Saturday, October 17, 2009

Social Media Marketing

Social media marketing is a red hot topic amongst brand managers and ad agencies.

Is the attention and hype deserved?

Unequivocally yes. Here's why:

First, it's likely that at least 50% of consumer info on the internet about your brand originates from users. We've been reporting that user generated content (UGC) now accounts for more than 50% of all internet content and traffic.

At the brand level, we see similar results. We analyzed first page search results for 100 leading national brands, representing automotive, consumer products, health care, finance, retail, technology, and travel. We found that user generated results (forums, blogs, user review sites, etc) account for:

-- 63% of results for product name reviews
-- 59% of results for company/brand reviews
-- 26% of results for products overall

Second, consumers are strongly influenced by other consumers online. Data from recent studies indicate:

-- 84% say they are influenced by online feedback
-- Online feedback is second only to personal advice in terms of influence
-- Consumers are willing to pay an average of 20% more for better reviewed services

So, as many as 80% of your brand's potential new customers are influenced by social media. And that influence extends not only to the purchase decision, but pricing as well.

In our next post, we will begin to address the most effective ways we've seen for using social media.


  1. Some interesting statistics here, compelling me to type a quick comment.

    Count me as part of the 84% who are influenced by online feedback. After all, anyone who has read reviews of the Hotel Carter in NYC on TripAdvisor can immediately see the relevance of such user generated input.

    However, for the lion's share of the UGC reviews I read, I must in essence become a reviewer of the reviews. 'Reading through the lines' of user content is as important as the review itself. For example, if a local restaurant has 5 reviews on a well known site, with 3 of them glowing and 2 of them disasterous, I have to essentially throw them all out. Surely any local business can (and will) find 3 of the owner's or manager's friends to write glowingly about them, as well as generate 2 nearby competitors ready to block them from taking market share. End result to me? Useless.

    Let's move on to well known product or brand names. As a frequenter of automotive bulletin boards, its well known that an agitated customer is far more likely to express their irritation with said product or brand than a consumer who is perfectly happy. Here again, one must be a "reviewer of the reviews" so to speak, and understand that the positive to negative ratio of reviews is usually out of proportion to the true satisfaction of the customers.

    So, I personally end up looking for the reviews or feedback on a product that are the most thoughtful, descriptive, and well written. I look for inherent biases, and downgrade the content of ones that show any. I also gravitate towards sites whose primary function is to provide user reviews. They carry the enhanced validity of a bank of repeat users who are simply devoted to the task of reviewing itself, not just when they are irritated or have an extraordinary point to make. Therefore, I can find more objective (and useful) content to base purchases on.

    With all this UGC on the internet, it requires more of users like myself to sift through all that content to separate the useful from the ever increasing amounts of unhelpful garbage. A daunting task!

  2. I think the point about reviewing reviews is a good one -- and I think review sites can fill in that gap to a certain extent. Features like Amazon's Top 1000 Reviewer labels not only give consumers a better idea of the quality of the review (or at least the credibility of the reviewer), but from a publisher's perspective it also gives reviewers an incentive to keep reviewing, which adds to the value of the review content on the publisher's site.

    With reviews on forums, you have built in features like post counts that can help a reader figure out how credible a review is, and it's relatively straightforward for dedicated reviews sites to create labeling on reviews that hint at a review's credibility (e.g. add up a reviewers total number of reviews plus the "This was helpful" citations their reviews have gotten, or something like that). Things get a little tougher with blogs and ecommerce sites, where sock puppetry and/or incentivized reviewing are a bit tougher to weed out. But even there we have measures of credibility (PageRank, Dugg posts, balance of good and bad reviews, etc) that can help users sift through the chaff. I think there's still more work to be done, though, in identifying credible sources of reviews in a way that's broadly trusted by users.

  3. There are more filtered and authoritative crowdsourcing tools on the horizon. Google is unveiling its Social Search feature, an opt-in function that includes relevant results from your friends' posts on social networks. For instance, if you're in the market for a mountain bike, you can put "mountain bike" into G, and any friends you have on Facebook, Twitter, etc., who've posted anything with "mountain bike" in it will have their posts show up at the bottom of the SERP. Google's Marissa Mayer did a presentation of the feature here:

  4. Social media marketing is no doubt a great vehicle for getting a product's name out there. However, we have to be careful as to ensure that the reputation of the product does not get tainted due to competitors' online feedback or a few disgruntled consumers. These folks will usually post their comments/feedback to the review websites. In addition, these review websites generally drive off of fees generated through advertisement dollars which could possibly mean that positive feedback of the advertised products on their sites may originate from the site itself.
    If consumers are interested in true feedback, they will typically ask trusted individuals (friends and family). Hence, taking social media marketing one level up and leveraging social networking websites will prove to be very powerful to brand managers. Google's Social Search feature will help facilitate that.