The Pew Research Center recently released a report examining the major reasons why Americans use social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and LinkedIn. “Roughly two thirds of social media users say that staying in touch with current friends and family members is a major reason they use these sites, while half say that connecting with old friends they’ve lost touch with is a major reason behind their use of these technologies,” the reports cites. While the study offered great insight on how adults of all ages use social media to strengthen their personal relationships, it didn’t address another important use of social media: the interaction between consumers and their favorite products and brands.
According to the DSA-commissioned report, “U.S. Consumer Trends Impacting the Direct Selling Industry” issued by GfK Roper Consulting earlier this year, 48 percent of social networking users say they use the sites to “post comments or read what other users have said about a brand, product or company.” Additionally, the report reveals that 67 percent of the total U.S. population considers online sites, reviews or online communities to be a trustworthy source for information.
Further, more than 75 percent of consumers get information about products through friends or family members (presumably often through online resources), and more than 50 percent go to company websites or look for online product reviews before buying a product they’ve never purchased before.
But have we reached a point yet where online marketing is accepted as a mainstream method of product promotion? The facts may surprise you.
Consider this: Facebook boasts more than four million product, public figure and company fan pages alone, and according to a study conducted by Digital Buzz in 2010, 40 percent of Facebook’s 500 million users followed brands through the networking site, while 25 percent of Twitter’s 106 million users followed brand-associated Twitter accounts. Astonishingly, the study concluded that 51 percent of brand followers (approximately 102 million people) on Facebook and 67 percent of brand followers (approximately 17.75 million people) on Twitter would go on to make purchases from that specific brand. While the study doesn’t account for any overlap between Facebook and Twitter users who follow the same brands on each platform, the numbers clearly illustrate that social media plays a huge role in the choices consumers make when researching products.
There’s no doubt online resources are key to purchase decisions for many consumers – and I believe one more example of direct selling on the leading-edge of consumer trends. Person-to-person communication about products and companies is at the core of direct selling – and that’s been true for decades! Direct sellers didn’t need the Internet to effectively use word of mouth marketing – but technology has certainly made it easier.
So the next time you’re online, think about how social networking has changed or enhanced your relationship with your favorite brands. You likely feel a closer connection to them because they are only a click away, or even better, they come directly to you based on your interests. Just last week Starbucks treated me to a coffee for my birthday – courtesy of the fact that I had connected with them online.
Whether we like to admit it or not, social media has become a critical part of our consumer identity – both individual and collective. Brands have been invited into our lives more intimately than ever before. The key for marketers will be to take advantage of that access without abusing it.