Social media has promised, but defaulted on retailers. Here’s the fix.

For more than a decade, social media has emerged as the first way for companies to connect with consumers, according to a new study by Harris Poll for Sprout Social, a social media listening and analytics company.

Over 70% of companies in the survey rely on social media for customer participation, compared to 61% for email, 27% for TV / radio ads and 24% for print ads.

A two-part study, including 1,000+ consumers and 250 business executives, found that 91% of business executives plan to increase social media spending over the next three years as consumers increasingly rely on social media to learn about brands or companies ( 55%), especially young GenZ and Millennial consumers.

And for 35% of consumers surveyed, they cite social media as the main way they learn about new products, services and brands.

Confidence in social media is unmistakable among the executives of companies surveyed, with over 80% of them participating in companies directly to consumers, including retailers.

Reducing the sample size of companies of all sizes, from less than 200 employees (42%), 200 to 999 (20%) and over 1,000 (38%), almost 90% of company executives agree that companies that do not invest in social affairs. media marketing will be left behind and 62% agree that brands and companies that do not have a strong presence on social media will not be successful in the long run.

But their belief in social media does not match their experience of using them. Less than half of companies describe their social media methods as “very effective” when measuring their ability to strengthen their brand image, increase awareness, increase sales or expand their customer base. Furthermore, they are not overwhelmingly confident in the company’s current social media policy.

The gap between retailers’ expectations for social media and their reality is something I have seen in numerous surveys my company has conducted among large and small retailers.

For example, in Unity Marketing’s latest State of Luxury survey, including results from about 200 luxury goods executives, only 34% considered Instagram “very effective” and this was the highest rating on social media. Fewer than 20% considered Facebook “very effective” and more (23%) said it was a “limited success”.

These findings are reflected in a survey conducted by the network of small businesses Alignable, which conducts regular research on its network.

With nearly 4,000 small businesses responding, of which 60% were independent retailers, the majority of both Facebook (53%) and Instagram (50%) rated advertising only as “fairly successful” in promoting their businesses.

Instagram was relatively more effective than Facebook, with a 32% rating of Instagram “very” or “very effective”, compared to 26% of Facebook users.

Overall, independent retailers who need the most effective social media techniques are least able to make social media work. However, even the largest companies with sophisticated technological resources often find social media does not support its promotion either.

Brands’ expectations of social community are different from customers

By digesting the Sprout Social results from the company’s perspective and pairing them with the consumer survey, the company’s marketing manager Jamie Gilpin sees the success gap that stems from the difference between what companies expect from social media and what consumers want.

Businesses approach social media primarily as an advertising and marketing medium: displaying images to increase sales and store visits. As a result, they measure it like any other outbound advertising campaign.

But consumers do not want to be advertised on social media. They want to be involved in social life, as they are with their friends and family. For them, it is first and foremost a communication and information platform.

“As marketers, we always want to have that immediate impact,” says Gilpin. “But consumers are looking for social to learn about and interact with brands. Many companies have not been completely happy with the change. “

Social media users want control, not advertising

Unlike traditional push ads that distract people while doing other things, social media users expect to be in control when engaging in branding. They want to communicate on their own terms, not be force-fed by brands. This puts traditional marketing and advertising methods on the line.

“When it comes to social issues, we respond and communicate with our friends and family in a personal way. We have the same expectations for the brand, “says Gilpin.

Retailers and brands are at risk of turning off, rather than turning on consumers when social engagement becomes too commercial.

Gilpin points to Burberry and Lululemon as brands that have mastered social engagement in social media marketing, and acknowledge that they are trying to build a long-term customer relationship – friendship, if you will – that will eventually lead to action down the road. .

“These brands are using the platform and adapting to how consumers consume content on these systems. Video has become an important way to create meaningful content and meaningful connections that are not just about selling products, ”Gilpin reflects.

And these videos do not have to be presented with the highest production values ​​either, but are more compelling if they show real people doing real things, not runway models or hard-line sales offers.

“In a video, people want this immediate, personal answer, like seeing a real sales representative in a store share some of the latest things that interest him or her. It’s not just about the products we are trying to sell, “she says.

Social media users expect participation

The most successful social media companies are turning the table and using it not just to push marketing messages out but to listen to what consumers are saying and tailor the message accordingly.

“Consumers expect brands to see their history and know who they are and what they post on social media. It is developing into a desire for a personal experience in social systems, “she continues.

When people search for a brand on a social level for help or more information, they expect a response within 24 hours, says Gilpin.

This means that the social media department can not just be staffed by a small team, or in the case of an independent reseller, one social media manager who is simply responsible for sending messages.

It requires retailers to remember customer service and support within the social media department well enough. Some large retailers have hundreds, if not thousands, of users who manage social media activity and answer customer service inquiries.

“People want to feel connected to the real person behind the company,” she continues.

And this human connection pays off, almost 80% of consumers in the survey said that if they had a positive experience of the brand in the social arena, it would be likely that they would buy from the brand in the end.

Social media stands for the store

Unlike traditional one-way advertising, social media is a two-way communication platform. Retailers and brands are lacking when they do not understand the personal involvement of social media.

Thus, it can be seen that social media works more like the store where customers can communicate with company representatives face to face in a personal way. And now social media is really turning into a store, with Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and WhatsApp supporting e-commerce on their systems.

“About 35% of consumers as a whole – and almost half of GenZ and Millennials – actually choose to buy from a brand on social media rather than on an actual website,” says Gilpin. But only 73% of companies offer products for sale on social media and that is much lower (57%) for small businesses, according to the Sprout Social survey.

Furthermore, the convenience of consumers in dealing with retailers on social media is so great that more than half of the consumers surveyed (58%) say they prefer to interact with brands on social media instead of going to their stores, especially younger consumers.

The fact that so many consumers find the social media experience more attractive than visiting the store is an unexpected discovery of the typical customer experience in the store. Nevertheless, consumers feel more in control of their experience in the social arena than in a highly variable shopping environment.

“Of course, some of this could be because customers did not have the choice to go into the store,” says Gilpin. “But what will play out in the next three years and beyond is that more e-commerce will become social business. This is how people want to communicate with brands today. “

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