Social networks have become a critical, but underutilized, aspect of the marketing process, according to Gartner, Inc. Gartner analysts have examined the way social networks shape consumer buying behavior.

The majority of consumers rely to some extent on social networks to guide them in their purchase decisions. These social networks often include individuals who fulfill different roles or functions in recommending products to people they are connected with.

Gartner conducted a survey in the fourth quarter of 2009 of nearly 4,000 consumers in 10 key markets and used the resulting data to identify groups who can play a vital role as influencers in brand awareness, market research and viral marketing campaigns.

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