Volume 28/Number 3; July 21/28, 2014
By Ken Ryan
A recent Gallup report on the buying habits of U.S. consumers found that social media’s influence on Americans might not be as robust as some marketers/ advertisers would like. The Gallup report, published June 23, was based on a Web and mail study of 18,525 U.S. adults, aged 18 and older, conducted between Dec. 12, 2012 and Jan. 22, 2013.
Among the findings
Sixty-two percent of a cross section of respondents (Millennials, Generation X, Baby Boomers and Traditionalists, or those born prior to 1946) to the survey reported social media had “no influence at all” on their purchasing decisions. When only Millennials are considered, the percentage drops to 48%.
Only 5% of a cross section of respondents reported social media exerted “a great deal of influence” over their purchasing decisions. The percentage rises by 40% to 7% when only responses from Millennials are considered; 30% say social media has “some influence.”
Gallup’s State of the American Consumer report is based on Americans’ self-reported estimates of how social media campaigns affect their purchasing decisions. While social media may have more influence than some Americans realize or will admit, according to Gallup, this data shows that relatively few consumers consciously take into account what they learn from social media when making purchases.
Even Millennials tend to say that social media marketing is not much of a factor in their decision-making. Among the four major generation groups that Gallup surveyed, Millennials (those born after 1980) were the most likely to say that social media has at least some influence on their buying decisions (50%). But Millennials were nearly as likely to say social media has no influence at all.
Social media’s influence on Americans’ purchasing decisions decreases with age. Among Traditionalists, 75% said that social media does not have any impact on whether they purchase a product or service. The generational differences may reflect varying degrees of social media use across age groups, Gallup reported.
Americans use social media to connect with friends, family
Not surprisingly, Gallup found that 94% of social media users said they use these channels to connect with friends and family, illustrating the primary need that social media fulfills. Just 29% reported they use social media to follow trends and find product reviews and information, while 20% said they visit social networking sites to comment on what is new or write product reviews.
Even among American consumers who “like” or follow a company on Facebook or Twitter, 34% said that social media has no influence at all on their buying decisions, while 53% said it has influence. Gallup research illustrates that when it comes to making purchasing decisions, consumers are much more likely to turn to friends, in-store displays, television commercials and even mail catalogs and magazines than to consult a company-sponsored Facebook page or Twitter feed.
U.S. companies spent a combined $5.1 billion on social media advertising in 2013, and they obviously believe that this presents them with a return on investment. However, with a solid majority of American adults saying that social media has no influence at all on their purchasing decisions, Gallup posters suggest that the advertising may be reaching smaller segments of the market, or that the influence on consumers is indirect or goes unnoticed.
In the report, Gallup revealed that consumers who engage with brands often do so when they are already attached to a product or service. Companies that engage their customers—by providing exceptional service and a pleasurable in-store experience—will, in turn, drive those customers to interact with them on social media. Simply promoting products and services on Facebook or Twitter is unlikely to lead to sales.
However, companies can use social media to engage and boost their customer base. Consumers appreciate the highly personal and conversational nature of social media sites, and they prefer interacting in an open dialogue as opposed to receiving a hard sell, according to Gallup findings. The study went on to say that companies’ use of social media to provide timely responses to questions and complaints accelerates brand loyalty and, eventually, sales.
When it comes to social media efforts, Gallup findings indicate that businesses stand to benefit when they utilize a more service-focused approach rather than one dedicated to simply pushing their products.