Mixed Opinions on Social Media's Effectiveness for Business

Suggesting the Red Hot Chili Peppers perform at the Divine Lorraine on Facebook, sharing their Twitter followers photos of Philadelphia and posting images of their product on Instagram are just a few of the ways Philly-based clothing company Aphillyated uses social media to market their brand.

“Without social media, our brand would not have been able to reach customers in over 60 different countries,” said 24-year-old Vincent Sannuti, who cofounded the Philly-centric brand with his 26-year-old brother Nicholas in May 2010.

The siblings, who grew up steps from the city limits in Lower Moreland, use social media far more than traditional advertising to market their retail business, well-known for its t-shirts emblazoned with the city skyline. 

Nicholas estimates the pair, along with their four employees, spend a total of 20 hours a week planning their presence on social media, but only dedicate about five hours a week towards traditional advertising.

But local experts, and even the Sannuti brothers, warn that their marketing strategy is not going to pay off for every business.

“It comes down to what type of business they are,” Nicholas said. “You have to be able to reach your target market.”

The heavy investment in social media marketing works for Aphillyated because it is an online only business trying to reach teens and young adults, who are native to social media, Vincent said.

Earl Boyd of Entrepreneur Works, a nonprofit microenterprise development firm, suggests new entrepreneurs view social media as a complement to other advertisements.

“Social media alone just isn’t enough,” Boyd said. “You can build engagement; possibly build some awareness that helps your sales efforts. But, for the most part, that alone doesn’t drive sales.”

And research on the success of social media outreach has mixed results, according to Pinar Yildirim, a social media marketing expert from University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

“We don’t know statistically speaking if it provides more significant returns when it comes to economics,” Yildirim said.

“It allows you to reach out to a wide variety of customers, some that may have never heard of them,” she continued. “But a consumer may be following them on social media, exposed to the actions of the firm, and that doesn’t mean they will go buy the product.”

A recent Marketing Science Institute report shows a lot of effort is required for social media to affect the business.

"For both new and well-established bands, it is difficult to move followers out of an unengaged state," the Building a B[r]and: Understanding How Social Media Drives Consumer Engagement and Sales study shows.

The report suggests incorporating more emotional than informative content to better connect with one's audience.

Vincent and Nicholas say they have been able to leverage the platforms by continuously monitoring the changes Facebook, Twitter and Instagram make to their platforms and regularly tracking what drives customers to their site.

“We can track everything down to the actual checkout of the customer,” said Nicholas, who added that sales continue to rise month-over-month even though the firm is spending less on advertising.

Despite their success, the Sannuttis still advise other businesses to evaluate the best plan for them.

“Some people think social media is the end all be all,” Nicholas said. “You really want content that can spread and go viral. If you keep it cut and dry, it isn’t going to work in the digital age.”

Contact Alison Burdo at 610.668.5635, alison.burdo@nbcuni.com or follow @NewsBurd on Twitter.

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