The Impact of Social Media – May Not Be As Big As One Expects

Almost every business and organization has adopted or is rushing to implement a social media strategy in operations. The impact of social media could be huge. However, the result may not be as big as expected; and it may take a long time before any outcomes are seen.

Two recent studies on restaurants showed that social media only have limited impact to consumers in general. However, it has strong impact on specific segments like younger clienteles. Another research focuses on QSR (quick service restaurant) segment and found even social media is important in sending out promotion messages, it is not a major information source for most consumers. Here are some highlights of the research findings:

• 15% and 8% of 1,000 U.S. consumers being surveyed can be categorized as, respectively, “early adopter” (opinion leaders) or “innovators” (those who are the first to try innovations).
• 83% of the innovators and 75% the early adopters order fast-food at least once a week while only 56% consumers in general do so.
• 53% of innovators and 35% adopters order from quick-casual restaurants as compared to 20% of consumers in general.
• 48% adopters and innovators recalled a restaurant’s social media presence as compared to 25% of consumers overall.
• 33% of 10,000 U.S. consumers who ate at one or more QSRs in the past month do not use social networking sites, but most people in this group are over age 54.
• Among social media users, 59% use Facebook, 22% use YouTube, 20% use MySpace, 15% use Twitter, 5% use blog sites, and 6% use other social media sites.
• 57% of those who use social media in relation to fast food utilize them to find coupons or promotions; 48% to learn about the menu; 45% to find a nearby location; 41% to check out feedback or reviews; 39% to compare price with other eateries.
• 70% of those who use social media for fast-food purposes suggest that it is extremely or very important to see QSRs’ social media presence.
• 25% social media users think QSRs’ information on social media are “extremely believable,” 38% suggest “very believable,” and 32% state “somewhat believable.” Only 5% believe such information lack of credibility.

What do these results mean to hospitality professionals? What can companies do?
1. Social media could be very helpful to certain business if its targeted consumers are social media users (younger in general; but the trend is changing).
2. Companies need to enhance their social media presence to maintain and attract clienteles because more and more consumers are expected to use social media in the future.
3. Some social media sites are more popular than the others; companies need to be very selective in choosing the right social media sites.
4. Companies can build a social media page to track their “followers” demographic information and use this information for product development --- not every company knows who the real consumers are.
5. Because social media seem very “trustworthy” to social media users, they are indeed a great PR tool for companies.

Last but not least, I would like add that it takes time to make an impact with social media tools even though they could be very useful. In some cases, it could take up to two years to see any ROI (return on investment). What do you think?

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