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The Connection Between Holiday Sales And Social Media

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Posted by steve on August 31, 2011 at 12:36 am

Social media is a vital part of an expansion stage software company’s marketing strategy. However, a recent survey by market research firm ForeSee Results found that only 5% of online holiday shoppers were inspired by social media this holiday season. The survey was based on 10,000 responses from November 29 to December 15. Does this point out to evidence that social media was not a huge factor in holiday purchases this season? Mashable, a social media news website, pronounced that the “power of social media to influence purchase decisions may be exaggerated”. I found both the statistic and the argument quite shocking. 

The article alluded to social media as an “underwhelming driver” and indicated mobile as a significantly more important one. Fourteen percent of consumers relied on their cell phones to access the retailer site or the retailer’s mobile app (even if only 2% of them bought anything). Email marketing and search-engine results had much more influence!

Augie Ray of Forrester Research isn’t convinced either and recommends the following to clarify what he thinks is taking place with social media: Social media marketing is still new and quite young. What does this indicate? Ray claims that the social media experience isn’t entirely developed yet. He believes that we’re still in the “brochureware” stage of social media marketing. The term is derived from that period when the Internet was becoming popular and merchants would convert their collateral into inert, non-functional web pages. They were making an attempt to copy the new medium, i.e. the website, by rendering material from the existing, recognized media. This did not apply to the online-shopping experience. However, as time passed, retailers comprehended what they were missing and designed their way into creating unique, easy-to-use websites, which gave shoppers the ideal online experience they were searching for as it relates to their online marketing strategy.  Likewise, social media marketing will eventually create new, fascinating experiences for buyers, so its present “brochureware” phase should not be used as a limitation for the potential it holds.

“I-know-what-influences-me” type data is inaccurate. Yes, it is true that we are all bombarded by large amounts of marketing messages on a daily basis, however, it does not mean we can decipher and separate every single one of our influencers. For the same reason, asking a person what influences him or her is not the best method of gauging what genuinely influences them.  The ForeSee survey question could also be playing into “third person perception”. This involves people believing that others are more motivated by media than they are themselves. So, if you ask people if they affected by the impact of advertising, they might believe they are too smart and self-aware to be affected (despite the billions of dollars advertisers spent to affect everyone, but you)! Consequently, instead of directly asking if customers are influenced by social media, it is more effective to ask attitude and behavior-based questions that characterize a much better and complete determination of actual influence.

Social media is not direct marketing and does not drive immediate sales. It is much more about developing brand affinity over time, promoting your brand, establishing relationships and sharing ideas with users. Thus, the effects of social media are better recognized in the longer term.

Augie Ray’s weblog, The ROI of Social Media Marketing: More Than Dollars and Cents, talks about the measuring social media. In conclusion, the findings of the ForeSee survey do not tell the entire story. Whether or not social media influenced holiday sales this past season cannot be answered right now given social media’s short lifespan. It’ll take quite a bit of time, several more innovative strategies and far better, exhaustive research before we can come to any substantial conclusions concerning the effects of social media on retail sales.

Faria Rahman is a Market Research Analyst, handling marketing research projects for OpenView Labs.

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