Online Buying: How Shoppers Are Using Social Media

We’ve seen some tectonic shifts in shopper behavior over the past 20 years. From the rise of e-commerce and the continuing collapse of brick-and-mortar traffic to growing shopper promiscuity and demand for personalized experiences, the shopping environment has ripened for social media. We see it in the investments that advertisers are making — ad spending on social media hit $41.5 billion in 2020, according to a report from the Interactive Advertising Bureau. That’s 30% of all internet ad revenue!

But the social media sector still sees churn among its platforms. Remember Myspace? How many Gen X shoppers use TikTok, which entered the international market less than four years ago? Brands can’t approach their social media marketing strategy with a “set it and forget it” mentality. Shoppers are regularly updating which platforms they’re using, how often they use them and, most importantly, how they use the platforms’ functions in their shopping. In order to succeed, the strategy needs to be adaptable.

Two-Thirds of Shoppers Do Some Shopping on Social Media

We fielded a 6,000-respondent study this spring to take the pulse of today’s shoppers and serve as the basis for our new Shopper Influence Research program. It found that about two-thirds of shoppers today use social media as part of their shopping strategy. YouTube still sits on top, with half of shoppers saying they turn to content on the platform to research their purchases. Facebook and Instagram follow closely behind. If you’re not leaning into video content, start now.

Our study also found that a third of shoppers turn to social media influencers in order to learn about products. That’s a higher percentage than say they use Twitter, Snapchat or even the inspiration gold mine we call Pinterest! Influencer marketing is still a vital part of any online advertising strategy.

Usage Varies by Generation

There are, of course, some significant generational differences when it comes to using social media, let alone using those platforms for shopping. Just 23% of boomers told us that they shop on social platforms, compared to 77% of millennials and Gen Z. And Facebook is less popular among younger shoppers: Gen Z is more likely to use Snapchat, TikTok, or Instagram.

Shoppers Use Social Media Later in Their Journey

The times during the journey when shoppers use social platforms also vary. We found that shoppers are more likely to turn to YouTube, Facebook and Pinterest at the beginning of their shopping process when they’re looking for hard facts or general inspiration. Then, they move to Twitter and Snapchat when they’re closer to purchasing and looking for dialogue to validate their final choices.

But the place that social platforms hold in the shopping process doesn’t stop at the transaction. While the most common post-transaction sharing behaviors happen in the shopper’s immediate surroundings, they also turn to those platforms to follow up. More than 16% say that they’ll like or follow a brand on social media if they’re pleased with the purchase, and a similar percentage are willing to post about it or write a consumer review.

So, what does all of this mean for brands who need an optimized social media strategy?

• Smart marketing today means focusing your social media advertising to meet your shoppers on the apps or platforms where they already are.

• Take time to understand the content or product features that your social media shoppers want to see. They’re a unique subset of your overall shopping base, so tailor your advertising depending on their desires.

• Make content that is uber-sharable so that when your shoppers want to talk about your products with their networks, it’s very easy for them to do so. That also means content that shoppers can engage with after they buy.

The macroeconomic and demographic trends tell us that more of the shopping process is going to happen on social media and similar platforms. The brands that will be successful in the space are those that begin setting adaptive, research-driven strategies now to stay ahead of the curve.

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