There’s a disconnect between what brands want from ‘friends’ and what consumers want from them, says Stephen Hobbs

I am currently going through several difficult break-ups on Facebook. It’s uncomfortable and I feel awful about it, but these relationships just aren’t working.

When did brands become so needy? My inbox and FB page most mornings reveal a long list of emails and notifications, cluttering up my feeds with enticements to check in with their latest offerings and ‘like’ what I find there.

Now, partly, this is my fault. I encouraged them. They were offering something I wanted. Perhaps it was a free gift or a discount coupon. The thing is, now I’ve got what I wanted, I have lost interest. And I don’t think I am alone.

The relationship between individuals and brands in social spaces has always been uneasy. In 2006, Facebook signed an exclusive ad partnership deal with Microsoft, which antagonised FB users who made clear their displeasure at being directly marketed to. This led to the eventual dissolution of the deal in 2010 and the rise of brand pages, which sought to become invited entrants into social networks.

How successful brands have been at this depends rather on who you ask. But what is clear is that there’s a disconnect between what brands want from their ‘friends’ and what consumers want from a brand.

According to a poll this year by ExactTarget and Co-Tweet, a whopping 40% of those asked only ‘liked’ a brand in order to receive discounts and promotions. Below that, motivations included ‘for fun or entertainment’ (29%) and ‘to get a freebie’ (36%). Education about company topics or interaction with a brand, sharing ideas or feedback was an uninspiring 13%.

As marketers we need to accept that this relationship is a transactional exchange. For brands that means sales. For consumers it means personalisation and added value.

Brands should listen more than they speak. They should react to needs as they arise. They need to fulfil consumer needs by creating good products as well as rewarding consumer engagement. They need to personalise their offer. If they can’t, I’ll be deleting them from my networks. Because the problem’s not me. It really is them.

Stephen Hobbs is global content curator at marketing agency JPMH