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Despite growing popularity of social networks such as MySpace and Facebook, young adults (age 18-34) are more likely to be influenced by email and direct-mail marketing than by ads or marketing messages on social networks, according to a study (pdf) from Ball State University’s Center for Media Deisgn (CMD) and ExactTarget, writes MarketingVox.

The study also found that this youth demographic believes that social networks are for friends – not marketers – and that marketers shouldn’t assume that the medium consumers use to communicate with each other is the best means to advertise to them.

In terms of communication preference, the research found that the majority of people prefer to communicate with friends and family via phone rather than email and that this preference is positively correlated with age. However, 8% of those over age 65 use SMS, and 4% subscribe to social networks. In addition, though 42% of teens prefer to communicate via SMS, 62% prefer to receive promotions via email vs. only 1% via SMS.

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The CMD/ExactTarget study outlined six ‘personas’ of users and measured how each interacts with different media:

  • Wired Users: 20% subscribed for marketing communications via SMS (more so than any other group) but want to receive texts only for urgent customer service issues, like financial alerts or travel updates.
  • Young Homemakers: More than half use social networks and SMS during the day, but direct mail and email are their preferred marketing channels.
  • Retired: 81% purchased online and 94% have been influenced by some form of direct marketing to make a purchase.
  • College Students: Very spam-savvy, they believe private communication channels (e.g., SMS, social networks) are off-limits for marketers.
  • Teens: Though they use social networking more than any other group, they are more likely to make a purchase from direct mail, followed by email, SMS, and social network sites.
  • Established Professionals: Within this group, women are more likely than men to use new digital media channels like IM, SMS, and social networking to communicate with friends and family. Both men and women, however, shop online — 92% of consumers in this group have made an online purchase.

“It is too easy to assume that the media consumers who choose for their own news, information and entertainment are by default the best media to use for marketing messages,” said Mike Bloxham, CMD’s director of Insight and Research. “This is a dangerous assumption to make in a time when consumers are becoming increasingly aware of their level of control over their media experiences.”

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