It should come as no surprise that shopping — whether it’s for cameras, cars or cosmetic procedures — is becoming an increasingly social experience. In fact, according to a recent study by Leo Burnett/Arc Worldwide, 42% of Americans — nearly 95 million people — now use social media to shop.
Unfortunately, it appears that many brand marketers have no idea why. As a 2010 IBM study pointed out, there’s a major disconnect between the reasons consumers interact with companies in social media settings and how those companies think they do.
That “perception gap” suggests that brands that misinterpret consumers’ intent run the risk of missing their marketing goals or, worse, alienating potential customers altogether.
For brands, using social media in the wrong way can have a negative impact on relationships, says Masha Sajdeh of Leo Burnett/Arc Worldwide. Forty-four percent of social shoppers said they had stopped interacting with brands on Facebook due to lack of relevant or valuable posts.
So, why do consumers interact with companies via social media? The following graph is a powerful testament that the “perception gap” is real and significant:
Needless to say, the ranking of various reasons will vary across industries and target audiences but the bottom line is that people’s social interactions with businesses are not the same as their interactions with friends. In general, they turn to the former for deals and discounts and the latter for a sense of community.
How to bridge the gap? Recognize the reality of social shopping by letting consumers control the conversation yet remaining available and accessible when they seek more information or decide it’s time to buy. As the IBM researchers note,
Social commerce is quickly becoming a major force in social media… Consumers are increasingly using social media to gain recommendations, reviews and opinions from friends, family, experts and the collective social community. Once they access this content, the impulse to purchase immediately can be strong.
Here at RealSelf.com, we see it every day and take great pride in helping to transform the “perception gap” into a tighter, mutually beneficial relationship.
1. Think like a customer
According to the IBM study, the top three reasons consumers interact with brands via social sites are to receive discounts, to purchase products and to read reviews and product rankings. Conversely, they’re less interested in learning about new products, receiving general information or offering opinions on current products and services. Focus on what they value and they’ll pay attention to what you have to say.
2. Ask, don’t tell
Not sure what your social correspondents value? Ask them. Polls, questionnaires and other interactive efforts not only provide valuable insights into consumers’ needs and desires, getting them to contribute also gets them invested in the results, which, in turn, can help foster a tighter connection and increased loyalty.
3. Provide incentives to interact
While social commerce is still in its nascent stages, you can encourage it by making it a seamless experience. On RealSelf.com, for example, patients can ask doctors questions, then click over to their profiles to learn more, schedule consultations and, in many cases, receive exclusive offers that motivate them to act.