People You Know Influential, Social Media Isn't, in Purchase Decisions (Marketing Pilgrim)

This is 2nd in a trend I'm seeing around the near-gospel data point that social media influence is far more persuasive than messages from the brand. The first was from Edelman's Trust Barometer 2010 released earlier this month, which showed data pointing to cracks in the wall of friend/family influence being considered more trustworthy than corporate messages.


Andy Beal's Marketing Pilgrim reports that people may be more honest on Facebook these days, but we still don’t trust them. MediaPost reports that an ARAnet study shows social media and search engine recommendations coming out tied among the general population—but search engine recommendations leap out in front among affluent (>$75,000/yr—49%) and younger adults (25-34—50% vs. 31% for social media).


However, the general consensus was that personal advice from friends or family members was tops, with 59% rating it as important in influencing their buying decisions. But to me, that sounds like a completely different dynamic—are we supposed to be measuring the influence of people we know vs. strangers vs. corporate messages, or are we measuring what medium is more influential? If your mom delivers her advice via your Facebook wall, are you less likely to take it than if she told you in a phone call? Is it surprising that most people trust people they know, who know them and their preferences, than random strangers on search engines or social networks?

Maybe the medium isn’t the message.


The full breakdown, however, does show an interesting breakdown among the information from people we don’t know (and from corporate sources):

Overall, most people participating in the survey — 59% — choose personal advice from friends or family members; followed by TV news or other broadcasts at 40%; search engines Google, Bing, Yahoo or Ask at 39%; TV ads, 36%; articles in newspapers or magazines, 33%; newspapers or magazines ads, 31%; online articles, 28%; and radio news or other broadcasts ads, 25%.


The remainder of the breakdown follows. Direct mail came in at 24%; radio ads, 20%; emails from retailers or manufacturers, 20%; online ads, 19%; messages or posts on social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or MySpace, 18 percent; and billboards, 15%. Also note that the younger segment found social media to be far more influential than the general population did—31% vs. 18%. They also liked corporate information more: 32% (vs 20% for all respondents) appreciated information in emails from retailers or manufacturers, and 30% believed online ads were influential. So really, what we’re saying is that younger people on the Internet are more influenced by random strangers and advertising.  What do you think? Is it the source of information or the medium used to convey it that has more influence here?


It seems to come down to the relationship we already have with the people who offer us tips or commentary about a product or brand we are considering, and not necessarily the medium, that influences us more. Is a phone call from your best friend any more or less influential than a Facebook post? No, it's the relationship that matters. And as we aggregate more 'friends' on FB and beyond (average friend list is now 140, up from 120 last year per All Facebook), our social graphs are stretching beyond our most familiar tipsters. This can only make the content we read on social networks ever so less relevant.


So, two instances make a hypothesis, but 3 a trend. Anyone seeing this happening elsewhere?


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