Social Media and Search Synergy in the Purchase Decision Process

Understanding how social media and search impact a purchase decision can be difficult. Understanding the synergy between the two is an even more complex process.

Having a good understanding, however, can lead to an integrated social media and search strategy that eliminates wasteful spending while improving the overall performance of digital marketing efforts.

GroupM Search and comScore recently released the findings of a new study that aims to reveal the impact and synergy of each channel. The results are quite interesting and may provide insights that could alter your current search and social media strategies.

The study found that 58 percent of purchase decisions started with search compared to 18 percent that started with social media. Fifty-one percent only used search in their decision making process, while 48 percent used a combination of search and social media.

With nearly half of all purchase decisions involving the use of social media, the medium is definitely becoming an important driving force in the purchase decision process.

What role does social media play in the purchase decision process? According to the study, it is used mainly as a means to become aware of purchase options and then to evaluate the resulting consideration set.

During the evaluation of their consideration set, a consumer is likely to use social media to gather the opinions of others that can then help narrow their consideration set so that they can make an informed purchase decision. This illustrates the importance of maintaining positive opinions about your brand and keeping customers satisfied with their purchase decision.

Rectifying customer complaints in a timely manner can go a long way in altering an otherwise negative experience with the brand. This in turn will likely lead to fewer negative reviews and since brand perceptions are developed through the use of social media, you’ll be less likely to have your brand dropped from consumers’ consideration sets because of what they see in social media channels.

A fascinating piece of information from the study was that less than 1 percent of consumers engage with a brand through Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube during their decision making process. This shows that broadcasting to the masses through your branded social channels will have little impact in generating new customers and that consumers care less about a brands presence and more about their peers opinions during their decision making process.

Sixteen percent, however, engage with company blogs which may mean that authoritative industry relevant content that’s written by the brand can heighten the value placed on a brand when a consumer is evaluating their consideration set.

The top social media channel types that aid a purchase decision are:

  • Reviews — 30 percent
  • Facebook — 17 percent
  • Video Sharing — 14 percent
  • Twitter — 9 percent

This again illustrates the importance of keeping customers happy and reinforcing their purchase decision. A happy customer who feels a connection with your brand is likely going to be more willing to write positive reviews.

Encouraging satisfied customers to write reviews can in turn help bring in new customers who read the positive reviews during their own decision making process.

The true value of having a branded social presence in various social channels comes after the purchase is made. The study found that 64 percent are likely to follow the brand via social media channels after a purchase with 74 percent of them saying that a brands Facebook page was their desired method for future communication.

This shows an incredible opportunity for brands to create strong customer loyalty and to encourage ongoing engagement with the brand after the purchase is made. With ongoing engagement, customers will feel a stronger connection to the brand which in turn will lead to greater trust and a more loyal base of repeat customers.

A growing base of satisfied loyal customers will translate into a greater share of positive mentions of the brand in social channels which is likely to bring in even more new customers who may also become part of your loyal customer base.

The cycle of new customers being influenced by the experiences and opinions of current customers and then becoming an influencer themselves can have whirlwind effect that grows in strength as the collective group of influencers grows while pulling in a larger share of potential new customers.

You just need to provide the means and encouragment to your loyal customers to become brand evangelists and ensure that new customers have the same positive experiences with your brand that your loyal customer base is accustomed to.

So while search still plays the largest role in a consumers purchase decision, social media is increasingly playing a larger and more intertwined role.

The study found that 40 percent say that search leads to an increase in social media use while 46 percent say that social media leads to an increase in search. As the two channels become even more intertwined, it will become even more important to ensure that search and social strategies align.

What can be done from a brand’s perspective?

A critical first step is to ensure that the customer buying experience is a positive one and where there are slipups ensure that customer service has the means to turn an otherwise negative experience into a positive outcome.

In addition, the following pieces can help increase the synergy between social media and search.

  • Encourage satisfied customers to write reviews; especially on review sites that rank or have the potential to rank organically for key terms.
  • Encourage loyal customers to become brand evangelists who engage in social channels on behalf of your brand.
  • Produce social content that can rank organically for key terms. This will allow your brand to take up more of the organic shelf space.

Finally, ensure that search and social media efforts are integrated so that you’re in position to capitalize and easily adapt to the future shifts in synergy between each channel.

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