What’s the role of social networks in the consumer’s buying decisions?

In the past few months, much has been written about the role of social networking sites in creating brand awareness. Businesses, all over the world, have been made to believe that social networks may go a long way in creating demand for their products and services.

I believe that too. At least, if businesses have the right strategy and a clear focus on what the role of social media is in their overall brand and marketing strategy.

However, the statistics recently found by a survey conducted by the Opinion Research Corp. for ARAnet have a different story to tell. Disclaimer: I did not find the statistics on the web sites of one of these companies but on this blog

According to the post, of 14 different sources of information a customer may consider while making a purchase decision, social networks ranked much lower than personal networks (60%), TV broadcasts (40%) and search engines (39%).

If you are thinking that social networks may play a pivotal role as a preferred source of recommendation for products and services with young adults aged 25-34, think again. At least, according to these data.

Now, the findings don’t really come as a surprise to me. Assuming the survey was set up correctly and the source is correct, social media are a new phenomenon. Not as such but for marketers and many of them still struggle in defining the proper metrics, strategies etc. This is normal. On the other hand, social networks and social media marketing is not (I know, I repeat myself) some kind of miracle solution for all marketing issues.

People are expanding their personal networks via social media

And what’s more interesting to me in the survey is the huge role of personal networks (and thus peer advice and word of mouth).

That’s what social media marketers (and businesses) should strive for: getting closer to people and eventually becoming part of the personal networks of some people as a reliable and trustworthy partner.

This does not happen overnight and it does require some serious customer-centric thinking and customer engagement.

However, let’s not dream: a brand or business will not easily (if at all) become part of the personal network of someone.

In fact, I believe it’s more the other way around: people are expanding their personal networks via social media. When they connect with you, gain their trust.

Real people are the most important asset of your business

From my personal experience I can tell that I rarely connect with brands (except for some companies and start-ups) but I do often connect, for instance via Twitter, with people that work WITHIN a company.

It can be a CEO, a marketer, a sales rep, whatever. The fun thing is that these people (the others I don’t connect with) don’t talk about the company they work in.

No, they retweet some of my stuff and I retweet some of theirs. And we chat. And fool around. Not the whole time, not even every day but sometimes. And with some of them I connect on LinkedIn or we exchange emails. And, yes, some of them become friends, even if we can only talk via Skype because we live on different continents.

So, how can you connect with me as a brand and get in my personal network? Via the people in your company that are authentic, not brainwashed by the corporate social media marketing drill instructor, the people I can connect with and even become friends with.

They are the most important asset of your business.

However, if they get a bit promotional I can smell it right away. So don’t push them. Let them be them. And respect me. Because, ultimately I might get into business with you.

Not convinced?

Well, as a matter of fact I’m now a customer of two companies thanks to the good online relationship I’ve developed with some people working there. These people don’t even know I work with the companies they work for, why should I tell them?

We connect on another level. But they made me discover what they sell, without even once mentioning it. I just looked at their profile, saw where they worked, got curious and discovered something I wanted to pay for. Two companies have me as a new customer thanks to Twitter and without any promotion. And that in just two months.

Welcome in a world where the focus is shifting from selling to buying. Is your business ready for it?

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