The social media ROI discussion is heating up with a spate of new research drawing connections between social media, brand perceptions, and purchase behavior. That includes a new study released earlier this week by Knowledge Networks and MediaPost's very own Center for Media Research, showing that the number of Americans who say their brand consumption choices are influenced by social media has increased substantially in the last year.
According to the second wave of the KN-CMR study, titled "The Faces of Social Media," 38 million U.S. adults ages 18-80 (or 12% of the total population) say they discover new products and brands or refer to social media before making purchase decisions. That's up 14% from 33.3 million just six months ago. This includes 23.1 million who say they discover new brands or products through social media, up 22% from 18.9 million in 2010, and 22.5 million who use social media to learn about unfamiliar brands or products, up 9% from 20.6 million last year.
What's more, 17.8 million say social media has "strongly influenced" their purchase decisions, up 19% from 15 million in 2010, and 15.1 million say they make sure to refer to social media before making a purchase decision, up 29% from 11.7 million last year.
As might be expected, the KN-CMR study also shows a big increase in mobile social activity. Among teens and adults who use social media, the subset who have accessed social media via mobile devices soared from 28% to 40% of the total (meaning about 80 million this year). And there is significant overlap with consumer activity: within the mobile-social group, 27% use social media to compare or check prices, 24% refer to social media for reviews, and 16% use social media to find coupons, discounts, or special offers for local businesses.
Coining a hip new term for social media, "SoMe," Patricia Graham, chief strategy officer Knowledge Networks, observed: "Tying consumer interactions back to brands and purchase decisions is essential for marketers, in social media no less than any other platform. While we have seen a dramatic rise in key metrics that quantify SoMe's influence, we also have observed a wide variation of influence at the category level. The Faces of Social Media gives brands the ability to not only understand, but also act on that influence."
"The on-the-go consumer is becoming more mobile in their social media usage," said Chuck Martin, Director of the Center for Media Research at MediaPost Communications. "This move to mobility combined with the increasing influence of social media during the purchase process has great implications for marketers, who will have to look at location as well as which product purchases are most affected."
The complex issue of ROI remains one of the big question marks (and hindrances to growth) hanging over social media. As noted, however, the last couple months have seen a number of promising studies grappling with ROI and measurement generally. For example, Ogilvy and ChatThreads conducted a "Integrated Social Media Sales Impact" study from January-May of this year, tracking brand exposure for 404 individuals through ChatThreads' BrandEncounter platform. In the study, which they presented to the ARF's Audience Measurement conference earlier this week, Ogilvy and ChatThreads looked at purchases by quick service restaurant customers patronizing KFC, McDonalds, Subway, Taco Bell and Wendy's; the customers were sorted by their degree of exposure to social media advertising for the QSR brand in question, as well as their exposure to advertising delivered through other channels. And last month Buddy Media released a study titled "Strategies For Effective Facebook Wall Posts: A Statistical Review," offering some tentative metrics for social media success in that specific venue.