Recently I came across a telling statistic: according to a recent survey by PriceWaterhouseCooper seven out of ten people never use social media sites to purchase items or services, even though almost half of the respondents check those sites on a daily basis. 

shutterstock_124451737.jpgAs it is, marketers have tended to treat social media as either a shiny new toy or an Arctic island -- frozen and desolate, far from the rest of their strategy. You’d think stats like that would dampen enthusiasm, or kill any future budget allocations towards social media initiatives. If nobody’s actually buying through Facebook, Twitter, Google + or Pinterest, then why bother with social media at all? Where’s the ROI in this scenario?

While it’s fair to say that social media has a long way to go in becoming an important retail channel in its own right, it currently does provide powerful indications of what shoppers are interested in buying -- and what they ultimately do buy.

Consumers’ social media activity impacts every other channel they use to interact with brands; wise marketers are finding ways to further integrate the data coming from social media into their strategy as a whole -- even going so far as to highlight products on their website which the user has “liked” on Facebook.

The survey highlights three types of behavior that are particularly noteworthy in this respect.

1. Warming Up to Future Purchases

PWC’s survey noted that 38 percent of social media users follow brands and retailers online. This doesn't seem like much until it’s noted that 58 percent of that particular group buy from a brick-and-mortar store at least once a week, while 45 percent of them make a weekly online purchase. Clearly these folks love to shop -- and they’re using social media to research, find recommendations/reviews and get a fuller sense of what they’re looking for before they commit to a purchase.

So give them what they want! Sprinkle customer reviews and recs throughout your social media outlets, as well as links to similar information on the company site, so followers and fans can see what’s popular and why. Use A/B testing or Multivariate testing in social media to ascertain what sort of information gets the best reaction, and what the most efficient ways are to put that info across.

Finally, make sure the company’s branding throughout all social media networks corresponds with that of the main site, so wherever they are on the Web, consumers know they’re actually dealing with you.

2. Sizzling Deals at Your Fingertips

If offered a sweet deal or exclusive offer, 49 percent of survey responders said they’d definitely click through from a social media page to an online store. It makes sense to capitalize on this behavior -- thereby driving more traffic to the main site -- by providing coupons, contests, and other compelling content as calls to action on social media outlets.