New research from social media analytics firm Sprout Social has found that Irish consumers are increasingly buying products directly from social media.

According to the latest Sprout Social Index, 78% of Irish consumers have bought directly from a brand's social media channels over the last 12 months, an almost three-fold increase from 2019.

But despite the growing use of social media as a medium for purchasing from the consumer perspective, driving sales only ranks as the seventh most important goal, at 17%, for Irish and UK businesses using social.

The top three business goals for when using social are increasing brand awareness (65%), increasing community engagement (45%) and increase web traffic (39%).

Today's index shows that Facebook continues to be the platform of choice for businesses to market to consumers and is used by 82% of those surveyed.

But Instagram, YouTube and Twitter are also strong performers at 75%, 60% and 59% respectively.

Businesses are also using emerging platforms like TikTok and Snapchat as tools for successful marketing, with 32% maintaining a TikTok presence and 34% using Snapchat.

Sprout Social also noted that marketers and consumers are "misaligned" with regard to what they want to achieve on social media.

Customer service on social is ranked as the top activity brands can use to keep consumers buying from them, but only 30% of businesses said social media activity was to contribute to their goal of providing customer service and support.

The social media analytics firm said the opportunities for businesses to increase sales on social are apparent across multiple demographics.

Those in the Gen Z category, aged between 18-23, are the most active group when it comes to purchasing directly from social, with 79% buying from social media.

Baby Boomers, aged between 56-74, are the least active at purchasing on social, yet still close to half, 43%, have purchased from social media.

Cat Anderson, International Marketing Lead at Sprout Social, said that social commerce represents a significant opportunity for brands to tap into a wide demographic of consumers who are actively purchasing through multiple social channels.

"Understanding the data is key for brands to leverage this opportunity. From identifying where your target customers spend their time to grasping what exactly it is they want to hear from you, those brands who embrace the available data will set themselves apart from the competition," Ms Anderson said.

She said that while the move to social commerce has been accelerated as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, social is still a powerful tool for bricks and mortar or brands who rely on physical selling.

"Creating meaningful connections through quality customer service via social is more important than ever, particularly for the older demographics who have a higher tendency to not buy directly from social media," she added.

Sprout Social's Ireland-based clients include Paddy Power and Intercom, while over 4,000 companies across EMEA are serviced by the Sprout Dublin team.