Money & Business

Does Social Media Get Consumers to Buy? Not Much, Study Says

By / Jun 25, 2014 (iStock/Thinkstock)

Despite the more than $5 billion dollars spent on marketing campaigns in social media spaces in 2013, new research from Gallup found that consumers’ purchasing decisions are more influenced by friends and TV commercials. Instead of selling, Gallup says, brands should use social to build community.

Social media, it turns out, doesn’t have much impact on consumers’ decisions to buy stuff, according to a new Gallup report.

In fact, more than 60 percent of Americans said social media has no influence at all on their purchasing decisions, and only about a third said it had some influence, according to Gallup’s “State of the American Consumer” report.

“Many business leaders believe that the more they post and share about their products and services, the greater their chances of attracting customers and generating revenue,” Gallup Global Practice Leader Ed O’Boyle wrote in a Harvard Business Review blog post. But according to the firm’s research, “social media are not the powerful and persuasive marketing force many companies assumed they would be.”

Unsurprisingly, social media’s influence on Americans’ purchasing decisions decreases with age—75 percent of those born before 1946 reported social media has no impact. But about half of millennials, the generation most associated with social media use, also reported they are not influenced by these platforms when making a purchase.

According to Gallup, consumers are more likely to turn to friends, TV commercials, in-store advertising, and magazines, rather than consult a company’s Facebook page or Twitter feed, when making a decision to buy.

Consumers are largely turning to social networks for their original purpose—social connection. Ninety-four percent of Gallup survey respondents reported they use sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to connect with friends and family, while roughly 30 percent reported using the sites to follow trends or find product information or reviews.

Gallup suggested that U.S. companies, which spent an estimated $5.1 billion on social media marketing last year, may be better served by using social media to create a sense of community among consumers. This idea, supported by previous research, supposes that social media has a more indirect effect on ROI by helping to familiarize consumers with companies and brands.

“When companies focus their social media efforts on pushing product and not cultivating communities, they overlook the real potential of these channels,” O’Boyle wrote in his HBR post. “Gallup research has consistently shown that customers base purchasing decisions on their emotional connections with a brand. Social media are great for making those connections—but only when a brand shifts its focus from communication to conversation.”

Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. More »

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