According to a survey recently carried out by US performance-management consulting firm Gallup, the impact of social media on customers’ purchasing decisions is very marginal. Gallup asked more than 18,000 consumers in the US, about the influence of online brand communication on their purchasing habits. The survey showed that 62% of the respondents completely ignore social media advertising. Even the impact of this sort of communication on millennials (the generation born after the 1980s) is very low, with 48% of them not being influenced in their purchasing decisions at all. Among those liking brand pages, 34% said that they are in no way influenced by them, while 53% said they only had some influence. A staggering 94% of social media users, declared that they have opened an account, exclusively to interact with family and friends.
These results come as no surprise to industry professionals. Digital media strategists are fully aware of the fact that the main reason why people use social networks is to interact with their friends, chat, and play games. Brand communication under the form of boring product images and fliers advertising discounts and open days, is often seen as much of a nuisance and an interruption as outbound advertising.
So is social media marketing a total waste of time? It all depends on the strategies being employed. It is no secret at all that, to decide whether to buy a product or not, consumers will always seek the advice of friends, and read reviews. The success of a website like Trip Advisor says it all. The bottom line is therefore that, in order to succeed, companies need to generate brand advocacy by opinion leaders and trend setters, who are capable of creating a positive social conversation (we call it “online buzz”) toward a product or service. Any social media strategy should nowadays focus on enrolling these individuals, capable of subtly, but effectively, publicizing products. It is the “famous word of mouth”, often invoked by companies. Brand advocacy by clients has always been one of the most effective ways of advertising, and it should be employed in the digital world too. Also, one must not forget the fact that social networks do not exist in a vacuum. Digital advertising should always be integrated in a wider marketing and communication plan, making use of the highest number of touch points possible, both online and offline. The aim is to maximize the exposure of clients to brands.
Companies should also focus on producing compelling content. The changes introduced by Facebook to its algorithm in 2014, meant a realignment of efforts by marketers from building followers, to the development and deployment of engagement strategies. Just to clarify, for engagement we mean any type of interaction between your audience and your page. Liking, sharing or commenting a post are all actions falling under the engagement category. Engagement has also become a key performance indicator on many a social platform. Unfortunately, the concept of building a solid social media engagement strategy, seems to struggle to take off in Malta, where many brands are still celebrating the number of likes on their pages, rather than measuring the level of interaction with their clients.
Creating content that is relevant to your audience is the first step to build engagement. Enters the concept of the “brand newsroom” and of the three “E”s. Just think about how many companies try to push their products using posts (both free and sponsored ones), and what a nuisance they are for the online audience. An online strategist’s responsibility is therefore to devise a communication strategy that is capable of standing out through Education, Engagement, and Entertainment. As Gallup finds, consumers using social networks do not want to hear sales pitches, but they are attracted by content which they find useful. This is possible by stepping away from purely commercially oriented communication and starting to think about our products in a lateral way.
Rather than focusing on the latest item in your stock, think about how you can raise your clients’ interest by educating them on topics related to your products. A few examples may come handy here. If you are a wine producer, you may write articles about different types of grapes, or provide an overview of the region where they are harvested from; a fashion brand may focus on the creative aspects of the designers’ function; a gym can publish health and fitness related articles. An interesting article will normally be liked, commented upon, and shared, thus creating engagement. Apart from this, article creation will also serve the purpose of driving traffic to your corporate website, which should always form the backbone of your digital strategy. Remember that prospective clients will need to access your website to acquire a satisfactory knowledge of the services and products that you sell. Here is where you should start to systematically use Google Analytics in order to keep track of key performance indicators such as bounce rate, average time on site, and number of pages visited per session. Analytics will also provide you with a picture of your audience’s behaviour, by building a map of how they navigate through your website.