Social media has promised too much, but has not been delivered to retailers. Here’s The Fix.
For more than a decade, social media has emerged as the number one way to connect with consumers, according to a new study by Harris Poll for Sprout Social, a company that listens and analyzes on social media.
Over 70% of companies surveyed rely on social media for customer engagement, 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 corporate executives, found that 91% of corporate executives plan to increase their social media budgets over the next three years as consumers increasingly rely on social media to learn about corporate brands (55 %), especially young GenZ and Millennial consumers.
And for 35% of consumers surveyed, they cite social media as the primary way to learn about new products, services and brands.
Belief in social media is unequivocal among the executives of the companies surveyed, with over 80% of them engaging in business directly to consumers, including retailers.
From a sample of all size companies, 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 media marketing will be separated and 62% agree on brands and companies that do not have strong social media can not succeed in the long run.
But their belief in social media does not match their experience of using it. Less than half of companies describe their social media approaches as “very effective” when they measure their power to strengthen a brand image, attract attention, increase sales or increase the customer. Furthermore, they are not overwhelmingly confident in the current methods of the company’s social media.
The gap between retailers’ expectations for social media and its reality is something I have seen in numerous surveys my company has conducted among large retailers and smaller ones.
For example, in the latest “State of Luxury” study by Unity Marketing, including the results of 200 executives in a luxury goods company, only 34% rated Instagram “very successful” and this was the highest scoring social media. Less than 20% considered Facebook “very successful” and more (23%) said it was “limited success.”
These findings were reflected in a survey conducted by Alignable’s online project for small businesses, which regularly conducts online research.
With almost 4,000 small businesses responding, of which 60% were independent retailers, the majority rated both Facebook (53%) and Instagram (50%) as advertising only “fairly successful” to promote their businesses.
Instagram was relatively more effective than Facebook, with 32% giving Instagram “very” or “very effective” compared to 26% of Facebook users.
General independent retailers who need the most effective social media are least able to make social media work. However, even the largest companies with the most sophisticated technological resources, often do not find social media in line with their promotion.
Brands’ expectations of social are different from customers
When he digests Sprout Social’s results from the company’s perspective and pairs them with the consumer survey, Jamie Gilpin, the company’s marketing manager, sees the performance gap that stems from the difference between what companies expect from social media and what consumers want.
Businesses approach social media primarily as advertising and marketing media: displaying images to drive sales and store visits. As a result, they measure it like any outbound advertising campaign.
But consumers do not want to be advertised on social media. They want to be participants in a social context, as they are with their friends and families. 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 brands and participate in them. Many companies have not been completely satisfied with that shift. “
Social media users want control, not advertising
Unlike traditional push ads that disrupt people while doing other things, social media users expect to be in control when it comes to branding. They want to communicate on their own terms, not be forced into distress by the brands. This is about traditional marketing and advertising methods.
“When it comes to social issues, we respond and communicate with our friends and family in a personal way. We have the same brand expectations, “shares Gilpin.
Retailers and brands are at risk of turning off rather than turning on consumers when social participation becomes too commercial.
Gilpin points to Burberry and Lululemon as brands that have gained a foothold in social media marketing and recognized 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 take advantage of the platforms and adapt to how consumers consume material on these platforms. Video has become an important way to create content rich and content-rich connections that are not just about selling products, ”Gilpin reflects.
And these videos do not have to have the highest production values either, but are more attractive if they show real people doing real things, not models squirting on the track or a heavy sales pitch.
“In a video, people want immediate, personal feedback, 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 advises.
Social media users expect participation
The most successful companies on social media turn the table and use it not only to push marketing messages out, but to listen to what consumers say and adjust messages accordingly.
“Consumers expect brands to see their history and know who they are and what they post on social media. It develops into a desire for a personal experience on a social level, “she continues.
When people reach out to a social brand for help or more information, they expect a response within a 24-hour window, Gilpin says.
This means that the social media drive 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 provide adequate customer service and social media support. Some large retailers have hundreds, if not thousands of users who oversee the social media campaign 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, with almost 80% of consumers surveyed saying that if they had a positive social brand experience, they would be more likely to buy from the brand in the end.
Social media platforms stand in front of 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 side of social media.
In this way, social media can be seen to function more like the store, where customers can communicate with the company’s 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 platform.
“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 the 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 a Sprout Social survey.
Furthermore, the convenience of consumers in communicating with retailers on social media is so great that over half of the consumers surveyed (58%) actually choose to interact with brands on social media instead of going to their stores, especially younger consumers.
That so many consumers find the social media experience more attractive than visiting the store is surprising given the typical customer experience in the store. Nevertheless, consumers feel more in control of their experience in society than in a highly variable shopping environment.
“Certainly, some of this may 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 more e-commerce will be social business. This is how people want to communicate with brands today. “