There is no doubt that social media, and particularly Facebook and Twitter, have an important influence on individuals when it comes to sharing and purchasing products. Seeing a product shared via social media certainly does and will influence a persons decision to buy something, and fielding comments from friends or acquaintances might also influence their opinion.
But the question is just how much? How much influence do these social media interactions have over our final purchasing decisions? Are there are influential mediums that are more important? And is social media even in the top 5?
And, if research from digital agency Beyond is any indication, that answer seems to be an emphatic no. At least not as much as people and companies originally thought it did. Okay, an emphatic maybe.
High Involvement and Low Involvement Products
First, they looked at the relevance of sharing as it related to high and low involvement products. Low involvement products were generally on the lesser end of the pricing spectrum, are bought more frequently and are typically purchased with minimal thought or involvement; high involvement products were just the opposite: Expensive, purchased less frequently and often mulled (lollygagged, contemplated) over for longer periods of time.
And then they looked at the channels that ultimately influenced those purchasing decisions and quickly discovered something startling and maybe surprising to some: Traditional marketing methods such as online ads, news articles and, most importantly, search results were all part of the top 5 most influential channels. In the bottom 5? Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter.
Wait — Ads?
Wait, but I thought that ads didn’t work? Obviously, though, they still do. Although traditional advertising is certainly changing (see: Webbys) at an alarming rate, and more interactive and engaging advertisements are being called for, they are still very much ads. Their essential purpose is to attract users and, ultimately, turn them into paying customers.
Of course, consumers must be exposed to those advertising messages repeatedly and ruthlessly before they buy into them. The Rule of Seven suggests that consumers must be exposed to advertising messages at least 7 times before a response is made. Scholar Thomas Smith suggests that 20 is the magic number for exposure. That, before the 20th exposure, consumers are more irritated than interested or intrigued in buying a product.
And yet these discoveries — revelations to some — might seem obvious. Expected, even. Even the most cynical will be hard-pressed to say that no — zip, zero, zitch, nada — advertising has ever worked on them. Purchases, and typically small ones, are often impulsive. If we recall something familiar or that looks trustworthy, our odds of purchasing that over the lesser, unknown brand are significantly higher. The more we are exposed to and engaged with a product or brand, the more likely we are to purchase from them. Duh. I know.
Whoa, whoa — isn’t that what social media does?
And basically, this is what social media has been doing all along. By ‘liking’ brands and businesses we are essentially signing ourselves up to be exposed to their advertising at minimal cost to them. We are exposed again, and again, and again, until we’ve conceded to their messages by purchasing or choosing to ignore them.
So is social media getting enough credit?
Probably not. Certainly, it makes sense that Google would receive most of the credit since consumers that are searching for products on Google are most often in ‘buying mode’. When they are searching for information surrounding products, rarely do they ever turn to social media. Social media may have been a huge influence behind their decision, but almost never is it the place where they go to make their decisions.
And those sentiments definitely align with what consumers expect from the two widely different services. Google (and search engines in general) is a product and solution-finding machine, if you will. Social media, on the other hand, is a place to socialize. Ads are simply unfortunate products of both.
Stealing Social Media’s Thunder
Still, search engines seem to be getting most of the credit because people use search engines the most when they are intending on making a purchase. Which is unfortunate, because social media is (arguably) just as important in influencing where people go and the products they choose to purchase.
That’s why simply focusing on one aspect and not the other — search engine optimization/marketing and not social media — would just be handicapping your business. For consumers to purchase products or services, they must first be influenced by something.
Social media is that influence.
Source: MSM DesignZ, Inc. is a Westchester social media company based in NY specializing in advertising, web and graphic design, and SEO.