Social media pervades almost every aspect of our lives, from catching up with classmates to sharing vacation photos with family. As marketers continue to try to find the best way to utilize social media to reach potential customers, businesses are continually examining how effective their efforts are in achieving a return on investment.
However, a 2014 Gallup poll confirmed what many experts have long suspected. While social media continues to be a large part of how consumers spend their online time, shopping isn’t a high priority. In fact, the survey results indicate it has very little impact on whether someone chooses to buy a product or not.
Only five percent of those surveyed said that social media has a great deal of influence over their purchasing decisions. Another 30 percent admit it has some influence, but an overwhelming 62 percent said that it has no influence at all. When broken down by age, Millennials are more likely to be influenced than any other generation, with 43 percent saying it has some influence, compared to only 34 percent of those considered Generation X.
Gallup published the report as its State of the American Consumer: Insights for Business Leaders report, which looks at what consumers who are part of the “new normal” want from today’s business. The full report, available for download on Gallup’s website, was the result of an ongoing study of the consumer market from 2008 through 2014. To arrive at the results, Gallup surveyed more than 18,500 adults over the age of 18, separating results by age group.
The Business Approach
Businesses may rightfully see this as an indication that money spent on social media marketing and advertising could likely be better spent elsewhere. If advertising that new product or service doesn’t lead to an increase in purchases, why put the money into placing ads there? Will campaigns to increase the number of likes or shares bring nothing but silence?
For businesses to fully comprehend how social media can be used to bring in business, it’s important to look at some of the other responses to the survey. Perhaps most notable are the responses to the questions about what consumers are doing on social media. The vast majority of respondents (94 percent) report that interacting with friends and family is a priority, which can explain why requests to buy products may be disregarded.
Don’t assume that all social media marketing efforts are for naught, however; there are multiple benefits to interacting with brands online.
The survey revealed that when consumers do interact with brands on social media, it is a result of existing relationships. For example, a consumer who is particularly impressed with a local restaurant or retail shop is more likely to like it, follow it, share it, and recommend it to others.
This illustrates the value social media has in fostering brand loyalty. Customers told Gallup that they’re more likely to interact with a brand on social media if they have an existing connection with it. Businesses are more likely to attract social media followers by first engaging them outside of it, either through a great in-person experience or through making a positive impression on a website.
When it comes to consumer buying decisions, recommendations from friends and family members play a huge role. Since social media users made clear their top priority is to interact with friends and family, this provides a prime opportunity for brands. When a customer snaps a photo or checks in at your location, you gain free exposure without having to pay a penny for advertising.
Naturally, the first thing a business can do to encourage this publicity is to create a sharable experience for everyone who visits. When a customer is impressed, that customer is more likely to tell others about it online, and it’s possible that check-in or photo share could encourage a conversation with that user’s followers that the establishment never sees.
Shares don’t have to be happenstance. Some restaurants host photo contests where the winner gets a free item. Participants are required to post photos to a certain social media site while tagging the business in some fashion. Not only do customers share photos of their dining experiences, but they also make attempts to be as creative as possible.
For example, one national retail chain took extreme measures to get customers to participate in visual shares. For Mother’s Day, Yankee Candle Company required users to follow the company’s Twitter account and post a photo in Tweet form, along with a designated hashtag. Not only was the promotion marketed online, but in-store customers were told about it and encouraged to pose for selfies while in the store.
Picture vs. Words
As valuable as check-ins and posts about your business are, images are more likely to connect with consumers. As I wrote in The Power of Images in Social Media Marketing, images add a colorful, fun look to newsfeeds, drawing users’ attention away from other items. If you can encourage your customers to snap photos and share them, you’ll be more likely to stand out in their newsfeeds, as well.
Some locations are conducive to sharing. If your business is in a touristy area, you can set up a display in your store that will encourage photo snaps. Food photography is also popular on social media, so restaurants can plate their food in a unique, eye-catching way that will prompt customers to snap a photo and share it.
Track Your Results
Don’t just take the experts’ word for it. As you deploy and tweak various efforts, you should track them to see how the campaign is playing out. Use your website’s analytics to determine referrers and closely monitor how many users are coming from various social media sites.
Note what those referred users are doing once they get to your site. Are they purchasing items or simply learning more information about your company and leaving? This will easily show you the ROI of your efforts.
If referrals come from your own posts, note which types of posts on each site get the most activity. Is there a certain time of day or day of the week that generates more clicks than others? This information can help you maximize your efforts to get results well into the future. You could also use social media analytics to gain insight into how your posts are impacting your own followers.
Even if your social media campaigns don’t lead directly to sales, they help you create an engaged audience that can become brand advocates. Social media also exposes your brand to new audiences so they can become aware of your brand, which can eventually lead to sales.