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Social Network Branding Fails to Sway Female Purchasing

Seventy-five percent report sites have little influence over the products, brands they buy

Although marketers have paved major inroads to reach online audiences, their efforts seem to have gained little traction with female consumers, according to new research. A study by ad:tech Chicago and Q Interactive that analyzes how women engage online with brands finds that 75 percent of women reported that social networking sites have little bearing on their purchasing decisions.

Sites have "somewhat" of an influence over 21.9 percent and greatly influence only 3.3 percent of users. The data, which represents online survey answers collected from over 1,000 women from Aug 11 to 14, 2009, was presented yesterday at ad:tech Chicago by Matt Wise, president of Q Interactive, and Jonathan Ashton, managing partner for Agency.com, Chicago.

When asked what the most important factor in making a purchasing decision as a mother, price (47 percent) and quality (45.7 percent) topped the list.
Brand ranked fourth highest at 2 percent behind "other" responses (3.5 percent).

The underlying problem seems to be a lack of positive engagement. Although 52 percent of female users have "friended" a brand, feelings of neutrality (64 percent) and negativity (19 percent) were the most common reactions when women encountered brands online. Only 17 percent said the experience was positive.

Only 10 percent of women said that participating in brand-related activities, such as finding information (8.7 percent) and writing reviews (1 percent), was their most common social media activity. Sending private messages to peers (34.6 percent), sharing photos (13.4 percent), and chatting (12.8 percent) ranked as women¹s top-three social media activities.

"Although women are socializing a lot more with each other, they are not interacting with brands more. The brands are falling behind in this game and they are not opening dialogue with women in this arena," said Wise. "We're seeing a divide right now of where the women are leaping ahead of the brand and the brands are struggling to find how best to interact with them."

Despite poor sentiments and engagement, the survey found that women are frequent users of social media. Over 75 percent reported more activity on social networking sites this year. Over half (54.1 percent) visited at least once daily and 30.8 percent visited weekly. Less than one in ten visited monthly (7.4 percent) or once every few months (7.7 percent).

Facebook dominated women's social media use at 66.4 percent. Myspace followed at a far second at 16.3 percent. Twitter (3.1 percent) and LinkedIn
(1.4 percent) were also mentioned.

"Brand marketers still have a fundamental misunderstanding of what a social environment actually means—people are communicating on their own terms," said Ashton. "[Marketers] need to find a way to disassociate the brand from product and associate the brand with lifestyle or something that has more meaning on a personal level. The selling opportunity will come on after you ultimately create a relationship with someone in these environments."