Gartner analyzes social networking influence on purchase decisions

Gartner Logo The widespread use of Internet and creation of the virtual world offer an impetus to the acceptance of social networking sites. The growing importance of networking websites in the life of millions of people on the planet has led Gartner to gauge their importance and efficiency in the marketing of varied products. The study attempts to determine how the inclusion of social networking affects consumers’ buying behavior.

The company conducted a survey of approximately 4,000 consumers across 10 key markets in the last quarter of 2009. The data gathered from the research was used to identify groups that influence brand awareness, market research and viral marketing campaigns. However, it has been specified that social networking websites are underutilized by marketers.

“Our survey results showed that one-fifth of the consumer population is composed of ‘Salesmen,’ ‘Connectors’ and ‘Mavens.’ These are three roles that are key influencers in the purchasing activities of 74 percent of the population. Salesmen and Connectors are the most effective social network influencers and the most important groups for targeted marketing based on social network analysis,” highlighted Nick Ingelbrecht, Research Director at Gartner.

The report suggests that large sections of consumers make their purchase decisions with inputs from social networking sites. These people are said to be those who recommend products to their friends and family members. They perform different roles or functions such as the connector, salesman, seeker, maven, self-sufficient and unclassified while suggesting products to others in the social circuit.

As the name of this category suggests, the folks in connector group have contacts with people from diverse sections. Connecting people from different social strata, this group can be further classified as heavy connectors and light connectors. Heavy connectors maintain regular contacts with their varied but taut circle of friends and family members. Whereas, light connectors have extensive friends but maintain low and infrequent contacts.

The second category namely, the salesman has a large array of social connections. However, the main quality infused in this group is their tendency to influence people in several ways including purchase decisions and guide users by providing the information. However, this cluster is not to be mixed with those who perform sales tasks on commercial basis.

The next group of people comprises of those who derive information, skills and obligations to execute daily chores. This is said to be true in case of their shopping activities. They seek advice from experts to conclude an appropriate product, its price and place to purchase the device from.

Whether it is an affirmative feature or a negative opinion, mavens spread all types of information about a given product. They are also refereed to as knowledge exchangers or information brokers by the report. The mavens hold expertise in particular areas but do not persuade people to use or acquire a device. These individuals access data for their personal interests.

The fifth clan embraces individuals who are tagged as self-sufficient. The people in this group do need heed other people’s suggestions but themselves research and gain information about any given product. According to the study, this is a difficult group to sway as they are unaffected by viral influences and bandwagon effects.

The last horde consists of the rest of the population and is called as unclassified. They are made of two-thirds of the total people who unlike others do not possess unique traits. Individuals from this category flaunt different characteristics and may perform several roles in varied social contexts.

“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. In this way, the most suitable individuals can be targeted with the right information, products and promotions in the most cost-effective way,” explained Ingelbrecht. “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 products but recommend them to their friends.”

The report states that device vendors, application developers/publishers and communications service providers should gain insights about the behavior of different groups to comprehend their contribution to the marketing process. As mentioned earlier, the self-sufficient category may not be of great help in spreading the information while salesmen, seekers and connectors could be viable options to get messages across to a large section of audiences.

According to Gartner, manufacturers and marketers should focus to enhance the shopping experience of mavens and self-sufficients. They can devise techniques to involve connectors, seekers and salesmen in a wider scheme of things. The latter groups can be employed in an expedient manner by augmenting their product satisfaction as well as easily making information available to them.

The company has revealed that ‘User Survey Analysis: Consumer Marketing Using Social Network Analysis, Worldwide, 2010” report will highlight some more trends. Interested readers can access the official website to gain additional perspectives from the study.