Whether you choose to view the consumer’s purchase journey as a sales funnel or a flight path (Google’s Zero Moment Of Truth), one thing is clear. Consumer behavior is more complex and involves more informational touch points than ever before.
What Role Does Social Media Really Play In This World?
According to author Dave Evans in his book Social Media Marketing, social media links consumer experiences of a brand, not a brand’s promise to the consumer. In terms of models, such as the sales funnel or even Google’s ZMOT, this translates into the fact that social media is largely being used to by consumers to validate a brand’s claims made in other channels. Let’s take an example. I’m sitting at home in the evening. I’m watching TV. I also happen to be “dual screening” with my tablet device. I see a TV ad for a brand. Strip aside all the creative imagery, music and words, and you are typically left with a basic, underlying message: “We think our product is great. You should buy it.” On one level, the marketer’s job is partly achieved (i.e., brand visibility). But will I immediately grab my iPad and buy the product online or make a mental note to seek out that brand next time I’m in the supermarket? Almost certainly not. The likelihood that anyone will immediately accept a brand’s proposition is extremely remote. We are much more likely to want to validate a brand’s claims through other sources. And one of our first points of call will be Google. Global PR firm Edelman has for many years been conducting research into consumer trust.
In recent times, the headline findings have centered around our continuing levels of distrust in business, government, and the media. Our most trusted sources remain other people who we think are “like us.” However, in Edelman’s 2014 survey, a rather startling fact emerged. Consumers trust Google’s search results more than any other source except for our peers, friends, and family. Google is turning into a brand validation engine. Similarly, social media is being used as a mechanism for validating marketing claims. Earlier this year at Brand Republic’s Social Summit conference in London, Twitter UK Managing Director Bruce Daisley pointed out that UK Twitter users will perform on average one search per day via the platform. In other words, Twitter is a social search engine. Consumers are proactively seeking out what conversations can be discovered about brands and their promises. The resulting conversations have a big influence on whether these consumers will proceed from consideration to purchase – or will continue on their decision-making path, depending on your sales behavior model of choice.
What Can Marketers Deduce From This Consumer Behavior?
First, the evidence is mounting that social media is largely a consumption medium rather than an engagement medium. Take Twitter again as an example. Even if brand accounts have large numbers of followers, there are all manner of reasons why that simple follower count should not be used as a proxy for genuine reach:
- Many of those followers may be fakes.
- Even if there are real people attached to those accounts, how many of them will even see the content you post?
- Even if people do see what you post, how have they discovered that content? Did they stumble across it in their feed or were they actively seeking to validate your claim from elsewhere (such as a TV ad)?
In the absence of hard data direct from the social platforms themselves, marketers have been forced to rely upon proxy social data. Totaling up the follower numbers of Twitter accounts who share your content provides a “potential impression” number. If you’ve based your sales and marketing calculations on impressions and frequency numbers, would 10 million potential Twitter exposures really generate the kind of genuine brand visibility needed to translate into meaningful sales and profit figures? What if you really could see how many people really did have the opportunity to be exposed to your content via social, and what if you could use this data in combination with insight into what roles social media really does play in a consumer purchase journey? As it happens, developments among some of the big social media platforms to deliver better data and insight to advertisers has had the knock on effect of more robust impression data being made available. For example, Twitter rolled out its analytics platform to all users in July.
One of the key pieces of data revealed via the dashboard is a real “impressions” figure – the number of people who really had an opportunity to see and engage with your content. Twitter is looking at which tweets really did appear on a screen or mobile device that a real human being actually had a chance of seeing in the first place. The reality is quite sobering. On average, each tweet will be seen by roughly 3 to 5 percent of your follower base. That’s a significantly smaller number than “potential impressions” gained by simply taking follower counts as a proxy for reach.
Implications For Consumer Marketers
If you’ve been planning and measuring success in social media around broad metrics, such as potential impressions, then you need to properly evaluate what those numbers are really telling you. You also need to reconsider what data you should be using to determine the make up of your marketing mix in relation to the consumer purchase journey. In short, consumer marketers have to acknowledge the complexity of the consumer decision journey. More research and effort up front to determine what those decision paths actually are should help to determine what role individual marketing channels can and should play. In the context of social media specifically, it may well mean reconsidering the role it is playing in terms of how consumers use it.
From a metrics and data standpoint, using the real data from the platforms themselves may not immediately appear to be delivering good news in terms of large reach and engagement numbers. But those who base their programs and approaches on how the world really is must surely stand to gain longer term over those that cling to vanity metrics that make you feel good but won’t pay the bills in the long run.