Nearly 60% of U.S. consumers say they interact with companies on a social media Web site, and one in four interact more than once per week, according to the results of the 2008 Cone Business in Social Media Study which were just released.
The survey finds that 93% of Americans believe a company should have a presence in social media, while 85% believe a company should not only be present, but should also interact with its consumers via social media.
56% of American consumers feel both a stronger connection with, and better served by, companies when they can interact with them in a social media environment.
Mike Hollywood, director of new media for Cone, says about the results of the survey: "Social media... it isn't an intrusion into their lives, but rather a welcome channel for discussion."
Here is a sampling of what American consumers surveyed said when asked about specific types of social media interactions they said they preferred:
>43% say that companies should use social networks to help solve my problems.
>41% want companies to solicit feedback on their products and services.
>37% feel that companies should develop new ways for consumers to interact with their brand.
>33% of men and 17% of women interact frequently (one or more times per week) with companies via social media.
"The ease and efficiency of online conversation is likely a draw for men who historically do not seek out the same level of interaction with companies as women," says Hollywood.
Additionally, 33% of younger, hard-to-reach consumers (ages 18-34), believe companies should actively market to them via social networks, and the same is true of the wealthiest households (household income of $75,000+). Two-thirds of the wealthiest households and the largest households (3 or more members) feel stronger connections to brands they interact with online.
Additional, separate research shows similar findings.
Generation Y (those born after 1979) online buyers are more immersed in online and mobile activities than any other generation, according to 2008 research from shopping comparison site PriceGrabber. Some 85% of Gen Y respondents said they participated in social networking, and 57% reported involvement with blogs in a recent survey conducted by the online site.
The 2008 Cone Business in Social Media Study was an online survey conducted September 11-12, 2008 by Opinion Research Corporation among 1,092 adults comprising 525 men and 567 women 18 years of age and older. The margin of error associated with a sample of this size is ± 3%. Cone is a strategic marketing and branding consulting firm based in Boston, Mass. USA.
The social media opportunity
A number of food and grocery retailers such as Wal-Mart, Inc., Whole Foods Market, Inc., (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter.com) Trader Joe's (Twitter.com), 7-Eleven (Twitter.com), Tesco's Fresh & Easy (Twitter.com) are using various social media sites to promote their stores, interact with consumers and offer various information such as recipes, tips from buyers and related information.
Others, including some of the above, also are using Blogs on their own web sites as social networking and marketing forums as well. Whole Foods has a series of such Blogs at http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/, and Wal-Mart has its "Buyers' Blog" at http://www.walmart.com/, for example.
Numerous food and grocery manufacturers and suppliers also are using social media sites to market their products. and interact with consumers.
But Far too few natural and specialty foods manufacturers and marketers are doing so however. This is a missed opportunity for category companies because social marketing fits well with natural and specialty foods companies which often are smaller, entrepreneurial businesses that have great stories to tell.
Social media sites like Myspace, Facebook, Twitter and others are great forums for story telling and networking with customers and potential customers. Natural and specialty foods companies often have great stories to tell because of their entrepreneurial origins or other aspects of what the company does. Social media fits all size companies though, from the one-person shop to the global mega-corporation.
Using social marketing sites like those above also is low cost. It costs nothing to use the sites generally. All that's needed is an employee -- hopefully one skilled in social marketing or willing to experiment and learn -- to maintain the site, post material and network with consumers.
The best practice if possible is to involve the entire company -- from the president to the marketing department to the warehouse staff -- in the site. The more social and interactive across the board a social media site is the more interesting it is to consumers in most cases.
Of course care needs to be taken regarding the content a company places on its social media sites since like in all marketing, company and brand reputation is at stake.
Over marketing is a good way to kill a social media site as well. What's needed is a blend of marketing and brand information along with lots of other information -- stories about the company and its employees, involvement of the company in charities, recipes, related news and the like.
Interactivity also is key -- and not just between the company and users but also between the various social media site users themselves. encouraging this can really spread word of mouth about a natural or specialty foods company and the products it produces and markets.
We believe natural and specialty foods companies not using at least one social media site such as MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and a few others are missing the 21rst Century marketing boat. The opportunities to connect with current customers, consumers, buyers of your products and potential buyers of your products -- and to link those people together around your brand --exist at present using these social media sites in ways never before imagined at marketing costs never before possible.
Natural~Specialty Foods Memo has a site on Twitter.com in fact. Just go to http://www.twitter.com/. Type in nsfoodsmemo in the search box, and you will be taken to our Twitter site or page.
If you want to view Whole Foods', Trader Joe's, 7-Eleven's or Fresh & Easy's sites on Twitter just type those respective names in the search box as well. You can also do a global search using say "food retailers" or "supermarkets." The same is the case with "natural foods companies" or "Specialty foods companies" and the like to see if any are using Twitter.com.
Meanwhile, we suggest those in the natural and specialty foods industry -- retailers, manufacturers/marketers, distributors, brokers and others -- who currently aren't using one or more social networking and marketing sites do so soon. It's an opportunity you can't afford to miss out on in our analysis and opinion.