While Australians visited Facebook 6.2 billion times in 2011, consumers are still wary of brand engagement via social media platforms, research from Experian Hitwise suggests.

Marketers are aligning their marketing spend with the popularity of social media channels. Fifty-eight per cent of marketers anticipate the proportion of marketing budget they allocate to social media advertising and channel development will increase over the next 12 months.

Yet despite this increase in spend, 40 per cent of marketers don’t have measurement tools in place around their social media strategy. These are the key findings from a report released by Experian Marketing Services titled ‘Getting the most from social – an integrated marketing approach.

Shining a light on social media brand activity and consumer trust towards their presence, the research highlights that 58 per cent of brands in Australia have a presence on social media. However, only 18 per cent of consumers rated social media as one of the top three channels they most trusted to source information about a brand or company. This compared with 25 per cent who rated Wikipedia as one of their top three most trusted channels.

“It’s understandable that consumers currently lack trust towards brand activity on social media, and this is a completely normal part of the evolution curve of any new form of marketing communication,” Matt Glasner, general manager of Experian Marketing Services.

“These platforms are social, designed as a way for people to communicate with friends and peers and this opportunity to engage doesn’t automatically extend to brands.”

With Australians spending an average visit time of 26.49 minutes on Facebook per session between January 2011 and December 2011, the opportunity to tap into this active audience is vast.

“To be a genuine and valued part of the conversation, brands need to be invited in and adopt a new, more social way of engaging with audiences.  It can’t be part of the same marketing approaches used with other channels and brands need to think about how to engage audiences on their terms through social media channels.”

The findings highlight that marketers are facing increasing pressure to demonstrate effectiveness and ROI from their social media strategy back to the business.

Glasner said marketers have been challenged to find the most effective way to engage with target customers and get the cut-through they desire in social campaigns.

“Our report shows that spend on social media is going to increase. Over the next year, we’re going to see more brands engaging with active and interested online audiences,” he said.

“By applying clever thinking and a combination of multi-channel communication, effective targeting and robust measurement tools, brands can enhance how they are communicating with customers and develop a genuine and long lasting dialogue.”