It’s About Trust: Consumers Signal a Shift in Social Media Preferences

By Publicis Media Archives
Cover image for  article: It’s About Trust: Consumers Signal a Shift in Social Media Preferences

Consumers may be down on social media, and for good reason, but it would be a mistake to count these platforms out.  Trust in social media is at an all-time low, but usage is shifting among the various platforms. 

First, it's important to note that consumer sentiment about social media is impacted by current events.  Recent news relative to security breaches, privacy and the dissemination of false or suspect news reports are serving to accelerate some of these shifts.  Others can be attributed to changes in social preferences by certain key demographics.  As some consumers age, they age out of (or into) different platforms -- which is why marketers can't simply focus on a snapshot of this market but must look more deeply at how different consumer groups interact and engage with the various platforms.

A recent study by the Intent Lab -- a partnership between Performics and Northwestern University -- shows just how complicated this equation can be.  Our team looked at consumer attitudes about social media and the changing consumer uses of the five largest platforms -- Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat and Twitter -- and then viewed it through the lens of the Digital Satisfaction Index (DSI), the Intent Lab's bi-annual research study measuring consumer satisfaction with their online engagements.

The DSI measures consumer satisfaction with online experiences in moments of intent, which is the single most important variable in performance marketing.  Intent shapes our search queries, dictates our purchase paths and mediates meaningful interactions with brands regardless of channel, media or content type.

Understanding Intent Is the Key to Unlocking Relevance

Performics' DSI identifies four key factors driving consumer digital satisfaction: trust, social, utility and privacy. 

  • Trust measures consumer attitudes toward the credibility of online information.
  • Social measures the ability to connect and get a glimpse at other people's lives.
  • Utility is how useful and efficient the consumer finds a website or app.
  • Privacy is how comfortable users are with personal data collection.

Looking at the social media research through this lens, we find some interesting facts.  Privacy is a big concern for consumers and a big paradox for marketers -- consumers want personalized experiences but they do not want companies using their past online behavior to tailor the experience for them.  This leads to trust issues as people do not fully trust the information they get from these platforms, yet they find them useful and are not willing to give up on them.

This has led to the emergence of an interesting new phenomenon.  Instead of reducing the usage of social media platforms, consumers are placing less importance on the reliability and trustworthiness of the information they get to feel satisfied.  This is a common observation; when people cannot change, or do not want to change a behavior, they instead change their attitude toward it, thus keeping the behavior consistent.

First, it's important to note that each platform matters to consumers, albeit for very different reasons.  Most consumers don't realize that Instagram is owned by Facebook.  With this, the pall that current events have cast over the largest social network doesn't extend to its younger sibling, offering interesting crossover opportunities for brands.  That said, we are seeing some interesting trends regarding where trust is being placed and by whom.

Men, Yes Men, are Converting on Social

Women and men are split on their preferred social platforms, but men's engagement with a particular social network could open new channels for brands to connect with this group.  Men in general are more skeptical about social media when it comes to brand messaging, and about twice as skeptical as females about anything they read online, according to Intent Lab research.  However, while women over-index on social media across all the networks some signs are emerging that men feel more comfortable shopping via social media.  User recommendations are also measurably influencing men's decisions as viewed through social media.

At Performics, we feel more research is needed, but the ability to reach the male demographic holds promise.  Of those male respondents who made a purchase, many did so frequently -- 48% of respondents who bought something did so four to six times in that six-month period and 20% made seven or more purchases.

Of the types of advertising that resonates with social media users, Intent Lab research found that preferences for image ads vs video, event or deal ads differed by platform and that Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat and Twitter each had unique user responses.  Regardless of the network, however, food and apparel were among the most purchased items from social media.

The Intent Lab has uncovered some interesting and lesser-known attributes of these platforms, and we believe there are missed opportunities for social media networks to capitalize on personalization options based on the unique attributes of their users paired with the intent signals each sends out.

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