Using interviews from almost 6,000 participants, the company evaluated social media purchasing against participation in Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.
The top line findings:
- About 40% of social media users have purchased an item after sharing or “favoriting” it on these sites. (The company uses “Shared or Favorited” to mean pinned/repinned/liked on Pinterest; shared/liked/commented on Facebook; tweeted/retweeted or favorite on Twitter.)
- Facebook is the network most likely to drive customers to purchase.
- Social media drives not just online purchasing, but in-store purchasing as well – and at about equal rates.
“One of the more surprising findings in this whole research for me,” the study’s co-author Alexandra Samuel, Vice-President of Social Media at Vision Critical, said in an interview, “was to see how significant that in-store purchasing is. This is one of those really not intuitive findings.”
She continues, “And just that recognition that you are not getting the whole story on social from tracking social to ecommerce conversions is a huge finding. If you are estimating the ROI on social by looking at social to web, you are missing roughly half your social-inspired purchasing.”
The high volume of ex ante signaling that happens as part of the purchase consideration was also not intuitive, Samuel says. And so the current study she sees as “a call to arms” about companies gathering information to know why this might happen. “You don’t want to miss the most important piece. What was the relationship there? What was it about tweeting the product that lead them to your store? Was it just an accident? Was it a signal that they were literally walking into your store? Was it because they got feedback from their friends? How much of an influence did that sharing have on your ultimate purchase decision?”
Conversion rates are the bread and butter of advertising and promotion spending wherever they exist. So one big disappointment of the work so far is the lack of information on any kind of actual conversion rate, establishing how often the sharer of a particular item converts to be a purchaser of that item. Samuel says that conversion information will always be extremely difficult to get at, even with evolving research tools. “If you ask people how many cars they’ve pinned or tweeted before they bought their car, they would have an idea. But the number of instances vary so much by product category. I mean, if you asked me how many pairs of boots I’ve pinned in the past year, not only would I be ashamed to tell you the number, but I don’t really know.”
Media companies will take away different lessons from this research than brands or retailers do, says Samuel. “So if you are Lowes or Wal-Mart, you need to figure out how to drive people from your site to share something social and then bring that back into the store. That is a different challenge then if you are Fox and you are trying to provide a valuable advertising environment, figuring out how can social extend the brand experience around its TV shows.” She continues, “The smartest media companies are seeing social not as a competing medium, but as an extending medium. They help their viewers engage with advertisers and are figuring out how they can help them make that journey from social to purchase.”