Marketers are abuzz with the possibilities of social networking. In a new survey among 1,614 affluent luxury consumers (avg. income $239.3k), some 78% of affluent consumers have at least one social networking profile (usually on Facebook). From the marketers’ point of view, social networking sites seem the logical place to close sales.

However, expecting to generate sales with a Facebook page is a misunderstanding of how affluents actually use social media, says Pam Danziger, president of Unity Marketing and author of the new trend report on the luxury market, How the Affluent Luxury Consumer Uses the Internet and Social Media: An In-Depth.

“Affluent consumers have flocked to social media, but they use it as one more tool to gather information to make purchase decisions,” says Danziger. “Smart marketers will tap the interactivity of these sites to reach out to affluent consumers, ask for their input, and really listen to what these consumers need in order to decide to make a purchase.”

Some key findings of the report include:

  • Social media isn’t just for the young. Some 70% of affluent consumers over age 40 have at least one social media profile.
  • About half of affluents have used a social media site to connect with a brand, such as viewing new products or commenting on a brand. However, only one in four have ‘friended’ a luxury brand.
  • Affluents are more likely to use social media to look at brands rather than to commit to a relationship with them.

“The findings of our research are clear. Social media is most valuable to luxury marketers as a way to listen to their customers, not about finding another channel through which to sell to them,” says Danziger. “Luxury brands can’t afford to be deaf to what customers are saying. This report provides the latest research on how affluent luxury shoppers are using the Internet and social media to shop and learn about brands. It shows marketers how affluents are using social media today in order to teach marketers how to listen more effectively and how to act on what they hear.”

As for the future of luxury brands on social media like Facebook, Danziger advises luxury brands, “Building and maintaining a relationship with your affluent customers is critical. Brands need to think of the social networking aspect of their own websites. They don’t need to have a Facebook page to ‘friend’ an affluent shopper. Brands can friend their customers through positive and supportive online interaction on the company’s primary website.”

Demographics of those surveyed

A total of 1,614 affluent consumers with incomes of $100,000 or more and who bought luxury goods or services in the fourth quarter were surveyed for the report titled, How Affluent Luxury Consumers Use the Internet and Social Media.

In the survey the average age of respondents was 45.9 years and average household income was $239,300. Nearly 20% of the affluents polled were classified as ‘ultra-affluents,’ those at the top 2% of U.S. households with incomes of $250,000.

Virtually all respondents use the Internet for personal uses, including shopping.  Further nearly 80% of affluents are social media users.

A segment called ‘heavy-users’ were identified as important for luxury marketers when planning Internet and social media strategy. The heavy users are affluents who used the internet for four or more hours per week for shopping purposes.

“How Affluent Luxury Consumers Use the Internet and Social Media,” conducted by Unity Marketing, February 24, 2010.  Website: www.unitymarketing.com.