April 17, 2012

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

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 Amazon.com, 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.

  • http://www.lightingshowroom.com Wayne Eskridge

    Now George, there you go again adding a rational view to a marketing analysis. I simply must send you some of the 10 or so emails about social marketing that I’ve gotten this week. You simply must stop looking at these things in a thoughtful way, it is bad for the churn cycle.

    • http://www.turntonetworks.com George Eberstadt

      Thanks Wayne. Maybe you could make some sort of art montage out of all the social marketing promotions. Or turn it into a dubstep and make a video. Then it could go viral, and wouldn’t that be meta!

  • Denny

    And obviously Friend does not necessarily equal Trust either. I have hundreds of Facebook friends and I probably trust a handful or so for any given product or service recommendation