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Social media increasingly more important in 2011

by Matthew Spieler

Regardless of how you feel personally about social media—love it, hate it or doing whatever you can to ignore it—if you are in business today then you must embrace it for long-term survival.

In spite of how Facebook’s public offering played out, the overall numbers should speak for themselves as to how important a medium social media has become for businesses to connect with existing and potential customers.

Think of it this way: On Halloween 2011, the world’s population “officially” hit 7 billion. At that time Facebook was reporting having more than 800 million users worldwide, meaning more than one out of every nine people in the world has a profile on Facebook. In the U.S. alone, close to 60% of the population is on the social networking site.

And that is just Facebook. Throw in Twitter’s nearly 300 million users, YouTube’s nearly 500 million users, and LinkedIn’s nearly 150 million users, not to mention upstart Pinterest, which reached 10 million users faster than any web presence in history, and a host of other popular social media sites including Four-square, which “quietly” has a user base of 20 million (up from 9.3 million in 2010), Stumble-Upon, Reddit, Delicious and Digg, to name a few, and the amount of people socializing online is enormous. Granted there are overlaps in terms of a person utilizing more than one form of social media but, for example, not everyone who is on Facebook is on Twitter.

Forget about the specific social media sites and look at the entire Internet, which is essentially one giant social media outlet, as more than 2 billion people were using it at the end of 2011, and the number keeps growing, even in the U.S. where 78% of the population goes online on a regular basis. And, according to comScore’s annual “U.S. Digital Future in Focus” report, in 2011 90% of U.S. Internet users visited a social networking site in a month, Facebook reached nearly 75% U.S. Internet users, and social networking accounted for approximately one out of every six minutes spent online.

Why is all this important to business? Consider this: There are over 150 million blogs and 77% of Internet users read at least one; 24% of adults have posted a review of a product they have purchased, and 69% of them like one or more company pages. This is why 88% of marketers say social media efforts have generating more exposure for their business.

One more thing: All these numbers are expected to continue to grow—and that was before the explosion of smartphones and tablets, and their myriad of applications which allow people to connect with each other virtually anywhere, anytime.

In just the fourth quarter of 2011, comScore said smartphone adoption reached 42% of mobile subscribers, increasing 15 percentage points during 2011 and representing an additional 35 million owners. And that’s just smarphones; tablet ownership is growing even faster: It took seven years to reach nearly 40 million smartphones compared to less than two years to reach nearly 40 million tablets.

In the U.S., 64 million smartphone owners accessed social networking or blog destinations via their mobile device in December, an increase of 77% from the previous year, with more than half accessing these destinations on a near daily basis. These people are also likely to interact with brands on these sites, with more than half of U.S. users, 57.4%, reading posts from organizations/brands/events.

Gian Fulgoni, comScore’s chairman, said 2011 saw an emergence of savvy smartphone shoppers who bring online shopping behaviors in-store. In December alone, 28.5 million mobile users accessed online retail content on their mobile devices, up 87% from the previous year.

For the year, more than half of the U.S. smartphone population used their device to perform retail research while inside a store last year. At the end of 2011, nearly 20% of smartphone users scanned product barcodes and approximately 12% compared prices on their phone while in a store. Additionally, 20% of U.S. smartphone owners took a picture of a product while in a store and nearly the same number texted or called family or friends about a specific product. Nearly 10% used their device to find coupons or deals.

“Brick-and-mortar retailers are really uncertain about the impact of smartphones,” Fulgoni said. “Some of them have described it as their worst nightmare…The retailer is competing with the Internet while the consumer is physically still in the store.”

Which is why, for a retail business, these numbers are vitally important to realize and understand. Similar to the green movement, social media is not something to be dismissed with the wave of a hand, nor should it be looked at as the end all panacea for any particular company or industry. Rather it is an increasingly important component in  helping a business reach new levels of success—or failure if not managed correctly.

Flooring industry gets on board

In some ways, the flooring industry is doing a decent job getting online and involved with the various forms of social media. In the most recent “Social Flooring Blog Index” published by Christine Whittmore of “Simple Marketing Now,” in November there were 190 blogs focused on flooring, up 13.1% from the 168 tracked in April 2011. Over the six-month period, these 190 blogs generated 8,174 total conversations (or blog articles) which translates to 1.79 blog posts per week per blog.

Additionally, 48% promote other social network profiles, such as Twitter or Facebook fan pages, on their blogs, facilitating “in real life” connection. This is an increase of 7% from the April 2011 index.

Of note, Floor Covering News’ blog, located at fcnews.net/category/blog, was ranked No. 10 out of the 190 blogs, making it the highest ranked flooring publication.

In looking at what is being discussed on the flooring blogs, Whittmore examined key words and found the Top 5 ranking terms include home (35% of the conversations), time (26%) design (21%), work (20%) and room (18%).

From a product perspective, flooring came up 23% of the time followed by wood (14%), carpet (13%), tile (11%), rug (8%), laminate (5%), vinyl (4%), and cork (2%). Whittmore noted some other terms that registered were carpet cleaning, which was discussed in 3% of the conversations, along with wood flooring (3%), hardwood flooring (4%), hardwood floors (5%) and laminate flooring (3%).

Being that flooring is a fashion item, Whittmore studied the most popular terms used in this area and found the following Top 10: Room (18%), style (14%), color (12%), kitchen (11%), feel (10%), beautiful (10%), light (10%), decorating (3%), interior design (3%) and fashion (2%).

Finally, she noted cleaning comes up 8%, questions 5%, solutions 3%, recycling 1% and allergy 1%, up from .5% in the April 2011 index.

“Blogs constitute the hub or core of a serious social media marketing strategy,” Whittmore said. “They offer floor covering companies an effective means for connecting with core customers and establishing trust with them. When combined with other social media marketing tools, such as Twitter or Facebook fan pages, they can be extremely effective in helping any company get found online by their target audience.

“Consumers start the purchase process online using digital and social media tools to educate themselves based on content they consider trustworthy and credible,” she said. “Blogs, when done correctly, represent the perfect vehicle for the flooring industry.”