer on their site (peers, power, and personal pursuits). If your product or service falls into this quadrant, you should pursue traditional social media activities with customers—such as blogs, gamification, and rewards—or develop a community, because people want to interact. The strategy in the Time Magnet quadrant is to create dwell time, because more time is more money. This is achieved through new ideas and fresh content that continues to draw attention. This is the reason why Facebook partners with gaming companies, movies, and even college degree programs. Consider what would happen to the value of Facebook if no one logged in tomorrow. (Remember Myspace?)
  • Time on Autopilot (Customers Devote High Time, Low Attention): This quadrant encompasses brands that we habitually use every day, such as banking, insurance, and phone services. We consume them but simply want them to work. We often are not consciously aware of their existence, because they operate in the background. The optimal social media strategy for this quadrant is to monitor for what I call "prairie dog moments." Similar to the small Midwestern animals that peek out of their burrows and look around, these are events when consumers "wake up" and look around for alternatives. Consider if a piece of software broke on your PC. It is during this time that you might say, "Maybe I should buy something else, because this is disrupting my life." It is during such prairie dog moments that consumers are most likely to post negative Twitter or Facebook comments about your brand. Monitoring social media for prairie dog moments from a customer service perspective will help you to become more responsive and retain your customers. Listening for comments about your competitors on social media is also an optimal strategy, because this is when alternative solutions are considered and customers are open to switching brands.
  • Time Savings (Customers Devote Low Time, High Attention): In this quadrant, customers value your brand by how much you increase their productivity. Attention is high, but only for a brief moment until the customer issue is resolved. Consider how services like FedEx reduce steps and time involved in mailing packages. Enabling your customers to save time while using social media is key to success in this quadrant. An example would be to enable tracking of delivery orders to be initiated while in Facebook. Another method is to use social media analytics to predict what customers need before they need it. Garde Robe, a travel assistance company, often provides an umbrella to clients who arrive at a destination where it is raining, and it is determined that the client forgot theirs. This is predictive convenience that clients value because it is thinking ahead. Listening to customer tweets, status updates, and location check-ins help to anticipate their needs as they work through a process.
  • Time Minimized (Customers Devote Low Time, Low Attention): Customers tend to triage most brands into this quadrant because of the overabundance of products and services. Time Minimized relationships are driven by price triggers. With price, you can gain a customer's attention, but only for a short period of time. According to a study by ExactTarget, most people "like" a brand on Facebook not because they want a conversation, but because they want a discount, coupon, or giveaway. Although you can offer a discount to get a "like," these are drive-by relationships. A more powerful solution is to build your discount into an integrated loyalty program where higher discounts are achieved to lure repeat customer interactions. Once achieved, it may be possible to transition customers to a different quadrant where other social media mechanisms may be pursued if the customer deems your product or service worthy of significant time and attention.

The Timeographics Framework helps social media marketers align products and services to customer time and attention priorities. Attempting to interact when your customers will not invest the time is a waste of your time and theirs—and it will frustrate the relationship. Although there is no single, clear-cut answer for every situation, customer timeographics help you identify and pursue optimal social media marketing initiatives that will succeed by breaking through the clutter in peoples' lives.

Adrian Ott

Adrian Ott is a strategist, a consultant, and the award-winning author of The 24-Hour Customer: New Rules for Winning in a Time-Starved, Always-Connected Economy. Adrian is also the CEO and founder of Exponential Edge. She has been interviewed on Bloomberg TV, Fox Business News, The Washington Post, Businessweek, and other major media and is a sought-after keynote speaker at industry events such as TEDx. In addition to consulting and speaking, Adrian is a top expert blogger on Fast Company and chairs the Strategy and Growth Roundtable for the Harvard Business School Association of Northern California. She holds an MBA degree from Harvard Business School and a BS degree from the University of California at Berkeley.