Social media has never been more important for brands. Why? Because it influences everything we do and has done increasingly so as we progressed through the 21st century. As I say in Social Goodness (published in April 2021):
“Looking backwards at the changes we’ve seen over the last decade or so it’s not an overstatement to say that they have been immense. Social media evolution has literally caused a whole shift in culture, transformed how we do business, and created an entire industry that didn’t previously exist.”
So how important is social media for brands in 2021?
Are people bored of it after enforced lockdown, or is it even more central to our lives? How are people using it and what does that mean for your products and sales? Are you part of the conversation, get slammed because of what you are doing or what your staff are saying, or are you completely invisible?
Let’s dig in to recent research.
In real terms the usage of social media is a very practical aid to sourcing information. A majority of searches start online with over 50% of people saying that they check for product reviews on social media when they are researching what to buy.
The way people accessed the information they were looking has changed in the last year too, as is the way they shop. During the pandemic Brandwatch reported on the huge spike in social discussions around contactless payments, as well as the rise in live streaming, which has been boosting sales on social in many areas.
Shopee App, the leading online shopping platform in Southeast Asia, posted record-breaking sales during Shopee’s 11.11 Big Sale on 11th November 2020, reporting 200 million items sold. According to the marketplace, some sellers saw 10 times more orders on November 11 than on an average day. For example, one merchant recorded over $744K in sales in one day.
In addition, people use social to find out about products they didn’t know about and also rely on word of mouth recommendations, but only if they are from a trusted source.
What is a ‘trusted source’? Research indicates that it is family and close friends first and foremost. People in your social group next. Then influencers of all sorts, but mostly micro influencers (big ones are seen as selling out especially if they post a lot of sponsored material), and brands also count in this too as LONG as you are seen as a trusted expert source. Forty percent of Gen Zers say influencers are a key way brands build trust with them, and will recommend those they trust, as we can see from calls for recommendations on social media, such as this tweet from a Target employee, which got an incredible reaction in June 2020.
Social media is also essential for SEO, especially your ranking on Google. To win the ranking game go organic, as everyone hates promoted posts and social advertising, which is changing anyway and set to become ever more challenging for small brands (see my recent post here about online advertising and what it means for SMEs) and that means becoming an expert source and an influencer in your own right so you get included in the conversation.
This then gives your brand more influence and weight, which in turn gives your website more visibility on search marketing, so long as your articles are answering people’s actual questions. See here for a more detailed explanation.
The younger generation expects personalisation and great online service as standard. They are not particularly patient and they are not particularly loyal unless you’ve proved yourself to them i.e. by being a human that they can trust. Severe banner blindness is on the rise across all generations but especially in the younger generations who spend a lot of money and effort to avoid it by subscribing and muting, as I cover in depth in ‘Broadcasting in to the Void’ in Social Goodness.
Sprout Social’s 2021 Index found that 71% of consumers report using social media more now than in the past, and about half (47%) say customer service is a key part of what they are looking for from brands in the social space.
“This year’s Index makes it clear that there is a huge opportunity for marketers to leverage social media and demonstrate how it can positively impact every stage of their customer’s experience and nearly every aspect of their business,” said Jamie Gilpin, CMO at Sprout Social. “From what competitors are planning next to what customers will want and need in the future, social data empowers marketers to accelerate their brands forward and outpace the competition. Once marketers, and their entire organization, learn to embrace social data, they’ll quickly discover their path to rapid growth and innovation.”
In addition, according to research conducted by Optimizely:
• 37% of Gen Zers say personalisation is most important to their buying decisions.
• 42% of Gen Zers say ‘they are concerned’ about the amount of personal data that brands have.
• All demographics expect seamless and fast digital shopping experiences.
Meanwhile, research from Jeeng’s found that two-thirds (66%) of Millennials and Gen Z say they’re ‘more likely to subscribe’ to emails because of personalisation options.”
What do people expect from influencers? It seems to be the ability to explain why a product would be of value to the consumer, hence why it is important that brands partner with influencers who promote authentically and personally and who’s ethics and core values are aligned with the brand. It’s worth the effort, as new SlickText data finds that:
- 40% of Gen Zers say influencers are a key way brands build trust with them.
- 55% of those polled say they begin product research online before buying anything.
- Product reviews are still seen as the most influential purchase decision maker (32%).
- 34% expect product reviews to be unbiased.
Walk Alongside Your Audience
As to the overall social media effect on shoppers? They will trust and buy from a brand if it proves itself relevant, human, and trustworthy. Nine out of 10 shoppers who responded to Sprout Social said that they buy from brands they engage with on social media. However, according to research from Optimizely, although 50% of Gen Zers find new products and brands via the various social networks, specifically Tik Tok and Instagram, it seems that they aren’t buying there. Instead, these shoppers are going to third party sites including Amazon to make final purchases.
This raises the question of trust in brands, the social networks and social advertising, and is something all businesses should be looking at very carefully. There is simply no point in raising awareness of a product if the consumer then hops off to Amazon to buy it – or something similar – from a competitor. Creating that trust with expert content and engagement so you can walk beside your audience and be the one they buy from when they are ready is an essential marketing skill in today’s online world.
Need Some Help?
Finally, Sprout Social’s experts found that most marketers (88%) believe using social can boost revenue, but that only about 15% are using social data to inform their overall marketing strategy.
If you are in that 15% do come and talk to us.