Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Distinguish Customers from Friends

“Study: For Retail, Social Media Doesn’t Work.”
     What? There’s a research study concluding social media is ineffective for retailers? That headline over a current Marketing Daily article will strike some as being as unbelievable as the recent Fox News headline “‘UFO’ Hovers Over Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock Shrine.” And because the social media study—conducted by Foresee Results—appears to be methodologically sound, the conclusions are probably more trustworthy than the UFO report.
     A representative sample of 10,000 adults was selected and questioned using a format paralleling the respected American Customer Satisfaction Index studies. The researchers report that only 8% of respondents said social media is their preferred method of interchange with a retailer, and only 5% of visits to a retailer’s website were attributable to social media.
     These were the lowest percentages for any of the alternatives considered for the study. Consumers’ favorite method of interaction by far was e-mail, garnering 64% of the votes. The promotional methods most likely to draw shoppers to the retailer’s website included e-mails, sponsor-generated word-of-mouth aside from social media, and paid search engine placements.
     A legitimate conclusion from the Foresee Results study is that social media are being overhyped. The Marketing Daily headline might be overkill, though. After all, a Harris Interactive poll found that about 40% of American adults say they’ve received a good suggestion for something to try as a result of their use of social media.
     But consumers distinguish friends from other information sources. In the Harris Interactive poll, 26% of the respondents said their social media postings had been viewed by people they didn’t intend to see them. This means you should distinguish customers from friends.
     Here’s my version of how University of Geneva researchers described one of the distinctions:
  • Customers rely on you for quick answers to questions about purchases made from your store and for quick solutions to problems with purchases.
  • Friends want to maintain personal bonds with you, exchanging confidential information.
     There’s something else: These statistics were derived from samples of adults. Over the next years, as children develop into full-fledged retail consumers, we might very well see social media gain greater marketing influence. Evidence for this comes from the fact that in the Harris Interactive poll, a significantly higher number of young adults than older adults said they’d received a helpful suggestion from social media for a product to try.

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