How social media and search can reach the pickiest audience

More than ever, consumers are turning to the internet, their online social networks, and search engines to research before buying. Consider Yelp, a consumer review website and community. According to a recent episode of National Public Radio’s “On the Media,” Yelp is the bane of most local business owners, who have no way to run interference on the site’s consumer reviews of their services and products. Unfortunately for business owners who feel slighted by the site, Yelp’s consumer reviews and product research are a cleared-eyed view into the future of advertising.

As reported in the Wall Street Journal Microtrends blog in January, consumers want to be in control of decision-making information and don’t want to be sold — these consumers are the “new info shoppers.”

Penn, Schoen and Berland, who conducted the New Info Shoppers (NIS) survey, found that 92 percent of respondents said they had more confidence in information they seek out online than anything coming from a salesclerk or other source. Meanwhile, 62 percent of the total — and 73 percent of those polled under 45 years old — said they spend at least 30 minutes online every week deciding what, and if, they should purchase.

NIS consumers aren’t just conducting research and opinion polls of their social networks before buying big ticket items; they are equally diligent about everyday purchases such as toothpaste and hair products. So how do brands reach consumers in the new immediate, comprehensive, information age? One helpful way for brands and advertisers to consider the problem is to view search and social networks as two sides of the same coin, both squarely directed at NIS.

Heads up: Search is the starting point
NIS consumers start their research broadly. So despite the fact that American Express “experts” may tell business owners not to waste money in search, SEM and SEO are critical. Search is the starting point of informed consumer purchase decisions; it is where the online, and now offline, conversion funnel begins. Brand information can be found everywhere on the web. The trick is to make sure your content is where the NIS are looking.

The way new info shoppers search is different than any other consumer segment. They tend to ignore paid search items and look at more than standard organic search results. When the NIS search for information, they are not just going to Google, but are going one step further to Google Blog search. These shoppers review photo- and video-sharing sites, wikis, and online forums when making purchase decisions. And that’s not all: They are using Feedburner to track specific data in RSS content feeds. In fact, there are so many new sources to search, is it any wonder that conversion rates among this group remain high?

Social discovery is the tail of NIS strategy
The tail side of this equation is the social networks. The new info shopper is heavily reliant not just on search, but on their own community and social networks. NIS consumers turn to review sites like Yelp, as well as MySpace and Facebook, when they want information. Now branded content can reach consumers in a variety of new forums: Newsfeed posts, social commenting, social widgets and apps all inform consumer purchase decisions. To reach these social networking consumers, brands need to give something, not sell them something. After all, social networks are all about sharing, which means giving back.

That is where portable social applications come into the NIS picture. By engaging consumers on social networks with free music, games, community, charity, and other branded entertainment and engagement, you can educate the social networking community while giving back. Branded portable applications carry your message throughout the community. Newsfeeds are the new front page. Instead of clipping articles, people are now posting stories to their social networking pages and forwarding them to their friends through the networks and mobile devices. When consumers encounter your brand in social media via their network of friends, they are more likely to engage and to share that experience with additional friends.

Search and social applications have long tail benefits
Because NIS shoppers are keen on research, you need to have your eye on the long tail. Do make sure that you are engaging in the best white hat SEM and SEO practices. While social networks may be the tail side to the NIS coin, they are also a part of any great long tail campaign strategy, as many social applications are evergreen. Whether you are a national entertainment or beauty brand, or a big box retailer trying to drive traffic to your local stores, tapping into consumers’ social discovery patterns to reach these new info shoppers is a good idea.

So what if consumers are getting smarter and more demanding before buying? It just means interactive advertising will have to raise the level of our interactive strategies. Do you think we are up for the challenge?

Dave Yovanno is CEO of Gigya.

Source: iMedia Connection

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