Search Engine Marketing Firm iProspect Study Reveals 1 in 3 Internet Users Report Purchase Decisions Influenced by Social Networking Sites

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Study shows power of social networks, but search sites still reign.

Search engine marketing firm iProspect today announced the publication of the iProspect Social Networking User Behavior Study, resulting from a survey sponsored by iProspect and conducted by JupiterResearch. The study reveals that approximately 1 in 4 adult Internet users regularly visited the most popular social networking sites in the past year, including MySpace, YouTube, and Amazon.com. In addition, the study also revealed that 1 in 3 Internet users report that their purchase decisions are influenced by sites that contain social content, with Amazon.com being the most influential of all.

Fielded in January of 2007 with over 2,000 respondents randomly selected from the U.S. online adult population, the survey that served as a basis for this study focused on user behavior on popular social networking sites. For purposes of this study, iProspect defines a "social networking site" as one that allows Internet users the ability to add user-generated content such as: comments, review, feedback, ratings, or their own dedicated pages. It's because of its use of user-generated content, for example, that Amazon.com - a site which many see as a purely ecommerce site - was included in this survey.

Counseling some of the largest marketers in the world, search engine marketing firm iProspect commissioned this study - a first of its kind -- in an effort to gain insight on social networking sites for its clients, and to share the insights gained with the online marketing community as a whole. The key findings all speak to the growing importance of social networking sites as an online marketing channel that marketers should assess, monitor, and embrace. Overall, the findings should be of significant interest to both online marketers, as well as the social networking sites themselves, as they speak to a number of opportunities for both constituencies. Search engine marketers, in particular, should take note of the detailed findings and recommendations within the study.

Among its key findings, the iProspect Social Networking User Behavior Study revealed that the most popular social networking sites, including MySpace, YouTube, and Amazon.com, are visited on at least a monthly basis by approximately 25% of the U.S. online adult population. Many sites attract specific "communities" of visitors whose demographic and psychographic characteristics closely match those of specific audiences targeted by marketers. This illustrates a real advantage that these sites can offer marketers: namely, the ability to participate on sites whose frequent visitors share a predominant set of traits that effectively define them as a community. This affords marketers the opportunity to engage with highly targeted communities of users, which is a key benefit not yet available in the major search engines.

"Sure, everyone knows that people are going to social networking sites," said Robert Murray, President, iProspect, "but this study demonstrates - unequivocally - that social networking sites are not just a cultural fad." Murray explained, "We're talking about a potent marketing channel. In the end, that could translate into a lot of potential revenue or lost opportunity. If you're an online marketer and you haven't assessed the value of social networking sites, it's time you 'got religion'."

But Murray warned, "While this is a viable channel, marketers need to realize that participation on these sites is not one-size-fits-all." Murray elaborated, "Like any other channel, each site needs to be assessed for fit. Don't jump in blind. Marketers need to ask themselves, 'Does it fit with my target audience? 'Does it fit with my marketing strategy? Does it fit with my business?' Ultimately, it's got to make sense. Business sense."

Despite the relatively early development of social networking sites, the study also revealed that nearly one third of Internet users report that they are taking advantage of sites containing user generated content, and that their purchase decisions are influenced by visiting these sites.

"It's human nature -- people trust people like themselves," said Murray. "So when it comes to recommendations, they tend to trust the input of fellow consumers much more than corporate marketing. Given this behavior, it's easy to understand how such sites are influencing the purchasing decisions for so many of the users who visit them." Murray explained, "In short, this spells opportunity for marketers. To capitalize on this trend, marketers should identify sites that possess a high level of influence, and find ways to connect with the site's community. But keep in mind that each of these communities has its own unique culture, along with unwritten rules on what is or isn't acceptable marketing practices. Marketers must be sensitive to this. Failing to do so could prove disastrous."

But despite the above findings, social networking sites are far from replacing the major, traditional search engines in terms of quantity and frequency of visits.

"While social networking sites are a growing and important online channel for marketers to leverage, they are still early stage," noted Murray. "When it comes to quantity and frequency of visits, these sites are not even in the same ballpark as the major search engines. Even MySpace -- the most popular of the social networking sites included in this study - is dwarfed by the likes of Google or Yahoo!. Smart marketers will explore social networks, yet continue to invest in being found in the major search engines. The sheer numbers dictate as much."

The study goes on to address the following findings and their impact on marketers as well:

  • Roughly 1 in 5 visitors do not perform a search once they arrive at a social networking site.
  • Visitors primarily arrive at social networking sites through direct navigation/bookmarking, Google search, Yahoo! search, and links in emails.
  • Internet users who perform a search on social networking sites do so for a variety of reasons including: for entertainment, to connect or network with others, to research a product or service.
  • The majority of visitors to social networking sites have not posted comments on those sites.
  • The 18-24 year old age group is more prolific at visiting social networking sites and the major search engines weekly, as well as at posting content on social networking sites.

About iProspect
iProspect® is the Original® Search Engine Marketing Firm. The company helps many of the world's most successful brands maximize their online marketing ROI through natural search engine optimization, paid inclusion management as a Yahoo! Search Submit Certified Ambassador, pay per click advertising management via their own patent-pending bid management agent called iSEBA®, and Web analytics through their own SEM-configured version of WebTrends™.

With offices in Watertown, Massachusetts and San Francisco, California, iProspect can be contacted at 1-800-522-1152, or by visiting http://www.iprospect.com.

Proper attribution requires that the study is clearly identified as the "iProspect Social Networking User Behavior Study." Copies of the study can be obtained here.

Questions regarding this release should be directed to iProspect Media Relations Manager, Colleen Reed, at 1-800-522-1152 x1203 or creed(at)iprospect.com.

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