To buy or not to buy, that is the question.
And when it comes to online consumers, it seems the answer is social engagement. According to a recent study by Forrester Research and Wildfire (Google’s social media marketing unit), social media engagement between brands and consumers correlates strongly not just with consumer preference for those brands but also with their subsequent purchases and their willingness to recommend the brands to others.
In fact, while conventional wisdom has it that consumers are only likely to engage with companies after they’ve made a purchase, the survey of more than 1,800 users found that people use social networks throughout their consumer decision journeys.
When asked how people find out about new products, brands or services (i.e., the discovery phase), the top 3 answers were:
- Seeing ads on social networks: 41%
- Internet searches via search engines: 34%
- Reading/posting messages on social networks: 33%
When they were asked how they typically research brands, products and services they’re considering buying (i.e., the explore and buy phases), the top 3 answers were:
- Search engine: 40%
- Social network: 37%
- Retailer website: 33%
And when they were asked how they keep in touch with the brands they like, purchase or use regularly (the engage phase), the top 3 answers were:
- I visit their website: 55%
- I visit their branded social networking page: 52%
- I go into their physical location: 42%
Put the above data points together and it becomes increasingly clear that for many consumers, social networks are catching up with (and sometimes surpassing) search engines and branded websites as tools for discovering, researching and engaging with brands.
More important, perhaps, the also study found that the more frequently people engage with brands via social media, the more they tend to purchase, the more positive their perception of the brand is, and the more likely they are to recommend the brand to friends and peers. They are, in a nutshell, brand advocates, and for socially savvy doctors, the 3 points above can translate into repeat business, better reviews and new leads from potential patients who may not find you any other way.
These brand advocates are a rapt audience, says Megan Haller, global marketing manager for Wildfire. When you focus on engaging them through social, at all the moments that matter, you’ll turn them into your most valuable customers — loyal ones that don’t just buy your products again and again, but encourage others to do the same.