Corporate Eye

Social Media and Purchase Decisions — Take Survey Results with a Grain of Salt

It seems like every month a new report comes out from another company that surveyed a group of Internet users to learn how they’re affected by social media conversations when it comes to brand perceptions and purchase decisions.  The trend for the past year or more has been survey results that tell us people are very influenced by social media conversations, reviews, and so on when they research products and services online and ultimately make purchase decisions.  However, a new poll conducted in April 2010 by Harris Poll paints a different picture (via BrandWeek).

According to the new study by Harris Poll, we’re given the following data:

  • 34% of adults who use social media have used social media tools “as an outlet to rant or rave about a company, brand or product.”
  • 26% of those adults use social media to share their dissatisfaction with a company, brand or product.
  • 23% of those adults use social media to share their their feelings about the companies, brands and products they like.

The Harris Poll also sheds light on how different demographic segments are influenced when it comes to making purchase decisions by social media conversations:

  • 50% of 18-34 year olds are influenced by opinions published through social media.
  • 37% of people age 55 and over admit that reviews from people they follow on social media sites affect their interactions with companies, brands and products.

Another piece of the Harris Poll results tells us how much consumers are affected by various media messages:

  • 71% of respondents say that they are influenced by “reviews from family members or friends.”
  • 46% of respondents say that they are influenced by “reviews in newspapers and magazine articles.”
  • 45% of respondents say that they are influenced by “reviews from friends or people I follow on social networking sites.”
  • 33% of respondents say that they are influenced by “reviews on blogs or message boards.”

So what does this tell us?

There is still no reliable data about how people are influenced by social media conversations vs. traditional media.  Survey results are inconsistent.  However, it is clear that social media conversations are important, and the Harris Poll study supports that theory not only in the statistics shown above but also in the response to a specific question — 38% (more than 1 in 3) people who participated in the survey said that they “aim to influence others when I express my preferences online.” This tells us that people like to feel important and influential, and the social Web empowers them to exert their influence to a wide audience irrespective of whether or not they actually have success influencing others.

The key learnings for brand managers and marketers are two-fold:

  1. People pay attention to, listen to, and react to social media conversations.
  2. People like to influence others with their social media conversations.

Bottom-line, if you’re not working to find your brand’s loyal group of online influencers and brand advocates and giving them reasons to talk about you, then you’re missing a big opportunity that shows no signs of stopping.

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Susan Gunelius is the author of 10 marketing, social media, branding, copywriting, and technology books, and she is President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She also owns Women on Business, an award-wining blog for business women. She is a featured columnist for and, and her marketing-related articles have appeared on websites such as,,, and more. She has over 20 years of experience in the marketing field having spent the first decade of her career directing marketing programs for some of the largest companies in the world, including divisions of AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include large and small companies around the world and household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more. Susan is frequently interviewed about marketing and branding by television, radio, print, and online media organizations, and she speaks about these topics at events around the world. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+.