Eat your heart out, Twitter and Facebook. It seems that brands engaging their audience online might achieve better conversion rates through internet marketing and word-of-mouth efforts than social networks.

Social media is the next frontier in marketing, as evident in how companies and brands have set up shop on Google+ and Facebook and have been posting updates and promotions via Twitter. But research has found out that what friends say is more influential in making purchase decisions than what friends "like."


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"Digital Natives" More Influenced by Direct Communication

This is true in particular with the so-called Generation Y -- the population born from 1980 to 2000 who are now anywhere from their teenage years to their early 30s. They are considered to be the most active internet users and were born and raised at a time when computers and the internet were already an established medium of communication. But these so-called "digital natives" are not exactly easily influenced by social media marketing.

According to social media research by Sitel, only 28.7% of this demographic make purchase decisions based on what friends "like" on the social networks. In contrast, the same demographic is 44.3% more likely to respond to word-of-mouth marketing, 45.9% to in-store promotion and 39.8% to online advertising.

In short, the younger generation is more likely to buy something based on direct friend recommendations, rather than passive ones read through social networks.

It's Not Just the Young Ones

It's not just Generation Y that's unresponsive to social media marketing. Both the Generation X demographic and Baby Boomers are more greatly influenced by word-of-mouth, in-store ads and online advertisements than social networks.

As such, businesses that have established online presence in social media -- with Facebook Pages, verified Twitter accounts and Google Pages for brands -- should take heed. Talking to your audience directly might result in better sales and brand awareness than racking up millions of Likes, ReTweets and +1's.