Consumers Combine Search, Social Media For Purchasing Decisions

Nearly half of all consumers surveyed used a combination of search and social media sites before making a buying decision, GroupM Search and comScore report.
Companies are investing in tools that enable them to monitor social media sites, both to respond to customers' questions and to react to negative feedback that has the potential to snowball if left unresolved. Skyrocketing adoption of social media coupled with consumers' demand for almost immediate responses has resulted in a market expected to surpass $1 billion for U.S. tools and tool deployment next year, according to Gartner. Developers are targeting both enterprises and SMBs with their products, and they are creating products in-house and acquiring competitors, such as Constant Contact's purchase earlier this month of Bantam Live for $15 million.

User reviews were the most valuable tool, garnering 30% of respondents' votes, followed by social networking sites, which was ranked most valuable by 17% of those surveyed. Video-sharing sites like YouTube received 14% of poll-takers votes, followed by Twitter, which got 9%. Nearly two-thirds -- 64% -- of shoppers said they were likely to "follow" a brand after making a purchase, a move that would make them feel more connected to the brand or company. Almost three-quarters of respondents use a company's Facebook brand page to follow a brand for future engagement, the study found.

"Consumers continue to struggle with added steps in the digital purchase pathway. The ability to sequence messaging and put up digital signposts as understood via this research is a potential breakthrough for many brands," Copeland said. "We now have an understanding of the virtuous circle that is happening between these two channels and the motivations for consumers throughout their path to purchase. The consumer environment has never been more prime with opportunities to utilize search and social to create connections that are meaningful not only to your brand, but also to your consumer."

Consumers' decision-making process can be lengthy and complex, the report determined. In the telecommunications, it can take 60 days to decide and buy, while it can take a shopper 57 days in the world of consumer electronics, GroupM found. There are 11 digital steps from start to finish, giving brands ample opportunity to interact with prospective customers, according to the firm.

The report built on a 2009 GroupM report about the relationships consumers built with brands using social media and search. In this year's study, GroupM partnered with client Dell and media planning and buying agencies, and worked with comScore to create measurable results of more than 1 million opt-in, passively tracked Internet users in the United States.