Ever since Facebook first introduced brand pages in 2007, companies have been flocking to social media. Many business leaders believe that the more they post and share about their products and services, the greater their chances of attracting customers and generating revenue.
But just-released research from Gallup’s State of the American Consumer report suggests that much of these efforts have been misguided.
Social media are not the powerful and persuasive marketing force many companies assumed they would be. Gallup finds that a full 62% of U.S. adults who use social media say that these sites have absolutely no influence on their purchasing decisions. Another 30% say these sites have some influence, and just 5% say they have a great deal of influence.
And although companies may think that people who “like” or follow them on social media are an attentive audience, our research suggests otherwise. Of consumers who report liking or following a company, 34% still say that social media have no influence on their purchasing behavior, while 53% say they have only some influence.
When compared with more traditional forms of social networking, social media initiatives may actually be the least effective method for influencing consumers’ buying decisions. Gallup research has shown that consumers are much more likely to turn to friends, family members, and experts when seeking advice about companies, brands, products, or services. Social media sites have almost no sway.
These findings raise a question: is there an inherent flaw in the idea of using social media to drive purchasing, or have companies just been using social media poorly? The fact that some portion of buyers credit social media with having real influence suggests the latter may be true. Consumers are drawn to social media because they want to take part in the conversation and make connections. But many companies continue to treat social media as a one-way communication vehicle and are largely focused on how they can use these sites to push their marketing agendas.
To positively influence purchasing through social media, marketers should learn to use it to listen and interact. Consumers are more likely to engage when the brand-related posts they encounter are:
1. Authentic. Social media sites are highly personal and conversational. And, as Gallup finds, consumers who use these sites don’t want to hear a sales pitch. They’re more likely to listen and respond to companies that seem genuine and personable. Companies should back away from the hard sell and focus on creating more of an open dialogue with consumers.
2. 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 considerable damage to a brand’s reputation. Instead, companies must actively listen to what their customers are saying and respond accordingly. If they made mistakes, they must own up to them and take responsibility.
3. Compelling. Content is everywhere, and consumers have the ability to pick and choose what they like. Companies must 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.
When companies focus their social media efforts on pushing product and not cultivating communities, they overlook the real potential of these channels. Gallup research has consistently shown that customers base purchasing decisions on their emotional connections with a brand. Social media are great for making those connections -- but only when a brand shifts its focus from communication to conversation.