This is the first of two posts where I will share highlights from our 6th annual research paper, which tries to cut through the hype and hysteria around the red-hot topic of social media*. The research combined feedback from 100+ marketing directors, and from consumers in the UK and USA.
* The creation of content using social media (e.g. Facebook pages, Twitter feeds) and not online advertising on social media sites.
In this first post I'll share results showing why, for most brands, social media has a limited role to play. In the second post next week I'll share ideas on how to best use the time and money you do spend on social media.
Hype buster 1. Social Media Usage is based on fashion, not facts
‘Keeping up with trends’ was by far the main reason given by marketing directors for their use of social media. This scored much higher than any hard evidence, or even gut feel, on the business building effect of social media.
Sensationalist, scare-mongering messages about the demise of TV advertising and the rise of social media are popular headline-grabbers. In reality, social media has a limited role to play, and conventional marketing is far from dead.
The key driver of brand growth is penetration: having as many people as possible using you at least once a year. Loyalty measures, such as frequency of purchase, are actually similar between brands in a given category. And our consumer research shows that 80%+ of people were already using a brand before they started interacting with it on social media, with less than 20% new users. This means social media has a limited role in driving penetration of your brand, as you're talking mainly to existing users.
Advertising, especially on TV, is far from dead. "Old" marketing still has the central role to play for most brands, for several reasons:
. Plann-able: with conventional advertising you can plan the size and targeting of your audience. In contrast, social media content creation is a lottery. Its impossible to predict how many people of what target will like your Facebook page or watch your YouTube video
What about word-of-mouth?
Word-of-mouth is often portrayed as a key reason for brands to be active on social media. In reality, 90% of word-of-mouth conversations about brands still take place offline, primarily face-to-face, according to research by Ed Keller and Brad Fay.
Hype buster 4. People use social media to follow friends, not brands
Only 7% of UK people saw social media as being very important for staying in touch and interacting with brands, with the US slightly higher at 14%. This is dwarfed by the importance of friends and family (39%/50% in the UK/US). These results help explain why people like on average only 9 brands on Facebook, compared to an average of 200+ friends.
We suggest that social media should take up a limited amount of time and budget for most brands, especially consumer goods brands. Here are three questions to help you with your brand:
- How social is your brand?
Even within this minor role for brands, not all brands are equal. In the league table of brands liked on Facebook, consumer goods products come rock bottom (8%), in research by DDB. At the top were brands from media (55%), charities (51%) and fashion (46%).
- How young is your brand?
A further point to bear in mind is how important younger people are to your brand, given their higher usage of social media. If you are a brand like Axe, Nike or Levi's where this a key audience, social media will play a bigger role.
- Can you sell online?
If online is a key sales channel for your brand, then social media can help you sell more stuff, not be just a communication medium. Take The X-Factor, a reality TV singing contest, similar to Idols in other markets. The brand’s UK Facebook page had a whopping 3.7million it helped generate online revenue by people buying iTunes tracks of the week's songs and by encouraging mobile phone voting for who stays on the show.
In contrast, for consumer goods brands the link to selling more of the core is much more in-direct. The best an FMCG brand can do is link to an online shopping site, but this is still a niche channel, accounting for only 3% of the grocery market.
You can score your brand out of 10 on the questions posed in this section. In this highly sophisticated media model, the total score is the % of your budget to spend on social media, as shown in the example below.
In conclusion, social media usage is driven by hype and fashion, not facts. In reality, consumers' interest in brands' social media is limited, as is its potential to drive penetration. For most everyday brands it should probably be taking up less than 10% of your budget and time, with good old fashioned marketing still being the main way to grow.
Check back next week for the second post, on how to make best use of the time and budget you do decide to spend on social media.