research products on social media, social media sales, social media listeningSocial media conjures images of people viewing updates from friends and family. But social platforms have evolved from places to keep up with friends to platforms to find news, watch videos and to research products to purchase, new research reveals.

More than 4 in 10 consumers use social networks to research new brands or products, according to the GlobalWebIndex social media trends report. Among 16-24 year olds, social media has already surpassed search engines as the leading product research channel.

Despite predictions of social media use peaking, being online equates with being on social media. Almost all (98%) of digital consumers are social media users. Even 94% of digital 55 to 64 year olds have social media accounts.

Consumers Follow Brands on Social Media

Almost a quarter (22%) of digital consumers have liked or followed a brand on a social network in the past month, according to the new research. Many social networkers appreciate viewing branded content on their newsfeeds. In addition, many communicate with companies on the networks and share brands’ posts.

Overall, older consumers are more likely to follow their favorite brands than they are to follow actors or singers. Those in the 16- 24-year-old bracket tend to favor actors and singers. Yet just 19% say they find new brands through celebrity endorsements, a cautionary statistic for companies that embrace influencer marketing.

Social Commerce – Not Here Yet

Social media has assumed a major role in the purchase journey, but not yet as a point of purchase. Social commerce, or selling products directly through social media, has proven challenging, states GlobalWebIndex. Purchasing habits don’t change easily, and consumers see no advantage in clicking on a social media “buy” button instead of visiting an ecommerce website, especially if they worry about their sensitive financial information. However, increasingly sophisticated chatbots could change that and boost social commerce, the report predicts.

Social Media More Important Than Ever for Brands

The rise of social media as a venue for connecting with brands and researching products to purchase highlights the critical importance of social media. More companies recognize the value of social media listening and other social marketing tools to engage with consumers and promote their products.

Already, more organizations recognize the value of social selling and social media listening, the first step in the social selling process.

Over a third of sales and marketing decision-makers surveyed (36 percent) believe social selling will become the “default way to engage with buyers in the future,” according to Forrester Consulting research. Recognizing the rising importance of social selling, businesses will invest more in social media listening tools and develop social selling processes, the research predicts.

Bottom Line: In a growing trend, more consumers research products on social media as well as interact with brands on social media. Younger people research products more on social media than on search engines. As social media behavior evolves, brands that emphasize social media promotions and connecting with consumers through social media listening will gain a competitive advantage.