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    Social Media is Here to Stay, Whether You ‘Like’ it or Not

    Use of digital channels for brand recommendations on the rise

    Throughout the last decade or so, members of just about every industry have experienced the benefits of social media -- both in terms of communicating to their audience and being communicated to -- and the food and beverage industry is no exception.

    It seems, in fact, that the likes of Facebook (no pun intended), Twitter and Pinterest are buzzing constantly with consumers’ experiences, recommendations and, in some cases, forewarnings about retailers, brands and new products.

    And, according to new word-of-mouth (WOM) research from Colloquy, the Ohio-based research arm of LoyaltyOne, a global provider of loyalty and marketing programs, Americans continue to increase their use of social media for such discussions, while face-to-face and phone conversations are on the decline.

    In fact, social media brand recommendations have grown 4 percent since 2011, so finds Colloquy’s new research on the WOM habits of U.S. consumers, while face-to-face recommendations have decreased by the same margin in that time.

    In previous WOM research, Colloquy coined the term “WOM Champions” to denote those consumers who are most “loyal to, engaged with and willing to recommend brands.” And, in Colloquy’s latest WOM report, “Hashtags, Tweets and Likes: Nurturing Digital Word-of-Mouth Engagement,” author and research director Jeff Berry says these WOM Champions are the most influential in driving social media use.

    "Brands that want to spread the digital word should engage WOM Champions found in their loyalty programs," Berry said. "That will be done most effectively by focusing on young adults, women and Hispanics, the segments with the most WOM Champions,” he continued, adding that this group is almost twice as likely to recommend brands through social media channels – six in 10, in fact -- when compared to the general population.

    Among young adults who participate in loyalty programs, 40 percent are considered WOM Champions, followed by women at 38 percent and Hispanics at 37 percent.

    Yet, unlike this techy-savvy sector who believes that social media is an effective and convenient way for brands to interact with customers (73 percent), it seems the general population remains divided on the issue, as nearly half of all consumers believe social networks are an inappropriate platform for such dialogue.

    Now, despite the fact that attitudes toward social media in retail seem divided – the factors of which are most often generational -- we’ve seen stark evidence that the use of digital channels and technology is here to stay, and those who fail to take full advantage will be left in the dust.

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