TIME Advertising

Like My Facebook Page, Buy My Product? Well, No

A view of Facebook's "Like" button May 1
Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images

Social media doesn't drive sales, research says

People go on Facebook and Twitter mostly to learn about companies or products. True or false?

Answer: Are you kidding me? I don’t do it. You don’t do it. Nobody you know does it. We use social media to brag about our accomplishments, post vacation photos, see what our friends and family (and maybe a few celebrities) are doing and talking about.

This seems almost too obvious to mention—but companies are desperate to reach consumers, and with hundreds off millions of them visiting social media sites every day, marketers feel like they simply have to be there too, so they are—to the tune of more than $5 billion last year in the U.S. alone, according to social media consultants BIA/Kelsey. By 2018, that figure could rise to $15 billion.

Evidently, they’re wasting their money. A new report from the Gallup Organization titled State of the American Consumer has now quantified the obvious: 62% of consumers say that social media have “no influence at all” on purchasing decisions, while only 5% say the sites have “a great deal of influence.”

That’s not to say that social media isn’t a great place to get advice about stuff to buy—it’s just that we tend to look or advice from people we know and trust. And those people aren’t usually named “L’Oreal” or “Coca-Cola.”

Like much of the research that gets published, the results of this survey seem pretty obvious. Still, a study like might be useful for advertisers and marketers who aren’t always at the forefront of understanding how society is changing (think of Don Draper confronting the ’60s on Mad Men). What they should do, writes Gallup’s Ed O’Boyle in a blog post for the Harvard Business Review, is to come across as more authentic, be more interactive, and make their content more compelling. “Gallup research has consistently shown,” he writes, “that customers base purchasing decisions on their emotional connections with a brand. Social media are great for making those connections—but only when a brand shifts its focus from communication to conversation.”

Good advice. Now let’s see if anyone is paying attention.

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