Category Archives: Blog

Does social media drive sales? A research review

As social media research matures, the big question on everyone’s lips is “How can we connect this to other data?” More particularly, how can we connect it to what really matters to our business: sales?

Last week I gave a webinar on exactly this topic, sharing the results of our research study mapping social media buzz for 3 music events against ticket sales. You can find that presentation here on Slideshare, and download the full recording from this link.

In this blog, I want to put our work in context and map the wider industry thinking on this issue by summarising 5 other key social-to-sales research studies. There are a number of different ways that social media activity and sales can be compared, and I hope it’s useful to provide a summary and outline some of the key differences:

1. Buzzkill: Coca-Cola Finds No Sales Lift from Online Chatter
March 2013

Presenting at the Advertising Research Foundation’s Re:Think 2013 conference, Coke’s Eric Schmidt reported that “We didn’t see any statistically significant relationship between our buzz and our short-term sales.” (AdAge.com)

Note that Coke are still big believers in social media’s effectiveness as part of an integrated campaign: said Wendy Clark, “It’s the combination of owned, earned, shared and paid media connections – with social playing a crucial role at the heart of our activations – that creates marketplace impact, consumer engagement, brand love and brand value.”

IEDGE-cocacola-social-media-strategy-2

[image created by Coca Cola, via iEdge.eu]

But this study is evidence that overall social media buzz – the number of brand mentions – doesn’t necessarily correlate with sales. What might?

2. McKinsey Finds Social Buzz Can Affect Sales — Negatively, Anyway
June 2013

“The consulting firm initially couldn’t find any connection between social-media buzz and sales, either when looking at overall data changes or even by applying an algorithm to assign sentiment to the buzz. But McKinsey found the relationship between negative buzz and a decline in sales when it “hand tabulated” sentiment in social-media comments.” (AdAge.com)

This negative sentiment hurt signups by 8%, “offsetting their entire TV spend,” McKinsey principal Jonathan Gordan said at the Advertising Research Foundations Audience Measurement 8.0 conference in New York. Why? Because the negativity was primarily driven by complaints about the sign-up process and call-centre workers at the telecom provider. 

This shows how a relationship between social and sales can become visible when you drill down into more specific aspects of social data. Brand volumes didn’t impact telecoms sign-ups - but complaints about the sign-up process did.

3. Eventbrite: Facebook Drives More Ticket Sales Than Twitter And LinkedIn Across US And UK
April 2012

A different metric here – not social media volumes (aka the number of messages mentioning a brand), but the number of shares:

“The company says that Facebook is the king of all social networks when it comes to ticket sales. In the UK, if a person shares an event on Facebook, it generates an average of £2.25 ($3.60) in additional gross ticket sales. A share on Twitter, meanwhile, drives an average of £1.80 ($2.90), and an event shared on LinkedIn generates an average of £1.24 ($1.99) in additional event revenue.” (TechCrunch.com)

Eventbrite’s reason for why Facebook is bringing in more sales is good sense: “The connections we have on Facebook most closely represent the people we actually know and spend time with offline,” its researchers write.

Eventbrite facebook

4. Why Twitter Buzz ≠ Movie Ticket Sales
December 2012

“140 Proof looked at 25 major Hollywood films released in 2012, compiling data on each movie’s social media activity (mentions and hashtags) two weeks before, and two weeks after the release. It found that the number of overall Twitter mentions is a poor predictor of box office sales (unlike tweet volume and TV ratings). What did correlate to box office success was the number of tweets from influential tastemakers” (Readwrite.com)

Again, the relationship between social and sales doesn’t show up when you just look at raw volumes – but it is still there. Pulsar’s range of influencer metrics such as visibility and Klout filters can enable deeper analysis of how influence relates to sales, going beyond “number of tweets from tastemakers” to understanding how influence levels and sales-power scales.

5. Vision Critical: “From Social To Sale”

A totally different methodology – they’re not mapping activity in social media, or measuring clickthroughs from social channels, but rather surveying 5,657 people asking them to report whether they’d ever bought anything they’d seen on Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest.

This is worth doing because, “68% of Facebook users  are “lurkers” who post only rarely, so the influence of  social on their purchasing will not be visible from social  media analytics alone.” It’s a good reminder to think about social media users as much as an audience as content-creators - and that the path to purchase is more complex than old-fashioned sales funnel models, or simple ‘last-click’ attribution.

social-media-selling-for-un-sexy-brands

[image via Digital Information World]

Five studies, two key take-aways for understanding how social and sales connect:

1. Think about your user journey. How do people make a decision to buy your product – who or what might influence them? How  do people consume your product – is it particularly social, like something you would want to do with friends, or something worth boasting and sharing on Twitter and Facebook? Is it something people can purchase quickly online, or a more considered purchase?

2. Think about what aspect of social media to measure. It may not be simple volumes of brand messages that correlate with sales, but something more specific – such as influence, sentiment, or specific topics. Or perhaps it’s not messages at all but behaviours such as sharing. Most of all, remember to measure all of social media, not just owned channel activity: you’re looking for consumer behaviour, not just reactions to your own!

As these studies from a diverse range of brands show, social media does often connect to sales – not all of the time, but often with some statistical smarts & a deep knowledge of social, a link can be found.

Note that we’re saying “connect”, not “cause” - correlation can be assessed using relatively simple stats such as R-squared tests, but unpicking causation (Was it social media activity that made someone buy, or a price promotion, or TV advertising?) is a challenge for regression analysis and a bigger topic than we can discuss here.

And sometimes the relationship between social and sales can go both ways – not only “I buy a concert ticket because I saw the news on Twitter”, but also “I bought a concert ticket for my favourite band and I’m so excited, I want to tell everybody!” Perhaps brands can even hope for a virtuous circle of social driving sales, which drives further social activity, which drives even more sales… Fingers crossed!

Found this interesting? Read our social to sales study: get the presentation here on Slideshare, or download the webinar recording from this link. Thanks!

Brands, salons, hairdressers, bloggers and consumers. Who’s really influential in pro haircare?

Which professional haircare brand has the greatest social media mindshare? A visualisation

by Rob Parkin and Jess Owens

I’ve only once bought anything regarded as ‘premium’ haircare, says Jess Owens.

While studying for my Masters degree I decided that this was the time to make a radical change in style and go blonde, really blonde. This was an arduous process which involved spending about 6 hours in the salon, head wrapped in foil, bleach burning my scalp, as the trainee stylists tried everything possible to lift my hair from dark brown, through sunset yellow, to a passably fashionable shade of white-blonde. Of course my hair was almost destroyed by this process, leaving it with a texture somewhat akin to candyfloss – fluffy, brittle, and rough to touch.

Except one day, when my stylist brought out a pale green tube. She washed, she cut, she blow dried – and at the end of the process I touched my hair and was astonished. It felt soft. Soft! How on earth had she done that? Kerastase Ciment Anti-Ursure was the answer, the premium anti-breakage range for chemically treated hair. Reader, it cost something like £20 a bottle – but I bought some. And I kept using it until I had to get a proper job and stop having interesting hair.

Marketing premium haircare is interesting, exactly because of this sales process. Unlike your usual Pantenes & Aussies, it’s not something women just pick up and buy off the shelf in Boots. Instead it’s a sale rooted in a relationship, between a young woman in a chair nervous about whether her style is going to work out, and miracle-working Michelle at Toni & Guy Islington. I’d have never made the purchase without her influence.

So how do you market premium salon haircare on social?

Who do you market it to?

In order to understand this complex intersection of brands, hairdressers and consumers, we worked with P&G to track the premium haircare category and understand it not just as a ‘conversation’ but in network terms. Here are the results.

Premium haircare network visualisation FACE Pulsar

What are you looking at?

Rob writes – In a very basic sense the network shows people mentioning premium haircare brands as nodes, signified by the dots. The lines between them represent a relationship, in this case retweets (A’s post was retweeted by B). And the size of the nodes reflect the number of retweets they received overall.

P&G were interested in which brands were leading their premium haircare conversation in social. We could have shown this as a pie chart for share of voice… But looking at it as a network allows us to understand who is leading the conversation – and which brands have captured which key influencers.

So we coloured the nodes in accordance to the brands the people are discussing, and also coded if they hadn’t mentioned any brand, or  mentioned more than one.

(If you’re unfamiliar with network analysis, do check out some of our previous blogs diving into this in more detail.)

What did we find out?

1. Premium haircare isn’t really a ‘community’ in social media

Looking at the graph we can see that the category attracts a fragmented Twitter population, with lots of individuals posting about the topic, but not getting any retweets connecting them to other people. There’s product awareness, but not actually much we’d call a ‘community’ – an interconnected, self-identifying group.

2. Different brands have different community structures.

Kerastase (yellow) and Redken (pale blue) have broadcast networks, with a small number of highly influential accounts driving their discussion. These accounts generate a high volume of retweets (the feathery-looking lines in the visualization) and are slightly apart from the dense cluster in the middle, telling us that they’re generating awareness amongst a different audience than those engaging with main cluster.

3. Salons, not the brands, are driving product mentions 

It’s a very industry led conversation. Hairdressers and salons, are leading the majority of the discussion talking about products, training and awards.. For the most part, consumers are notably absent.  

4. Where are the consumers?

Where consumers are involved it’s mainly to participate in competitions. Retweets from competitions are responsible for producing Kerastese’s and Redken’s broadcast networks in particular, as retweet competitions are one-off engagements and have no crossover with the industry discussion central to the category.

These network insights reveal opportunities for haircare brands’ social strategies

Currently it’s the discussion around salons creating the most community interaction in the category, whereas competitions are generating the closest there is to consumer engagement. There is a real opportunity to bridge the gap between the two.

Salons and hairdressers should be capable of creating really inspiring content, telling stories about hair care that could appeal to a wider audience of beauty fans, not just beauty professionals.  The main issue here is content diffusion – the solution may be for haircare brands to pay for Twitter promotion in order to get these tweets in front of a consumer audience that both currently lack

But brands also need to recognize that social media has upset old hierarchies and sources of authority, and there are new influencers on the scene that they need to build relationships with. Bloggers, vloggers and the Instagram-famous are all busy inspiring women’s fashion and beauty looks, and brands have to build partnerships here as much as they did with top stylists.

Finally there’s very little connection between consumers in the category so far, as women don’t tend to talk about “professional hair” or “salon hair” in so many words.  Brands could benefit from understanding consumer language from the wider haircare, beauty or fashion conversations and understanding where their category really fits into people’s lives.

Staying ‘premium’ on social media

The challenge for premium brands with social media is how to maintain the right balance between exclusivity and accessibility. By their very nature these brands rely on exclusivity – they’re selling products that consumers aspire to own; the distance from everyday shopping is part of the appeal. In contrast to this, social media opens brands up, and makes them accessible to the crowd.

To maintain an air of “specialness”, pro hair care brands may want to take a slightly more reserved tone when engaging on Twitter, using an “expert” voice rather than the “best mate” or “sisterly” voice of mainstream hair brands. However, in exchange for a little more accessibility, they could harness the opportunity to advise consumers about which products to buy and how to use them effectively. Crucially, as this research has found, they cannot rely on salons’ social accounts to communicate this information effectively on their behalf.

Learning from premium brands in other verticals

Swarovski is another premium brand that doesn’t always sell directly to consumers. Looking at their social strategy there are lessons that could easily be applied to the pro hair care discussion. What do we think they’re getting right?

First they’re opening the brand up to a wider audience by encouraging participation through user-generated content. On Twitter @Swarovski is facilitating an on-going dialogue with consumers through the hashtag #SwarovskiLook, encouraging people to post images showing off their takes on specific styles. This is valuable because it’s not limiting the conversation to the brand, jewelry or crystals per se, but allowing it to traverse a wider and more varied aesthetic landscape.

Swarovski are also using bloggers to provide the voice of the ‘expert consumers’ – enough elevated from mainstream consumers not to damage a sense of exclusivity, but also fostering a more personal connection than mainstream PR can allow. Alongside fashion designers and celebrities, bloggers have been integral to Swarovski’s social strategy throughout, and Swarovski creates content that celebrates them – including video tutorials showing off Swarovski jewelry and a  blogger picking out winners of the #SwarovskiLook competition. The brand is also highly active in sharing blogger content & boosting its visibility.

Screenshot from #SwarovskiLook on Twitter

To sum up

There’s a lot to be said for looking beyond your immediate category when trying to inspire conversations in social media. This is especially true if your category is like premium haircare and isn’t currently eliciting widespread engagement outside of a small circle of industry figures. Really it’s about stopping being “me-centric” and thinking from the perspective of what matters most in your customers’ lives.  In the case of fashion and beauty, it’s not a stretch to assume that consumers care more about new styles and how to achieve them than they do which brand they use.

And remember that offline influence doesn’t always translate online. In the case of the traditional business model used for selling pro hair care products, hairdressers can be assumed to have offline influence over their consumers, but they’re not the advocates brands need in social. Don’t underestimate the value of bringing influential bloggers onboard to support your online efforts.

Finally, this project really showed us the value of network analysis in social media category research, allowing us to directly connect the “what” and the “who” of haircare discussion to identify hubs, gaps, and opportunities. The visual output also provides a graphic, colour-coded illustration of the category at a glance, in a way that highlights what matters most – the people behind the discussion – in a way a wordcloud never can.  A really useful addition to our research toolkit, we hope you agree.

Looking for opportunities in social media comms planning? Send me a message at Jessica@Facegroup.com and let’s talk about how we can apply this method for you.

 

 

 

 

Webinar: How Social Media Predicts Concert Ticket Sales

The real business value of social media lies in integrating social media data with other company datasets, such as sales and web analytics. Ever wanted to know more about how social media activity connects to purchase? How to measure social data and ROI?  Which demographics give brands the best chance of social  influencing sales?

Jess Owens, social media researcher

Join our Social Insight Manager Jess Owens for our webinar entitled ‘How Social Media Predicts Concert Ticket Sales’ on Thursday 25 September.

Our recent research study explored how well social media works as a key driver in awareness of a concert and whether it provides a way and a measure to predict ticket sales. We used our in-house social data intelligence platform Pulsar to analyse the whole online ecosystem, and tracked discussions around three concerts: a festival, UK tour of a global female pop artist, and a 1970’s rock band.

Join us for ‘How Social Media Predicts Concert Ticket Sales’ to have all these questions answered and more.

The webinar will air on Thursday 25 September at:

  • 3pm BST (London)
  • 4pm CET (Paris/Berlin)
  • 10 am EDT (New York)

This webinar is free to attend – just register here for details.

We hope you can join us for this very exciting online conversation.

 

 

 

Meet us at…Spikes Asia

Spikes Asia (September 23 – 26, Singapore) now in its sixth year aims to bring together Asia’s creative community for a “four day celebration of creativity in communications.” The conference will include thought-lead seminars by the industry’s most influential, to networking events and exhibitions. We’re honoured to have been invited to speak at Spikes and we’re very much looking forward to meeting everyone and getting inspired.

Fustrated with your Creatives V2

Andrew Ho, our Managing Director for Asia will be speaking at Spikes on Wednesday September 24th from 14.30 – 15.30. His talk entitled “The problem isn’t your creatives… it’s how you get your insight” will discuss how creativity isn’t just the responsibility of advertising agencies. The struggle for brands to discover relevant ways to connect with consumers starts by infusing more creative approaches earlier in the innovation journey, i.e. from the insight development process.

Learn how to ask more interesting questions to get more relevant answers from consumers, and provide your team with a stronger platform for strategic inspiration and creative fuel.

Are you looking for ways to gain richer rewards from an insight process? Yearning greater creativity during innovation? Want to break boundaries of familiar insight territories? Andrew Ho will be there to answer all of these questions and more during his talk. He will also share eight key principles to uncover new ground and deliver fresher and deeper insight.

“The problem isn’t your creatives…it’s how you get your insight” is not to be missed; make sure you join Andrew at Spikes Asia on Wednesday September 24th from 14.30 – 15.30 and gain a deeper understanding into how we think at Face and what drives a successful consumer insight project.

MRSS Asia Research Conference: The Brave New Digital World

On 7 August I attended the MRSS Asia Research Conference 2014 at Fairmont Hotel. Despite the strapline – Brave New Digital World – invoking sci-fi dystopia, it was instead a day filled with inspiring and thought provoking sharing from 12 veterans of the market research industry.

The topics centered around changes in consumer behaviour with the rise in smart devices. The world is overtaken by digital media, albeit not overnight, but with evident footprints that are too deep to overlook.

President of MRSS, Joan Koh, kicked-off the conference with a strong message for brand leaders and researchers. She said that 70% of brands are still relying on traditional media, but smart devices are multiplying and shaping consumers’ lives today. Moving forward, it will be an exciting time learning and catching up with the consumers with the new technologies.

mrss 1

 5 takeaways and implications on how we approach MR

 1. Real role of mobile phone:

I was very intrigued by Dave’s McCaughan’s paper on “Who needs a nose!”: The truth about your fifth sense. I gave my personal vote to Dave as the best paper not because I learnt a new word from him – phubbing (check it out if you don’t already know), Dave put across a very interesting point, which really bugged me and made me rethink how we can tap into this behaviour when conducting research. In a piece of research, Dave found out that when people were asked to choose what they can’t live without, most choose their mobile phone over their nose! Mobile phone has taken on a very important role in our lives, helping us sense and interpret things around us.

Why did I say this bugged me so much as a researcher? Look at how we manage research sessions now – we always tell participants to put their phones away so that they can focus on the discussion happening in the room. But what also means is that we are actually asking them to put their 5th sense away!

I remember asking a participant to put away her phone during a workshop discussion. She told me that she was going online to look up what we just said about the product technology because she has never heard of it and found it really interesting. Imagine this for a moment – if we were to design our agenda and exercises such that participants are asked to go online to look for inspiration, ideas or images, the insights we gather will be rich, diverse and quick. Most importantly, we are working with consumers with all of their senses, including the new 5th sense.

 2. Big data & big challenge:

Big Data is a buzz word that experts reckon brands and agencies are still working hard to make sense of , but let’s dive into it anyways as it sounds really important. From what I gathered from various papers shared at the conference, Big Data must be used with a strategy and end-game in mind. There is no lack of data, but to create meaningful connection with the data requires more thought.

Arno Hummerston, Digital Market Intelligence from GfK, gave his honest thoughts that big data is not a case of the more the merrier. In addition to that, Arno also raised some worrying challenges social media research faces with the use of multi-devices information channel and multi-delivery environment.

Recently, Jessica Owens our in-house social media research expert suggested 10 ways to add rigour into your social media research to deliver solid findings. One of the ways that Jess mentioned, “qualify your quant insights” is something that many clients have seen lacking in the market. Only data that are translated into meaningful insights offer new learning of the market and audience. At Face and Pulsar, we have researchers who are committed to qualifying mass amounts of data to create meaningful stories to inspire insights.

3. Tapping into new behaviour:

I had a geek moment when Melissa Gil, Director of SingTel’s Customer Intelligence and Living Analytics, presented the geo-analytics findings of SingTel’s big data. It is fascinating how traffic pattern informs shopping behavior, giving SingTel confidence to execute tactical marketing effort and staff planning.

Having covered the macro insights, capturing and understanding the actual audience behaviour is important to provide a holistic picture of the insights. In a research to understand people’s shopping behaviour, SingTel requested its research participants to upload receipts of their purchases. The information collected from the vast amount of receipts provided deep insights into shopping behaviour from a location, day and time perspective. This method of data collection was probably less feasible years ago, but now people are open about  capturing and sharing personal experiences via technology. Since SingTel has ownership over the data, they can always call up the research participants to provide deeper insights into each spending experience.

I feel that Big Data has definitely blurred the lines of quant and qual further – in a good way. Starting broad and wide provides a direction on what to focus on. Focusing on selected issues provides a perspective on why things are evolving the way they are. We will definitely see more and more need for hybrid of intelligent minds to analyse data with both a macro and micro view.

MRSS

4. It’s not only about the Gen Y and Millennials:

I must say that Benjamin Smithee’s talk was very captivating. It is a topic that I am particularly interesting and passionate on – the Gen Y and the Millennials. Yes, we all should know by now that the Gen Y and the Millennials grew up in the digital world, and that changes how brands should engage with them. But what’s more fascinating for me is how Gen Y and the Millenniums are impacting the upstream generation – their parents. When Ben talked about this, it dawn on me that it is so true that I have been influencing my mother’s lifestyle to a large extent! I introduced her to smartphone and tablet, I introduced her to H&M and Zara, and I introduced her to the world of YouTube and iTunes. Before, my mother consumed media solely through TV, but now she watches offshore cooking programmes on YouTube at any time of the day.

What does this mean? Brands should not be looking at this segment in the same way. While they don’t form the bulk of the “digital generation” as much as the Gen Y and the Millennials, they definitely are spending a fair amount of time and money online.

This also inspired me to relook into our research design and approach. Often we would be concerned about adding digital components for audience above the ages of 45, but this new insight gave me a fresh perspective. I feel that the digital world has made pure demographics less and less meaningful.

5. It is time for change

In the closing message, Ray Poynter reinforced what Joan Koh started with – the context has changed but most thinking is still based on old methods. Ray pulled very interesting contrast between the landscape of 1974 and 2014. What’s most interesting to me are two areas:

#1: In the past the consumer’s role was passive, which has evolved to be reactive, and now it is collaborative. This changes how research approach should be designed – it is no longer about evaluation and feedback, but creation and refinement. At Face, we believe in co-creating with consumers right from the beginning of the process. It is a new era where brands and marketers should seek to work more closely with consumers.

#2: Marketing to global consumers in every local market. With technology and smart devices, people are no longer restricted to what they have and see in their own market, but globally. This gives brands a lot more challenge to create a unifying message that works cross-market, but also give brands a lot more opportunities to cross-sell.

Vijay Raj, Unilever CMI Director for Research Innovation and Protocol Management, made it explicit that it is no longer enough for brands to innovate to cope, but we need to proactively innovate to win.

It is encouraging that clients are excited to embrace this change. In fact, brands are expecting their research agencies to take leadership to transform and inspire approaches and thinking. It is exciting times ahead. We don’t know what the limit of digital technology is, but we know we will be limiting ourselves if we don’t adopt it.