Social media: Visual platforms, mobile devices continue to gain traction

July 02, 2015

June 29; Volume 30/Number 1

By Nadia Ramlakhan

More and more retailers are realizing the importance of making an initial connection with potential customers online as the impact of social media continues to skyrocket. To maximize the full potential of these digital platforms, business owners have shifted marketing efforts toward popular outlets like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Houzz.

Not surprisingly, Facebook is still leading the way with 81% reach of the total digital population and nearly 230 billion minutes of user engagement, according to comScore’s U.S. Digital Future in Focus 2015 report, an annual study that collects, examines and analyzes data based on activity of U.S. digital media consumers. Instagram leads in all other platforms with 12 billion minutes spent on the platform in 2014. Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ “remain mainstays of the market with very high penetration, while Pinterest and Tumblr have both considerably improved their respective positions in the past year,” the report noted.

Some social media platforms like Snapchat, Vine, Tumblr and Instagram are especially appealing to millennials (ages 18 to 34) as visually oriented social networks typically draw in younger audiences. Snapchat attracts the youngest audience of all the leading social networks, with 71% composed of 18- to 34-year-olds and 45% composed of 18- to 24-year-olds. But one vital component of the leading successful social networks is their ability to penetrate into older demographics in addition to millennials.

In addition to photos, social networking has also allowed for sharing videos across the Internet. In 2014, social video stood out as one of the most effective ways to engage audiences across platforms with total actions on video posts growing 147%.

With constant advances and technological improvements to smartphones, mobile applications have been rapidly gaining ground year over year, becoming the primary access point for multiple digital services. The fastest growing mobile apps cover a range of categories including ride-sharing services such as Lyft and Uber, which have changed the game for urban transportation. Tinder, the popular online dating app, is also making waves among mobile app users because of its simple, easy-to-use swiping features. Additionally, Wal-Mart’s latest Savings Catcher update to its app garnered a lot of attention from everyday shoppers.

Consumers are increasingly shifting their digital activity to mobile devices as opposed to desktop; the total U.S. multi-platform web search market grew 5% in query volume in Q4 of 2014. Mobile search, including queries conducted via mobile browsers as well as apps, now accounts for 29% of all search activity, with smartphones taking 20% share and tablets taking 9%. Smartphones and tablets are both accountable for growth in the search market with smartphones up 17% from 2013 and tablets up 28%. During this time desktop search marginally declined.

Regarding search engines, Google remains the leader in the U.S. “explicit core” search market with 66% market share of search queries conducted in Q4 of 2014, followed by Bing at 20% and Yahoo at 11% thanks to its recent partnership with Firefox. Each of these search engines gained share in 2014 compared to 2013. In terms of multi-platform search activity, Google’s strong leadership on both smartphones and tablets boosts its share of the market.

Contrary to popular belief, mobile devices are not necessarily taking share from time spent on desktops. While most of the growth in digital media consumption over the last four years has occurred on smartphones (up 394%) and tablets (up 1,721%), time spent on desktops has grown 37% during this time.

People prefer different devices based on the types of online activities they participate in, but when compared to previous years, the number of multi-platform and mobile-only Internet users has grown across every age demographic. More than 75% of all digital consumers ages 18 and above use desktop and mobile devices to access the Internet, up from 68% in 2013. Mobile-only Internet usage is becoming more prevalent, as 21% of millennials are no longer using desktops to go online. On the other end of the spectrum, the consumer segment consisting of ages 55 and above is actually the fastest growing faction of mobile users, increasing its combined multi-platform and mobile-only share from 60% to 74%.

According to ShareThis, which analyzes consumer sharing across more than 120 social channels on both desktops and mobile devices, online sharing is indicative of purchase intent. Social media has allowed consumers to connect with brands and influence each other’s purchasing decisions. In fact, consumers are 1.5 times more likely to buy products they share online. In its Return on a Share Report, ShareThis found that referrals are more important to consumers than price and brand combined, noting that one positive online share increases the value and desirability of products by an average of 9.5%.

Known for its “share” and “like” features, Facebook is still the most widely used social channel for sharing, gaining 8.2% share and making up 81% of all shares in Q4 of 2014. Email sharing activity increased slightly, representing only 1% of total share volume. On mobile devices, Facebook is still in the lead and way ahead of the competition (Pinterest and Twitter), up 51% from 2013 and representing 85% of mobile sharing activity.

ShareThis found that Gen Yers are 3.6 times more likely to share content (including products reviews, comments and recommendations) on social media, two times as likely to purchase products they share online and 2.3 times more likely to click on content shared by their peers.

Implications for flooring

Because millennials are becoming the next generation of flooring consumers, these findings are important to consider for businesses to reach potential and capture future customers. Social media has become a necessary tool for engagement as digital platforms have opened up a new realm in which retailers and brands can not only make a first impression, but also influence purchasing decisions.

Adleta, a major flooring distributor servicing the Southwest region of the U.S., suggests creating a social media strategy to aid with online marketing. Retailers should learn specifics about their particular markets and choose social channels based on consumers’ online behaviors. The distributor specifically recommends Pinterest due to its visual orientation that highlights homes and interior design, but emphasizes that the target audience must also be using this platform in order to maximize reach.

Mohawk also recommends a social media strategy, dividing participation between Facebook (40%), Pinterest (30%), Twitter (15%) and Houzz (15%). The major manufacturer is an advocate for boosted posts on Facebook and targeting ads to specific audiences; Facebook will not be as effective if interactions are not authentic and consistent.

Pinterest is the fastest growing social network, and appeals to flooring consumers because of its image sharing capabilities. Forty-seven percent of online consumers have made a purchase decision based on inspiration from Pinterest, which generates four times more revenue per click than Twitter and 27% more per click than Facebook. Mohawk noted it is best to create a social media calendar to allocate enough time and energy to digital marketing.

Christine Whittemore, chief simplifier at Simple Marketing Now and social media expert, also suggests retailers allot an appropriate amount of time for social media, and to make the most of it by targeting the right consumer for each respective market. Each channel provides a space for a different type of conversation. While Facebook does not dominate one category, other major channels serve niche interests. Twitter, for example, is best used for live events such as sports while Pinterest tends to be about interior design, lifestyle, food and shopping.

Whittemore also noted that it’s important to keep social media posts on a personal level. “It’s really hard to have a sales or business presence on some platforms and try to interact. That’s where it hScreen Shot 2015-07-02 at 4.07.17 PMelps to be personal—a person. If you’re going to be on Instagram for a company, you have to figure out how to do it as a person and not as a brand. Social networks are about being social and interacting with people, not faceless brands or faceless entities.”

Because social networks are constantly being filled with new content, retailers must be sure their posts are engaging. “If sponsored and promoted posts are really boring I will banish them from my newsfeed,” she continued. “They have to be interesting and respectful. Marketing is becoming difficult because things are so crowded. We’re being sold to all the time. It means that for the dealer, you really have to understand what the influences are on your audience. Draw [consumers] back to your website where you can do business. Be friendly, be helpful and talk about what interests you.”

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