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BizReport : Social Marketing : May 21, 2009

Is social media failing as a marketing medium?

Research findings from Knowledge Networks has put the cat among the social media pigeons and set the blogosphere buzzing with debate about the role of social media in advertising and marketing.

by Helen Leggatt

According to Knowledge Networks, while 83% of the Internet population (ages 13 - 54) participates in some way with "social media", less than 5% turn to these type of websites for advice pertaining to a purchase decision.

"Obviously, a lot of people are using social media, but they are not explicitly turning to it for marketing purposes, or for finding out what products to buy. It's really about connecting with friends, or connecting with other people," said Dave Tice, vice president at Knowledge Networks, via MediaPost.

"What we're seeing is that word-of-mouth is still the No. 1 most influential source, followed by TV. The influence of social media isn't at the bottom of the list, but it is somewhere in the long tail of marketing - about the same as print ads, or online [display] ads."

But surely social media and world-of-mouth are hard to separate from each other?

Some believe that these findings fly in the face of previous research because of the ambiguity of the term "social media". It appears for the sake of this particular research the term may have been used to define more social networking oriented sites. The official definition for "social media use" was given as "having visited any one of 27 social sites or having used social features on other sites".

Consequently, just over half of those surveyed said "staying connected" to friends and family, as well as meeting new people, was what they "most liked" about participating in social media.

Many (63%) of users agreed having ads was a "fair price to pay" for use of social sites, only 16% said they are more likely to buy from advertising brands that support them.

Tags: advertising, Knowledge Networks, social feature, social marketing, social media, social networking

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  • Hi Jack

    I agree that nobody watches TV for marketing purposes, but it is there to fund and support the creation of both entertainment and education. This shares some of the ideas and concepts around social media, but social media has something that traditional TV and Radio media does not have, Social.

    I do not use social media sites to be marketed to, it is a by-product of consumerism, rightly or wrongly.

    But to say TV is a failure at marketing is completely absurd, it has been around for a long time and has served many companies, brands and products very well and will continue to do so for a long time yet, although I believe advertising will continue to become more targeted and contextual in the years to come.

  • OK - quick show of hands...who watches TV for "marketing purposes, or for finding out what products to buy"?

    None of you? Hmm, well I guess TV is a failure at marketing.

  • This is the same argument as the people who used to say "I don't read adverts".

    It's absolute rubbish. As the commenters above have pointed out, social media conversations help to influence buying decisions – not overtly, but naturally as people connect and share opinions. As nicp says, it's online WOM.

    Same problem arose in Forrester B2B Technographics research earlier this year: 70% of business buyers said they used social media to get information on purchasing decisions, but also said it didn't affect them much.

    Personally, I don't believe them

  • I'd love to know what they thought of as "advice for a buying decision". Did it have to be an overt "I'm going to Facebook to ask XYZ about Random Product"? People don't often sit down and say "I'm going to buy a camera" and consult their friends like the Which? guide. The subject comes up in conversation. Social media are used for casual conversation, so the advice and buying decisions can be made on the platform or off in exactly the same way. If you're a friendly, approachable, helpful brand also using social media, I suspect you're more likely to be in the shortlist, though. It's pre- and post-purchase customer service with a smile. Brand warmth is harder to measure than sales, but more important for brands like ours (a charity). Admittedly, we don't have a 'product'. Whether someone rehomes a dog, volunteers, sticks a car sticker on their car, donates money or just tells one other person about us, it's all very valuable, so maybe it's not comparable. I'm not sure overt buyer advice is the metric we should be looking at when judging a platform that is powered by casual conversation and personal connection.

  • I agree that word of mouth is still number one in terms of influential sources, but I still believe that a mix is required, tv, radio, roadside advertising promotes products and services from an awareness perspective, but I think that users are using this promotion to look at alternative products within that product group and therefore using social media tools to elicit the best product for them.

    I parents (not internet savvy) use the internet to identify which products to buy after hearing about about a specific product.

    Ultimately it comes down to trust, and i believe people will trust impartial comunity sites over product websites.



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