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Why do consumers break up with brands on email, Facebook and Twitter?

But like any relationship, the consumer/brand relationship has a distinct and fascinating life cycle. The relationship begins with the initial "spark"—and the decision by the consumer to become a SUBSCRIBER (to email updates), FAN (on Facebook), or FOLLOWER (on Twitter) - followed by a blissful honeymoon period in which the consumer gets to know the company better through a number of social interactions.

Like any relationship, the getting to know you stage can be the most important, and often the most revealing.  The frequency and quality of interactions shapes the consumer’s desire to take the relationship to the next level—which may be a purchase, recommendation, or even brand advocacy. Consumers want to know that companies are committed to the relationship—and they care; whilst companies express their commitment to the relationship through engaging and appropriate communications, delivered to the right place at the right time.

If the company fails any of these relationship tests, a "social break-up"— an "unsubscribe," "unfan," "unlike," or "unfollow" —is all but inevitable. When the consumer is no longer happy in the relationship, they will actively break off contact with the company… or just ignore their communications in the hope that the company will get the message that it’s over.

So what can marketers do to keep customers ‘turned on’ rather than ‘turned off’?

Email: Consumers want brands to send them relevant content that is tailored to their personal interests. They expect marketers to honour permissions, and show restraint when it comes to email frequency. They measure emails not against the best in the industry, but against the best senders in their inbox.  Marketers must respect the fact that email-based brand relationships are built on trust. 77% of online consumers say they’ve become more cautious about giving companies their email address over the past year, and 91% have unsubscribed from permission-based marketing emails.  This doesn’t mean that consumers are souring on email in general—it simply means they’ve become far savvier, and their expectations of marketers have increased.

Facebook:  Facebook is a great way for consumers to engage with brands they already know and trust. They expect marketers to keep their pages fresh and interesting, and to limit their posts to avoid drowning out social interactions.  Because consumers’ motivations for "liking" a brand vary, so do expectations of how brands should engage with them. This creates something of a love-hate relationship with marketing.  Like choosing a partner, some consumers will want to be entertained and to have some fun, whilst others only want direct tangible benefits such as offers and discounts.  Those aged under 24 are least likely to expect marketing messages (40%), while those who are 35+ are far more likely to expect them (55%) – cynical you could say. It’s always important to read the signals and tread carefully when it comes to assuming that "like" equals permission... Nobody said anything about love!

Twitter:  Those who actively use Twitter expect frequent, focused Tweets from brands, but they don’t want to be overwhelmed. And they expect to receive prompt answers when they ask questions via Twitter. As a whole, consumers seem quite comfortable using the platform to interact with brands – and see it as a two-way communication tool.  Perhaps because of their fondness for connection, users are less likely to stop following a brand than Facebook or email users (41% for Twitter, versus 55% for Facebook and 91% for email). Of course, break-ups still happen. And when they do, it’s usually about content, not frequency.  Content that becomes repetitive or boring is the most common reason people disengage (52%). Marketers should also keep their Tweets focused on delivering value, as 20% of Twitter users have stopped following a company because Tweets were too chatty.

Most romances come to an end at some point, and—whether conducted through Email, Facebook, or Twitter—online consumer-brand relationships are no exception. Regardless of channel, one thing consistently drives consumers away; communications that, in some way, demonstrate that the company doesn’t care...