Last week Gannett’s G/O Digital released a new consumer study based on a survey of 1,000 US adults who were “interested in buying products and services from local/small businesses.” The purpose of the survey was to see how these consumers engaged with local businesses (and ads) on Facebook and how they used Facebook in their shopping research.
Several previous studies have established Facebook is widely used by consumers to help make purchase decisions. Consumers look at reviews on Facebook as part of that process. Yet Facebook is not an efficient or, in my view, very user-friendly site for shopping or local search. I keep waiting for the stand-alone Facebook “Places” app (or similar) to appear.
It’s a little like Waiting for Godot. But back to the G/O Digital study, which confirms what others have previously found but also goes beyond earlier studies with some specific findings that are important to point out.
Among the social media sites used for local shopping Facebook was the clear winner, although I’m surprised that Pinterest didn’t do better. Facebook is not very “useful” in my view when it comes to finding local business information.
Despite my views, these survey respondents were highly engaged with Facebook and Facebook advertising as sources of local business information. Almost 60% said they visited business pages before buying offline at a local business. This is perhaps the most important finding of the survey — and a major reason to have an active Facebook presence.
Restaurants were the most commonly followed local business category. Education and then beauty/spa came in second.
The major reasons that consumers said they went to SMB Pages were to look at reviews/ratings and product or service information. Eighty percent of survey respondents said that positive reviews/ratings on Facebook Pages made them more inclined to buy from the SMB under consideration.
Equally interesting (and impressive) was the number of people who engaged with advertising from SMBs on Facebook. This was not a Facebook sponsored study so I tend to take the numbers at face value (so to speak).
In terms of the particular types of ads that “worked” to attract and motivate consumers, Offer Ads beat other categories (e.g., promoted posts) by a significant margin. I spoke briefly to Facebook about this finding and they said their internal data don’t show this gap between Offers and other types of ads.
In terms of ad influence, behaviorally targeted ads or retargeting were most likely to affect this group (no privacy concerns I suppose). After that ads that were locally relevant followed by demographically targeted ads were most likely to have an impact on these respondents.
It’s important to point out that there was no measurement or reporting on actual store visits or sales. These are opinions and attitudes. Still the results are significant and worth understanding clearly.
From my point of view here are the big takeaways:
- Large numbers of consumers are regularly using Facebook to help make local/offline buying decisions
- Reviews and ratings are the most critical aspect of this; however they’re also looking for product and service information
- Offers that are targeted by location, interests and demographics are going to be potentially very effective in influencing consumer buying (not if there are bad reviews however).
Accordingly SMBs should:
- Set up a Facebook Page with lots of rich information about the businesses, products, services, hours, etc. Treat it like a website alternative. Even if it’s not regularly updated it should have complete information (including lots of photos). Facebook Pages are much more visible than SMB websites in general — and they’re cross-platform.
- Collect/solicit reviews from customers (I don’t believe there are Yelp-like strictures around review solicitation here)
- Experiment with ads and especially Offers to drive in-store or offline visits