The IBM Smarter Commerce benchmark study aside, retailers are finding meaningful ways to use social media, even if it isn’t always to sell directly.

“[W]eb merchants view social media more as a medium to build up brand awareness and customer loyalty than as a way to drive immediate sales,” says Internet Retailer reporting on its latest survey of 175 companies that sell online.

Survey participants included 85 web-only merchants, 40 consumer brand manufacturers, 34 retail chains and 16 catalog companies.

Here’s a rundown of the findings by the numbers:

  • 95.9 percent say social media marketing is important to the future of their Internet business; 53.2 percent label it very important.
  • 90.7 percent have a Facebook page, 75 percent are active on Twitter and 54.1 percent use Pinterest
  • 51.2 percent post videos on YouTube, 9 percent use Google+ and 14.5 percent leverage Instagram.

Spending on social media is ramping up, according to the survey. Even so, most of the retailers surveyed – 87.1 percent – spent $100,000 or less this year, with 59.4 percent of that number spending $10,000 or less.

One company, Coastal Contacts, is a prime example. Prior to starting a Facebook page two years ago, the company relied on more traditional forms of advertising including email, affiliate and search marketing.

However, since discovering Facebook, the company has seen considerable gains and labeled it “an increasingly important customer acquisition tool.”

Two separate Facebook Offers promotions resulted in 20,000 coupon redemptions the first time and 860,000 clicks on the second offer with 21,000 actually redeeming the coupons. Though declining to cite specific numbers a spokesman for the company said the promotions led to “a nice increase in incremental revenue from shipping and handling fees and upgraded orders.”

Such promotions have worked so well that Coastal now has a standing “first pair free” offer running on its Facebook page and website.

Another way retailers are using social media is to drive advocacy. Empathica, a customer experience management (CEM) provider, issued a release this week about how they helped the restaurant chain Red Robin garner recommendations from more than 120,000 guests to over 18 million friends and followers.

Such recommendations can be priceless because, as Nielsen reports, 92 percent of consumers around the world say they trust recommendations from friends and family above all other forms of advertising.

Social media also functions to influence shopping decisions. According to a new study from the Advertising Research Foundation (as reported by Mediapost), nearly one-third of shoppers said social media influenced their brand preference, either by introducing those consumers to brands they were unfamiliar with (we call that discovery) or changing their opinion of a brand during the shopping process.

The study also determined that, thanks in part to social media, the purchase process never ends and that social media plays an important role all along the customer journey.

You are familiar with the old adage, “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” If, thanks to the IBM study, you’re ready to pooh-pooh social commerce, don’t do so just yet. With the many ways social can influence commerce, it’s heyday may just yet come.

[hr]
Today’s article is sponsored by Payvment: The #1 Social Commerce Platform
[hr]