While market researchers have identified social media as a potential treasure trove of consumer insights, any data derived from social media should be treated with caution, because in reality the people who post most frequently aren’t necessarily representative of a brand’s actual customer base.
That’s according to a new study by Vision Critical, which analyzed the social media behaviors of customers for specific brands and found that 85% of all posts containing direct feedback about a brand came from 29% of the total social media audience. Vision Critical designated these frequent posters social media “enthusiasts,” who post content at least five times a week. Within this group there is an elite, crazed corps of “super-enthusiasts,” who constitute 8% of the total social media audience but account for 56% of all updates.
Borrowing a felicitous phrase from Tricky Dick, that leaves a “silent majority” of “dabblers,” or less frequent posters (two to four times a week), and “lurkers,” who rarely post (one time a week or less). Importantly, in addition to their frequent posting, social media enthusiasts display different consumption behaviors from dabblers and lurkers. For example, 26% of enthusiasts shop for apparel in big-box retailers, compared to just 14% of lurkers, and 29% consult their family and friends while apparel shopping, compared to just 16% of lurkers.
Unsurprisingly the differences are especially pronounced when it comes to, yes, social media usage for consumption purposes. Thus 34% of enthusiasts have made purchases following social media shares, comments, or likes, versus 20% of lurkers. On the mobile front, 49% of social media enthusiasts have used a mobile device to comparison shop, against to 36% of lurkers.
Vision Critical summed up the implications of these disparities: “Because the vast majority of social media updates come from an unrepresentative slice of your customer base, social media analytics can’t really tell you how to serve your customers. It can’t tell you how to market or advertise to your customers. It can’t even tell you how to engage your customers through social media.”
To get a fuller picture of their customers, Vision Critical recommends that marketers rely on a range of offline and online data sources, including transaction data, click tracking, and direct feedback from customers through non-social channels.