Studying the Impact of Social Media on Brand Engagement and Sales

One of the companies operating out of the C4DI is sobananapenguin, a digital marketing agency. Its primary specialism is copywriting, which is then applied to the delivery of a variety of complementary services, including blog posts, social media management, email campaigns and online PR. Rich Sutherland, who established the business in 2012, is fascinated by the application of social media in particular, especially its fluidic format that regularly changes the way in which we interact with brands.

“The online experience has developed so much over the years,” explains Rich. “I left Hull University in 2003 with a degree in Art History, which is as non-tech as you can get. MySpace wasn’t launched until August of that year, with the global version of Facebook following in 2005 and Twitter one year after that. If someone had told me at graduation that my future career would revolve around something that was yet to be invented, I think I’d have imagined hover boards or household robots, not a means of sharing photos of what you had for dinner.”

Joking aside, sobananapenguin has consistently built a customer base over the last four years, with more than half of its projects taking the form of social media management. Due to clients ranging from solicitors and engineering consultancies to coffee shops, theatre companies, festivals and online stores, the subject matter covers a wide spectrum of themes: “One minute you’re sharing news about the latest legislation, and the next you’re uploading a special offer on paninis,” said Rich. “People ask how we prevent messages getting mixed up, but it’s exactly the same as any other business: you simply keep your eye on the ball.”

As a means of further understanding how people use social media, Rich designed a survey to gather key insight on trends. This was shared online via sobananapenguin and The University of Hull, leading to 188 people taking part. With 73% of participants aged 18-29 and 16% aged 30-44, with a 45/55 male-female split, the questions delved into how people use social media, in what way, and for what purpose.

First of all, respondents were asked to select their top three favourite social media sites. Facebook came out on top with 76%, followed by Twitter at 45% and Instagram at 43%. Snapchat followed closely behind, with 38% of people counting it in their top three: “This shows how the app has gained tremendous popularity in recent years,” said Rich, “most likely due to its Stories feature and selection of humorous filters.” For comparison, only 10% placed Pinterest in their top three and not one single respondent chose LinkedIn.

The survey also uncovered that 90% of respondents check their social media channels daily, with a third of that group doing so more than once an hour. In terms of intention, 97% use it for shopping, 94% for socialising (such as Facebook Chat and WhatsApp), 53% for business, and 22% for catching up on sport.

Rich added: “As providers of digital content, what really interested us was that 80% of participants enjoy watching videos, 68% read blogs at least once a week, and a whopping 93% are more likely to read a branded email if it contains eye-catching images.”

Another statistic that the survey delivered was that 93% access digital content on a smartphone each day, with 66% choosing their mobile as the main means of using social media. This is doubly significant, as it also reflects the ever-growing need for responsive web design. With so many people going online whilst away from a desktop computer, websites must offer an optimised user experience across all types of devices, otherwise they may find their analytics going south.                       

“Whilst this quantitative data is eye-opening and highly encouraging, I was also interested in hearing more in-depth descriptions,” said Rich. To achieve this, he invited five local organisations to shed a little light on how social media assists their daily operations:

Our mantra is ‘Inform, Entertain, Engage.’ We feel that by having a lively social media presence, interacting regularly with local media, charities and individuals, we can increase awareness of libraries and how they are more vital than ever to their communities.
— Gavin Turner, Stock Manager, Hull Libraries
Social media helps us to promote our store in many ways, giving customers instant news about sales, opening times and new styles. I also view it as a kind of shop window, allowing a sneak peek before visiting the store, all while getting across the brand’s personality. It allows people to see what happens in the background, and offers different ways to build a rapport.
— Lee Warriner, Store Manager, Leonard Silver Menswear, Savile Street
This year’s new students have never lived in a world without Google, so it’s no wonder that more than ever opt to access their favourite social networks and websites via their mobile device. In the past five years, there’s been a very visible shift, with students moving away from Facebook and favouring instant, real-time apps like Snapchat and Instagram, and increasingly using GIFs, emojis and filters. That’s why this year we’ve opted for an app, instead of our traditional print, to promote our annual WelcomeFest.
— Charley Ivill, Digital Communications Co-ordinator, Hull University Union
Social media is perfect for us to share information, raise awareness and provide deeper, richer content about what we do. It’s a great way to spread news instantly – it only takes a few seconds for us to post a photo of a busy auditorium, an exciting rehearsal or a meet-up happening in our foyer. It’s also a great communication tool for people to share their experiences with us.
— Vicki Taylor, Communications Officer, Hull Truck Theatre
We’re welcoming the world to Hull in 2017, so having active social channels lets us speak to people across the UK and beyond to keep them up-to-date with what’s happening here in Hull. These channels also allow us to encourage a two-way dialogue with our followers – an important component of operating these creative and informative spaces.
— David Watson, Head of Digital, Hull UK City of Culture 2017

These responses present unique ways of interacting with the public and disseminating key messages, but what is clearly uniform is the pivotal role that social media plays in achieving marketing goals. Without the likes of Facebook (quite literally), the conversational power of Twitter and the window-into-the-brand quality that Instagram offers, many businesses would swiftly notice a decline in customer engagement and reduced profit margins.

When asked about the future of social media, Rich said: “Whilst each platform will transform in terms of functionality and popularity, I honestly can’t see social media ever disappearing. It’s become too essential a part of our everyday, allowing brands to engage customers on a far more personal level than printed materials and merchandise can ever achieve.”

With 2.3 billion active social media users across the world and 93% of people aged 16-24 having at least one profile, it’s clear that today’s buyers and service users take this relatively new method of communication seriously.

“If your business isn’t using social media, you’re really missing a trick,” warned Rich. “Especially when you take into account that 79% of our survey participants consider it a major influencer of their purchasing behaviour. By all means keep using other forms of marketing collateral too, but I highly recommend that strong social media activity and regular paid boosts are crucial to gaining leads and converting them into sales.”  

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Rich works at sobananapenguin alongside Courtney Farrow, a Digital Content Creator, who interviews C4DI members about digital projects and tech innovation. If you have a story you’d like to share, please email courtney@sobananapenguin.com with your idea.