How social media impacts on our buying decisions and what it means for businesses

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of doing a really fun guest talk at Oxford Brookes University on how social media has affected the contemporary consumer and where online business is heading with the growth of social media. In this post I want to share a few of the points from that talk on why social media is not just a service full of buzz words that can be strapped on to the end of an SEO campaign, but is in fact an essential element of something much, much bigger to come.

Rewind the clock ten years ago, remember when you would tell friends about products you liked or disliked only if you felt really strongly about them? Chances are only a small number of people would hear about what you thought of the products and services you’d use on a daily basis. Fast forward to today, where the context of your relationships with your ‘friends’ are based on frequent micro-updates – a whole lot more people know a whole lot more about the little things you like, or dislike, and because everyone’s doing that it impacts those product’s business.

For example, imagine that you just tried a new a new flavored cola and decided it tastes disgusting – ten years ago you’d probably do very little other than throw it in the bin and swear to never make the purchase again, nowadays that would qualify a tweet or a status update to many people – which if you were the cola manufacturer could do a whole lot of damage to your sales if people are telling thousands of people that it tastes like crap.

Similarly, if you walked into a brick-and-mortar shop, lets say Coffee House XYZ and they have a terrible service, the consequence 10 years ago is that you’d say “I’m never coming here again” and Coffee House XYZ would lose one customer, but nowadays the consequence of that bad service is Coffee House XYZ can potentially lose tens or even hundreds, maybe even thousands of customers if that experience is broadcasted via social networking websites.

In a way this is fantastic news, as the major corporations who have got away with serving sub-standard products and services for years will be the first to become dinosaurs in this social revolution, and the companies who are personable and showing their human side will raise the bar and rise to the top. There is a great interview I recommend that social marketing genius Gary Vaynerchuk recently did on MSNBC’s Morning Joe show where he suggested that our great great ancestors are better adapted to how businesses should be ran today than we are – whereby back in the day you would walk into a local convenience store and the store owner would know your name and all about you and your tastes and make recommendations personalised to you. That is exactly what the minority of social-savvy online businesses are doing right now.

Why does this approach work?

People like relationships, and are often prepared to pay a company more money if they like that company more than a competitor. Imagine if you had a few quid to spend on healthy food bars this week and you walked into your local food store to find some own brand bars for 40p each or an alternative bar that was 60p but the brand with the 60p bars had sent you a thank you message on Twitter when you last bought their bars and you knew that you could phone them up to tell them about your day if you needed to. The relationship with the brand is what a lot of people want to buy in to, and if you don’t believe that then I recommend taking a look at the success of companies like Nakd Wholefoods, Wine Library TV, and Graze.

Will Google drop the bomb on social search?

Finally, I want to bring to reality why all of this is in fact going to be a big change – the company who I and many other people within the social media industry believe are sitting behind this revolution is Google. Over the past year or two we’ve seen Google introduce personalised search, prominence of local results increasing, social signals becoming a ranking factor, real-time search, and most importantly the ‘shared by’ snippets beneath search results, all of which are steps towards what I believe will be the future search – a social search engine whereby Google will be returning results based almost entirely on your personal social graph.

Marcus Taylor is a social media executive at SEOptimise. You can follow Marcus on Twitter at @Marcus_SEO

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