Social is Santa's not-so-little helper

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It's not a surprise that retailers used social media to get cozy with their customers this holiday season. What campaign, holiday-related or not, doesn't have some kind of social element?

But some new data from social media and marketing agency Mr Youth demonstrates that consumers also look to social media channels for gift ideas – and that a whopping 66% of social media users went ahead with a holiday purchase “as a direct result” of social media interactions with brands or friends and family.

It's all there in the infographic – and who doesn't love a  good infographic?

Over three weeks, Mr Youth polled 4,500 consumers age 18+ based on a series of criteria, including region and household income, as part of a larger nine-week study the agency is conducting on social usage and how it relates to gift purchases around the holidays. Fittingly, the survey was conducted online. The research was collected between mid-October and mid-December in the weeks leading up to and including the Black Friday/Cyber Monday one-two punch. The full report will be out at some point in January.

Some of the findings are pretty compelling.

  • First off, there's that 66% finding – that's quite a lot of people making purchases based on their social media interactions. Recommendations are twice as likely to lead to a purchase, said Mr Youth.

In an analysis of its findings, Mr Youth said in its blog that people who use social media are “more influential” and shell out more cash on holiday gifts, in general. Those two factors combined means that these social, vocal influencers are, said Mr Youth, more likely to make holiday gift recommendations to nonusers. [Mr Youth refers to this activity as “advocacy,” though to me it kind of sounds like a not-so-subtle way of saying, ‘Buy me this.' But hey.]

  • Brands listen up: 80% of social media users who receive a response from you to one of their posts go on to make a purchase. Unfortunately, brands only respond to roughly half their posts.

That's a potent statistic, right there. Makes sense, too. I'd be more likely to engage with a brand, or with a person for that matter, who cares I'm alive. There's nothing worse than posting something and hearing crickets. As part of full disclosure, I'm not a frequent user of social media, but if I did post something to a brand's Facebook Wall, say, – a specific consumer service type question – and then never heard back, I'd feel like it was the equivalent of being left on hold listening to the words, “Your call is very important to us, please hold” interspersed with bad Muzak – forever.

  • This one's good, too: 36% of social media users trust brands that have a social media presence more than brands that do not.

I'd have to agree with that. Social media is so ubiquitous that if a brand doesn't have at least some kind of social presence, it seems a bit odd.

  • 49% of nonusers made or received a holiday gift recommendation.

Anecdotal scrap of information: I am a non-user. No one made a holiday gift recommendation to me and vice versa. I am the 51%.

As I said before, I haven't updated my Facebook page since around July – so maybe this disqualifies me somewhat from having an opinion – but part of the fun of gift-buying, for me, is that it's the product of real social interaction; as in, social interaction in reality.

I can see how Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and sharing sites like newcomer Pinterest are helpful, but I'd prefer it if someone bought me something because they know my tastes or because they heard me mention a new book I want to read; not because I shared or liked the book on Facebook. Half the fun is in hinting.

Anyway, enough nostalgia for bygone days – social media is here to stay and, as is clearly evidenced by Mr Youth's findings, brands need to make sure social is intelligently integrated into their marketing mixes; not unlike ground cinnamon into eggnog. [Yum.]

In related holiday retail news, shoppers have already started returning unwanted holiday gifts in droves. Shoppers will return more than $46 million in jettisoned holiday merchandise, according to National Retail Federation estimates quoted by CNN. That's a lot of fuzzy pink full-body bunny suits.

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Founded in September 2009, Stirista is an integrated marketing agency that specializes in micro-targeting via traditional and digital channels. Our mission is to help companies, non-profits, and universities alike find new prospects and better understand their existing contacts. We are on the preferred vendor list for a handful of Fortune 500 companies with three of the ten largest companies in the world turning to us for marketing insights. To put it simply, we're young (at least at heart), ambitious, and sometimes impulsive-but always hungry for new ideas.

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Founded in September 2009, Stirista is an integrated marketing agency that specializes in ...