Earlier in the week, I blogged about a survey commissioned by Australian telco Optus looking at the future of business.

As well as surveying 550 people working in companies, they also surveyed 2,177 Australian consumers aged 18 and older about their current and future expectations of interacting with organisations via traditional and digital channels.

The headline news from the report for me, and the reason for my post was that only 4% of Australian consumers using social media to contact companies.

My initial view was that the 4% number was surely a typo. As my Australian community woke to the news, this is how they responded.

Laurel Papworth was the first to respond – agreeing with the 4% figure in the report.

Joanne Jacobs who until recently was based in the UK also agreed.

My former Telstra pal Andrew Inwood took a more cynical view

UBank Digital Director Jennie Bewes cautioned us to look at the bigger picture.

Fellow South Australian Michelle Prak also mentioned a recent Yellow Pages Australia social media report. Note that Yellow Pages is owned by Telstra, who compete directly with Optus. I worked for both companies when I was living in Australia.

From my quick scan of the report, I can’t see a direct figure quoted for the % of Australians that use social media to engage with companies.

The Yellow Pages report highlights are below, and you can download the full report.

The responses from my fellow Aussies does highlight is that there is a huge opportunity for consumers to engage with companies via social media.

It feels like Australia is where the UK was in 2009 – and so we know how the story ends.

I’m going to give the final word to Kassie Sheldon who is from Optus and was kind enough to post a response from her personal point of view on my blog.

I am publishing her comment in full below, with her permission – very insightful.

kassie-sheldonJust a note, my name is Kassie Sheldon and I am the Content, Digital and Social Marketing Manager at Optus Business. The following thoughts are my own.

Andrew – firstly, great post.

Our report highlights that 20% of consumers said they expect to be able to use social media in 3–5 years to interact with businesses, but only 8% cited it as their preference (compared with other channels). Unfortunately, however, all the remaining cited statistics are correct, and it’s certainly worth asking why this is the case.

It’s not that Australians are not happy users of social media – we spend more time on social than almost any nation in the world (http://thenextweb.com/au/2010/…, and we have strong adoption of social media (http://www.socialmedianews.com…. Our report shows that over 60% of Australian organisations use social media to engage customers, which is certainly higher than the reported consumer engagement rate (http://yesopt.us/fb).

So why is there such low consumer engagement? Partly this could be because Australian businesses do not use their social channels to ‘talk’ to consumers, but more often to ‘broadcast’ information out to audiences. As a result, consumers may feel their voice won’t be heard on social media, and they revert to a phone line for information and support. Our research indicates a lack of trust in the reliability of
social as a communication platform which may also be impacting on perceived
preferred channels for engagement in 3-5 years.

But there may be a series of other possible explanations – lack of privacy, lack of time to wait for a response, or even consumers not considering their existing low-level contact with businesses in social channels as being worthy of reporting.

Regardless of the explanation, I feel this research identifies a key opportunity for Australian businesses. Adopting a more open and socially driven business can be key to driving consumer contact through social media, and this is absolutely essential to remain competitive. This can be seen as a wake-up call for businesses to focus more on social media as a communication channel and to engage with consumers in a manner that is useful, rather than just for push messages. Perceptions about preferred social channels over 3-5 years can change. It’s our responsibility to educate businesses about how to make social channels engaging and to do so in a manner that optimises business.

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