Study Dubiously Says Social Media Has Little Impact on Online Retail Purchases

A joint study by leading market research firm Forrester Research and GSI Commerce concludes social media has almost no impact on online purchases. Their data shows less than 2% of online purchases were the result of people coming from social networks. Mashable says of the study, “All those marketers who are rushing to increase their social media spend take note: social media has almost no influence on online purchasing behavior.”

Okay. Let’s examine this carefully and see if the headline and researchers are jumping to a conclusion. Mashable’s review of the report doesn’t get into what Forrester’s methodology was, or the limitations of their methodology. I believe the study is looking at the wrong metric to measure the effectiveness of social media. The report says only 2% of people making purchases online arrived from a social network. Sure, but how about the people that were exposed to a business’s social media activity and then at a later date made a purchase online? Or, how about the fans that had a favorable impression of the business because of their social media presence and then purchased offline?

Businesses use social media for different objectives – not always about an immediate sale. And using social media as a direct sales channel is ineffective. People don’t want to be pitched to. Businesses should use social media for customer service, build loyalty, be a resource and offer information. Direct online sales is not the metric to use to gauge the ROI of social media.

If a business wants direct online sales, there are more effective online strategies for that. Paid search, for one.

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