Social Media Generates Hype, Fails to Deliver Marketing Punch

May 21, 2009 11:50 AM ET
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Marketing Charts

A new study argues social media has reached its tipping point, with 83% of the online population now using it in some form - and more than half do so on a regular basis, reports MarketingVOX.

Despite its popularity, socnet platforms - including Facebook, Twitter and the like - have failed to demonstrate prowess as marketing tools, and possibly never will, according to Knowledge Networks, which released the report, titled “How People Use Social Media.”

The latter is based on a survey of 418 social media users, responding to the question “How often do you refer to social media Web sites or features as a resource for information, reviews, or recommendations when in the market for [category]?”

Ultimately, Knowledge Networks parked the value of social media advertising as “somewhere in the long tail” of other marketing offerings - well below word-of-mouth (WOM) recommendations and TV advertising.

Categorically, social media is most likely to influence the consumption of media-related products or services, particularly books, movies, TV shows and music.

Overall, however, less than 5% of social media users regularly visit such networks for “guidance on purchase decisions.” And only 16% say they are more likely to buy from the following product or service categories after seeing ads on social sites:

“Obviously, a lot of people are using social media, but they are not explicitly turning to it for marketing purposes, or for finding out what products to buy. It’s really about connecting with friends, or connecting with other people,” stated SVP-Group Account Director Dave Tice.

“What we’re seeing is that word-of-mouth is still the #1 most influential source, followed by TV,” Tice said. “The influence of social media isn’t at the bottom of the list, but it is somewhere in the long tail of marketing - about the same as print ads, or online [display] ads.”

According to Tice, only about 1% of the population ever used Twitter - and most of them are members of the media, shining a less favorable light on data from previous, less explicit studies: the Pew Internet & American Life Project found 11% of US online adults said they used Twitter or a similar microblogging service to share or view updates; but 51% of Americans don’t use services from brand names Twitter, MySpace or Facebook, according to a Harris Poll.

“[Twitter is] more of a media industry thing right now,” Tice said, comparing Twitter to services that rode significant waves of hype early on, such as TiVo, a service once thought destined to destroy TV advertising.

In reality, Tice said, few people subscribed to the service overall; and digital video recording services are now de facto offerings by cable firms that sell set-top devices. Eventually, the ad industry and the evolving TV medium found a way to coexist, as demonstrated by a 2005 liaison between TiVo and DirecTV to sell ads.

“Whereas TiVo dominated the conversation around television, we’ve seen Twitter dominate conversations around marketing. What is also similar is that both are examples of ‘flyover blindness’: while popular topics among the urban digerati, neither - TiVo then or Twitter now - are significant in terms of usage among the general population across the country,” the report reads.

Despite the naysaying, Tice admits Twitter influences the media’s discourse in a major way - which may influence consumer perceptions about the service in general.

“While social media is still a minor part of the media and personal mix that consumers use to make decisions, Twitter and its progeny can certainly greatly influence the way the press covers a product or media property - what gets buzz and what doesn’t,” concluded Knowledge Networks.

“Our advice to marketers is, in a tweet-size bite of 140 characters: Twitter is less a way to directly reach customers, and more a way to reach passionate voices who may influence perceptions of your brand,” the company stated.

Ultimately, Knowledge Networks parked the value of social media advertising as “somewhere in the long tail” of other marketing offerings well below word-of-mouth (WOM) recommendations and TV advertising.

A previous study by Nielsen found social networks and web video radically alter online behavior - which naturally affects the way advertisers must cater to users over time.

This article was written by

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MarketingCharts ( compiles a daily collection of the most interesting media and market research updates. It is written by the staff of Watershed Publishing, which includes the editors of MarketingVOX (, Media Buyer Planner ( and Retailer Daily ( While these editors receive regular access to proprietary research data from most of the key media-related research firms, no editorial restrictions have been placed on their usage.

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