By Daniel Hunter

Research released by the Internet Advertising Bureau UK (IAB) demonstrates the effectiveness of social media for driving brand sentiment, enhancing consumer engagement and increasing brand loyalty.

The research, conducted on behalf of the IAB’s Social Media Council and carried out by Marketing Sciences, measures the impact of social media at various stages in the purchase funnel.

More than 4,500 quantitative survey responses were collected by Marketing Sciences, part of Creston Insight, via the brands’ social media pages over an eight week period, and supplemented with a further 800 research panel interviews.

The study showed that social media is particularly effective in positively shifting attributes like sentiment, recommendation, propensity to trial new products and brand loyalty. Four out of five consumers said they would be more inclined to buy a brand more often in the future after being exposed to a brand’s social media presence, while 83% of consumers exposed to social media would trial a brand’s product.

All three brands experienced uplift in sentiment after implementing their social media campaigns, Heinz 22%, Kettle 17% and Twinings 19%. Given that all brands saw uplift in affinity and loyalty, the IAB research shows that, for every £1 spent in social media, a potential value of £3.34 could be generated.

“The IAB study shows that, when trying to create deeper emotional connections with consumers, social media is an essential channel for brands," Kristin Brewe, the IAB’s Director of Marketing & Communications and Chair of the Social Media Council stated,

"This isn’t surprising since social media is the only channel where it’s possible for brands and consumers to have meaningful two-way conversations, making the strength of connections that much stronger.”

Ian Ralph, the Director at Marketing Sciences who conducted the research, adds, “Our research shows that to create an emotional connection brands really need to provide clear, timely and, most important of all, relevant content that develop a conversation.

"Interestingly, we also found that brands really shouldn’t be afraid about having their products on show and of linking up their social media activities to their business objectives. Social media has the potential to turn brand customers into brand fans. By making people love, not just like your brand, you’re more likely to drive future purchases and increase sales.”

Social media played an important role throughout the traditional purchase funnel and delivered a clear ROI. In terms of top level awareness, brand metrics for consumers who were exposed to social media were stronger and more stable than for the consumers who were not. For example, there was a 21 point difference in likelihood to recommend Kettle between those exposed to social media and those who were not and this was less likely to fluctuate over the eight week study period.

Julian Grainger, Director of Media Strategy at Unique Digital, agency for Kettle, stated, “The IAB study validates what we’ve seen for Kettle and our other clients — social is an essential part of the marketing mix in making offline media investment work harder and in reaching people on emotional levels impossible in other media.”

Heinz Beanz engaged with fans about a variety of products during the eight week study and also promoted its newer 'Snap Pots'. The study revealed that posting regularly about the new product drove greater likelihood to trial.

Ian McCarthy, Heinz Marketing Manager, commented, “Fans of Heinz Beanz expect to see us regularly in their social channels and react the best to content that’s about the products they love. In the case of encouraging trial for a newer product line, frequency becomes even more important to support the new concept, as the IAB study illustrates.”

For Twinings, who also posts frequent, highly product-oriented content, those exposed to social media were significantly more likely to buy more Twinings products in the future than those who were not exposed to the brand’s social media activity.

All three brands involved in the research have created a positive rapport with fans by offering timely, relevant content — often just beautifully photographed product shots. Brewe concluded, “Because fans don’t just like, but love, the brands they choose to interact with, what people are often looking for is as simple as a lovely picture of the Heinz beans they love for breakfast, the Twinings tea they drink at elevenses, and a picture of the Kettle chips they snack on. It was wonderful to work with brands that don’t just have great social media presences but also great products.”

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