Why consumers follow and unfollow brands on social media - ClickZ

30-second summary:

  • Sprout Social has been compiling a consumer index report of social media trends since 2013. Their 2020 report contains new insights and statics about how brands and consumers interact on social platforms.
  • Marketers can use this information to better align their social media strategy to their customers’ expectations, ensuring that their content resonates.
  • The survey revealed that 89% of consumers will buy from a brand they follow on social media and 75% will increase spending with that same brand.
  • Understanding why consumers follow (and unfollow) brands, what type of content they’re most (and least) interested in, and what stand-out brands are doing right can help marketers gain more followers, while driving leads, sales, and growth for their organization.

Sprout Social’s 2020 consumer index survey, Edition XVI: Above & Beyond, found that 50% of consumers have increased their social media usage in the past six months.

The data in the report was gathered between February 28, 2020 and March 4, 2020 and compiled based on the responses of 1028 consumers and 1003 marketers.

What’s clear from the research is that social media is a powerful channel for brands. The survey revealed that 89% of consumers will buy from a brand they follow on social media and 75% will increase spending with that same brand.

But social media is rife with pitfalls that include poor targeting, too many ads, and the possibility of going completely off the rails with content, all of which can have dire consequences.

Consider the following:

  • 49% of consumers unfollow brands because of poor quality of product or support and poor customer service.
  • 45% of consumers unfollow brands because of irrelevant content or (Read more...) many ads from the brand.
  • 39% of consumers unfollow brands because of privacy concerns.

To mitigate the loss of followers, brands must constantly calibrate their social media strategy so that it’s in line with consumer expectations and social media norms. This requires a deep understanding of how their audience uses social media.

Why (and when) do people use social media, anyway?

People aren’t on social media to follow your brand. At least, not initially. They’re there to connect with friends and family, kill time, and be inspired.

When consumers follow brands, it’s generally as a response to things like feed discovery tools, recommendations from people in their network, because they already like a brand and because someone they admire (e.g., an influencer) mentions the brand.

Source: Sprout Social

As the above chart illustrates, consumers typically find new accounts to like and follow based on suggestions in their feed or via a platform’s discovery tools. Thus, running social ads on platforms like Twitter and Facebook is an excellent way for your brand to be present on a given platform.

To this end, Sprout asked consumers when they’re most likely to be on social media. The top reason, noted by half of respondents, was to announce personal milestones.


Other top reasons that consumers use social, in order of priority, include sporting events, natural disasters and holidays, political events, pop culture moments and award shows.

For most brands it’s difficult (and inadvisable) to time an ad around a natural disaster, but understanding that people go online during pivotal events like holidays and political campaigns can help you plan your posts and content appropriately.

Another thing to consider—different age groups use social media differently. For example, Gen Z tends to find new accounts via the influencers they follow, while Gen X discovers new accounts from family and friend recommendations.

Sprout writes, “Social data can tell brands when their customers are most likely to be on social media and what types of content are likely to resonate. If you’re targeting customers celebrating a personal milestone, such as a wedding, birthday, or vacation, consider which social platforms those people use to source inspiration.”

People follow brands on social media because they’re interested in their products

One major way to avoid losing followers is to understand why people are following your brand in the first place.

The number one reason people follow brands, as indicated by nearly 60% of consumer respondents, is to learn about new products and services. The next reason is to stay up-to-date on company news, followed by the desire to learn about discounts and promotions.

By the way, it’s just as helpful for brands to know what people aren’t interested in. As the above chart demonstrates, people don’t typically follow brands to connect with people who are different from them or to communicate with the brand.

But what causes people to actively unfollow a brand? The main reason people unfollow brands is poor quality of a product or poor product support, with nearly half of consumer respondents listing this as the reason they unfollow brands.

Other top reasons include poor customer service, irrelevant content, too many ads, and privacy concerns.

Once you understand the needs, likes, and dislikes of your specific customer, you can more consistently create the content that resonates with them (and thus, avoid the dreaded “unfollow.”)

When your social media strategy resonates with your followers, it truly pays off. Over 90% of consumers who follow a brand on social media, visit that brand’s website or application and 90% will buy from that brand.

Likewise, 85% of consumers will recommend that brand to a friend or family member, while 84% will choose that brand over a competitor.

A word about content

Sprout asked consumers what type of content they want to engage most with on social media. Unsurprisingly, images were the preferred content type at 68% followed by video at 50%. Text, stories, and polls were also popular, although less so, landing at or around 30%.

Source: Sprout Social

Again, it can be helpful to understand the least popular content types so you can avoid generating unfollows due to uninteresting or irrelevant content.

Survey results revealed that user-generated content was the least popular content type on social media, followed by Q&As or AMAs (e.g., ask me anything).

Nearly 60% of consumers who have a great experience with a brand are more likely to message the brand or reach out with a customer issue.

This type of consumer interaction goes beyond simply engaging with the brand’s social content, and is another (powerful) reason why it’s important for brands to have a strong social media presence.

Other top reasons consumers message brands include:

  • Customer service issues
  • The brand’s posts align with the customer’s beliefs
  • The customer craves social connection
  • Privacy or security concerns
  • The brand’s posts are entertaining

What this means for marketers

Marketers who understand why their customers use social media including what platforms they favor, the type of content they crave, and the common issues they turn to social platforms to address, will be able to provide a more consistent, positive social media experience to their followers.

In short, if you want to make social work for your brand, you must be on the same page as your customers. Understanding where the disconnect lies between the marketer and the consumer is really the first place you should look if you’re having an issue gaining and keeping followers.

Sprout found that consumers and marketers differed somewhat when asked what makes a brand’s social presence best in class.

Source: Sprout Social

While many of the items in the above graph align, such as having a distinct personality and engaging with the brand’s audience, there is also some disparity.

For example, 35% of brands indicated that transparency made a brand stand out on social versus 45% of consumers. Likewise, 26% of brands feel that pop culture references are important on social versus 18% of consumers.

Likewise, brands listed being unique and interactive as two key qualities they feel make their social presence stand out, but consumers were more focused on the brand being entertaining (but also unique).

Sprout notes that Nike was listed as a top brand to follow on social among 9% of their consumer respondents. Nike is particularly good at creating campaigns that are impactful, socially relevant, and creative.

Sprout writes, “The key to Nike’s success—which any brand can emulate—is intimately knowing their target audience. Sneakerheads are always on the lookout for the big releases and use social media to stay informed of when and where the next “drop” will take place.”

The statistics in this article were taken from Sprout Social’s most recent Index report.

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