Facebook and Twitter aren’t the places to build relationships with consumers, says Forrester analyst Nate Elliott. Instead, marketers should look to smaller social networks where users engage with brands, like Instagram, and integrating social tools into their own sites.

Most retailers are missing the boat when it comes to social media marketing, suggests a new report by Forrester Research Inc.

While retailers have spent years focused on building up their fan bases on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest, that approach fails to produce results because top brands’ Facebook and Twitter posts reach only about 2% of their followers and less than 0.1% of fans interact with each post, the report “Social relationship strategies that work” finds.

Instagram is the exception to that trend. Top brands’ Instagram posts generate a per-follower engagement rate of 4.213%, roughly 42 times that of Pinterest (0.097%), nearly 58 times higher than their Facebook posts (0.073%) and more than 120 times that of Twitter posts (0.035%), according to the report.

That’s why marketers should focus on Instagram when they look to build relationships with consumers, says Nate Elliott, a Forrester vice president and analyst, who wrote the report. “There’s a lack of clutter, a lack of an algorithm that’s designed to filter out brand’s content, and that makes it the place to build relationships with customers,” he says.

That makes the Facebook-owned Instagram a very different social network than its parent company, which recently announced that in January it will change its news feed algorithm—the formula that determines what consumers see in their news feeds—to minimize the number of consumers who see a brand’s organic posts if Facebook deems them too promotional.


As Facebook, Twitter and other social networks have grown, they’ve shifted their positioning away from being places where marketers can build relationships with shoppers, Elliott says.

“Most social networks are really just places to advertise now,” he says. “They’re not places to build communities.” That’s unfortunate, he adds, because an online merchant that builds a relationship with its customers can be extremely valuable; Forrester has found that U.S. online adults who want to stay in touch with a brand are roughly three times more likely to visit a merchant’s site than other shoppers.

That’s why in addition to encouraging marketers to use Instagram and other social networks that don’t filter the content consumers see, Elliott says marketers should build social tools on their own site. For example, Sony Corp. worked with social-focused customer relationship management vendor Livefyre Inc. to build a site, GreatnessAwaits.com, focused on its PlayStation 4. The site features official blog posts and exclusive news and content, and collects social posts about the product from about 75,000 brand loyalists. Consumers who visit the site spend four minutes per visit, Forrester says, which suggests the site has contributed to PlayStation 4 outselling its biggest competitor by a nearly two-to-one margin.

It makes sense to add social elements to a retail site, Elliott says, because 45% of shoppers say they keep in touch with brands that they like by visiting their web sites, which is more than say visiting their stores (cited by 35%), brand e-mails (29%), loyalty or rewards programs (24%), visiting their Facebook page or Liking their page (16%), using the brand’s mobile app (11%), visiting the brand on non-Facebook or Twitter social network (8%), and checking its Twitter account (6%). The Forrester survey respondents could select more than one response.


“It’s pretty clear that brands have fans who want to stay in touch,” he says. “Brands just have to answer that need.”