Online marketers could be losing out on reaching as many as two-thirds of 18 to 35 year-olds by ignoring social networks, according to the '2007 Social Media for Brands' survey published by online search conversion agency Tamar.
The report found that 60% of British consumers would be willing to interact with a brand through social networks if they were offered the right incentives, discounts, or special offers.
Socialising and branding go together
Consumers said that they are open to contact with brands through online social networks, and more than half said they would be willing to act as brand advocates through social networks.
However, brands must make sure that they approach consumers in the right ways, as more than half also said they would be put off dealing with a company if they saw negative comments about the brand appearing on social networks.
Advocates already exist
More than three-quarters (80%) of social network users said they were already actively commenting on brands online, having either chatted about, commented on, or reviewed a brand or product in an online forum or social network.
The report also noted that two-thirds (66%) of 18-35 year-olds in the UK are actively engaged in social networking, and that 38% are members of two or more online forums or social networking sites. There is also a correlation between age and social network usage, with usage being highest among younger age groups, peaking at 80% of 18-20 year olds.
Detractors becoming a problem
Negative comments posted in online forums and social networks put off 52% of the consumers surveyed, although there is a clear gender divide with 59% of men taking negative comments either "seriously" or "very seriously" compared to only 47% of women.
Travel products and services were identified as being the most at risk from negative comments on social networks, with 58% of respondents saying that negative comments would lead to them abandon a purchase. This was followed by consumer electronics with 51%, financial services with 44%, and communications brands (such as broadband internet and telephone service providers) with 40%.
According to Neil McCarthy, director for Tamar, "The rapid growth of social networks and user generated content is shifting the online balance of power away from marketers and toward the consumer, and the effectiveness of traditional online marketing channels is decreasing. With so many consumers actively commenting on brands through social networks, online reputation is becoming increasingly important. Social networks are a large and unregulated channel with a massive user base through which brands could see their reputations undone very quickly."
Friends are better than banners
Nearly 1.5 times as many 18-35 year-old social network users said they would rather accept a "Friend Request" from a brand than have banner adverts appear on social networking profile pages. The best way to get users to accept friend requests was identified as offering special offers and discounts (with which 60% agreed). By contrast, only 5% said that they would be enticed by previews of forthcoming services, and only 10% by exclusive products or services.
The 18-35 age group is also the most receptive of all, with 51% saying they would be willing to act as a brand advocate (e.g. to set up groups for brands, and encourage friends to join and participate) on social networks in exchange for offers and discounts. This figure peaked at 64% in the 18-20 age group, who are also the biggest users of social networks.
McCarthy concluded, "There is a clear need for brands to get their foot in the door with social networks, as these sites epitomise a new way of life for today's consumer. But users of social media are increasingly indicating that they don't want advertising from all and sundry, but would be happy to choose to have a closer relationship with personally chosen advertisers."