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Gartner Says Majority of Consumers Rely on Social Networks to Guide Purchase Decisions

The Future of Portals to be Discussed at Gartner Portals, Content & Collaboration Summit 2010, 15-16 September, in London, UK

(PresseBox) (Stamfort, Conn, ) Social networks have become a critical, but underutilised, aspect of the marketing process, according to Gartner, Inc. Gartner analysts have examined the way social networks shape consumer buying behaviour.

The majority of consumers rely to some extent on social networks to guide them in their purchase decisions. These social networks often include individuals who fulfil different roles or functions in recommending products to people they are connected with.

Gartner conducted a survey in the fourth quarter of 2009 of nearly 4,000 consumers in 10 key markets and used the resulting data to identify groups who can play a vital role as influencers in brand awareness, market research and viral marketing campaigns.

"Our survey results showed that onefifth of the consumer population is composed of 'Salesmen,' 'Connectors' and 'Mavens.' These are three roles that are key influencers in the purchasing activities of 74 per cent of the population," said Nick Ingelbrecht, research director at Gartner. "Salesmen and Connectors are the most effective social network influencers and the most important groups for targeted marketing based on social network analysis."

Gartner's social network framework defines the following roles:

Connector - Connectors perform a bridging function between disparate groups of people. They have contacts in different social groups and enjoy introducing people to each other. Connectors come in two types: (1) Heavy Connectors, who have varied but tight circles of friends and family with whom they maintain very regular contact; and (2) Light Connectors, who span a much wider range of different groups, but inevitably with ties that are much weaker and less frequent.

Salesman - Salesmen have extensive social connections, but their defining characteristic is their propensity to persuade people to do things, buy certain products and act in certain ways. This role is not so much a commercial activity but a personality trait that impels Salesmen to get people around them to act on information in highly directed ways.

Seeker - Seekers connect with other people in order to find out the information, skills and obligations they need to conduct their daily lives. When Seekers go shopping, they tend to seek advice from experts who tell them which are the best gadgets to buy, where to get them and at what prices.

Maven - Mavens are knowledge exchangers or information brokers. They are experts in particular areas, and other people go to Mavens for advice. Unlike Salesmen, Mavens aren't out to persuade people but use and acquire information for their own interests. Organisations that reach out to Mavens could come unstuck, because Mavens are just as happy spreading negative commentary about a product or company as a positive message.

Self-Sufficient - These people prefer to find out for themselves what they need to know in order to satisfy their needs. Self-Sufficients do not pay much attention to other people's recommendations of new products; they prefer to do their own research and make up their minds in their own time. This group of people can be a tough market to target because they are relatively impermeable to viral influences and bandwagon effects.

Unclassified - Twothirds of the population did not definitively fall into any of these social network categories. This was to be expected, and reflects Gartner's approach to processing the survey data, which did not classify respondents who did not clearly fall into one of the categories. In addition, people more often than not exhibit characteristics of different categories and may fulfil different roles in different social contexts.

Gartner said that it is essential for device vendors, application developers/publishers and communications service providers to understand how the different roles react to marketing information. For example, Self-Sufficients are not particularly swayed by the usual sources of marketing information, nor do Mavens typically act on the information that is their stock in trade. However, Salesmen, Seekers and Connectors tend to act on marketing messages and are receptive to them.

For marketers, the key "take away" is that Salesmen, Seekers and Connectors are the most effective social network segments to target. Conversely, Mavens - the "information magpies" - are much less useful because they will amass market information but not necessarily do anything useful with it, unless others tap them for their product knowledge. In the case of Mavens and Self-Sufficients, service providers should focus on improving their "shopping experience," whereas in the case of Connectors, Seekers and Salesmen, the focus should be on both the shopping experience and making information easily available.

"Companies attempting to use social networks should develop relationships with key customers over a period of time and progressively refine the social network profiles of those individuals. In this way, the most suitable individuals can be targeted with the right information, products and promotions in the most costeffective way," said Mr Ingelbrecht. "Retailers who run small shops have instinctively done this with their best customers for years with the intention that these 'VIP' customers will not only buy the new products but recommend them to their friends."

Additional information is available in the Gartner report "User Survey Analysis: Consumer Marketing Using Social Network Analysis, Worldwide, 2010." The report is available on Gartner's website at http://www.gartner.com/....

About Gartner UK Ltd

This year's Summit looks at a market where the pace of change and technological development has never been faster. Consumers have embraced social networking, driving technologies and behaviours into the workplace. The way in which organisations interact with customers and employees is changing quickly and irrevocably. At the Summit, Gartner analysts will provide advice on how to harness the power of social software and realise real return from collaboration investments. For further information on the Gartner Portals, Content and Collaboration Summit 2010 taking place on 15-16 September in London, please visit httpp://europe.gartner.com/pcc. You can also follow the event on Twitter at http://twitter.com/... using #GartnerPCC. Members of the press can register for the event by contacting Ben Tudor, Gartner PR on + 44 (0) 1784 267 738 or at ben.tudor@gartner.com

About Gartner

Gartner, Inc. (NYSE: IT) is the world's leading information technology research and advisory company. Gartner delivers the technologyrelated insight necessary for its clients to make the right decisions, every day. From CIOs and senior IT leaders in corporations and government agencies, to business leaders in hightech and telecom enterprises and professional services firms, to technology investors, Gartner is the valuable partner to 60,000 clients in 10,800 distinct organizations. Through the resources of Gartner Research, Gartner Executive Programs, Gartner Consulting and Gartner Events, Gartner works with every client to research, analyze and interpret the business of IT within the context of their individual role. Founded in 1979, Gartner is headquartered in Stamford, Connecticut, U.S.A., and has 4,300 associates, including 1,200 research analysts and consultants, and clients in 80 countries. For more information, visit gartner.com.

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