A study conducted by Cleveland-area research firm WorkPlace Media may be bad news for social media marketers.
“A whopping 96% of respondents said their opinion of a product brand did not change if that brand had no presence on a social networking site, only 11% of social networking users reported following any major brand through a social networking site, and just 12% of respondents
said their opinion of a brand changes if that brand maintains a social networking presence.”
The research echos a recent Harris poll that found just 4% of its respondents mentioned “private social networking sites, such as customer communities,” when asked about pre-purchase information gathering.
As with many announcements of this kind, my skept-o-meter kicks in. The news release offers the highlights (as it should), and the offer of more detail comes with a requirement to fill out a contact form. What’s missing for geeky old me is some more of the math — I’d be interested in the actual correlations — what were the variables? Or, was the research just a preference exploration — a quick marketing tool?
The role of social media in forming perceptions needs more study. That’s pretty hardcore research — there are so many factors that make up people’s perspectives on things, including on brands and marketing and companies. I am not a stat guy, but I know the work on Marketing Mix Modeling is very promising. Structural Equation Modeling permits multiple dependent and independent variables, so you can see how different variables interact on one another, which is critical to determining which are the most important and effective.
The excellent work of Dr. Don Wright of Boston University and Michelle Hinson of the Institute for PR since 2006 have examined how social media is affecting PR. It seems to me that this is what’s really needed in the social media space: The bridges to brand perception, disposition and purchase intent still need to be built.
I realize that this opinion may brand me as seeing social media as just another channel for messaging. But unless we have better understanding of the impact of social media on the people using it for business, we’ll fail to get the resources to study how the conversation itself affects people.
We see casual, superficial research on social media all the time, usually from consultants with a vested interest in pushing social media as revolution. I don’t deny that this new suite of tools is important — I just want some facts on my side before I go declaring that the tide is permanently shifted.