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What is the Truth about Social Media for Business?

Every day I see articles that tell all about how social media is the solution and how businesses have to be on social media to be successful.  I also recently read about the Gallup poll that stated that the majority of respondents to a poll on social media stated that social media had little or no influence on their buying decisions.  So what is the truth?

Well, to begin with I don’t doubt the results of the Gallup poll and am certain that people actually did respond with those answers.  The real question is whether or not those people really know what influenced their decisions and whether or not social media did play a role in them.  Brand recognition can play an important role in buying decisions even if the buyer is unaware of how it influences them.  We all tend to make purchases from businesses that we know, have heard them talked about or have previously purchased from them.  Highway billboards certainly do not sell products and probably have very little influence on buying decisions but they do introduce the buyers to the company name and products.  Likewise it is certainly difficult to determine whether an advertisement in a magazine led to a purchase but yet millions are spent every year on them.  How many buyers would say that some magazine ad or billboard influenced their buying decision?  I would guess about the same percentage that said social media influenced their decision.  It is the introduction to the business or product early in the buying cycle that is important so that the customer will ultimately come to your business to check out your product or service.

With that said, is it worth the time and money to invest in social media for business?  I would argue yes!  Not just for the sake of putting your name and product in front of the customer but more importantly for engaging with the customers and building relationships.  Customers can interact, ask questions, discuss products, all the things they used to have to come to your store and talk with a salesman to get the answers.  More importantly they can do it all on their own time and comfort of their home.  Social media can allow the business to provide much more than just a sale.  It can be source of information to assist current and potential customers.  It can educate them to their problem and a possible solution that you may be able to provide and if not, steer them to where they can find the solution.  All of which makes your business much more of a real person rather than some faceless corporation.  This tends to build trust and people tend to buy from businesses they trust.  That trust can be strengthened by showing that you are willing to assist them even though they may not buy your product or service.

Converting a potential customer into a buying customer is not something that can be done quickly on social media.  It takes time to develop that relationship where they truly trust your business but the rewards over the long haul can be tremendous.  Satisfied customers talk to their family and friends and the customer you developed through a relationship on social media will be the one that refers you to their friends.  I myself have had friends tell be about a business they engage with on social media and have had a positive buying experience with and I almost always check them out.  Additionally, satisfied customers become repeat customers and any business has to be looking to the future, not just the next sale.  Social media can assist you in reaching those potential customers early in the buying cycle, provide them information to assist their decision and provide that human face to your business.  It may be difficult to determine if all this work converted them into a buying customer however, if you have a sound social media strategy, your engagement is real and not used to push your product down the buyer’s throat you will ultimately become that business that buyers want to deal with.  Don’t give up just because your customers don’t know for certain if social media influenced them to walk in your door.