Trust does not equal influence – be careful how you interpret the data

April 17, 2012 by George Eberstadt

The new Nielsen trust report is out.  (Write up at Social Commerce Today.)  Duck – here come the inflated claims from social commerce companies about how this proves the effectiveness of what they do.  The problem is, it’s not that simple.  First, here’s the data:

The temptation is to conclude that because “recommendations from people I know” are most-trusted, a sure-fire strategy is to get your customers to recommend your stuff to their friends.  The problem is that the whole reason friends are trusted is because they WON’T recommend your stuff to their friends – not unless they sincerely and spontaneously feel it’s in the interest of their friends to do so.  And as soon as you throw in an incentive for your customers to tell their friends about you, you are going against the whole trust equation – no one wants to feel like a shill, and no one wants to be shilled to.

Also important: social trust affects the purchase cycle in different ways at different stages.  “Consumer opinions posted online” are effective at the evaluation stage, but not at the awareness stage.  No one reads customer reviews unless they already have purchase intent.  On the other hand, recommendations from friends tend to matter more at the awareness stage than at the evaluation stage, and this varies a lot by product category.  For example, I just got a new Dyson hand vac because I saw it at my friends’ house this weekend and they told me it was awesome, but I would never have called them to ask what brand of vac I should get at the moment I was about to buy one.   Of the last 40 items I bought at, 6 of them had some sort of social influence at the discovery stage, but only 1 had any social influence at the evaluation stage.  That was a ping pong table, and I didn’t seek out the advice about which to get; I just mentioned to a friend that I was thinking of getting one, and she said to get a Stiga because it’s a Swedish brand and she’s Swedish.  Similarly, for vacation plans, I sometimes call friends for advice during the evaluation phase, but since it can be hard to know which friends have relevant experience, my process tends to be haphazard.  Fashion is a tricky category – people ask friends for advice, but assessment of a friend’s expertise is often based on their taste rather than their direct product experience.  (You don’t have to own a particular brand to answer “does this look good on me?”)  How do you, as a brand/store, affect that conversation?!?

So, the next time someone makes a blanket statement to you about how you need to be doing social commerce because people “trust” their friends and fellow shoppers so much, say “whoa there!”  Trust is not the same as influence, and leveraging the trust that’s inherent in social relationships to promote your business is not that simple.

The Economist: friend recommendations are the most trusted source of product information

January 31, 2010 by George Eberstadt

The Economist has a special section this week on social networking.  They include the chart below pointing out that friend recommendations are the most trusted source of product information.  What’s interesting here is just how far ahead friend recommendations are from the next closest source; eyeballing the “trust completely” bar, the factor appears to be almost 3X.

So if trust is important in your sales and marketing, you really need to be thinking about how to harness the power of social networks.

Another study shows that input from people you know is by far the most influential

August 15, 2009 by George Eberstadt

Here’s an article in AdWeek summarizing the findings from a recent Nielsen study of consumer trust.  “Recommendations from people known” is by far the most trusted source of input — 20% ahead of the next closest.  Nielsen gathered opinions from 25,000 internet consumers to produce this chart:

For product information, friends are the most trusted source

August 7, 2009 by George Eberstadt

Most of the books I “read” these days are audio books.  Last year, that included Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff’s excellent Groundswell.  (Here it is on Audible.)  As a result, I missed this extraordinary chart, and just discovered it today.  So it’s not exactly breaking news.  But even if you’ve seen it before, it’s worth a second look.

Trust = Influence

April 23, 2009 by George Eberstadt

There are lots of reasons why advice from friends is so much more influential than advice from strangers.  Trust is a big one.  The Wall Street Journal today has a piece about the growing sway marketers have over product recommendations online.  “Paid to Pitch: Product Reviews by Bloggers Draw Scrutiny.”  I was particularly struck by the marketer who requires bloggers he hires to use a seal that says “Sponsored Post.  100% Real Opinion.”  It’s so murky.  Even if the overwhelming majority of amateur reviewers have no commercial interest (or hope of one in the future), the fact that some do undermines trust in the rest.  There is always something comforting about knowing that the person you’re getting advice from is putting you first.

Strangers or friends?

October 16, 2008 by George Eberstadt

The communications agency Universal McCann recently published a report called “When Did We Start Trusting Strangers?” looking at how much more influential the advice of strangers has become in purchase decisions since the rise of social media.  Brands better not ignore this call to action — like it or not, the phenomenon is real and powerful.  And in many ways it’s a good thing, putting more pressure on brands to produce superior products instead of just superior marketing.

But it’s not entirely a good thing.  To the degree that these anonymous interactions replace authentic, personal ones, they represent lost opportunities.  We end up with better stuff and fewer friends.  When we get advice from strangers on a blog instead of calling our friends, is it because we trust strangers more?  Because we enjoy the experience more?  Or just because it’s so easy?  Hey, there are a lot of strangers in the world – some have already written down their opinions on whatever product you want to know about.

But if it were just as quick and easy to find advice from friends as from strangers, which would you ask?  If you said “friends”, why?  Because you trust friends to give it to you straight?  Because you know them well enough to calibrate their advice?  (e.g. I know Gwen is picky, so if she says it’s good, it’s good.)  Because it gives you a reason to check in with someone you care about?  Even in the McCann study, in response to the question, “How I share opinions of products, brands and services”, the personal forms of communication (e-mail and IM) rank 50% higher (!) than the impersonal ones (blogs, reviews, comments).  (Page 29.)

In the next phase of the web, we’re going to see our real world relationships woven into our on-line experience everywhere we go.  (Charlene Li says social networks will be like air – they’ll just surround you.)  And when that happens, we’ll see the pendulum swing back from stranger-advice towards friend-advice.  And that will be a good thing, too.