This post is by Anjali Puri, Global Head of TNS Qualitative

Marketers have the opportunity to address one of the fundamental tensions created by technology, but it requires shifting focus from an attention-seeking, eyeball-counting agenda to one that makes people the recipients of attention.

When we talk with consumers about what makes them engage with brands online, we find an increasing desire to humanise the entities they are interacting with – more than anything else, consumers warm to brands that listen, respond and interact with them in the manner of real people. Take this comment about Kleenex, a brand that has managed its social media strategy in a brilliantly people-centric way.

"I was tweeting about watching a really sad episode of Grey's Anatomy (RIP McDreamy), and Kleenex responded to my tweet. I thought it was cool and kind of funny. Kleenex must also be victims of Shondaland. Lol"

What is interesting here is the feeling of affinity created by a shared experience, as if Kleenex was a real person. Examples abound of similar appreciation of brands that have listened and responded in a personalised, human way – whether this was playful, funny, sympathetic, supportive or flirtatious depending on what the situation demanded.

Data from the latest TNS study into the connected consumer, which spoke to over 60,000 consumers across 50 markets, suggests that brands that don't respond to tweets have seen their satisfaction scores drop by over 30%. Although this varies by categories, this is a testament to the value placed on responsiveness and dialogue. But people aren't just asking for their query to be addressed or their problem to be solved, although of course that is essential as well. What people are asking for is a personalised response that looks like it's coming from a real person who has heard and understood the tone and subtext of the message, not just its content – where "you can imagine a person on a keyboard typing the response rather than an automated generic reply".

What makes this point significant is that in recent years we have witnessed a huge decline in the attention people give to one another. We've been lamenting our obsessive use of social media that has turned our attention inwards. People have become brands in their own right, counting eyeballs and collecting 'likes', focused on their devices and insufficiently attentive to those around them.

There are two implications of this:

  • People are missing exactly what they have been withdrawing from others – the chance to be the centre of someone's complete and undivided attention. Although attention from a brand may not be the same as the attention of close friends, it is welcome nonetheless.
  • As consumers discover the thrill of managing and marketing their online identities, their need to get attention drives their willingness to give it. Receiving likes and comments results in reciprocal exchange of likes and comments; conversely, people are likely to give with the expectation of getting back.

Brands have been provided an opportunity to create unique connections with individual customers. To make the most of this opportunity, it is important to redefine the role they play in the attention economy – and to move to social media strategies underpinned by 'attention-giving' rather than 'attention-seeking'. Brands that can demonstrably give individual consumers their undivided attention in meaningful, human ways are likely to receive the same attention in exchange.