— Just as more of us are turning to sites like Facebook and Twitter for the news of the day, we're also looking to social networks for guidance on what to buy. That's manna to marketing folks, who no doubt will be encouraged by findings released today by Gartner research firm.
"The majority of consumers rely to some extent on social networks to guide them in their purchase decisions," said the research firm, which surveyed nearly 4,000 consumers in the last quarter of 2009.
The growing importance of such sites as information influencers
was noted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project and Pew's Project for Excellence in Journalism earlier this year.
"People use their social networks and social networking technology to filter, assess and react to news," the nonprofit group said in a report, "Understanding the Participatory News Consumer."
And with more of us spending time away from television and newspapers and on the computer or cell phone with sites like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, Friendster, Tumblr and Flickr, it's our friends and contacts who are getting our attention, and not necessarily splashy advertisers or big-time media companies.
Social networks have become "a critical, but underutilized, aspect of the marketing process," according to the Gartner report.
Gartner research director Nick Ingelbrecht said that 20 percent "of the consumer population is composed of 'salesmen,' 'connectors' and 'mavens,'" people who are persuading others about what to buy, bringing contacts together or who are considered know-it-alls about products.
"These are three roles that are key influencers in the purchasing activities of 74 percent of the population," Ingelbrecht said.
There are some other social network "roles" that Gartner described:
The "take-away" from the research firm's findings? "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," said Ingelbrecht.
That seems to be well underway already. Just check your Facebook or Twitter accounts, and gauge how much of the information you're seeing is news or marketing. Personal stuff? Getting harder to find inbetween the white noise of promotions and news alerts about another bank folding or the Tea Party's latest antics.