In the world of digital publishing, having a social media presence is clearly a benefit. However, social media might not be all it is thought to be; there is a hidden negative side of social networks that can work against companies.
The issue is "engagement." Research from the Pew Research Center demonstrated that visitors who arrive on a website via social media are among the least engaged. The research study found that people who visited a website directly spent four times longer there and looked at six times as many pages than people who arrived at the site via social media.
The Pew Research study was limited to news websites, so there is the possibility that people from social networks might just be interested in the one news item that has been shared with them.
Research Confirms Lack of Value of Social Visitors
The above isn't the only research study that shows a decreased value of visitors from social networks. Shareaholic found that their bounce rates were higher for visitors from social networks than for those who came from search engines. Plus, in a comprehensive study of social media used by leading brands, researchers at East Carolina University found that in terms of sales by brands, websites outperformed social networks. There is growing evidence that the benefits of social media may not be as significant as brands think.
Digital publishers, therefore, have to consider what the real value of social media is for their brand. If all it does is bring large numbers of people to your website, but those people are not engaged, then what's the point? That's like bringing crowds of people to a downtown store who walk in and out without buying anything.
Community Is at the Heart of Social Value
A clue as to what to do is found in research on sports brands and their use of social media. This study found that the engagement with online sports channels was greatest when there was more of an established community. Brands that use social media to interact, particularly on an individual level, and who encourage their fans or customers to communicate with one another appear to be those brands that gain engagement.
In other words, if a brand uses social networks to "broadcast" the engagement is low. However, if a digital publication uses social media to interact, engagement goes up.
Website visitors from social networks are of little real value to brands. They aren't engaged, make few clicks, and typically only look at one page, leading to high bounce rates. However, those same people can be involved if you engage with them, making them feel part of your community.