Asking your friends. It’s one of the primary methods many of us use in determining the product or service choices we make. But have you ever considered how social networking has boosted that reliance and given us a path to even more opinions?
I’m going to spend the next few minutes suggesting to you that social networking has been a key determant of that boost, concluding that social validation, particularly in how we market to consumers, is more important than ever.
Consider for a moment, if you will, the last time you asked an opinion of a friend or peer which helped you make a decision. It doesn’t need to be a big decision; anything from where to eat to “does my bum look big in this”!
Now consider why you asked them. What kind of words do you think of?
Trust? Reliability? Impartiality?
We live in a society which is far less tolerant of brands and their messages than we may have been in the past. As some experts suggest, there are even people who are directly opposed to branding.
Instead, we seek honest opinion and impartiality to guide us – at least in part.
So, how does social networking come into this? I believe it gives us a mode through which to extend our circles and thus glean more insight and more opinion from far more people than we know in person.
In practical terms, this works in numerous ways:
– Friend recommendations
Getting in contact with our friends is now easier than ever thanks to things like Facebook and BBM, so asking for opinions is also easier.
Far beyond that though, we can share our recommendations through our status updates, through our location check ins and through anything we share with our friends and followers.
– Expert recommendations
We can also gain the opinions of those beyond our own social circles through the likes of websites, Twitter and blogging. Imagine the value to you if you are looking for, let’s say, a good reference book on piloting – if you see a well known, respected and experienced pilot recommends a certain book, you will be far more likely to choose that book. If you are interested in technology, you may go to a source like .Net to find the best resources.
We can see reviews in use on sites such as eBay and Amazon – and these are examples of social networking too. It’s that real, honest opinion from someone who’s used the product that gives us the confidence that leads to conversion.
I won’t go into the complexities, but Google have recently made changes to their algorithms which put far more emphasis on the relative validity of resources and websites that show up in search results. These are based on the number of links websites have to them from other reputable sources and how they’re rated by users. Google even incorporates your social networks into your search results, providing you with bespoke results dependant on what your friends have liked too.
Of course, there are other ways we can learn through the internet and social networking but it all comes down to one thing: the importance of social validation.
What’s really interesting is how we as businesses can harness that importance and make it work in our favour. Understanding the importance of social validation is key but inherently, it’s got to be about continuing to provide a service people will want to recommend and giving them to facilities or incentives to do that.