Social media platforms have completely changed the nature of the interaction between brands and their customers, directly impacting upon the contemporary consumer decision process.
Today, we can divide social media into 6 groups: social networks (Facebook and LinkedIn are the best examples), blogs, wikis (Wikipedia, the best-known), podcasts (iTunes), forums, content communities (YouTube or Flickr) and microblogging (Twitter).
For the brands, social media appears as a way to reach new customers and to reflect their feelings. This explains why companies are currently working on “Social Strategies” to define the degree of interactivity that they want to have with their customers. Social media will help the consumer to make a decision. They’ll often consult public opinion to reinforce their purchasing decision. Thanks to technologies such as smart phones or tablets, customers do not need their home computers, accessing social media everywhere. With such easy access to content, it’s clear why print medias are currently facing an important crisis that is mirrored by the decline of the music industry caused largely by piracy but also by social digital channels. Companies can then adapt themselves to these new technologies and benefit from social media. But the relation between the marketers and the consumers has now changed.
Several studies tend to show the positive impact of social media upon a brand and the fidelity of consumers and the purchasing decision. According to a study from the Compete Institute, 56% of those who follow a brand on Twitter would be more likely to buy the products of the brand whereas it is only 47% for Facebook “fans” of the brand’s page. In general, the impact of Twitter on the consumer behaviour is more important than in the case of Facebook, as we can see in the graph below. Twitter, qualifies users as “mature” consumers, and builds a stronger relation between users and brands.
According to the IBM/Ipsos study, more than half of the British, German, French and Italian web surfers check social networks before deciding to buy or not a product. Moreover, 35% of the “Fans” of a Facebook Page are using the Page to consult advices of other consumers. However, the conclusions of both IBM/Ipsos and Compete Institute are the same: Most Followers of a brand’s Page are expecting promotions and free samples.
When a consumer has made their choice, thanks to a social media platform, they will go to buy the product or service, in 40% of the cases. Another study has also proved that 56% of Facebook users who have become fans of a brand are more likely to recommend it to a friend. According to a survey conducted by Mr Youth, a New York marketing agency, the exchanges between friends, family and the brands have a direct influence on the purchasing decision during holiday sales. 93% of social media users have indeed made or received a recommendation via Facebook and 22% via Twitter during that period. As a consequence, 65% of users’ recommendations have lead to a purchase.
The agency has also stated that “recommendations of Social Media Users are two times as likely to lead to a holiday gift purchase”. The study also shows the relation between the social media presence and the consumer behaviour. When a brand answers to the post of a user, 80% of them have then purchased a product of this specific brand. Finally, 36% of the users have a greater trust in the brand which has a social media presence.
Social media will become more and more important in the communication strategies of these companies. It is the perfect answer to the need of discussion and exchange. Brands can now reach the consumer and establish a contact, transmit a message and consumers can theoretically receive answers to their questions. During the economic downturn, more and more companies have reduced their communication budget but they have increased expenses for social media by 30%. It is now a priority for big companies but they need also to change their global marketing strategy. They need to become multidirectional, why because the customer is. They need to have good feedback on their social media actions in order to adapt the “discussions” they have with the customers. It is also important to reach the right customer at the beginning of a social media strategy because opinion leaders, such as bloggers, are the ultimate key to a brands success.