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Social media is the talk of the marketing world, and today, most products, services, and brands have a social media strategy. Yet the talk has been mostly anecdotal, with little substantive foundation about the marketing consequences for a category.

Both marketers and researchers should be bothered by that. I know I am. Where’s the solid research? Without that category information map about social media influence, we are relegated to worrying about the "bad" social media comments and reading status, interesting or otherwise. I don’t know about you, but my preference is for action in social media based on knowledge.

With that in mind, let's consider a nice, warm alternative business scenario. If you were to walk into a brand manager's office and tell her that there is a pool of roughly 30 million people who could be swayed into her brand's purchase consideration simply by advertising in social media, she would likely jump for joy. The questions would fly. Which categories and where do I find these people? Who are they? Nice conversation to have, but are you having it?

Few researchers who serve up information to marketers know real, hard facts about social media:

  • That 15 percent of social media users are more inclined to buy brands that advertise in social media, representing slightly more than 30 million people 13-80 years old
  • That social media ads drive brand exploration, with 25 percent more inclined to find out more about brands that advertise on social media sites
  • That social media is not just for "the kids" anymore, as the data below indicates

These are among the key findings of a major social media study—called The Faces of Social Media—conducted as a venture between Knowledge Networks and MediaPost Communications that I wanted to share with you. We all should know these facts—and a lot more—in order to inform the marketers who want to do more than listen to social media.

Sadly, even fewer researchers know which categories are more or less influenced by social media. As a result, the brand managers are flat footed. Yet in the Faces study, we found that category does matter. Could you pick out which of the 39 categories studied in The Faces of Social Media are the most or least influenced by social media? The dispersion in social media influence scores defined conventional wisdom. I know the industry forum where I showed the chart below couldn't correctly guess. Urban legend-busting research like this is more than just nice to know.

Let's all get the facts and do more research! That's certainly the plan as The Faces of Social Media monitors the evolution of social media influence on categories over time.

Patricia Graham

Patricia Graham is your guide for the "Research" section of Social Media Marketing Magazine. She is the Chief Strategy Officer at Knowledge Networks. Patricia has held several senior executive roles at Knowledge Networks, most recently as Chief Marketing Officer. She is responsible for identifying the strategic direction of the firm, along with the capabilities, alliances, and partnerships that drive future growth. Over the past 34 years, Patricia has built successful businesses and evaluated the marketing plan performance and advertising effectiveness of hundreds of new and established brands. Formerly, she was Executive Vice President and Operating Chairperson at INTERLINQ Software, Executive Vice President of Consulting Services at Nielsen, and Senior Vice President at IRI.