Does social-media marketing work?
This has long been a question brands have tried to definitely answer. It has been brought to the fore of late by a recent Gallup poll, the report from which states, "A clear majority of Americans say social media have no effect at all on their purchasing decisions."
That may make it sound like social media marketing has little benefit, but the report's cursory dismissal doesn't take into account several other factors.
Here are a few things to consider:
The Gallup numbers show that 35 percent of Americans say that social media has some influence on their purchasing decisions. While 35 percent is obviously a minority, think about how many Americans say that advertising in general affects their purchasing decisions. If that number is also in the 35 percent range, social media and traditional advertising will be shown to affect the purchasing decisions of the same percentage of people, hardly an indictment of social media's clout.
While not an apples-to-apples comparison, many marketers have reported less-than-satisfactory results from radio advertising, for example. Does that mean radio ads are totally ineffective? No. Perception can differ from reality.
2. Active audience.
It's safe to assume that the majority of the people polled had no specific intent to allow social media to influence their purchasing decisions. Most people generally do not particularly desire to be the target of marketing.
There are exceptions to all rules, however, and there are certain individuals who do actively seek out brand pages on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. By neglecting social media, brands are not providing content to audiences actively seeking it. Considering the extent to which brands go to gain clients' and consumers' attention, it is very unfortunate when legitimately interested parties are unable to find brand information they are actually looking for.
3. Search engine optimization.
These days, marketers are increasingly aware of search engine optimization, the order that indexed sites are ranked by search engines. To companies and brands with any sort of online presence, SEO is very important. (The importance can be understood if search engine ranking is thought of as equivalent to being listed in a more prominent location in the Yellow Pages.) Even if social media marketing does not drive sales directly, the additional traffic and links that a site receives can give it a higher ranking on Google and Bing, which can, in turn, lead to higher sales.
4. Specific marketing goals.
Just as it is important to take a nuanced look at the context of the 35 percent figure, it is also important for brands to look closely at the intended results of their social media marketing. When many people (likely including those polled) think of marketing, they think primarily of things like consumer packaged goods, such as chips and soda, which are products that are not generally purchased online.
This is significant, because the "next step" required to go from interacting with a packaged-goods brand online to purchasing their product in a brick-and-mortar store is significant. Other brands have marketing goals more likely to be met by social media, namely having customers purchase something online (where the marketplace is just a click away), or recruitment to join an online networking or community site. Those brands may find social media marketing more effective.
5. Subliminal messaging.
A more basic issue with Gallup's poll is the issue of the validity of the question posed. The Gallup poll demonstrated that most Americans say that social media don't influence their purchasing decisions, but it doesn't mean that they are completely immune to it. Exposure to a brand may affect purchasing decisions subliminally, so the influence of social media may be more significant than we realize.