Debunking the ‘Myth of Social Media’ (and Doing It Right)

Sometimes it helps to look back to see where you’re going.

One year ago this week, Gallup released a report titled, “The Myth of Social Media,” which featured a slew of statistics suggesting that even though the vast majority of Americans use social media, it has little or no influence on their buying decisions. Not surprisingly, it was a red flag for those bullish on social media marketing but a year later, it’s worth another look. Consider some of the report’s top-level findings:

When consumers were asked why they used social media:

  • 94% said to connect with friends and family
  • 29% said to follow trends or find product reviews and information
  • 20% said to comment on what’s hot or new or to write reviews

When asked about the influence social media had on their purchasing decisions:

  • 62% said it had no influence at all
  • 30% said it had some influence
  • 5% said it had a great deal of influence (3% didn’t know)

As the report noted,

When compared with more traditional forms of social networking, social media initiatives may actually be the least effective method for influencing consumers’ buying decisions… Consumers are much more likely to turn to friends, family members, and experts when seeking advice about companies, brands, products, or services. Company-sponsored Facebook pages and Twitter feeds have almost no persuasive power.

To which, the only logical response today is, “Well, duh!” Forget for the moment that almost a third of respondents said they do, in fact, use social media to find out about products and services and believe that it influences their purchasing decisions. Those are impressive numbers in their own right.

But the real story behind “the myth” is that far too many companies have jumped into social media without understanding it at all. Instead of engaging people over shared interests (the reason why people use it to connect with friends and family), they broadcast ad-like messages that either annoy people or prompt them to tune brands out entirely. As even the Gallup report noted, pushing heavy-handed marketing agendas “are out of place in a channel that encourages transparency.”

So, here it is a year later and, hopefully, companies have gotten smarter about what social media can and cannot do. Contrary to what the Gallup report suggested, social media can be highly influential in people’s buying decisions; it’s just that the path to purchase is often non-linear, so it’s hard to assign attribution to any one channel.

Likewise, companies that recognize that social media is a communication platform, not a sales channel, demonstrate the transparency that social consumers rely on to make more informed, more confident decisions. It’s a difference that social business expert Augie Ray sums up perfectly when he says,

The secret to social media success (and failure) is no longer secret. Companies need to stop talking and start listening. They need to stop broadcasting and start responding. They need to stop posting to people and instead encourage people to start talking with each other.

Companies that do that will find that there’s nothing mythical about social media at all.

Doctor Takeaway

Social media is about conversations, not converting leads

Aesthetic consumers don’t wake up one day and say, I need to find a plastic surgeon or dermatologist. They say, I have a beauty concern I’d like to resolve and they go online to research their options. They ask questions, they read reviews, they compare notes with others dealing with the same issues and, if they’re comfortable with what they’ve found, they choose a provider and book a consultation. Doctors who enable and encourage those interactions are more likely to get that call (or email) than those who don’t.

About Rob Lovitt

Rob Lovitt is a longtime writer and editor who believes every good business has a great story to tell. He has written for dozens of magazines and websites, including NBCnews.com, Expedia.com and the inflight magazines of Alaska, Horizon and Frontier airlines.

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