Since social media channels have come into existence, brands have been trying to figure out how to leverage them as sales channels for consumers. If brands wanted to sell to women, they thought they had to get in front of them on Pinterest. Needed to reach young men? YouTube was the channel of choice.

However every few years, a new social channel manifests claiming to be the new way to connect with younger generations. Not wanting to risk getting left behind, brands rush to establish their presence on these channels, while also maintaining their continuous presence everywhere else. This results in budgets and resources being spread thin and brands left struggling to prove ROI for new social initiatives.

So how can brands get ahead? Should they continue the rush to adopt new social channels? What if these social channels aren’t even where consumers are looking to engage and shop with brands?

To better understand this issue, Bluecore recently commissioned a study with NAPCO research on how consumers prefer to receive communications from brands and how they use different communication channels. The study is broken down by four generations (Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z) to identify any trends or differentiating behaviors between demographics.

Among other findings, the study found that consumers use social media more for engaging friends and family, and less for shopping with brands. Here’s a sneak peek at the insights: 

 

Most consumers don’t turn to social to learn about new products

When consumers were asked which channels they check to learn about new products from brands, 36% say they don’t turn to any social channels at all. Boomers (59%) and Generation X (43%) were least likely to check social channels, followed by Millennials (33%).

Which channels do you check to learn about new products?

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Although Facebook comes in as the second-highest channel for learning about new products across all demographics, brands should still be careful about focusing on social channels as a way to reach consumers.

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Ever-changing algorithms continue to push out brands

Taking Facebook as an example, when it was first introduced as a social channel for brands, company pages were positioned as owned media. Brands shared similar content they would in emails, such as new merchandise arrivals and sales promotions, and consumers would follow these pages to receive updates organically in their feeds. Brands had the option to pay to advertise their content if they wanted an extra boost to reach new audiences, but it wasn’t necessary in order to reach an already engaged audience.

“Facebook at the end of the day, is a place where people want to share things that matter to them, whether it’s a news story or their child walking.”Melissa Bell, Vice President, Vox Media

But gradually year after year, Facebook would update its news feed algorithm in ways that made it harder for brands to connect with consumers without paying to advertise. Most recently in June 2016, Facebook announced that it planned to make even more changes to its algorithm so that it would boost content posted by the friends and family of users over publishers and brands. By the end of the month, reach of brand and publisher stories had dropped 42%. This was all done to improve the site’s revenue model, but has essentially resulted in Facebook switching from an owned to paid media channel.

 

Brands should rely on owned media to control reach and message

The lesson here is that regardless of how people use social media, brands will always be at the mercy of the algorithms and changes of the channel. In an interview with The New York Times, Emily Bell, Director at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, said, “There is now an expectation, in general, on the part of publishers that platforms will change, and that they won’t necessarily be informed how they will change.”

Therefore, in order to completely own the customer experience, brands should rely on owned media channels that allow them to control their reach and message.

 

For more research & insights, download the complete study

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This post originally appeared on Bluecore.com

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