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Gallup: Aim Social Media Marketing at Loyalists, Not Prospects

  |  September 9, 2011   |  Comments

Brands should letting existing fans spread the gospel on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms.

Marketers who put out their brand message on social media in order to attract new customers will be sorely disappointed, according to Gallup researchers. Instead companies should use Facebook, Twitter and other social media, combined with offline word of mouth, to persuade existing customers into recommending their products to prospects.

In other words, it is largely a myth that branded social media will generate sales from new customers. But it can generate the kind of insider recommendations that lead to sales increases.

The findings are based on a Gallup survey of more than 17,000 social media users completed in October 2010. The research evaluated everything from the latest mobile social media apps to old-school word-of-mouth. Analysis of the numbers was released September 1 in the Gallup Management Review. According to the survey, branded social media initiatives don’t drive prospective customers to consider trying a brand or recommending a brand to others in their social network. But prospects are likely to try a product or service if they hear good things about the brand from an engaged existing customer in their social network.

“Since marketers are less likely to engage prospects directly through social media, they should encourage or guide their current customers to advocate on their behalf instead,” say Gallup analysts Jim Asplund and Blaise James. The research also suggests that brands should concentrate their social media efforts “on your most engaged customers because these customers are the most likely to advocate on your behalf and the least likely to criticize you,” say Asplund and James.

Specifically, about three-fourths (74 percent) of loyal customers engaged their social networks in a complimentary way about their favored brand, product or service, according to the survey. Loyalists never engaged their network in a derogatory way about their favored brand. In contrast, only 1 percent of disinterested customers complemented a brand, product, or service on their social network, while 14 percent criticized a product or service they bought.

Gallup’s analysis takes it a step further, saying that metrics such as Net Promoter, followership, app downloads, hashtags, and click-throughs are not useful for revealing a brand's social engagement (the degree to which customers will work for or against your brand within their social networks) and subsequent sales increases. James points to Apple as an example of a high-engagement and high-sales brand. “We compared the Apple brand to the Microsoft brand in our research and found out that Apple has almost 3 times as many fully engaged customers. Apple also enjoys a social engagement score that was almost 4 times higher than Microsoft.”

The analysts stress that a brand’s social engagement with a customer should be measured and managed across all channels -- online and offline. “Digital-only social media initiatives are leaving far too many prospects and customers untapped. Our analysis suggests that the most frequent type of social networking is still analog -- face-to-face or over the phone. Don't confuse the channel (social media) for the desired outcome, (social networking),” they warn.

Other researchers acknowledge the “friend factor” in social media marketing. Gian Fulgoni, comScore’s executive chairman, says comScore’s findings reflect the persuasive influence that fans have on their friends in driving sales. He calls it “the amplification impact of a trusted communication,” and compares it to the way that an audience's recommendations to their friends determine the success of a Broadway show.

Incidentally, the Gallup survey also shows that the likelihood of people relying on online ads and TV ads to decide what product or service to buy is about the same as the likelihood of relying on company Twitter or Facebook pages – a mere 1 percent.


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Joan Voight is a Contributing Editor to ClickZ. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, she has covered online and offline media, marketing and advertising since the mid-1990s for several business publications. She spent nine years at Adweek magazine, where she was San Francisco bureau chief, national senior writer and contributing reporter.

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