The growth of user generated media via blogs, podcasts, and user forums has led to a rush by marketers to gain influence among active content creators. Bloggers and other social media creators have a potentially wide reach, so it is fitting that efforts are made to get buzz generated through this medium about brands and companies. It is like traditional word-of-mouth communication on steroids.
Now, we learn that the influence of social media tools on buyer behavior is not as strong as assumed. A study by Mintel found that only 5% of consumers surveyed indicated they had made a purchase based on a recommendation from a blogger or chat room. Personal sources of influence continue to dominate buying behavior as friend/relative (34%) or spouse/partner (25%) were cited many times more than social media sources.
Before marketers abandon their social media strategies, let’s consider the study’s findings more carefully. Granted, people within our own networks carry more sway than impersonal sources (that seems comforting to know). But, social media tools enable greater access to our networks, allowing us to gather information about brands or companies that we might not have otherwise. For example, a quick glance at my Facebook friends list reveals that I have 48 friends from my hometown. Only two of those people live in the same geographic area as me, and were it not for Facebook I would not have known they were nearby. The point is I have access to personal sources of information, and the online channel expands access to my network significantly.
Brand recommendations from bloggers or other sources with whom we have no personal connection (i.e., friends), may carry influence similar to a celebrity endorsement in an advertisement. Some people will take notice that may not otherwise, some people will make a buying decision based on the recommendation, and many others will take it for what it is: an attempt to sell them something. That level of skepticism does not exist when recommendations are shared within a personal network. Nothing has changed- personal networks still hold the power. Social networks provide a means to harness the power.
Marketing Daily – “People Prefer Offline Recommendations, Study Finds”