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VOL. 126 | NO. 112 | Thursday, June 9, 2011

Survey Examines Local Social Media Use

By Sarah Baker

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The world of social media is a trending topic these days, but its presence locally is still relatively unknown.

That’s why Obsidian Public Relations and Research Dynamics Inc. partnered to conduct a public opinion survey in hopes of learning more about the types of social media being used in the Memphis area and the implications of those habits for businesses and nonprofits alike.

The survey was conducted between May 2 and 12 and included 202 participants. Of the 612 adult willing to be interviewed, only 33 percent qualified for participation because they had used social media within the past two weeks.

While the level of social media usage among Shelby County adults surveyed is well below the nationally measured levels of about 80 percent, it will be critical for businesses to watch that sum fluctuate over time to implement the best possible sales strategy, said Obsidian principal Courtney Liebenrood Ellett.

“Social media had generated a lot of conversation among consumers and businesses alike over the past couple of years,” Ellett said. “We thought it was important to accurately gauge local trends before that dialogue continues.”

Based on the total sample of 202 respondents, the margin of error is plus/minus 7 points and the median age is 48. It’s also important to note that the sample data were weighted in analysis to compensate for the fact that the demographic of phone surveys tend to be females and the elderly.

Ninety-four percent of respondents said they have a computer for personal use, 60 percent own a smartphone, and 22 percent own a tablet device. Sixty-three percent of participants said they visit social media sites at least once a day, including 14 percent who visit such sites more than a few times a day.

Facebook was named by more survey participants as a social media application they use on a regular basis (94 percent), followed by YouTube (48 percent), LinkedIn and Twitter (both 16 percent), Flickr/Photobucket (14 percent) and blogs (12 percent).

Not only do almost all of those surveyed use Facebook on a regular basis, but they are heavily involved in the platform. The typical Facebook user reported having 168 Facebook friends – well above the national average of 130 – and 29 percent had more than 300 friends.

Meanwhile, YouTube had the second-highest application usage score, which is telling, because it would seem that local companies would want to create their own YouTube channels, providing a more “grassroots” form of communication, said Thomas Whitehead, Obsidian account executive.

“Nationally and locally, a lot of small companies are producing videos that are not sales-based, but they have their own YouTube channels,” Whitehead said. “One example is a steakhouse in Austin, Texas, that started with 20 different videos – stuff like ‘how to season fish,’ or ‘how to clean the skillet,’ ‘how to sharpen the knife’ – and their sales increased by 16 percent in two quarters. Where some people may not consider YouTube to be a social media channel, the fact that users are able to upload stuff to a more general public and tag and share information – businesses are doing that.”

For younger demographics, Whitehead said, YouTube is now the second-biggest search engine behind Google. The reason why is where older generations will Google to read about how to do something, younger generations want to see how to do something.

“If it’s ‘how to put on your makeup’ or ‘how to tie a tie,’ they’re more likely to watch a demo video instead of reading the steps with it,” he said.

The survey found only 5 percent of respondents regularly use Foursquare, an application that when it was debuted promised discounts to users via “checking in,” which in turn brings the business online visibility.

But nationally, Foursquare is considered a powerful application for businesses, and it has the potential to be a game-changing marketing tool for Memphis-area businesses in the future, said Hal Fogelman, president of Research Dynamics.

“One of the most important things to take away from this survey is that understanding your audience is key,” he said. “The nature of social media is so volatile – what’s popular this year may be off the scene by next year.”

Memphis’ scores were a mixed bag compared to various national stats. For instance, 49 percent don’t use social media to follow Memphis-area businesses on social media, and just 17 percent regularly follow more than five local businesses.

What’s more, merely a third of users surveyed – 31 percent – reported having made a comment on the social media page of a Memphis-area business. Sixty-six percent said their comments were positive, three percent said they were negative, and 31 percent said they had posted a combination of both.

Among four local television stations, about the same percentage of respondents said they follow, keep up with or read WREG-TV Channel 3 and WMC-TV Channel 5 on social media sites (36 and 35 percent, respectively), while 19 percent follow WHBQ-TV Channel 13 and 13 percent follow WPTV-Channel 24.

Out of the four newspaper options, The Commercial Appeal saw the highest audience (33 percent), followed by the Memphis Flyer (12 percent), The Daily News (11 percent) and the Memphis Business Journal (4 percent).

To view the full report and the survey at-a-glance, visit www.researchdynamicsinc.com or www.obsidianpr.com.

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