Miscellaneous Forbes

An Analysis Of Consumer Downtime In An Always-On World And What It Means For Marketers


On Marketing, Contributor

April 24, 2014

This article is by Sam Stein, analyst, Insights and Planning, 360i.

The year is 2014 and citizens of the world are connected like never before, awakened to the capacity for hyperactivity by smart devices and networks. Immediacy is the status quo and information gushes from an Internet of things, inspiring ideas and facilitating actions everywhere, all the time.

And yet there is a strong undercurrent of downtime in our lives: More than 60,000 mentions of “waiting” are posted to Twitter every day, topping the daily mention totals of very common activities, including “eating” and “sleeping.” Perhaps because of our always-on access, we live much of our lives in anticipation, wavering between restless excitement and dreaded boredom as we wait for things to happen.

The Insights group at 360i had a hunch that all of this “waiting” buzz says something important about culture and consumer behavior. We listened in to draw meaning from this expansive set of conversations – here’s what we learned:

Above all, people seek people

Our analysis identified four distinct classifications of “waiting” discussions. The leading category highlights our persistent search for human connection: More than one-third of the buzz is driven by people waiting for another person.

In between sharing content, life-casting events, and self-promoting, consumers take to social to express feelings of loneliness. Interestingly, this is not solely traced to a lack of direct connection in established couples or friendships, as it appears that existing familiarity is not necessarily a prerequisite for the relationships consumers wait for. In fact, 44% of the People & Relationships Tweets involved waiting for someone the user doesn’t personally know, such as a future love or a favorite celebrity. People seem to find relief simply by sharing the ache of a lonely wait through a social post, such as, “I’m still waiting for that perfect someone. ”

Takeaway: At the deepest level, people are drawn to connecting with others more than attaining material goods or accessing fun experiences, as evidenced by limited branded conversation. This persistent search for relationships does not always require a preexisting intimate bond, however, suggesting that brands – through authentic value exchanges – can play the role of “the other half.”

Social value cultivates patience

We hypothesized that “waiting” conversations would trend negative, spurred by the agitation of things like long lines or delayed shipments. Our analysis reveals, however, that the majority of discussion around waiting is neutral in tone, with favorability nearly on par with complaints. If not to complain about waiting, then why share?

Turns out that most of the time we talk about waiting, it’s in the context of a result that would be nice to have – as opposed to a critical need – as these discussions attract greater community interest. It’s intuitive: We’d all rather share about our hopes and expectations than mundane tasks that must be accomplished. There seems to be more currency in sharing around what we want, yet waiting in this case actually requires more patience: Wants unfold over extended periods of time, whereas needs tend to resolve with more immediacy. This debunks the common thinking that a longer wait-time correlates to negative sentiment.

Takeaway: Waiting conversations are not intrinsically negative. The waiting process is a natural phase along the consumer journey, one that brands should plan for as a time to interact with the consumer, seizing opportunities to provide value beyond core offerings and engender positive sentiment.

We wait for the digital and physical world differently

We spend time waiting in both the physical and digital world, and we wait for both physical and digital things. As brand strategy must adroitly straddle the line between these two worlds and modes of product delivery, a pattern in our analysis contributes more evidence that the balance is shifting: Tweets about waiting for digital items and experiences occur almost as frequently as those focused on physical stuffs.

Form and favorability are key elements of this pattern. The digital items consumers talk about waiting for are more likely to take the shape of goods and services – commercial formats – and draw a higher concentration of positive sentiment. Waiting for digital content, such as a movie or new music release, is a more positive experience since consumers participate by seeking out what they want to enjoy: “Had @[user]Music getting me through my work out tonight, still waiting on a copy of my favorite track though.”

Conversely, waiting in the physical world typically happens in the context of experiences, situations and outcomes – often personal circumstances – more often inciting negative reactions. Choice may diminish when it comes to waiting for physical items; rather than seek, we’re often forced to react to things that happen “in real life”, such as an unusually late pickup from school: “Waiting half an hour for a 10 sec ride…Not cool.”

Takeaway: Consumers experience periods of waiting differently in the digital vs. physical world. The greatest form of currency to a waiting consumer is the presence of choice, which is more readily available in a digital landscape. Equipping consumers with choice and real or perceived control of a situation helps to manage their expectations and reframe downtime, from a waste or inconvenience to a productive, positive engagement.

In 2013 we did a lot of waiting: for a taste of a Cronut, for our Uber to arrive, for the long-term relationship we’ve always wanted. Waiting is a human experience that, like most others in our world of pervasive social connectivity, must be shared. While brands are mentioned in less than 1/5 of these “waiting” conversations, sentiment is generally favorable, and marketers can capitalize on the buzz if they understand the motivation of the chatter. It’s important to identify social conversation white space where brands can participate in existing or naturally developing behavior, even if it isn’t inherent to their product offering. Sometimes showing up to the party is better than inviting others to yours and waiting for the crowd to arrive.

Sourcing: Listening audit – 360i analysis of Twitter posts that include the term “waiting,” conducted February 2014 for data spanning January 2013 – December 2013. Sample size: 200 public Tweets.

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