Marketing still learning social skills

The inexorable rise of social networking has moved it firmly onto the radar of the marketing industry. But there is little consensus on the extent to which social media users are prepared to receive or and act upon advertising messages.

Customer relationship management vendors have been busy building social networking capabilities into their products, integrating the likes of Twitter with client interaction processes, utilising forums and search engines for feedback.

Wainhouse Research's second annual enterprise social networking survey revealed that 53% of respondents believed that developing a social networking presence was very (or extremely) important to building an organisation's brand although only 37% reported that their organisation had a public-facing social networking presence.

Various surveys have referred to the extent to which purchasing decisions are influenced by information from social networks. Just this week, a Gartner report suggested consumers increasingly rely on information gleaned from online social networks to make decisions about new purchases. It claimed that one-fifth of consumers influence the purchasing activities of three-quarters of the population and that it is vital that retailers and distributors understand how social networks affect their sales and marketing operations.

But while customers can be encouraged to share information among themselves over social networks, this does not mean they will also accept commercial information from companies on new products and services. There will inevitably be scepticism around material that comes directly from commercial sources, particularly from those who see social networks as being outside the commercial world.

For this kind of 'direct' marketing activity, there is some evidence to suggest that social networks are not necessarily the best vehicle. A survey of UK shopping habits published by Econsultancy earlier this month found that 38% of consumers do not use social networking sites and that only 6% of internet users surveyed had asked for recommendations on a social media site. The survey also reported that only 5% of consumers preferred to receive advertising messages via these sites, compared to more than 60% who said they would be happy to receive such messages by email.

Research from affiliate network Linkshare suggests that fewer than 4% of consumers find adverts on personal social networking sites helpful in assisting their purchasing decisions. Of those surveyed, half said promotions and offers were the most useful form of online marketing, followed by direct email (22%). 

Linkshare's UK marketing director, Liane Dietrich was quoted as saying that more needs to be done by brands to improve the quality of adverts within social networking sites to further encourage click-throughs and consumer interest. "Those brands and affiliates looking to get in on the trend must ensure adverts placed on social networks are specifically targeted to meet consumer's individual needs and enhance their online shopping experience," she said.

Anthony Plewes

After a Masters in Computer Science, I decided that I preferred writing about IT rather than programming. My 20-year writing career has taken me to Hong Kong and London where I've edited and written for IT, business and electronics publications. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Stewart Baines where I continue to write about a range of topics such as unified communications, cloud computing and enterprise applications.