Creating, cultivating, and conversing with a social media audience has become a vital part of doing business in 2017. In fact, social media marketing has grown to a point where 90 percent of marketers said that the platform plays an enormously important role in helping their business grow, according to the 2016 Social Media Marketing Industry Report.
The report also found that 63 percent of marketers dedicated six or more hours a week to curating their business’ various social media profiles, while 19 percent spend over 20 hours a week. In addition to the time spent, a significant portion of marketing budgets are now dedicated to social media marketing.
The budgets for social media marketing have doubled worldwide over the last two years – jumping from $16 billion in 2014 to $31 billion in 2016. By 2019, the industry expects social media advertising revenue to reach over $17 billion a year in the U.S. alone.
Considering the amount of money being dumped into social media marketing, you’d expect that businesses would have a solid idea of whether the platform was really helping their business meet its goals. However, 58 percent of marketers reported not having a system of measurement in place to adequately judge their return on investment (ROI). To break it down – Businesses are investing massive dollars, time, energy, and resources into social media, and most have no idea whether it’s even worth the effort.
To provide a little clarity to the murky waters of social media marketing, the Harvard Business Review conducted 23 experiments over the last four years that involved the participation of over 18,000 people. Researchers wanted to determine whether engaging and attracting social media followers actually resulted in an increase to sales.
Researchers focused their efforts exclusively on Facebook due to the platform’s dominance as the world’s most popular social media site. Despite this limitation, however, researchers believe their findings apply to across all social media platforms.
Here’s what they discovered:
The Value of a “Like”
The first question researchers wanted answered was what impact did advertising on Facebook have on sales. The answer:
- In 16 studies, researchers found no evidence to suggest that a consumer following a brand on Facebook had any impact or influence on the individual’s buying behavior.
- Seeing a family member or friend “like” or interact with a business on Facebook had no impact on the purchasing habits of other friends.
- Adverting, sponsoring, or boosting brand content to followers can have an impact. When a brand paid Facebook to display two posts a week to members of its group, those people participated 8 percent more.
These numbers suggest that a like or follow alone does little to promote a brand on Facebook. Rather, user engagement is the key motivating factor that helps to move the needle of social engagement.
Making Facebook Work for Your Brand
Actively engage with your audience. Sharing and promoting their content and posts – such as an experience or review – offers significant value to helping influence customer behavior. Social media is social by nature. You need to engage and interact with your audience, especially if they’ve taken the time to initiate the conversation.
A like is only the beginning. For social endorsements to influence a network and cultivate the incredibly valuable word-of-mouth referrals every business craves, your audience needs to know more. They need to know that a family member or friend actually uses your products or services and has enjoyed their experience. To spread this content to a wider audience, try including a share button after a customer completes a purchase or encourage them to leave a review of your business on Facebook. The Harvard study found that these types of tactics work to help influence friends online.
Listen to your audience. Individuals that take the time to follow and engage with your business online are also the ones most loyal to your brand. By listening and understanding the needs of your audience, you’ll be better prepared to create targeted content that encourages them to submit user-generated content or leave feedback about a new product or service your brand is offering.
Only 51 percent of marketers surveyed in the 2016 Social Media Marketing Industry Report said they believed social media had helped improve sales for their business. However, of the marketers that invested at least six hours a week on social media, 92 percent believed it has led to increased exposure.
Social media remains a fickle but vital part of marketing today. While it might not generate an overwhelming influx of sales immediately, the exposure it generates and the ability to directly speak to your target audience makes the platform one that’s impossible for any business to ignore.