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Why Businesses SHOULD Care About Social Media
Businesses are divided when it comes to social media. It certainly sounds like social can create some value, particularly considering the success of viral campaigns – the phrase "Old Spice Guy" probably conjures the image of Isaiah Mustafa wrapped in a towel--even among people who don't use Old Spice. However, it's difficult to nail down what the exact value is of those likes, shares and views.
The air of ambivalence became even more prominent after Gallup's recent social media report, which found that the majority of Americans say social media has no influence on their purchase decisions. On the surface, that makes social media sound like a terrible engagement platform, but a lot of media websites missed the other important piece of that information. The fact that 62% of people say social media has no influence on their purchase decisions suggests that it does have some degree of influence for the other 33 to 35%, assuming that a few percentage points worth of people aren't sure whether they use social media for research or not. One-third is not a small portion of people.
My recent social networking research, which is found in Mintel's Social Networking – US, June 2014 report, showcased similar numbers. When asked what sort of websites they typically use to research brands, products and services, 37% of consumers said they use social media in the research process. This put social ahead of the brand's blog (23%) and online newspapers or magazines (33%) but behind the organization's website (57%). Although these data points do show that social has some degree of influence in the purchase decision process, it also leaves out other types of value that can be derived from social.
The issue is that factors such as overall product and brand awareness are difficult to measure. However, Mintel's data show that the more active users are on social – even when only considering interaction with friends – the more likely they are to also view or share social content from companies. This suggests that even if social doesn't generate a direct conversion, it is valuable for building brand and product awareness.
Why Social Matters for B2B
The B2B arena operates a little differently from the B2C space, as businesses naturally face a larger degree of complexity when looking to solve their problems. However, it's important to remember that business and IT decision makers are still consumers when they go home. It is unlikely that these people adopt research habits that they then abandon when they come into the office. In fact, social may have an even greater influence among business technology buyers than it does the average consumer. IDG Connect's Connecting Conversations to Content: How to Drive Engagement Through Social Media 2014 report found that 86% of IT buyers use social networks and social content in the purchasing process. While social was most often used in the general education stage, researchers found that IT buyers use social to some degree at every stage of the buying process.
It would certainly not be the first time that a consumer trend had a widespread impact on the way businesses function. Consumerization of IT is often used to describe the impact of consumer technology in the enterprise. However, there is much more to the trend than the existence of consumer-grade hardware at organizations. Consumerization of IT is a mindset that encompasses how businesses use, purchase and provision technology.
The reason that social media has produced mixed results is that it requires a shift in perspective to use effectively. For businesses, the core strength of social stems from the ability to inform and connect with users rather than sell to them. This is also the greatest challenge when it comes to effective social media use because marketers will naturally have less control the more engaged their audience is on social media because the most engaged users will publish their own content.
Given the way that both consumers and business decision makers use social media (i.e. for general research/education), traditional advertising and marketing yield lackluster results.
Businesses that do act as effective facilitators of that information can increase engagement through social. For example, Mintel data revealed that 28% of survey respondents reported going to a company's website after seeing social content, and 24% said they looked for more information using a search engine. Ultimately, close to 40% of respondents took some action after seeing branded content. In other words, companies that determine the value of social only through direct conversions (the 9% of people who said they clicked on a social ad) are missing potential engagement value for nearly one-third of networkers.
Bryant Harland has been writing in the technology sector for more than five years, initially as a content marketer for several leaders in the IT security and cloud storage industries. He serves as a Technology Analyst for market research firm Mintel, where he covers a wide range of technology purchasing and usage trends. The views expressed by the author in this article are the author's alone and do not represent the views of Mintel.