The Surprising Reason Social Is More Important Than Your Website

For many years, we’ve known it’s important to engage people in social media. Often, the motivation is reach: “the more people who interact with my page, the more people will be exposed to my business.”

However, when I was reading the Australian Sensis 2016 Social Media Report, a far more important reason leapt out at me.

RelatedYour Big Questions Answered By The 2016 Sensis Social Media Report

A friend told me about…

For several years, we’ve seen that people are most likely to trust a review from a friend, but almost just as likely to trust an online review from a stranger – 12 times more, in fact, than they will trust the official word of a company. A businesses’ voice or brand telling ‘their’ side of the story simply doesn’t cut it anymore.

The thing I found most fascinating in the Sensis report is the breakdown of consumer research: 41% of consumers are actively reviewing the social media accounts of a brand before they purchase. And what are they looking for? Markers of untrustworthy brands.

What makes an untrustworthy brand?

Helpfully, the Social Media Report breaks down what factors influence a brand’s trustworthiness:

  • how a brand behaves and responds to consumers
  • whether the content is appropriate for that cultural group
  • the consistency of posts

These are the equivalent of non-verbal cues we use in the real world: does this business owner say please and thank you? Is their shirt ironed? Do they know and respect their customer’s needs?

The Social Media Report also highlights what people do not consider a factor in trustworthiness: social media size. This might be because social media fan numbers are possible to fake (or buy) in order to tell the successful story the company wants us to see.

So what do you think?

Looking at the Social Media Report, we can see that 60% of consumers will read a review of a business before choosing to purchase from a company – usually around 5 reviews. This makes sense when you’re in a virtual environment – you take cues from people around you before deciding what you want to buy.

It’s probable that user behaviour is no different on Facebook than external review sites, and I imagine Facebook reviews might have even more authenticity because it’s harder to set up fake profiles and fake reviews on Facebook compared to a ‘testimonal quote’ on a website.

On top of this, it’s possible that prospective customers could click on the profiles of those reviewers and explore their Facebook page to search for authenticity in those profiles, and things they can relate to. Does this person have kids too? Do they love the same kinds of products as me? Do they have the same challenges I do? I’d be curious to see if Facebook stalking is part of the buying cycle!

This isn’t just one-way behaviour, either. 27% of consumers will post a review of a business on a social review site, so the ecosystem of those creating and reading reviews is alive and well.

How are businesses engaging with this?

Only half of small and medium businesses engage with people who provide ratings or reviews of products – a missed opportunity to demonstrate authenticity or soften a negative review by engaging with the customer.

Engaging with a customer’s review is something prospective purchasers look for when judging the trustworthiness of a brand, and 75% state that a business engaging with a review might change their opinion of the brand.

Let’s get back to trust

Traditionally, best practice for social media has focused on creating communities around businesses. Posting questions, games and updates to spur conversations between like-minded individuals has been a way, for many brands, to gain reach. The more consumers interacted with a brand, the broader their reach (and, hopefully, the higher the conversion to their site).

But with the introduction of algorithms that reduce reach across all the major social platforms, it’s easy for brands to bow out of posting ‘engagements’ when only 1% of fans see those posts – the priority is to post things which result in traffic rather than conversation.

However, engagement posts are the very means by which customers can express their love (or hate?) for a brand, providing a basis for customers to express their opinion in an authentic way.

This means that even if you’re not getting high engagement on your ‘community’ focused posts, what you are doing is giving your fans a space to talk about your business – a good thing because this is what future customers will use to assess your business.

So why is social media more important than your site? Because of trust.

We can see that users are choosing to review social media channels before purchase. Part of what they are looking for is the social credibility which comes with authentic human interaction. Whether that’s a page interacting with other people, or reading reviews in the reviews section, it’s essential that the human touch is present for those people interested in purchasing from a business.

For businesses wanting to increase conversions to their site, old-fashioned conversations with your consumers and word-of-mouth are key. But, of course, in a 21st century kind of way.


About Rachel Beaney

Rachel Beaney is an Australian freelance social media specialist with over a decade in digital media. She’s worked with global names like Microsoft, Samsung, News Corp and General Assembly, in addition to not-for-profits and government bodies. She loves helping clients solve their business needs with creative and data-driven solutions. Get in touch today to jump on a free consultation call to find out how Rachel can help you.