Social media: Is it hot or not?

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We’ve been hearing it a lot these days -- using social media is cutting edge marketing! At the recent MRAA Dealer Conference, it was a key part of how-to seminars on effectively using the Web. It’s being hyped as a great marketing tool. But, if you’re rushing to master its use and incorporate it into your operation, you may want to slow down.

Recent surveys reveal good news and not-so-good news. The good news is that online retailers were the leaders of the holiday sales gains. Not-so-good, however, was that their investment and use of the highly-touted social media had surprisingly little impact on their cash registers.

For example, as recently reported in the St. Petersburg Times, a survey of 10,000 online shoppers by Foresee Results, an online customer satisfaction firm in Ann Arbor, Mich., concluded fewer than 5 percent of holiday sales were “primarily” influenced by social media like Facebook, Twitter or shoppers delivered to a shopping site by smart phones. Another survey by IBM’s web analytics arm, Coremetrics, attributed even less – just 1 percent of holiday sales to social media.

So is it hot or not? Well, it’s a hot topic for marketers, for sure. Social media account for nearly 23 percent of time spent online in the U.S., according to AC Nielsen. That represents a huge audience. In April 2010, Harris Interactive conducted a survey for the Online Publishers Association and found social media sites were the most talked-about on the web, ahead of portals and top media sites that are OPA members. That said, however, the talk isn’t making social site visitors loyal. In fact, internet users expressed the least loyalty for social media properties.

Moreover, the OPA’s findings are in line with an annual customer satisfaction report from ForeSee Results that found Facebook among the most disliked sites on the web, attributable to its many disagreements with its own users and some privacy problems. Further, according to the OPA, negative feelings about social sites may also transfer to the brands that advertise there. Only 8 perccent of internet users felt social media site advertisers were reputable.

These current discussions and conflicting assessments of social media’s value to retailers remind me of the time when we were all told that if we just had a website on the then skyrocketing Internet, it would deliver lots of orders while we just watched the screen! It didn’t happen, of course. All that hype proved very premature as online shopping wasn’t to really develop until the later build out- phase of the Internet got underway.

We may well be in a similar time with social media. It has been skyrocketing – Facebook now draws more web visits than Google, for example. Still, this was dwarfed in the holiday sales picture by such “old” tactics as promotional emails (19 percent) and search engine optimization (9 percent.)

So, what social media’s real value is to us as retailers of durable hard goods is a foggy area at best. And, as every seasoned boater knows, then, when in the fog you play it safe and run slow!


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