It shouldn’t come as a surprise to savvy social media marketers, but consumers really aren’t interested in what you are selling.
That is the main social media finding in a report released by Gallup today, showing that people say they use social media to be … social … with friends and family and don’t believe that messages from brands and businesses are affecting their buying habits.
Sixty-two percent of the 18,000 survey respondents claimed that social media had no influence at all on their purchasing decisions. A meager 5% said social media exerted “a great deal of influence.”
The results weren’t much different when considering Millennials, the born-after-1980 demographic most engaged with social media. In the survey, 48% of Millennials said social sites weren’t a factor in their consumer decision making.
Even when considering brands that consumers “like” or follow on social networks, the reported correlation still remains relatively weak, with 34% saying that social media had no influence and 53% saying it had some influence.
Of course, the survey results should be read for what they are, a set of self-reported perceptions. How many people when asked if they are influenced by advertising admit to it? How many would say advertising strongly affects decisions about the purchases they make?
Even so, the results — a section of Gallup’s “State of the American Consumer: Insights for Business Leaders” report — are a useful reminder of that brands and businesses should approach social media differently. The $5.1 billion spent on social advertising in 2013 is expected to triple by 2018 and wise marketers will want to make sure their spending isn’t wasted.
94% Say They Are On Social Networks To Connect With Friends, Family
And that means crafting a strategy that keeps in mind the reasons why people join and participate on social networks. According to Gallup, 94% of them say they are there to connect with friends and family, while 29% follow trends and find product reviews and information, and 20% to comment on what’s hot or new or to review products.
In that environment, Gallup recommends, brands should avoid the hard sell and use social media to enhance their overall customer engagement efforts, on and offline. Fully engaged customers “represent an average 23% premium in terms of share of wallet, profitability, revenue, and relationship growth over the average customer” and such customers drive social engagement, not the other way around:
And any effort to engage customers must take place through both offline and online channels, as Gallup has consistently found that customer engagement is influenced in large part by how well a company aligns all of its touchpoints. Social media do not exist in a vacuum, and consumers rarely interact with companies through these channels alone. For example, Gallup’s research on the financial services industry reveals that 79% of customers visit the branch lobby for transactions and other services, while 11% of customers follow their bank on Facebook and 5% follow their bank on Twitter. In the retail industry, Gallup research shows that 56% of shoppers base their purchasing decisions on in-store displays and that 7% base their decisions on social media content.
Wither Social Media?
So where does that leave social media? How should businesses react to these results? Gallup’s prescription will sound familiar:
- Authentic. Social media sites are highly personal and conversational. And, as Gallup finds, consumers who use these sites do not want to hear sales pitches. They are more likely to listen and respond to companies that seem genuine and personable. They want to interact with a human, not a brand. Companies should back away from the hard sell and focus on creating more of an open dialogue with consumers.
- Responsive. The social media world is 24/7, and consumers expect timely responses — even on nights and weekends. Companies must be available to answer questions and reply to complaints and criticisms. Ignoring negative feedback can do even more damage to a brand’s reputation. Instead, companies need to actively listen to what their customers are saying and respond accordingly. If mistakes were made, they must own up to them and take responsibility.
- Compelling. Content is everywhere, and consumers have the ability to pick and choose what they like. Companies have to create compelling, interesting content that appeals to busy, picky social media users. This content should be original to the company and not related to sales or marketing. Consumers need a reason to visit and interact with a company’s social media site and to keep coming back to it.
You can download the full report at this link.