When the topic of using social media to reach out to customers and prospects comes up, it’s inevitable that one of the first questions we get asked is “what social network should I use?” And it’s not an easy question to answer. While sometimes the choice is obvious – LinkedIn over Facebook for reaching B2B customers, for example—many times (especially when dealing with B2C clients or institutions interested in reaching out to prospective students or donors) the choice isn’t so cut and dried. Considering that nearly 75% of the Internet-using US population now has an account on one social network or another (73% are on Facebook, 24% are on Twitter, and 15% are on Pinterest, in case you’re wondering) it can be tough to target particular networks using criteria other than just simple demographics.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But choosing the right social network isn’t just about picking the one with the “right” numbers. As you probably know by now after having experienced them yourself, each social network seems to have a different “feel” to it and those of us who regularly two (or more) of the different networking sites seem to intuitively turn to each for different things. Our gut feelings seem to tell us that Facebook is good for staying in touch with people and keeping up on events in our “friends’” lives; Twitter is a great place to stay on top of news, trends, and interesting sites; and Pinterest seems to be a great place to go when we’re in the mood to virtually “window shop” or need some inspiration.
But following your gut is one thing: when you’re putting significant resources (both time and money) reaching out to or cultivating new customers online, you probably want to have some hard data. It’s one thing to have an intuition about where to go based on your own behavior, it’s quite another thing justifying it to your boss.
Fortunately a new survey of 6,000 folks by Visioncritical (download page) offers some new and incredibly useful insights on not only what social networks people are using but (more importantly) why they choose one over another.
The report is free and is packed with way more stuff than we can relate here and we encourage you to check it out in its entirety. Here are some of the highlights:
- It turns out that your gut feelings about social networks was probably right: Pinterest users tend to use the site for “creative” reasons (inspiration, ideas, and information on things that interest them) while Facebook users are much more about connecting and communicating with their social networks. Interestingly enough, Twitter users seemed to be ambivalent, with survey results falling pretty much in the middle of the “creativity vs. communication” continuum.
- When it comes to purchasing, Pinterest was the clear winner for driving impulse buys on consumer items while Facebook and Twitter were seen to be much more useful to survey respondents as networks to use when researching considered purchases.
- People also seem to use the 3 different networks for different aspects of purchasing. Pinterest was the place to go to find more info on products they were already interested in buying, Facebook was the place to go to keep abreast of new deals, and Twitter was used to discover where to purchase products.
- A large majority (68%) of Facebook users are “lurkers” who rarely post to the site.
While this is only one survey (we really hope there are others along the same lines soon), we believe that the finding seem to match a lot of what we’ve observed in our own social media lives. We also believe that the data has some interesting implications for marketers:
- People use different social networks for different things and the messaging and/or engagement activities we use on each network should match the reasons people are using the networks. Pinterest might be best for reaching out to more visually-oriented prospects who are in the early stages of a purchasing decision and may be looking for something new that grabs their attention. Facebook, on the other hand, is the place to go if you want to offer your customers and prospects an opportunity for engagement. Twitter may be the place to guide customers and prospects to landing pages where they can indicate their interest.
- While conventional wisdom holds that social media is all about engagement, a large number of users don’t actively engage by “talking back” through their own postings. With so many lurkers out there it may be time to re-think our “engagement” metrics.
- People seem to be turning increasingly towards social networks for information (and perhaps validation) when it comes to considered purchases. It’s vital to be aware of the “buzz” around your brand and be ready to respond if you need to. On the other hand, if you sell something that people tend to buy on a whim pretty pictures on Pinterest might be the way to drive response.
- Thinking about “social networking” or “social media” as a homogeneous category is wrong. While the different networks do share some similar “social” features, people really turn to different networks for different reasons. It’s important to understand not only who is on a particular network but why they’re there in the first place in order to get the most bang for your social media marketing bucks.