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Businesses fail to recognise power of social media as consumers rate it as far more important

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Businesses are failing to recognise the importance social media is playing in the purchasing decisions of consumers.

That is the findings of new research commissioned by social media tech specialists Maybe* as part of projects with UK Government and local authorities in the UK.

The research shows that 79.1% of consumers spend more than seven hours a week on social media – that’s more per individual customer than the average business spends in total per week. And, in addition, nearly 13% of people spend more than five hours a day on social media.

This is in stark contrast to the 3.9m UK businesses for which data is available. Only 31% of these businesses have a social media presence. That equates to just 1.2m businesses with a social media presence, though this doesn’t mean those businesses are actually active online. Only 19% of UK businesses have active social media accounts – defined as having posted in the previous 30 days – which means 81% of businesses with a social media profile post less than once a month.

Moreover, only 9% of businesses post on social media at the weekend, which is when consumers are most likely to be using social media for themselves.

The extent to which businesses are behind the curve becomes even more apparent with the research finding that 75% of consumers use social media to find out about products and services before buying. And this isn’t just online purchases – 74.6% of people looking at products on social media shop in store at least once a week.

Shaun Ward, Managing Director of Wardington’s Original, a Herefordshire-based producer of alcoholic spirits, collaborated with a local retailer, leading to a first edition whisky selling out in minutes online.

Shaun comments: “When our team goes out to meet customers, we want to do more than just sell premium spirits to them. We want our customers and partners to interact with us on social media, with them sharing content that mentions us and our products. That gives them exposure, it gives us exposure – and everyone gets a slice of the pie.

“We promoted the launch of our first edition of whisky purely through social media, working alongside one of our brilliant retailers, The Secret Bottle Shop, a real Aladdin’s Cave of wines and spirits in Hereford. At one point 1,500 people were on the website trying to get a bottle into the cart — we sold out in just over three minutes!

“I think there are still a lot of business owners out there who think that social media is a nice to have – it’s not – it’s a need to have, not just to drive sales, but to build a brand community as well. If a business told you that they don’t feel marketing is important, what would you say to that?

An increasing part of the relationship between brands and browsers is the connection on social media with more than half of shoppers (56%) following businesses they shop from; 54% using social media to read news about shops or restaurants they like, and 60% following brands that they either like to purchase or are interested in. 64% of consumers said that, when looking to make a purchase from somewhere, they are likely to interact with the company on social media.

Paulomi Debnath, who launched her sustainable jewellery brand, Handmade by Tinni, just before the Covid pandemic outbreak in 2020, attributes much of her success to using social media to promote her products. She explains:

“In support of a launch earlier this year, our Spring Earrings and Necklaces range, I produced a series of short videos for my social channels, specifically reels and stories on Instagram, to drive interest and excitement.

Paulomi, who moved to London from India sixteen years ago and specialises in the art of traditional rope knotting crafts, adds:

“As part of the same launch campaign, I used social media to encourage customers to pick their favourite colours and material combinations. I believe in inclusivity and that extends as far as offering our customers the opportunity to be part of the creative process. The launch was a huge success, resulting in over 30 of the new pieces (retailing at £25 each) selling in the first week. Without social media, the business simply wouldn’t reach as many customers as we now do, it’s been a vital part of our success.”

The influence of interaction on social media is further demonstrated by consumers saying they are more likely to buy a product they have seen recommended by a friend or the brand itself on social media than they are by a post from an influencer or a celebrity. Of those surveyed, 46% said they would be influenced by a friend on social media, 40% by a post by the brand itself but only 14% by an influencer or celebrity posting about a brand, product or service.

But retailers and brands need to also recognise what shoppers expect from them on social platforms. Nearly 40% of shoppers who engage with a brand on social media expect a response within 4 hours, and nearly 12% expect a response within an hour. 28% said they expect a response within 24 hours whilst 9% said they don’t expect to ever receive a reply.

And in a warning for both brands and retailers, over half of those surveyed (53%) said that they share both their good and bad brand experiences on social media with their friends.

Of the businesses surveyed, just 26% said they spend any money on Facebook or Instagram advertising. Of those, 16% spent up to £100 per month and only 7% £500 or more per month. Only 16% had increased their budget for social media advertising in the last six months.

“This research highlights the extent to which people are using social media to drive their purchasing decisions. This applies to online and offline transactions and shows how important it is that businesses engage with their prospects and clients digitally throughout the customer journey,” explains Polly Barnfield OBE, CEO of Maybe*. 

“The amount of time that consumers are spending on social media is out of balance with the time and resource that businesses are investing in it. Collectively, our social media consumption as individuals is growing. We are all engaging with brands in new ways and 75% of purchases are now based on what we see on social media. But, businesses are not meeting their customers in this environment. Mastering social media is becoming a critical business skill, it’s a ‘human to human’ opportunity that businesses must embrace to remain current.”

Maybe* provides a range of social media engagement and insight tools that help clients engage with conversations on social media to improve business results. These tools enable businesses to see what content is working best and boost their best performing content, to compare their social media performance to competitors or collaborators, and, by knowing what content is working, being able to join the right conversations. The company works with BIDs and local authorities across the UK to train retailers in how to position themselves at the centre of local conversations to ensure their businesses gain support and interest.