Social media is most frequently used to connect with friends and family, as two-thirds of people across 9 countries use social for this purpose on at least a weekly basis. So finds Edelman’s Special Report: Brands and Social Media [pdf], which surveyed 1,000 respondents in each of 9 markets.

Most people (65%) also use social media on at least a weekly basis as a source of entertainment and to read or watch news and information (63%).

There’s certainly a place for brands to be present in people’s social media lives: around half said they use social media at least weekly to get news about companies they’re interested in, and the vast majority (84%) use social for this purpose at least occasionally.

Brands can take advantage of this by showcasing their wares, per a recent report. In its survey, Sprout Social found that posts that showcase new products or services are among the most sought-after by social media users.

However, despite social media’s power in driving brand and product awareness, respondents to Edelman’s survey believe that it has more relevance to them as a customer service vehicle.

When asked what they consider to be among the best and most effective ways for brands to use social media to reach them, the largest share (60%) of respondents cited the delivery of customer service. Roughly half (51%) said that introducing new products is the most effective way to reach them, while more than 4 in 10 see the value in brands advertising their products (45%), giving people the opportunity to interact with a brand directly (44%) and communicating their purpose and values (43%). That last point is worth considering in light of research indicating that consumers care deeply about purpose-driven companies.

Social’s ability to allow companies to interact directly with consumers is also important given that respondents are more likely to believe what a brand says in direct communications over email, instant messaging or social media comments (59%) than what it says in its advertising (41%).

Furthermore, about 4 in 10 respondents on average across the 9 countries (30% in the US) agree that they’re unlikely to become emotionally attached to a brand unless they are interacting and communicating with it via social media.

Social’s Tops for Entertainment, Discovery, Emotional Bonds

Given the ways in which respondents use social media and what they hope to see from brands, it’s not too surprising that social platforms have a leg up on traditional media and search for some attributes.

For example, respondents on average were most likely to say that social media – rather than traditional, online, owned or search – is the most entertaining medium, as well as the one they would be least able to live without, and the one with which they spend the most time.

Moreover, social tops the other platforms as the medium where respondents discover or hear about a new brand or product for the first time. It’s also the the type of media where respondents most often see and hear things that lead them to fall in or out of love with a brand.

Interestingly, while social media may generate awareness, it seems to have less value to people further along the purchase journey. Instead, search was cited as the media type where respondents are most likely to see information that convinces them to purchase a specific brand.

And while traditional media doesn’t top many attributes, it does have its strengths. Namely, it’s considered the least annoying media type to use, with advertising that’s the least disruptive of the overall user experience. That may be why consumers continue to retain their highest levels of favorability for traditional rather than digital media ads.

How to Rise Above Mistrust on Social Media

While social represents a tantalizing platform for brands, it’s not without its issues. Just 4 in 10 respondents on average (including only 34% in the US) agree, for example, that social media is performing well in controlling the spread of false information and in controlling hate speech, trolling and intimidation. Social media certainly struggles with privacy and brand safety issues, and while ire is typically directed towards the platforms, brands can become embroiled in these problems.

According to Edelman’s study, almost half of respondents (47%) agree that the points of view that appear near a brand’s advertising and marketing messages are an indication of that brand’s values and what it stands for. Also, more than 2 in 3 people believe that brands should pressure social media platforms to do more about false information and fake news (70%) and protect users from offensive/harmful content (68%).

As such, brands need to ensure that the information they post on social media is deemed credible and trustworthy. The principal ways by which respondents determine whether or not to trust information or other content they see on social media is by the quality of the writing or visuals (65%). Previous research has likewise found that mistakes and errors are the leading reason why consumers lose trust in digital brands.

Beyond the quality of the content, people also judge information by looking at the author’s credentials or expertise (63%) and the extent to which the content is well-designed and looks formal (58%). Most take into account the ease in determining who paid for the content (57%) and are positively influenced by the logo of the organization that produced the content being displayed next to the post (55%).

Finally, it doesn’t hurt to have a multi-platform approach. Fully two-thirds (65%) of people say that it’s important to them when judging social media content credibility that they’ve seen the same information on TV or in the newspapers (65%). Most also say it’s important to them to have seen the same information on several social media platforms (59%) and for the same information to have been shared with them by several people (57%).

The full report is available to view here [pdf].

About the Data: The results are based on a survey conducted April 16-30, 2018 among 1,000 respondents in each of these 9 markets: Brazil; Canada; China; France; Germany; India; UAE; the UK; and the US.

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