Social Media Networks as a Marketing Tool (a new study)

A study by Michael Stelzner, sponsored by the Social Media Success Summit 2009, set out to find the prevalence of social media networks as a tool for marketers. Social Media Marketing Industry Report: How Marketers are Using Social Media to Grow Their Businesses tries to uncover the social media networks that marketers are using and finding valuable. The contents of the report provide a useful reference point for small business owners exploring an entrance into social media.   

The methodology for the study was a survey distributed through e-mail, Facebook and blogs. In the end, 880 respondents offered their answers, and some 685 provided open-ended answers. A summary of the findings is presented here.   

The specific questions the survey set out to answer were:

  • How widespread is the use of social media networks for marketing?
  • What is the experience level of users?
  • How much time do users commit per week?
  • In what age group are those using social media network marketing?
  • What are the main perceived benefits?
  • Which social media networks do marketers use the most?
  • Which social media networks do marketers most want to learn about?

Popularity of Social Media Networks for Marketing

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The findings are interesting and promising for social media networks as a tool that will continue to grow in use. A full 88% of respondents use social media networks, and 81% of them reported gaining business exposure as a result. As far as experience level, 72% reported being beginners or being at it for a few months. These results alone suggest that while the tool is getting a lot of attention now, it will get more in the future as those benefits (such as the added exposure) are experienced by more of the 72% of respondents who are only beginning to experience social media network marketing.

Experience

Out of the 88% of respondents who reported using social media networks, 30.2% were sole proprietors who were just getting started. The most experienced users were owners of 2 to 100 employee companies – at 29.3%.

Time Commitment

64% of respondents invest 5 hours a week or more, while 39% report investing 10 hours per week or more. A small percentage – 9.6% – spends 20 hours or more per week in social media network marketing. This small group has evidently found a reward for their time investment, as they are the same group who reported having been using this tool for years.

Age Groups

The most likely age group to be using social media network marketing is the 30 to 39 year-olds. The next most likely age group is 20 to 29 year-olds, and finally the 50 to 59 age group. The percentages of people dedicating 20 hours or more per week within these age groups are 44.8%, 40.3% and 38.7%, respectively. The findings are consistent in that the most likely age group also has the highest percentage of 10+hour users.

Perceived Benefits

The largest perceived benefit, as expressed by 81% of respondents, is business exposure. After this come increased traffic or conversion rates for 61% of respondents; new business partnerships for 56% of respondents; rise in search engine rankings for 52%; qualified sales leads for 48%; reduced marketing costs for 45% of respondents; and for 35% of respondents social media networks helped them close business.

At least from what can be seen in the report, no respondents offered quantitative evidence of the benefits experienced such as search engine rankings before and after or revenue achieved directly through social media network marketing. However, there is hunger for such information, as evidenced by the following sample of top questions sent back by respondents to the surveyors:

  • How do I measure the effectiveness of social media?
  • What is the ROI?
  • How do I find and focus efforts on my target audience?
  • How do I convert my social media marketing efforts into tangible results?
  • Where are the documented, real success stories?
  • Where’s the money?

Most Used Social Media Networks

Twitter is the top social media tool in use by marketers as reported by 86% of respondents. The ones that follow in rank are:

  • Blogs – 79%
  • LinkedIn – 78%
  • Facebook – 77%
  • YouTube/Video Sites – 41%
  • Social bookmarking sites – 38%

Below these were forums, StumbleUpon, Digg, Reddit or similar, and at the bottom came Friendfeed.

The number two choice for beginners is LinkedIn, and for those with a few months’ experience it’s Facebook.

Ninety-four percent (94%) of the most experienced users cite Twitter as their top choice.

An interesting finding was that men are 20% more likely than women to go for YouTube or similar video sites.

Sites of Interest

As everything evolves continually in cyberspace, savvy marketers want to be – if at all possible – ahead of the game. Social media networking sites pop up all the time and the public moves from one to the other in some measure.

Social bookmarking sites, such as Del.icio.us, are the ones marketers are most curious about and interested in – with 58% of respondents naming them. Right behind, by one percentage point comes Twitter, which is consistent with the finding that 94% of the most experienced users go for Twitter as their number one choice, since these are the same 9.6% of users who spend 20 hours or more a week and are the most experienced. In other words, newbies and middle-experience marketers who use social media networking are still looking to Twitter as something new to learn about. The most experienced users expressed top interest in Friendfeed, followed by StumbleUpon and social bookmarking sites.

Summary

A vast percentage of respondents to Michael Stelzner’s survey – 88% – reported using social media networking as a marketing tool, which suggests a strong trend within the marketing community. In addition, real benefits have been reported by 81% of respondents, although the study does not quantify these benefits.

The top social media network in use is Twitter, followed by blogs and LinkedIn, and it seems social bookmarking sites are the tool that is gaining the most attention by marketers as perhaps the new place to be exploited. Finally, time committed to social media network marketing seems to pay off if we are to judge that the 9.6% of respondents who invest 20 or more hours a week are also the most experienced, with several years of reported practice in social media networking marketing.

Eager for more? Check out Zeke’s series "Getting Social Smarts" and his three podcasts below for more great social media marketing information and tips!

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