Social Networks Can Drive Sales

Social networks are becoming increasingly critical to influencing consumer and business purchasing, according to a new report from Gartner. Its an important, though underappreciated way for businesses to spur sales or reach a wider potential customer base. Since a majority of consumers are to some extent influenced by social networks, vendors, system integrators, and service providers alike can benefit from a better understanding of how social networks shape the customer perceptions and attitudes that make them open their wallets.

Surveying almost 4,000 consumers across 10 key” markets, Gartner tried to identify those groups that could play the role of influencer,” someone who can sway the opinions of others toward a product or company, in terms of brand awareness, market research and viral marketing campaigns. The report broke down the respondents into six roles,” and determined how they react to marketing information.

These roles include: Connectors, people who act as bridges between different groups of people; Salesmen, who tend to enjoy a rich web of social connections and are comfortable persuading people to do or buy things, or act in certain highly directed ways, both on the job and off; Seekers, who look to other people, usually experts, for the information and skills needed in their daily lives; Mavens, who are often sought out as experts or information brokers on a variety of topics, but unlike Salesmen, have no interest in persuading people one way or another; Self-Sufficients that need to discover themselves the information that leads to taking action, and tend to be less susceptible to advertising and market trends; and finally, two-thirds of the respondents fell into the Unclassified category, since they did not fit the definition of any of the other groups. These people may exhibit qualities from two or more of the other categories, though, depending on the social context.

Our survey results showed that one-fifth of the consumer population is composed of Salesmen, Connectors, and Mavens,” said Nick Ingelbrecht, research director at Gartner. Salesmen and Connectors are the most effective social network influencers and the most important groups for targeted marketing based on social network analysis.”

Of these six roles, Self-Sufficients and Mavens are most immune to ad campaigns and promotions. On the other hand, Salesmen, Seekers and Connectors are not only more advertising-friendly, they tend to follow-through and act on marketing messages. The best strategy for marketers, according to Gartner, is to target Salesmen, Seekers and Connectors. Service providers in particular should court Mavens and Self-Sufficients with less marketing material and more emphasis on improving their shopping experience,” while Connectors, Seekers and Salesmen also appreciate the same customer care, but respond more to readily available promotional material.

Companies attempting to use social networks should develop relationships with key customers over a period of time and progressively refine the social network profiles of those individuals,” said Ingelbrecht. In this way, the most suitable individuals can be targeted with the right information, products and promotions in the most cost-effective way. Retailers who run small shops have instinctively done this with their best customers for years with the intention that these VIP customers will not only buy the new product but recommend them to their friends.”

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