Online Influence Tied to Search, Social Media Use

According to a new research report, “Engaging Advocates through Search and Social Media,” released today by Yahoo! and comScore Networks, not only is social networking’s influence on marketing growing, but particularly vocal individuals are having more of an effect than ever.

Dubbed “Brand Advocates,” these are consumers who spread opinions via word of mouth, as well as over social networks, instant messaging, chat, photo sites and blogging. Such advocates have at least at least a two-to-one rate of converting an actual friend or family member to buy the same exact product or brand they support, according to the report.

As such, advocates could be likened to megaphones allowing advertisers to reach larger audiences, said Michele Madansky, VP of corporate sales and research for Yahoo.

“The Internet has irrevocably changed word-of-mouth. There’s no turning back,” Madansky said. “Social media is woven into [advocates] daily lives as well as their purchase processes.”

The study found that Brand Advocates are slightly younger, more educated and spend more time online than do non-advocates. It also states they conduct an average of 48 searches per month, compared to 39 searches for non advocates; and 76 percent of advocates use search engines to research products prior to making purchases, compared to 64 percent of non-advocates. Researchers believe that as these advocates are investing more time and effort into their own decision making process, they are more compelled to talk about their purchases with others.

Utilizing “search as discovery beyond just direct response marketing” can be key in reaching such advocates, said James Lamberti, VP search solutions for ComScore Networks, as “billions of advertising dollars are being moved by consumer advocates.”

He also said that advertising agencies that tend to silo search away from the rest of interactive advertising efforts are “missing a very, very critical avenue to get to advocates.”

The study also found that advocates are generally positive in their opinions. It says 60 percent of advocates believe that good brands are worth talking about versus 25 percent of non-advocates. Advocates also spend their time promoting a brand more often than negating it, and approximately 90 percent write something positive about a purchase they made.

Yahoo and ComScore conducted research for the report through interviews with 24 respondents in three major cities, along with an online survey of 2,261 respondents and follow-up monitoring of click stream behavior.

Rebecca Lieb contributed reporting to this story.

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