If anyone ever doubted that marketers must come to grips with social media, that doubt should be removed by the findings of the latest Harris Poll, released earlier this week. In addition to documenting the ubiquity of social media, Harris found that a significant proportion of U.S. adults use social media to complain about or pay compliments to brands.
Overall, the poll of 2,131 U.S. adults revealed that 34% have turned to social media to air their feelings, positive or negative, about a company, brand or product. Within this group, a subset equal to 26% of the total said they complained about companies, brands or products, 23% said they spoke positively about them, and 19% gave product reviews or recommendations.
It's interesting that a slightly larger proportion of adults use social media to kvetch than give kudos, and if I had to speculate about the reasons behind this, I'd guess that anger and dissatisfaction are stronger motivators than feelings of contentment. A person who buys a product which performs to expectations has already demonstrated their approval by paying for it, while a person who got a lemon may feel cheated and decide they have to "get even."
However, overall the findings are pretty balanced: as noted, almost a quarter of U.S. adults say they use social media to compliment or recommend brands to others -- obviously a huge arena for word-of-mouth marketers to work in. That's especially true because Harris found that 38% of adults who use social media say they express their preferences online specifically to influence other people; although Harris didn't detail the degree overlap, it seems safe to assume this includes many of the people who are talking about companies, products and brands.
This behavior is spread evenly across different age cohorts, and in fact skews slightly older, with 25% of adults 18-34 who use social media saying they complain about a company, brand, or product, vs. 26% of adults 35-44, 25% of adults 45-54, and 29% ages 55 and over. However, the uptick among older adults is offset by that fact that members of this last age group are less likely to use social media overall (43% vs. 78% for adults ages 18-34).
In terms of reception, social media has a substantial impact on people's perceptions of brands, products and companies: 45% of respondents who use social media said opinions expressed by friends or peers on social network sites have a "great deal or fair amount" of influence. Some more interesting findings: among adults ages 18-34 who use social media, 36% say they use it to recommend movies or TV shows they like, 18% use it to give product recommendations. These figures compare with 28% and 18% for adults 35-44, 22% and 18% for adults ages 45-54, and 23% and 24% for adults ages 55+, respectively.