Trust in peer networks takes a nosedive
Let’s assume your business is overflowing with 100-percent genuine authenticity. As it should be. Now, what’s the best way to broadcast and cultivate that authenticity? Social networking, right?
Not so fast: already, the credibility of social networks among consumers isn’t what it used to be.
The potential of virtual peer influence has brands scrambling to shift their marketing dollars to social media. In a June 2010 poll of 457 American business leaders, 72 percent said they had a social media marketing strategy, and of those, three quarters planned to invest more in it in the coming year.
The problem is, the authenticity of peer-to-peer networks is getting shaky. We no longer trust our “friends.” PR firm Edelman reports in its 2010 Trust Barometer that the number of people who trust their friends and peers as sources of information about brands and products dropped from 45 percent in 2008 to just 25 percent in 2010.
This really shouldn’t come as a surprise. It was only a matter of time before people caught on to the reality that social media have become a marketing playground. Sometimes, you can’t help but wonder what’s behind that peer referral. More simply, social media users are collecting ever-larger networks of “friends” that include more mere acquaintances. (BTW, Wired has a very nice commentary on whether Facebook is ruining real friendship.) Add to that the fact that as the volume of recommendations people receive grows, their importance shrinks. They turn into noise, and they get filtered out—a classic marketing dilemma.
Nevertheless, devoting a healthy chunk of your marketing budget to social media is far from misguided. Facebook alone has 500 million users, after all, and with its recent announcement of a new “modern messaging system” promises to become even more entrenched. There’s every indication that bloggers, consumer enthusiasts, and the like will keep gaining on traditional media. And consider that a new USC Marshall School of Business study shows “brand attachment” as having even more impact on consumers than we thought: consumers apparently experience the brand as an extension of self and will go to amazing lengths to preserve their attachment. I’d say that kind of attachment sounds like a job for social media and its relationship-building powers.
By all accounts, there remains a core group of influencers who do inspire trust, and consumers do follow their lead. We just have to find those “action consumers” and design our campaigns accordingly, says Edelman’s Christina Smedley in Ad Age. Edelman CEO Richard Edelman wrote in his blog, “Cultivate a wide circle of spokespeople with substantial expertise and participate in conversation in real time across every channel, because people need to hear or read something five times in different places in order to achieve belief.”
Good advice. But there’s a larger lesson here. Social media, for all its power, is not the be-all and end-all of marketing and never will be. You still need a brand-focused, integrated marketing plan whose every piece reinforces and builds on the others.