Social Media Builds Your Brand—Sort Of

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Real value for a brand doesn't come from likes, pins or tweets, a new study shows. Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter and other open social networks are not the first stop for consumers when they want to build relationships with companies or research products and services. Google and brand sites are.

While the vast majority of Americans are currently using open social networks, they primarily want to use these sites to connect with friends and family and pursue personal interests, according to a study of some 2,000 consumers conducted by The Incyte Group, a strategy consultancy. The study was sponsored by Get Satisfaction, a customer engagement platform.

Only 12.8 percent use them to research brands and product details. This calls into question many of the tactics use to achieve the holy grail of social media — the creation of brand advocates.

Consumers showed a strong preference for branded customer communities over open social networks for building relationships with brands, the study found. When people are introduced to a new product, service or brand through a social network and want to learn more, 81.1 percent of the study participants said they would first visit the company website and 25.7 percent said they would visit a retail store.

Only 19 percent said they would look at its Facebook page.

Relevant content is what drives consumers to prefer branded communities. Consumers told the researchers that the main reason they preferred branded customer communities was that they felt they could get information more quickly (32.1 percent), get answers from consumers like themselves (21.3 percent) and get the most accurate information (18 percent).

The survey also found that consumers are very willing to become advocates for brands, products and services if asked. More than three-quarters of consumers who joined branded customer communities (82.6 percent) said they would be willing to become advocates and nearly half (42.1 percent) would do so without any incentive.

"It's clear that companies aren't getting the results they need from investing in social media. Consumers don't just want to be broadcasted to," said Wendy Lea, CEO of Get Satisfaction. "They want to engage with each other and companies about products and services they care about. This study validates that social media strategy needs to include authentic customer engagement driven by a branded customer community and not be viewed and used as yet another digital advertising channel. Getting results from social media is about relevant interactions throughout the customer life cycle."