Marketers today are obsessed with using social media as a way of building brand awareness and generating traffic to their websites. But is it really worthwhile for every marketer to frantically tweet and update their company's Facebook status every day? Does it necessarily translate into higher traffic and increased conversion?
Visitor-experience studies of websites across several industries point to a clearly demarcated split in the impact of social channels (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, blogs, links sent by friends) for directing traffic depending on industry type. Longitudinal qualitative visitor studies across leading automotive, hospitality, e-commerce, and media and publishing websites reveal diverging trends in the importance of the social channel in directing traffic to corporate e-commerce or media sites.
News travels even faster via social media
Over the past two years, there appears to be a steady growth in the ratio of visits boosted by either a visit to a social site or through links shared by individuals in the media and publishing industry.
A comparative snapshot of voice-of-customer surveys of science, business, news, or entertainment publication websites shows that visits prompted by links from other sites, such as blogs or social media sites, started off at 9 percent in August 2010, steadily rising to an average of 38 percent in August 2012. For one leading North American business publication, visits via Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn represented 11 percent in August 2010 versus 34 percent in August this year.
Yet e-commerce websites in the retail, automotive, or hospitality and travel industries (for which the online channel is a preeminent source of bookings) seem to lag behind in socially mediated traffic, while still being heavily reliant on search results or typing URLs.
Today's car buyers less concerned about "keeping up with the Joneses" advice
Over the past couple of years, quarterly data from automotive websites illustrate the preponderance of search engine results and typing the site URL as the path to the site over arriving via another site, link in a blog, or link sent by a friend. The quarterly fraction of shoppers reporting that they landed on an automotive website through a search engine result or by typing the URL fluctuated between 55 percent and 65 percent, while the proportion of those who landed via links on blogs, links sent by friends, or links on other sites varied in the 5 percent to 13 percent range.
Surprise: Travel and shopping aren't social when it comes to buying!
Hospitality and tourism online platforms exhibit an even slighter tendency traffic to follow social media links or links from friends. For example, in the second half of last year, less than 1 percent of visitors reported arriving at hotel or travel booking sites via a social media link or a link shared by a friend. Meanwhile, the fraction of visits prompted by a search engine result or typing the URL ranged between 55 percent and 61 percent.
Data aggregated from a selection of consumer electronics and household retail sites from August 2010 to March 2012 is consistent with the trends seen across automotive and hospitality websites -- an average of 67 percent of visitors reported arriving on the site via search engine or by typing the URL, while the corresponding figure for traffic referred from another site averaged 6.5 percent.