The Role of Social Media in Consumer Decision Making

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In his new ebook, Social Pros All-Stars: Career Paths from 27 Big Company Social Media Professionals, Jay Baer explores the similarities and differences between enterprise social media marketing professionals. He also solicits actionable social media tips from these big-brand marketing all-stars.

While reminding us of the sheer volume of people on social media networks, the ebook sites a recent study from Edison Research released this year:

“. . . 58 percent of Americans 12 or older have a personal Facebook page; 19 percent have a personal LinkedIn account; 19 percent have a personal Instagram account, and 16 percent have a personal Twitter account.” Additionally, over 5,700 tweets are posted every second and 2.5 billion pieces of content are shared every day on Facebook.

Social Pros All-Stars Collection One – The Education and Employment Histories of 27 Leading Social Media Professionals Compared, Baseball Card-Style from Jay Baer

In the wake of such numbers, questions like “Why do people share so much?” and “How can a social media manager be successful when dealing with such volume?” begin to emerge. It’s clear these social media pros have to figure it out but to answer this question, knowing the “why” is just as important as knowing the “how.”

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Two Studies

Over the years, social media usage by brands and subsequent content promotion have been called into question by some, both for effectiveness within an overall marketing strategy and for defining ROI as it relates to conversion. To understand these strategies, consumers’ affinity for social media and behavior must be considered, both for better social campaigns and targeted social tactics. Below are two studies that dive into the relationship between social media and consumers’ purchasing journey.

The Harvard Study

A 2012 Harvard study entitled “Disclosing information about the self is intrinsically rewarding” measured the physiological effects of social sharing on a test group through MRI scanning. The study found that the act of disclosing information activates the same part of the brain that is associated with the frontal lobe and dopamine pathway, both of which are associated with the decision-making and pleasure processes.

When someone shares something about themselves, the chemical reaction occurs in the same areas of the brain where we make decisions and feel pleasure. This, coupled with the emotions involved in each social share, explain why common social channels like Twitter and Facebook will probably never go away.

The Nielsen Study

Nielsen just completed a study into the role of content defining how content consumption relates to the consumer purchasing journey. The report found that social media sharing accounts for 54 percent of information usage for the consumer buying decision. Expert content (third-party, non-branded earned media) shared across social platforms increases this statistic, as it is inherently trusted over branded content and user reviews. When making a buying decision, most consumers in the U.S. consult a social media channel; this is an important step in the consumer purchasing journey.


  1. Because social sharing is intrinsically rewarding and consumers love to talk about themselves, some form of social media will always exist.
  2. Since people love to talk about themselves they have the propensity to share almost anything which can give marketers insight into the online behavioral and demographic patterns of the consumer, especially over time.
  3. Social plays an important role in the buying process.
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Tips on Social Media Management

With a deluge of seemingly unending information online, the first step in controlling a social media campaign is to understand who is really in charge. “In social media, you constantly have to fall in love with the problem, not the solution,” says Adrian Parker, Vice President of Digital Marketing for the Patrón Spirits Company. “Social media has transformed the way we do business by focusing on consumer needs and empowering users. Many of us, myself included, forget that the true head of social media is our customer and they ultimately want to be in control. No one wants a relationship with a tech platform. The technology is the enabler and it’s best when it’s invisible.”

Remembering who drives engagement can also help to center the focus of any social campaign. In doing this, the marketer can better define their goals and target those who would benefit in a sea of those who would not.

The role of social media in decision-making is an important one. For the first time in marketing history, the consumer is sharing all thoughts, concerns, and problems on a public forum for all to see, and feeling rewarded for it. Brands that accept this truth will be more inclined to listen to what their customers or prospects are saying online and then engage with a specific goal in mind.

Aspiring big-brand social media all-stars should carefully read the takeaways associated with Jay Baer’s new ebook. It will help better define what that career path may look like while enabling folks to make better decisions. In addition, the lessons outlined above are foundational for a career in social media marketing – social networks and the content on them impacts what consumers buy.

Image credit: Flickr

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.

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