There's no question that social networks have impacted the way consumers engage with each other and connect with brands. The lingering question is how consumer behavior has changed. We conducted a study to learn more about how consumers engage with social media that deliberately focused on social engagers -- consumers who have logged in or used a social network in the past 30 days. What we found will help you better tune your social strategy to engage with consumers in a more meaningful way.
Large social networks and small "inner circles"
To start, we examined how consumers connect with friends and interact with their social networks. Social engagers manage relatively large social networks -- an average of 280 friends on Facebook. More importantly, they actively interact (reply, comment, and share) with 44 of those friends on a weekly basis. These 44 friends (15 percent of their total friend base) represent a consumer's "friend inner circle." These relationships are important and help drive opinions and influence buying decisions.
Consumers have also embraced brand connections as part of their social experience, as demonstrated by the fact that 81 percent have "liked" a brand on Facebook. On average, consumers have connected with 31 brands. However, as we saw with friend connections, consumers only regularly interact with a small subset of those brands. A consumer's "brand inner circle" averages eight brands that they regularly reply, comment, or share posts with. As a marketer, it's a critical to be part of this brand inner circle and cultivate a consumer relationship that includes regular two-way dialog.
Moving from consuming to contributing content
After connecting with a brand, consumers tend to sit back and just read the brand's social content (48 percent) or ignore the content (29 percent). However, an important 23 percent choose to engage with the brand by posting content, replying to a brand post, or sharing brand content with their networks. This active participation is an important milestone in the consumer-brand relationship, not only correlating with longer relationships but also more active relationships. These brand contributors are more likely to engage with a brand in multiple channels: 10 times more likely to engage on Twitter and eight times more likely to engage on Pinterest. In addition, they are 17 times more likely to make a purchase on a brand's Facebook page.
Social networks as decision-making influencers
Eight out of 10 consumers have based a purchase on a referral from someone in their social network. We define this as "passive influence" -- when consumers see a "like" or a post about a product from a network connection, and then purchase the product. This demonstrates the true viral power of social media.
Consumers also regularly seek out advice from their network when making a buying decision. Forty-six percent of consumers have asked their network for help in the buying process, with 64 percent of those input-seekers doing so on a regular basis. More importantly, consumers trust and value the opinions of their connections: 96 percent said the advice from their network was very helpful.
Moving from social insights to social execution
There's no doubt that social has become a big influencer -- not only in friend relationships but also in brand connections and buying decisions. Start leveraging these new insights and move your social strategy from insights to action. Here are a few ideas to help get you started:
Assess your current social data assets
Take an inventory of your social data that is likely housed in disparate tools (listening, targeting, Facebook, etc.). Assess each data set with a careful eye toward CRM connectability: Can you connect social behaviors with other information you have on the consumer?
Leverage new social insights
Drive content and performance in other channels like email, site content, and mobile messaging. Social insights are more about consumer behavior, and these behaviors can help you improve your other CRM initiatives. Social shouldn't exist in a silo.
Recognize and reward contributors
Acknowledging active consumers leads to deeper brand and network engagement and can secure your spot in your consumers' brand inner circles.
Rich Fleck is vice president of strategic services at Merkle.
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