Social Media Influence: the Puzzle Piece that Won’t Fit

A missing puzzle piece is unnerving. You know the scene. The group has been working at the puzzle on and off for hours—1000 pieces—getting close to the finish line. Only six pieces left. One person presses a piece into a gap and it just doesn’t quite fit (even though they press hard to make it fit). Someone else tries. Those six pieces find their proper spot and then the awareness hits. That one piece is missing. It’s a sizable gap. So, the search begins…

A recent survey by Gallup revealed that Americans don’t think that social media influences them with their purchasing decisions. The data was surprising—even disappointing—after all that businesses have invested in social media. An estimated 5.1 billion dollars were spent on social media advertising by businesses in 2013. Sixty-two percent of Americans indicate that Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms do not have any influence their purchase decisions. Even the Millennials’ data was dismal for marketing—48% reported that social media influence did not sway their purchasing at all.

This flies in the face of much of the advice that’s been given by marketing experts over the last few years. It has been claimed that social media influence is significant. It’s touted as a great tool for generating leads, influencing buyers, creating connections, and building brand awareness. But before we gobble up the Gallup results, let’s pause to digest a few things:

  • Self-reports are considered to be unreliable by many social psychologists who study consumer behavior.
  •  Social media shouldn’t be measured on its own; it’s a small part of a bigger piece of the marketing puzzle.
  •  The bigger piece is content marketing.

Self Reports

The data was based on a Gallup Panel web and mail study of 18,525 U.S. adult, all self-reported. Dr. Ryan Howell’s article Should Marketers Trust Consumer Self Reports warns that marketers need to be cautious about trusting data from self-reports. “Because of the way the human mind is wired, they [buyers] aren’t even aware that they don’t know why they do what they do. There’s a psychological process called the confabulator that affects people’s ability to accurately reflect on and report about the underlying reasons for their own behavior. Simply put, the real reasons for our own behavior are obscured from our conscious awareness.

The Gallup poll indicates that buyers don’t believe that social media influences them in purchase decisions. But, it doesn’t mean that social media is worthless to businesses. Consumers notice if a company doesn’t even have a Facebook page. Consumers utilize social media as a tool when making purchase decisions—asking for opinions of friends on Facebook, searching Yelp for ratings of others, tweeting what their purchase decision was. The poll summary states that companies can use social media to engage with customers. Social media influence on buyers is low when it focuses on a company’s promotion of products and services. However, buyers do respond when companies provide great service, exceptional in-store experience, and relevant, engaging content. That’s the piece of the puzzle.

The Bigger Piece: Content Marketing

Social media influence is dependent on content marketing. In fact, it’s a small part of the larger package of content marketing. Successful social media starts with solid content marketing. Also, content marketing cost less—62% less—and generates more leads than traditional marketing. Social media is just a small part of the content marketing package and blogs regularly outperform social media. Blogs generate 67% more leads.

Content marketing is about what you say and how you say it. Consumers aren’t initially interested in posts and tweets about your company’s latest product, sale, or achievement. They connect to quality content that’s relevant to their needs and interests. “Companies interested in marketing for tomorrow as well as today, remember that high quality, evergreen content often receives traffic over time, while a Facebook post or a Tweet does not.”

According to Social Media Examiner, “As people learn to trust you and your knowledge, your relationships with these people will strengthen. And these people will be more open to buying from you than from someone they have no history with.” Mashable advises “you’re marketing to humans, not robots.” So, they recommend pushing out content that is strong, conversational and will connect with your readers emotionally.

Quality content is the missing piece of the puzzle for on line marketing—and it’s the part of the puzzle that allows you to interact with and influence potential buyers. Social media influence may not be declining. It must is not the missing puzzle piece. If you need help developing a content plan, contact us. We can help you get the right piece to fit the puzzle.