Just 25% of consumers say they trust their friends to give them good information about a company, according to a survey by Edelman, compared with 45% in 2008. The same survey shows consumers are more likely to trust CEOs, academics, government officials, industry analysts and nongovernmental organizations than they were a year ago — with all of those sources being cited as more trustworthy than peers.
Social marketing is build on the idea that people trust their friends more than they trust official voices — does this survey mean we no longer care what our peers have to say?
Edelman CEO Richard Edelman says consumers are spooked by the recession and that’s made them less trusting. Edelman says consumers need to hear something from up to five different sources before they believe it. I think the answer may have more to do with quality than quantity.
I’m “friends” with an ex-girlfriend’s best friend’s little sister on Facebook. She’s part of my social circle on paper — but her opinion about a new movie would mean absolutely nothing to me. The problem isn’t just that I’m skeptical of her judgment. It’s that she has no idea what kind of movies I like. My college roommate, however, has excellent taste in films and he knows which ones will appeal to me. If he tells me to watch something, chances are that’s usually good enough for me — whereas getting 20 recommendations from people I hardly know won’t pique my interest in the slightest.
Social networking has changed who we think of as peers. We’re inundated with recommendations and unsolicited advice from friends of friends of friends. Of course we’re more skeptical. But it’s not like my old roommate stopped being trustworthy just because I developed a lot of other meaningless ties.
The trouble is that just because I trust someone to recommend a movie to me, doesn’t necessarily mean I’d eat at new restaurant on their say so — or buy a television or support a cause or anything else. And here’s the kicker: my old movie buddy and I talk mostly via instant message. As far as Facebook knows, he isn’t any more important to me than any of my other friends. My social graph is filled with little contradictions like this. Chances are, your social network is just as confusing on paper.
The challenge is clear: We have a long way to go in understanding how relationships are formed, what they’re based on and how influence spreads. For now, we only know that consumers are becoming more discerning. If you want to get your message out, you need to stop thinking about building buzz — that dull, droning roar that consumers are training themselves to ignore. What you need instead is the ability to whisper in someone’s ear.
Does this study spell trouble for social marketing as we know it? Are you more skeptical of peer recommendations than you used to be? How can organizations best target the key influencers in a consumer’s life?
Image credit, AtnoYdur, via iStock